Chapter 114: Pixie Ricochet
We left our heroes finally loading satisfactory quantities of N'Butu. After
many subjective days, we've got more than half of them. But then Morniesul
asks us how much longer we expect to be. You see, this has taken a lot of
ship time, as well as a lot of pantope time, and if it's to go on a lot
longer, he'll run short of various supplies.
As a matter of fact, we are gather N'Butu in smaller and smaller quantities, so it will probably take longer to collect the second half than the first. But we don't have to do it right now. We decide to resume our loading schedule and come back for more N'Butu every once in a while.
Next up are some quasi-Chinese folk, of the same group as a nephil we know as Minyan. They load much more easily than the Kitsu and N'Butu. Several days of uneventful loading go by. Then we have a full ship, one third of our anticipated total load. Time to make our first unloading.
All the time that the pantope has been connecting to Yazatlan, the ranch, and the Tellemataru, the Tellemataru itself has been wandering through the hinterlands of the galaxy, on the United Earth timeline (the one to which Tom, Dafnord, and Brunalf are native). This wandering has been to throw off anyone who might try to track us. But now Morniesul arranges for the ship to arrive at the New Hierow system just as we finish loading.
Well, a New Hierow system. We're actually going to unload onto another version of New Hierow, on the Falkenstein timeline (the one to which Katrina is native). In both this timeline and that one, New Hierow is a far-away place, unknown to civilization.
We are therefore surprised and disturbed to find a spacecraft in orbit around New Hierow. Robbie suggests we hail them, so we do, in standard KaiSenese manner. The ship's computer chews for a while on the return signal, then produces a video image. We see a Hierowesch.
In a way, this is a relief. Hierowesch are an alien species known to some of us. They share the Jack with humans, so Tom, Dafnord, and Brunalf grew up with them around. But they didn't share the Jack comfortably. They're carnivorous, and about twice the mass of an adult human. They look like bipedal dinosaurs with the faces of lions, and have a coat of brown fur, with spots. Their societies are hierarchical and ceremonious, and very territorial. Think of a lion pride with chivalry. We hope they don't claim this planet as their territory.
The individual that greets us turns out to speak Earthron (with a heavy alien accent), and introduces himself (we can tell the sex from the heavy side-whiskers) as "Hischradow." He says he was sent by "Hghzradifch."
Oh! This is a different, though related alien. The best most of us could do was call him "Hisradish," pronounced sort of "his radish," but with the accent at the end. He was a KaiSenese liaison, like Salimar, and a Banuesch. The Banuesch are members of a species called the Mota Banu. They are the exact opposite, ecologically, of the Hierowesch, being complete herbivores. They look like cute, plump, bipedal deer, with distinctly Bambi-like faces. They are much more dangerous.
This is because they come in huge herd-societies, and almost literally know no mercy, not having the aggression-controlling instincts that races with natural weaponry have to have. (Humans don't have much natural weaponry, for instance, and look at us...) A long time ago, the Mota Banu's neighbors made a very good effort to wipe them out, in self defense. A couple of centuries ago, a collection of frozen embryos were discovered in a derelict spaceship by a KaiSenese liaison, a human as it happened.
KaiSen, being constitutionally averse to genocide, reinstated the Mota Banu, but took care to farm them out to foster parents who would raise them right. One set went to the Hierowesch; these are the Banuesch, xenological studies in irony.
Hghzradifch/"Hisradish" of the Banuesch employed us to save the Hierowesch of the CoDominion timeline (a third line), who were in danger of being wiped out by "the fauns," another herbivorous sapient species. Thus he would help the Mota Banu discharge some of their debt to the Hierowesch.
Got all that?
Well, it turns out that Hisradish now wants to repay his debt to us, having heard on the grapevine that we're out saving races again. In short, they're here to help.
Excellent! Of course, Hischradow doesn't know exactly what we're doing, but he offers the use of the interdimensional technology that the Hierowesch and Banuesch have (very quietly) cooked up for themselves. He also recognizes some of us, such as "Dafnord of the New Blood" and "The Holy Savior Thomas," who whimpers audibly at this designation. (It's not even like he was heavily involved in that mission...)
We describe our mission in very broad terms: we're rescuing a "human sub-species" from slavery, and plan to drop them on New Hierow of the Falkenstein line (unknown to the Hierowesch and Banuesch). We gladly accept their help, and particularly need to know geographical and ecological details that will help us figure out where exactly to unload the nephilim. We offer to have them bring their ship aboard and take the tour.
Soon, three Hierowesch and two Banuesch, complete with ceremonial swords, are taking a look around the giant arboretum, packed with refugee fays and nephilim. Tom engages Hischradow in technical talk. Soon, he needs to start trading hyperspace coordinates. They're in the helm computer aboard the pantope. Experimentally, he tries to summon the pantope portal to himself.
Kate, who was quietly standing watch on the pantope, is surprised to see the view out the portal change to a random, empty hold. She calls Tom, who fills her in on his obvious failure. She then tells him where in the ship the door now is, after failing to steer it herself. He excuses himself to the Hierowesch and seeks out a go-cart.
The cart, unfortunately, is steered by a Pemnal. These critters have six limbs with gecko-like toes, and so have no trouble holding on, no matter how recklessly they drive. Tom arrives in the pantope rather rattled and breathless, and this is probably why he makes the portal open right there in the arboretum, in front of everybody.
