Dumping the Diadem
Week 5, Ashliegh St. Clair
We left our intrepid heroes on the pantope, having come back from fulfilling their obligation to Sherrinford Holmes, but having gotten a request from Holmes -- that of talking to an old friend of his, one Ashleigh St. Clair, who apparently has invented a time machine.
Cantrel hears of our plans to find this person and talk to him and asks, "What for? Why take the risk?"
"Well," says Chris, "a couple of reasons. First of all, someone who's invented a time machine might be useful to us. Second of all, someone who's invented a time machine is quite likely to get themselves hurt."
"So?" asks Cantrel. "What are you planning to do?"
"I don't know. Talk, at least. Possibly rescue the fellow."
"Well, Holmes did practically ask us to take Ashleigh with us."
"I don't see that we have to become a home for lost puppies."
"You were the one who recommended that we stay on Holmes' good side in case we need to use him again. He said that Ashleigh has a propensity for getting in a bit of trouble, and might benefit from a visit. You even said we should do him a favor if he asks."
"Yeah, but -- what about worldbenders."
"Holmes assures us Ashleigh's okay. Says he's known him almost forever."
"But what if they're alerted?"
"We've already been out once. If they want to attack, they'll attack."
"We'll have to be careful."
So we decide to suit up. In the meantime, Jonathan has decided that it's about time for him to go home. He really doesn't like this time-travel stuff, and really doesn't like the way the geometry of the Dance is "twisted." So we give him a cache of gold and platinum trinkets, our leftover British cash, and put him down in England.
We steer a pantope window to India, set for moments before the telegram to Holmes was sent. We look around, and see an airship hovering off in the distance. Also looking around, we see a groundcar coming up the dirt road. A very early groundcar, being propelled by an early internal-combustion engine. It seems to rattle and wheeze a lot. It is traveling at what they probably consider the breakneck speed of 20 klicks.
Driving the car is a slight young European man dressed in expedition-style clothing, and another young man, who is even slighter and has something of a servant's air to him. Perhaps it's that the driver seems a bit more dapper. We watch them park the car, go into a small building, and return a few moments later with a bunch of parcels, which they put into the groundcar. They putter about it for a moment, as if they are considering driving it half a block, but instead walk to the building that we presume has the telegraph. It is the only building we've seen with a wire coming out of it.
We consider surprising them as they come out of the telegraph office, but decide that we're not going to be quite that brazen. Instead, we watch them come back to the car. The servant cranks the car to start it, then they invent the three-point-turn before driving off.
We follow them with the pantope window. Cantrel mutters that we're going to have to get dusty. We all nod. Daewen taps Cantrel on the shoulder, and as he turns to face her, she throws a handful of dust in his face. Fairy-dust, no doubt. The car goes down bad roads to worse roads, to animal trails. A trail leads to a real road again, and that leads to a walled, European-style house. The airship is tethered in the back. The wall of the house isn't the sort to keep out unpleasant natives, more the sort to keep down the cobras.
The two fellows go to the airship, knock on a trap door, which opens, and they toss up the packages. They climb up, and then come down a few moments later with another man, this one tall with a somewhat military bearing, and then go into the house.
We discuss what to do, and finally decide to skip forward an hour, and then drop in for a visit. If it turns out that they've left in that hour, then we can follow the airship.
We have another short discussion about equipment and the like, and eventually end up taking a break to have the weapons shop build us some stunners that look like six-shooters. The group going consists of Cantrel, Chris, Sophie, Lorelei, Pfusand, and Gene. Cantrel insists that Chris be the one who's doing the talking, as he'd rather keep quiet, and doesn't want anyone else doing the talking. Chris shrugs and agrees.
The Captain scouts out the area with the window to make sure there's no ambush waiting for us, and no real problems along the path we have to walk. He recommends that we get dropped off a mile or so short of the house, and we jog the first few minutes to work up a sweat for verisimilitude. He adds that we should also watch for cobras. Cantrel gets a bit alarmed at the thought of cobras, but he calms down once he realizes that we have two people who can heal magically, and that most of us have medical training by now.
We arrange a rendezvous, and get dropped off. We all agree that we have no specific plan -- simply to talk to St. Clair, and then see what follows from that. We go up to the house, which has a small garden. There is someone out in the garden pounding the ground with a rake. So far, we've seen no cobras, and are almost disappointed by it. Chris grins and mentions to Cantrel that this might be the chance to look at a cobra up close. We all decide to ignore it, and continue to the house.
