Back to Middle Earth
Week 9, Back to Bilbo
We find our heroes back on the pantope, contemplating a new piece of information -- although Bilbo had only three chests of treasure when he arrived at Bree, he left Esgaroth with four. There's been a hunk of treasure mislaid somewhere.
We decide, at length, that we'll have to go back and track down this fourth treasure chest. We aren't happy about this: the last time we examined Bilbo's belongings, we brought the worldbenders' wrath down on ourselves and only escaped by sliding sideways into an unintended universe. And this time, Bilbo will be accompanied by Gandalf. Tom suggests looking over the crowns in the Iron Mountains first, since there are more of them and they're safer, but he gets outvoted.
Before we actually go there, we look at some pictures taken the last time we were there -- we find Bilbo, departing with Gandalf and some pack ponies, and, yes indeed, there are four chests. We hadn't noticed that last time. Using Total Recall, Tom notes that TWO of them are different from the ones we examined outside Bree; apparently Bilbo loses two and picks up one in the near future. (The new one is probably the gold won from the defeat of the trolls, or at least that's how the book tells it.)
Daewen tells us that the hobbit and the wizard will probably not keep watches going all night. Gandalf has to sleep and often travels alone, so he's used to sleeping unguarded, and anyway Bilbo would feel silly guarding Gandalf. So we open a window around 1:00 AM and determine from readings on heartbeat, respiration, and skin temperature that they are asleep.
We steer the window THROUGH the pile of goods and arrange for illuminated cross sections. This way, we locate the four chests of treasure and get a funny kind of look at the contents. Cantrel asks Daewen to set up an emergency switch, whereby we can dump the whole pile of goods into the cargo hold, the way we did the Naza, if Gandalf wakes up and seems suspicious, or if worldbenders start beaming in or anything. She does this.
Tom, meanwhile, has opened a small door within the window so he can peek out with his Second Sight and X-ray the chests for a good look at the contents in the round. This plus a little Total Recall shows him which of the two crowns we have seen before. He moves the little door to lie near the wall of the chest containing the unfamiliar crown, then brings out the diadem detector. It lights up.
WE'VE FINALLY FOUND THE MIDDLE-EARTH SEGMENT.
"Timestop," says Cantrel, and Tom obliges. Daewen suggests allowing a very slow time flow and asks Tom to view the crown again by Second Sight. He does, then links telepathically to Daewen on the sensory level, so she can see too. She then conjures a perfect image of the crown by Glamour. Adding a touch of tangibility to it, she hands the mirage to Sophie and tells her to go to Wardrobe and duplicate it. This Sophie does. Tom then uses his native mechanical skills to enhance the fidelity of the duplication. By the end, we have an excellent copy, with the exception that it is not a diadem segment.
Tom opens a small door inside the chest, between the lid and the treasure. Daewen and Cantrel then empty the treasure out onto a pair of waiting trays and replace the real crown with the fake. Then they replace the treasure (much against Cantrel's instincts). Then we shut the door and now we never have to go back to Middle Earth again if we don't want to.
Daewen wants to, as it turns out, but Tom and the others beg her to stick around for a while longer. Tom also advises her to beware of really nasty enemies around 60 or 70 years from "now," since this was when we first saw her, battling a Nazgul (though he doesn't tell her about the Nazgul).
Anyway, now we have the eighth piece of the diadem. Tom takes it into the lab and touches it to as much of the diadem as we already have. It changes from a crown into a large gemstone. Tom inserts it into the diadem and waits. Nothing. No messages or advice. He puts it on. Still nothing. He tries telepathing at it and gets in response eleven numbers, hyperspace coordinates, which he commits to memory and recites for the others.
Daewen says that the location is in a world in her past, roughly contemporary with the crew from the Jack (therefore about 25th century), but in a parallel timestream.
We open a window at the coordinates and find a view of starry void. A earth-like planet is in one corner of the picture and a space station in the other, much closer. The Serving System identifies the location as within human space -- for this timeline. In our native timeline, this volume was dominated by other species. It's galactic east of Earth; back home, humanity spread more westward, where there were no competing starfarers.
We monitor the radio and tachyphore signals. They speak an English pidgin rather like Earthron, but with more Russian in it. From the bits we overhear, we guess that this is a frontier planet and the space station is there to support its development. Tom takes the window inside the space station. It is much smaller than the place Tom grew up in -- no landscapes and such, just rooms and corridors. The people wear a mixture of civilian clothes, technician overalls, and what look like military uniforms.
We find a broom closet, turn the window into a door, and hold out the diadem detector. It glows, but doesn't give a directional reading. How annoying. That sort of thing generally means something funny in the way of special effects. Tom steps out and feels the local psychic conditions. Psilence. Hm, that means these people have some level of psionic technology. Just to make sure, he tries to levitate a dustpan. Sure enough, he fails. So does Lorelei's Deryni Probe and Alag's Elven Glamour.
Chris suggests that maybe they don't have psionics, but that psi is simply impossible in this universe. To test this, we move the door several miles out into space and, being careful to keep the air in, repeat our psychic efforts on a mason jar full of dust. The Glamour, Levitation, and Probe don't exactly fail, but they flicker and wobble. The psionic environment here is at least DIFFERENT. We flick to a light-year away, in deep space. The distortion remains, but is lighter. Hmm. Is there something strange about that one planet, or does gravity produce psi distortion here, or what? Daewen also recalls tales of massive psi effects, "psi storms," found on certain planets, usually the result of psionic artifacts left by Elder Races. This merits looking into.
But we have other research problems as well. We can't just APPEAR in an enclosed environment like the space station, without a background. It would be much more satisfactory to arrive in a space ship, FROM somewhere. But the pantope doesn't look much like the spacecraft docked at the station, and anyway we're very leery of everting it into space. Better to acquire or fake up a ship some other way.
But even a space ship needs an origin. In fact, we generally need to case this joint. So we go look at where Earth ought to be. It's there, with continental outlines and its famous outsized moon just as we expect. There are city lights on the dark sides of both Earth and moon, and lots of space traffic between and around them. We zero in on where Sophie says Boston ought to be. It's there, or at least A city is there, with no straight streets and a largish Common in the center. We park the window in the Common.
There, we see a cosmopolitan assortment of humans, but only a few extra- terrestrials. The local language is a heavily accented English. There are old folk about, so rejuvenation is rare or unknown here. The clothing styles are vaguely like those on the space station. We resolve to copy these styles down in Wardrobe and go out for some reconnaissance and maybe a little shopping.
What year is it exactly, assuming this timeline uses a Gregorian calendar, as its fraternal twin does?
Are the aliens on Boston Common species that can be found on our own time-line? We know that the stars and planets are the same on both timelines; the human race is present on both time-lines; are other intelligent species too?
Do this time-line and our own have the same history up to some point in the past and then diverge? If so, what is the point of divergence?
Less theoretical questions:
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