Almost immediately, a pixie flies in. Dafnord roars for it to get out, so it does, but about a dozen more fly in to take its place.
Robbie, Dafnord, and Kate then try to clean the pixies out of the pantope. (These are, by they way, a different breed from Daphne. She's about two feet tall. These are about six inches, and seem to be faster and dizzier in proportion.)
Dafnord shakes a couple out of a chocolate-fruit tree. Robbie catches some with conjured fly-paper, then puts them in a conjured bag and vanishes the paper.
One pixie stoops on Dafnord, but is nastily surprised how fast Dafnord can be for such a big person. Two riding on miniature pegasi spit something like sticky spider-silk at him. Robbie stuns one and chases down the other. And so on.
Some of the pixies become invisible in the course of the ruckus. This is unfortunate, because Kate steps on one of their horses when it's stunned.
In the end, after everyone is breathless enough to slow down, we negotiate some kind of settlement, but we have two or three severely damaged pixies and a badly hurt "horsefly."
Well, that's what autodocs are for. Sort of. Kate works the pantope portals and sends the pixie horse (still invisible) to the autodoc on the Munch, which is sentient and therefore capable of some initiative, not to mention bemusement.
One of the badly damaged pixies is turned over to some (upset) fays. Another is popped into the field autodoc. Dafnord takes the most severely wounded to the autodoc back at the ranch, accompanied by two of its fellow sprites.
On arrival, he meets Drumthortle. He tells the dwarf as much as he deems wise, meanwhile entertaining the pixies with banana liqueur served in dollhouse tea cups.
The autodoc at the ranch wants two days to work on the pixie. The one on the Munch wants a full week to work on the pixie horse. Okay. Dafnord fetches Tom to have him fast-forward the portals.
So now it's two days later at the ranch. We pop in to see how the patient is doing. The patient has escaped, is what Drumthortle tells us, trying not to let us see the dressing on his hand. (The escape was not uncontested.) He's very embarrassed, but we eventually learn that the pixie is now in the garage. Okay...
Dafnord and Robbie stroll out to the garage, only to be confronted with a small hill of cement. Drumthortle gets more embarrassed. It seems the garage is under there. This was how his "Lads" (miscellaneous chthonic bogies) chose to confine the pixie. He's "put them on report," though this means Cantrel will probably find out sooner of later.
Robbie fetches Tom, Mirien, and Mithriel. The two elven maids look the situation over, then burst out laughing. "This is thirty years ago, isn't it?" Mirien asks. Well, yes, for her it is. They laugh some more and run away. Thanks, girls.
That leaves good ol' Uncle Tom to cope. We need to get the pixie out. Well, that should be easy, with a pantope. (The Lads, for their sins, can dig the garage out later, before the cement thoroughly sets.) Tom steers the portal, in window mode, into the garage. Oddly, it's quite dark in there. He opens it as a door, ready to catch pixie. Instead, a wave of foam sloshes into the pantope. It smells. Of tuna.
We now recall that Brunalf, during a brief trip to Chaos' Rim, conjured an egg ship, which he promptly wrecked. One of its features was tuna-flavored impact foam. The pixie must have found it. And, being of chaos, the egg-ship isn't constrained by little things like mass conservation.
Oh, ick. Well, we still have to get the pixie out. Tom sends the portal (a window once more) groping through the foam-flooded garage, feeling for the egg.
Tom rotates through a very odd angle and disappears.
Back outside, Dafnord sees cracks developing in the concrete over the garage. Tuna foam starts to spurt out. Maybe the Lads didn't over-react after all.
Very much elsewhere, Tom finds himself in a glittery void, furnished by random floating hillocks. Chaos' Rim. Um. Home! Home! He wills himself home.
Back in the pantope, Kate dowses for Tom with the portal. The portal bulges outward alarmingly, then bursts, admitting a great wind and, fortunately, Tom.
Well that was interesting. Apparently we don't want to get the chaos-born pantope too close to the chaos-born egg-ship.
Back at the ranch, Dafnord and Drumthortle are admiring the tuna-foam geyser. It's slowly dying down. The pixie, they decide, must still be in the garage, unless it's been crushed by the souffle pressure.
Back in the pantope, Tom backs the portal away and sends in Robbie, who doesn't need to breathe, to locate the pixie and turn off the damned foam. Of course, Robbie needs to see what he's doing, but a combination of telepathy and clairvoyance sees him through. Also, there's an awful mechanical noise that seems to be coming from the egg.
He finds the pixie in the egg. It hasn't been crushed, alas, because the foam-dissolving solvent sprayer has created a spherical hollow for it. As foam falls into the volume, it dissolves. The pixie is quite grumpy and quite, quite sodden.
Robbie isn't sure what's causing the noise, but he picks a likely-looking button and pushes it. WHAM The egg launches, crashes into a wall (recently reinforced with concrete), and stops. At least the noise stops, too.
Robbie follows the tunnel through the foam, turns off the tuna foamer, picks the pixie up, and struggles back to the portal. But at least cleaning out the garage won't be quite so bad. The Lads just have to shovel the stuff back into the egg-ship, where the solvent seems to be as limitless in supply as the foam.
That's after they dig through the concrete, of course.
We turn the pixie over to its fellows for care and/or chastisement. We learn that the other casualties are improving, and that, if he wills hard enough, Tom can make the foam disappear out of the pantope.
Well, that's some sort of positive note to end on.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.