We're met by an Indian servant, who we tell that we're here to see Mr. St. Clair, and he takes us into the house. We ask him along the way about the pounding in the garden, and he explains that they are trying to frighten away a cobra, but they're often not easily frightened.
The servant takes us into the house, and then flutters off, returning with an aged and bewhiskered fellow. This fellow introduces himself as Col. Mountjoy, and verifies that we're here to see St. Clair. We concur, and he invites us in to tea, and invites us to store our large firearms (like Sandy's elephant gun) in the gun rack.
We go back onto a verandah for tea, and meet the other people there. The groundcar's driver is indeed Ashleigh St. Clair. The other fellow in the car is St. Clair's manservant Jake. The tall fellow who was in the airship is a Captain Hazard, and there is one other person there, a Professor Clarence Goodbody. We're politely told that the Professor doesn't like being called "Your Lordship," not being completely comfortable with titles, and that we should just call him "Professor."
We introduce ourselves around. Most of us are using our real names, Cantrel using one of his usual aliases, Jonathan Lawless. As Chris introduces himself, there seems to be a flash of recognition from St. Clair. The Colonel offers us stronger drinks to go with our tea, and most of us accept.
Chris explains that we worked with Holmes in London on some business of our own, and that Holmes had sent us out to find St. Clair, as we seem to have some interests in common, and were likely to be in the same neighborhood anyway. St. Clair asks if we are also scientists.
"Among other things, yes." says Chris. He gives St. Clair our letter of introduction, and another letter that Holmes has sent for him. Amazingly enough, we haven't gone to the trouble of reading Holmes' letter, so if it says, "kill the bearer" or something, we'll just have to rely upon our combat skills.
St. Clair starts reading the letter, and Cantrel starts talk about the airship. It is something that the Professor has been working on, and he is experimenting with both helium and hydrogen as lift. He's finding that it's harder than he expected to keep the helium in the bags, and they'll have to switch to hydrogen sooner than hoped. We ask about hydrogen's being inflammable, and he pooh-poohs our worries. He also talks about internal combustion engines, the benefits of using an airship for travel, and seems quite capable of blathering on about everything in general for as long as he has wind.
Finally, St. Clair steps in, mentions that there's plenty of time for scientific talk when the others who are less interested aren't around, and asks us if we finally got the Eye of Dalgroom. We say we did, not giving much of an explanation.
He says that he has a tale which might be up our alley. He explains that one of the things they are doing is looking for a place that could possibly be the source of all the legends about Eden and is also reputed to be the source of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. He mentions that they may have caught sight of it up in the Himalayas.
We ask if this could be Shangri-La. St. Clair says that he doesn't know of Shangri-La, but they could be related, as this place is known in Chinese as Chang-Chi-La. He says that it might be of interest to us, as it is supposed to have both the statue of Dalgroom, and its lesser Eye. Also, that the people there are supposed to be able to make a Golden Elixir that could quite possibly be the real Fountain of Youth.
We all look at each other, and decide quickly on the net that we're not that interested. We tell St. Clair that that sounds interesting, but we'd have to think about it. Privately, we all decide that our worldbender fear hasn't abated that much, and we'd probably best let it go by.
A bit more discussion goes on, tea ends, and Cantrel starts asking about the groundcar. St. Clair offers a ride. Chris also decides to go, and the others head off for a tour of the airship.
Cantrel offers to start the thing (it has a crank starter), St. Clair gives enough pointers to keep him from hurting himself too badly, and the three of them head off. They start to talk about the reason Holmes sent them there. After they go for a jumbly mile or so, Cantrel says, "Good God, man, do you think you could st-st-stop this for a bit and talk in peace." St. Clair says this is probably a good idea, and pulls over.
There. Much better. Chris wonders if perhaps they could put some leaf springs in it to smooth out the ride some.
"It actually does have leaf springs in it. I've been thinking though that if I -- " He stops himself. "Dash it, I'm starting to sound like Professor Goodbody. I'm terribly sorry. Anyway, I take it from Sherrinford that you're fellow researchers in -- modern physics."
"Actually," says Chris, "we're less researchers than adventurers. You see -- we're time travelers."
"Yes, that was my theory when Sherrinford consulted me about you. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you when you first came here. I figured it out when you gave your name, Mr. Marlowe. The combination of the general description of the group and then the famous poet theme in your name. Anyway, it's interesting to have someone to talk to. I'm afraid my device still has some problems with it. Maybe you can help me sort them out."
"Maybe we can. You see, there are a lot of dangers involved in time travel. It's a lot like sea travel in that some of the dangers are from yourself, some from the world, and some from predators."
