Week 3, Zeppelin
We left our heroes exploring the valley invisibly and by air. They had just seen a zeppelin rise over the mists of the fall at the end of the valley river.
The zeppelin then enters and starts cruising down the center line of the valley. It is decorated with primitive-looking, brightly-colored swirls. It has no running lights. Tom sends his clairvoyance out to examine it close-up.
He starts at the front of the gondola hanging below the gas chamber. Through the front window, he sees an older man of captainish bearing who seems to be of European stock, and two younger men, one tending a wood-burning steam engine, the other at a wheel. They all wear what may be informal uniforms. The younger men look Eurasian. The captain carries a cap-and-ball pistol.
All in all, the craft looks like the product of a struggling technology and a fairly advanced science. Tom sends his viewpoint through the steam engine, noting in passing that, for a steam engine, it has a very advanced design and uses something other than water as the heat exchange fluid. Behind the bridge/engine-room is a store room containing bundles. Tom looks at one and finds iron spear points. Trade goods?
Next is crew's quarters, a room with bunk beds for six. Opposite it is what looks like the captain's cabin. Tom then looks up in the gas chamber. It contains many large bags with valves. A crewman is up there working in shoes with felt soles. This and other precautions against fire indicate that the zeppelin is buoyed up by hydrogen. The steam engine provides power for the propellers, not hot air for buoyancy. There is no bomb bay or any other sign of a war ship. Perhaps these folk supply the iron spear heads we spotted among the herdsmen.
Tom eavesdrops a bit in the bridge. A crewman makes a routine report to the captain in English. We can't place the accent.
Looking again at the captain's cabin, Tom finds a lock chest of firearms and a shelf of books. Maneuvering his clairvoyance with much effort and even more luck, he gets a look at the inside of a book and starts reading. It is hand- written and appears to be the journal of a time-traveler. It is narrated in the first person. Tom has everyone else telepathically reading over his shoulder and we all start to freak out. We are only a little calmed when Tom moves to the front page and reads "The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells."
... Oh, THAT time traveler. But why is it hand-written and what's it doing here? We start reading the page. Lorelei read it as a kid and Sophie read it after coming aboard the pantope. (Of COURSE the pantope library has a copy.) They do not remember the book starting just exactly the way this copy does. Might this, very uncomfortably, be a rough draft, acquired by a time traveler? Worse still, might Wells have written it in the first person because HE was a time traveler? Sophie's copy had a photo of the author in the frontispiece; she uses her Photographic Memory to bring the image up and it does NOT resemble the captain of the zeppelin. Oh good.
Tom drops his clairvoyance and we content ourselves with following the zeppelin under cover of invisibility. It moves a bit faster than our overloaded aircraft can manage, so Alag gets off and jogs, to catch up with us later and stay in telepathic contact. He manages to jog invisibly, which is tricky work.
The zeppelin moves off to the foothills ringing the valley, toward a column of smoke. As it nears the smoke, we see two more folk in the same uniforms, up on a hilltop, waving. They catch ropes tossed from the blimp and help steer the blimp to its dock. The dock is a short tower in a largish stockaded village on the next hilltop. Its stockade wall goes up the next hill, and further up, beyond the wall, like a silver crucifix embedded in the hill, lies the wreck of an airplane.
Naturally, we flit over to examine it. But it was very thoroughly stripped of equipment and can tell us little. It had aluminum skin and twin propeller engines. As you may have noted, no one in the party is actually from the 20th century. Several of them recognize the plane's vintage as 20th-century but can't pinpoint it more closely than that. We leave some clairvoyance tracers and return to our investigations of the village.
The village is mostly log cabins and plank houses. The people are a mix of Eurasian and African, in and out of uniforms, but even the Africans out of uniform wear rather European clothing. Just as we decide there are no white women in the compound, on appears. Everybody is coming up to meet the zeppelin crew.
Chris and Sophie go scouting on foot, invisibly, to eavesdrop, while Lorelei hides the skycycle. Alag shows up (or rather doesn't show up) invisibly, on foot, just behind a party of herdsmen who come in through the gates with several large pots and bundles. Alag X-rays one pot with his Second Sight and finds it contains purple crystals. The zeppelin crew and the herdsmen, together with some of the villagers in uniform, all go to a large building together. There, the zeppelin captain opens the pot of crystals and recoils as from a powerful smell. Other pots and bundles contain meat and hides. The zeppelin folk trade one spear point per large pot, and also produce smaller pots in return for bags of fruit, etc. Chris puts a clairvoyance tracer on the captain.
Having just had a great deal of excitement about some bluish crystals, Alag decides it would be worth while to examine the purple ones. Once they are aboard the zeppelin, he tries sneaking after them. This would have worked beautifully, what with the invisibility and all, but Alag is an elf from the late Third Age of Middle Earth and unused to zeppelins. He did not anticipate that it would sink under his weight, thus arousing the curiosity and suspicion of the two crew members on board. He spends the next few minutes dodging and scuttling while the crewmen argue with the guard at the bottom of the loading ramp and barge around looking.
Once that's over and they go back to the bridge, Alag binds the door shut after them just enough to make it sticky and loud to open, then gets into the storage chamber and filches some of the purple crystals. They reek like a midden heap. He takes a scant handful and exits without further incident (being careful as he steps OFF the zeppelin). He turns the crystals over to Chris, who pronounces them to the salt peter, an ammoniacal mineral formed under dung heaps and used in the manufacture of gun powder.
