The Chaos Marches
Chapter 9, Memory Dies
When we left our heroes last time, they were with their newly-rescued friend, Prof. Eustace Carrington Cadwallader (or however it's spelled), late of Boston, 1985, Yet Another Time Line. We are all in his interdimensional craft, the "Zephyr," in the foggy, boggy bits at the edge of Lanthil, where it's infested with giant snakes (of which it does not take many to constitute an infestation).
The immediate goal is to move the "Zephyr" to higher ground, so Eustace can start repairs. There's also a nifty little boat of some sort out there in the edge-country, downright magical in operation, which he picked up in his travels. Eustace wants it back, but it can wait until after repairs.
Therefore, Robbie gives Eustace a bearing, and the assumption that orientation is consistent here works; we soon come in sight of more normal land. Robbie hops out to give better landing directions and gets the party's first good outside view of the "Zephyr." It looks a bit like Captain Nemo's "Nautilis," only sleeker.
It's very big for a one-man ship. Tom asks Eustace if he planned more crew. Oh, yes. This has been the "Zephyr's" maiden voyage -- far longer and more adventurous than intended. The idea was to use the ship commercially. But this trip started out with no one but Eustace and an assistant who died tragically early in the adventure (which has been running for about seven years).
The assistant died in the fire that took out the balloon. The "Zephyr" flies by "gravitic isolation," a technology Eustace's line has had since about 1900. But, for backup, it also has (or had) a hydrogen balloon and an "electro-ballast." The hydrogen balloon went up when hydrogen became markedly more flammable, due to a change of natural constants when the Zephyr made one of its first inter-dimensional transitions. The electro-ballast is a sort of balloon only its filled with something even lighter than hydrogen -- vacuum. It's kept inflated by electro-static repulsion. Tom admires the elegance of this concept. It's one of the few elegant things about Eustace's technology.
Gravitic isolation may have been responsible for the Great West Country Disaster. A Mr. Calverson, his lab, and a large chunk of neighborhood, formerly located in the western English countryside, abruptly took off in a rapid and graceful arc, possibly because of a malfunction of an early gravitic isolator.
The most interesting thing about this news item, for Tom, is the date and the name of the unfortunate inventor. It resembles one Mr. Cavor, inventor of an anti-gravity device in a novel by H. G. Wells. This suggests that Eustace's line may have a connection to Tom's line like the one to the Classical Line of Ashleigh Holmes and Kate Carter, though it can hardly be the Classical Line.
Meanwhile, we've successfully landed the "Zephyr" and are trying to organize the repairs. Eustace doesn't think there's much the party can do to help, since the main problem is in the etheric differentiator -- the inter-dimensional engine and his own invention. This technical monstrosity is vacuum-sealed (and must remain so), and has over 100 million moving parts. Tom clairviews it and sees an object about a cubic meter in size, apparently composed of steel fleas and electrified cobwebs, in a state of violent agitation.
Eustace has also lost his "gengine." This turns out to be a clockwork computer like unto the Babbage engines of the First Compact Line, the one Katrina and Fr. Paddy come from. Robby offers to act as substitute for the missing gengine, revealing to Eustace that he's a robot. Eustace is fascinated and supplies Robbie and Tom with his design notes. These will take a lot of mulling over to actually use, but Tom concludes that Eustace is something like Ashleigh -- a great inventor, both far ahead and out in left field relative to his native technology, only where Ashleigh built a time machine, Eustace built something capable of many of the functions of a pantope -- just about all of them except self-containment, it seems. Tom would call such a vehicle a "pantrode." He also thinks Ashleigh and Eustace should meet, but hopes they don't wind up having children.
Tom asks for an account of his encounter with the Lilim. Eustace says that it was six or seven days ago. He came to a place where the natural constant meters basically stopped working, a place of the black chaos we've seen over the dark edge of Lanthil, and found there a city, built on an uprooted island that floated in the void. The city was golden and full of spires and towers. He was looking around for a docking mast when two dragons, one with a draconian humanoid on its back, came flying up to intercept him. The rider gestured for Eustace to land in a place where the "Zephyr" would be disabled. Between that and their evident ferocity, he fled. They pursued, in hordes, of various and shifting shapes, mostly draconian. The "Zephyr" got damaged in the chase, and he wound up here.
Tom expands a little on the history he's given to Eustace and says that the same hordes are "now" (+/-) likely on their way out of the Chaos Marches into Faerie, toward Vinyagarond. Experimentally, he mentions that the draconians are probably the children of Lilith. Eustace doesn't seem to find this too unbelievable, and remarks that his great-uncle Leo traced his family back to the Norse god Thor. Tom's eyebrows rise and Eustace goes on to remark that lots of European houses trace back that far, though of course one wonders about reliability.
