After five weeks in Hong Kong of 1936, we disconnected, taking Victoria with us. The Serving System then presented us with another shot in the dark -- a world with odd, isolated coordinates, about which it knew almost nothing else. While Victoria stayed behind to get acclimated to the pantope, the rest of us loaded ourselves for bear. This included a golden egg from the Serving System, which we are to give to a Mr. Cogswell in return for information on the diadem segment. By the way, this is the last diadem segment whose location is known. We will need it and all the others we have gathered to locate the rest. We bid the System to open the door.
The door opened on a long, black tunnel with a faint light at the end. The light was so far away that Cantrel's binoculars didn't really help. On being queried, the Serving System explained that the environment out there was livable, that the tunnel itself was, in fact, a product of the pantope. It was a "translation tube," a device necessary when connecting the pantope to a universe with a different set of natural laws. In fact, the tube has always been there, but its length varies according to the magnitude of the difference between universes. Until now, the differences have been slight or nonexistent.
The Serving System discouraged sending a scout or test subject down the tube, because there might be radical changes of temporal scale -- he might not come back for years. Also, the scout himself would change, since the tube translates the cargo to conform to the laws in effect at either end.
We were all disconcerted by this, of course. Tom asked what kind of changes in natural law we might expect. The System spluttered a bit -- obviously, the explanation was too technical. Tom asked if psychic effect might be commoner or easier to produce at the other end. Oh yes. (Doing a bit of translation of their own, the players murmured, "Magic!" They were not quite correct.) Cantrel asked if the tube might not affect our intellects. If it did, we were told, it would be to make them sane in the terms of the world at the other end. Hmm.
Oh, well, nothing for it. We hiked down the tube. At the other end...
Pfusand the Naza is now a horse. And this time it's no disguise. Not to worry, she can still talk, can walk on all fours or on two legs as she chooses, is still terrifically strong, and, in place of all the junk she was carrying when she set out, has a bag that contains almost anything.
In short, we are in a cartoon world. (It's a pity none of the characters has ever seen a cartoon. I suppose there may have been comic strips in the newspapers back in the Jack.) We are in a barnyard, with a lot of pigs, chickens, cows, ducks, etc. A rooster approached us and said we looked lost. He seemed to be expecting us. He claimed to be Mr. Cogswell and said he'd take an egg in return for directions. The monkey, not certain that this was the real Mr. Cogswell (or that he was the real Tom for that matter), tried to pawn him off with a rock. This had a chance of working, but didn't. Eventually, we gave him the real golden egg and he said, "You must be from the Perfesser!" Sounds plausible. "And you must be after the Thing!" Right. Where is it? "Why, it's in the Home of the Future, just outside town." So off we zip. But first the skunk picked the rooster's pocket and stole the egg back.
We found a housing development surrounded by electrified fence. The monkey found out about the electrification by getting zapped and looking crispy-fried until the next frame. The only other way is was past a guard, who refused admittance to anyone except construction crew. A number of cartoon-style fist fights ensued, and people slipped by in twos and threes. The skunk was last, since he hung around to loot anyone who was knocked out in the course of the fight. (You could tell when they were knocked out. They had stars orbiting their head.) In this manner, he got the guard's gun. He also filched the horse's omnium-gatherum bag.
Meanwhile, most of the other characters arrived at the Home of Tomorrow. The devil broke in by the simple expedient of tearing a hole in the door, and most of the other followed through in that way. We found:
The house folded up into a briefcase. With us in it, of course. At this point, neither the skunk nor the horse had yet gone in. The skunk promptly stole the briefcase and shoved it into the horse's magic bag. He then tried to jump over the electrified fence and got fried. The horse caught him on the rebound, prepared to take her bag back, but he fast-talked her into trying to throw him over the fence. She missed. Zzzzzt.
This time, the horse reclaimed her bag from the skunk's prone form. She rummaged around, ignoring the occasional rhinoceros or brickbat, and found the briefcase. Just as the guard came running up, she pushed a large red button on its side. The house unfolded. With the horse and the guard under it, of course.
The other characters, after a long and stuffy interval, found themselves in a small closet in the center of the house, full of robots. The devil broke through one door and the panda sawed through another, and we resumed our search. The horse caused a momentary earthquake by getting the house off her back, then came in to join the search, getting squashed by the elevator as mentioned above.
Outside, they skunk had picked up the horse's magic bag and was trying to retrieve some of his loot, all of which had vanished into the bag. Since it wasn't HIS bag, it didn't work. He extracted:
Around now, the rooster, Mr. Cogswell, showed up again and demanded his egg back. The attempt to retrieve it involved several more tries at the Bag of Many Things. Eventually, we got it back and handed it over... and the skunk stole it again at the next opportunity. (The guard, by the way, did not interfere. He was still recovering from being flattened by the house.)
A short time later, back at the barnyard, we were looking for the door back into the pantope. Cogswell announced that he knew the way back, then noticed the egg was gone again. He demanded it back before showing us the way. More tricks with the magic bag. Eventually, the horse pasted the skunk and took it back, then gave it to the rooster. He reached under the hen house, extracted a door, and slapped it against the wall. He opened it and revealed a long, dark tunnel. We piled in... and the skunk picked the rooster's pocket. This time, he noticed. He gave chase.
We came stumbling out of the door, back into the bridge, in our proper shapes, the Naza bearing a briefcase with a button. And behind us comes the irate voice of Mr. Cogswell. We have not yet turned around to see what Cogswell is now.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.