St. Clair raises an eyebrow at this. Chris goes on to explain that the most obvious danger is becoming stranded or shipwrecked. St. Clair has done a lot of thought on this one. Chris explains that the dangers from the world are from timelock and explains timelock to St. Clair, who takes it all in with remarkable aplomb. Apparently, he had been running into timelock problems himself, but had blamed them on the time machine. He mentions difficulties he'd had in getting it to work at his home, but when taking it to Professor Goodbody's estate, it worked much better there. Chris explains this as a common timelock problem. St. Clair is much cheered. He adds though, that the math he's worked out to explain how the time machine works is probably flawed, as it predicts some very strange things.
Chris then explains the last danger -- from predators, or more to the point, pirates. He explains that if time machines were as common as bicycles, then time travelers would be as common as bicyclists. St. Clair nods, and adds he'd never really thought about it. Chris says that while it's probably impossible to know who invented time travel, it seems pretty certain that it never gets as common as bicycles.
He goes on to explain that someone who is experimenting with time travel needs to be very careful. It is possible to detect the movement of a time machine, and that there are some people around who have a lot of their own agenda going on.
Cantrel interjects that the enemies that we had while tracking the Eye of Dalgroom might be a problem. Chris corrects him from "enemies" to "opponents."
Chris goes on to explain that the previous fifteen years are quite dangerous. He explains that historically, they are something of a Belle Epoch, and that there are consequently a number of tourists. With tourists there are tour guides. With tourists and guides, there are pickpockets. With pickpockets there are police, and so on. St. Clair mutters that he'd never really thought about the social ramifications of his invention.
Cantrel says that it might be best for him to stop his researches and live a quiet live somewhere.
"He may not be able to," says Chris. "It's quite possible he invented the machine, and he's going to have to, especially now that we've spoken to him."
"Yeah, well if he did, then how come people haven't swarmed all over him?"
"It's just the Calvary Effect all over again."
"Then how did we get here?"
"Just lucky, I guess."
"Oh, come on! Lucky like that twice?"
"Well someone has to be lucky!"
St. Clair takes all this in. Chris and Cantrel go back to talking to him, warning him to be very careful. Cantrel continues to suggest that St. Clair give up the time travel business. Chris seems to believe his own supposition that he may not be able to, and suggests ways of being cautious, like establishing a base in the past or the future, explaining the potential problems of not being able to come back from the future. He also adds the old saying, "Once a time traveler, always a time traveler." Cantrel just thinks St. Clair should stop his research.
St. Clair finally says, "Look, you're telling someone who's out in dangerous waters that there's trouble and to be careful. Might it be a bit more ethical to lend a hand?"
Cantrel suggests that St. Clair simply knock off the time travel studies, again. Chris glares at him and they start arguing via telepathy, with St. Clair watching the odd facial expressions going past.
Chris seems willing to bring St. Clair along. Cantrel still isn't so sure, claiming that such research isn't a good idea on the Dance. They keep at it for a while, until Chris reminds him that it won't be too much longer that they won't be on the Dance any more, and someone who knows how to build a time machine, as opposed to merely pilot one, would be very useful.
Cantrel softens some, and the two of them talk to the others via telepathy to see what they think. After a bit of discussion, it seems decided that we'll offer St. Clair a ride. Cantrel is still of the opinion that they should stick St. Clair someplace until he perfects his machine, and then start dealing with him. Chris is of the opinion that St. Clair needs to be cultivated, as if they keep a hands-off approach, St. Clair won't be indebted to us. Cantrel finally relents, but says that Chris and Tom have to be the ones responsible for cultivating him. Chris agrees for both himself and Tom (won't he be pleased).
We eventually gather at the house, and that night we quietly (or as quietly as we ever do) move St. Clair, Jake, and their equipment onto the pantope, after St. Clair bids the other group of explorers adieu.
Back on the Dance, Daewen decides to debrief St. Clair about his time machine. After a couple of hours talk, she gathers the others in another room.
"You can't let him out of your sight!" she says. "He can't be left unattended."
"Why not?" we ask.
"Because he knows to much. I've talked to him over and over, and he's discovered monologue physics without knowing much of anything in between. He's leaped two paradigms past the rest of you. If you leave him there, he'll either be disbelieved, or come to some bad end, or escape and get into who knows what." She mutters in Low Elvish about how foolish it was, giving Holmes that glamour monocular.
For those of you not up on your history of future physics, monologue theory is the physical theory that allows most of the nifty features of a pantope, most specifically, time travel, scaling, and self-containment. So here we sit, with a new companion who is indeed quite a find. Holmes did say he got into trouble, but we never thought it was that kind of trouble.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.