By now, it is sundown. Sophie trails the captain into a nicer building than most. It appears to belong to the "governor" of the little colony here. The captain and his crew, together with some village worthies, have drinks and chat. The chat is in English but irritatingly and deliberately free of shop talk and thus pretty inconsequential. Their accents might be futuristic (to Sophie) American. They speak of "going back" by way of "the falls" and we gather that this is, at it appears, an outpost.
Tom clairviews the empty governor's office and finds uninteresting papers, plus some books with titles like "Military Tactics," "Science," and "Engineering," and some adventure fiction from after Sophie's era.
Sophie passes on to the kitchen house, where women black and white are preparing dinner and making remarks about the visitors and the quality of "colonial" kitchens. She gathers the captain is a popular fellow.
Chris feels around to see if anyone besides ourselves is using psi, but we appear to be the only ones. Good.
We camp out quietly and invisibly and watch the stars rise. Yes, and we had a sun during the day, too. Tom asks Daewen how large a pocket universe is likely to get. She answers that those stars are probably not as far away as one might suppose. Stage scenery of some kind.
Next day, we go to explore beyond the falls. By the time we get there, the zeppelin is already moving around the valley, one supposes on other trade stops. The falls themselves are very spectacular, being about 300 feet high. And at the bottom is a hydroelectric plant.
This is part of a small city. As we come floating down at a healthy distance from the falls, we look it over and spot: four large zeppelin masts, one with a zeppelin docked at it; wires from the hydroelectric plant to a smaller building on the river, probably a hydrogen cracking plant; forges for metals; a couple of large barn-like buildings; stone walls. In general, the place looks like it was built with 20th-century science and 19th-century technology. Tom takes a look at the detector -- no clear signal and no change in the intensity of the sparkling. Tom tries his old walkie-talkie and picks up lots of static. From the hydroelectric plant, maybe?
As we settle closer, we note roads leading off to the south along the river, and south-west. The surrounding vegetation is forest over rolling hills. The falls pour out of an impressive mountain range in which the valley nestles.
Scudding low over the city, we see red-uniformed guards with well-made guns walking around. There are blacks dressed in humbler-looking clothes, as maybe for servants or blue-collar workers, and lots of the Eurasian types, though they might just as easily be Semitic or Mediterranean, really. From the general bustle and bearing of the people, we gather that the place is military but not oppressive about it. There appears to be no desperate poverty. Here and there we spot an elderly man of what looks like pure North European stock.
Besides the industrial base for metals and zeppelins, this is also a busy trading town. The types listed above look like locals. There are loads of non-locals, of every racial description, coming and going on horses and other beasts. The other beasts include things like riding cows. There are no cars. There are signs about in English and other languages. Out front, it says, "Welcome to New Detroit."
Daewen spots a caravan of folk barely out of the iron age and into the bronze. We note that only the locals have rifles. Lorelei comes from a shipwrecked technical culture rather like this, and she estimates that the town is about 30 years old. The road to the south, along the river, though, looks much older than that.
By now, we are about bursting with curiosity. Tom recommends we find a library. There is one, open to the public. Chris and Sophie enter it invisibly and peek around. They find a newspaper. According to it, the date is 17 August 31. The year 31? According to the watch, the year is 300.
Although the newspaper is printed, all the books are handwritten. They are engineering, science, military theory, and fiction. All these categories show curious gaps. They do not repeat themselves much, but there are four books on aircraft.
They find some history books, but they're right in front of the check-out desk. Rats. Chris uses glamour to cover his actions and takes a couple anyway, leaving phantom copies behind. His are "History of the Valley People" and "History of New Detroit." Opening to the "History of New Detroit," we learn:
In 1957, eight planes vanished in the Bermuda Triangle and came out here. Well, seven came out here; one was lost in transit. One of the seven crashed in the mountain valley. The barn-like buildings are hangers, containing the two planes that still survive, the rest having been cannibalized for parts to re-start civilization. One of the civilizing things they did as soon as they were able was re-invent paper and write down everything they could remember. Hence this library and the copy of "The Time Machine."
Time travel would have been on their minds a lot, since they found other people here before them, some seemingly of Roman vintage, others Phoenician or Greek or something. We find a map, showing the local geography, including a mysterious place off to the west, with a circle around it and no labels. To the east, there are dinosaurs. None of the human communities seem to have been here longer than about 250 years. As for New Detroit itself, it survives by its airpower and other high technology, and by selling information, which is why newspapers are printed and books aren't -- don't want to make it too easy to get the data. They mention occasional trouble with pirates.
The "History of the Valley People" does in fact refer to the mountain valley where we came out. It is more like mythology. It says that there were two populations of valley people, the herdsmen and some city-dwellers whose fortunes were based on a gold mine. One day, the world turned inside out and they found themselves in the valley. A wizard ruled over them. Weird animals showed up. The wizard vanished after a battle with some other god-like folk. He used to live in an aerie up in the mountains. The New Detroiters think these valley folk date from around the Renaissance. (And we left the pantope parked in 1525.)
All through this day of exploration, Tom has been glancing at the detector, hoping for another flash of clear signal. Toward sundown, he gets such a flash. It points west, toward the enigma on the map in the book.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.