Salimar asks Eustace if he had a destination in mind when he launched the "Zephyr." No, just a trial run. Has he tried a trip to the future or past? No, though time-travel is a theoretical possibility with the "Zephyr."
His main problem, just now, is that he can't get home, since he lost the coordinates for home when the gengine was destroyed. The nearest he has now is his pocket chronometer, which is really a miniature etheric differentiator and acts rather like one of our looted worldbender watches, giving current hyperspatial coordinates. We remark that we might be able to help him get home (thinking of Mithriel's witchwalking).
Tom goes back to the subject of the black chaos and describes the wish-fulfilling properties of Chaos' Rim. Eustace remarks that, in his flight from the dragons, he remembers wishing very hard that the navigation system worked, and for a moment it did. Tom suggests using this effect in the nearby twilight to repair the "Zephyr," but Eustace is, perhaps understandably, reluctant to use Chaos as an adjustable spanner.
Tom asks Eustace if he's willing, should need arise, to make an ark of the "Zephyr" and ferry away as many of the Marginalia as he can carry. He agrees readily. Since he wants to do the repairs himself, Tom gives him a telepathic-trigger calling card and Robbie determines the frequencies and encoding scheme of his "Marco-Fax" -- (a golden-age-of-SF radio terminal, equivalent to an Internet hookup).
Before departing, we get a description of his missing boat. It looks rather like Dinlai's air-boat, only much smaller. It might be from the same world. As we depart, we reflect that Kate's strange dream of Daewen looking out over a mixed fleet of sea- and air-ships included a few that looked like the "Zephyr."
We leave Eustace and head back to Memory's valley. En route, Mithriel creates a small blue gyrfalcon, to act as a messenger to Daewen. (We can't go to her ourselves and expect to come back to the same point in Lanthil history, or perhaps to Lanthil at all. The falcon, homing in on its creator, Mithriel, should have a better chance.) We decide to give the ectoplasmic falcon a drink from the light-fall, to give it a good link to Lanthil.
Passing through the tunnel, which we now know to include a witchwalking splice, Mithriel notes that the splice is very far, really, from the rest of it.
We find a number of Marginalia sitting silently outside Memory's house. They say he is not well. We enter and see this for ourselves. He's curled up, exhausted and dying.
While Dafnord gets the autodoc ready for one more try, Tom tries to comfort Memory by telling him about the escape hatch for the Marginalia offered by the "Zephyr." That's good, but Memory frets about the land itself. Tom assures him that he, Tom, has seen the future, that we've all come "sliding down from the future," and Tom knows we will get the land back, though we don't know what it will cost.
Tom then conjures an image of Lanthil as we first saw it from the rim of the high edge -- complete with the yet-unbuilt castle and the several patches of light against the twilight. Memory is heartened but confused, especially since he doesn't know how the castle's mountain can co-exist with the Last Valley. Toms says it will. He warns us that, if he dies, we must take down the tunnel to protect the mountain, the "special place." The tunnel, he tells us, was made by Daewen. We promise.
We ease him into the autodoc and issue a general "fix it" command. The autodoc responds by presenting a screen on its built-in medical ethics and, if necessary, how to override them. It seems that Memory is so far gone that any major efforts to sustain him will leave him a vegetable, and this the autodoc's manufacturers were not generally willing to do. Neither are we. We settle for some palliative care. Tom then conjures a soft, warm bed and we gently tuck Memory into it. He curls up and sleeps.
We make our way to the cliffs at the foot of the mountain. There, Tom changes into an eagle again, using his amulet, and conjures a harness to carry the falcon in. Then it's a long, grueling flight up to the mesa halfway up the mountain. Tom flies to the falls that cascade down from the peak to the lake and finds a nice little nook with a placid pond of the luminous water.
He persuades the falcon to drink, and the bird even comes to like it. Then Tom decides that, since he has clearly thrown his lot in with Lanthil, he'll drink too. He does so. He then considers casting a tracer on the place to make it easier to find again. But the place feels special in some way and the idea of the tracer feels inappropriate.
Then it's back down and back to human form. We make our way back to Memory's house and are sad but not surprised to find he's dead. We summon the Marginalia's leader and break the news to him. He's very upset, of course, the more so since Memory has been there effectively forever. We speak some words of hope and comfort about future plans, then tell them Memory's last instructions. We have to evacuate this valley and close the tunnel.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.