Chapter 4: Into the Half-World
We left our heroes investigating a Destino outpost on an asteroid, having encountered (briefly) a kamikaze Destino who unfortunately mistook them for the invaders.
After cleaning up from that, we continue exploring the asteroid station. Dafnord rouses Salimar from her bucket (where she had been trying to catch up on her sleep), pours her into an emergency evacuation bag, and takes her out to the docking bay, there to do retrocogs on the hatch that bears blaster marks. After a few tries, she gets images of three or four people in spacesuits, carefully and methodically shooting at the door. The image was hard to capture, Salimar opines, because her retrocogs home in on high emotion, and these folk were working without much sense of drama.
Kate sends a viewpoint through the door and finds just empty corridor. Thinking about Salimar's remarks, she asks Braeta if nephilim or their sidekicks are usually the phlegmatic type. Quite the reverse, Braeta says; clearly these people were busy keeping some great secret.
Salimar and Dafnord go on to a hatch that stands open. Retrocog here is much clearer. We see lots of people hurrying out. The first are mostly militarily dressed, but then come civilian-looking people, moving in less disciplined order, carrying stuff. There are men, women, and children. We're obviously watching an evacuation.
Salimar tries for an image of the departing ship. We see several ships, of several designs, appearing to be a refugee fleet. We tell Edvard to look around; he finds signs of residual ionization and recent use of gravitics, but nothing that would let us pick out a trail through space. This exodus appears to have been a few days ago, about the same time as the great vanishment on Destine itself. Speaking of which, Salimar suggests she might get better retrocogs on the planet.
We resolve to go there, but we want to finish poking around the asteroid first. Since we have lost any possible element of surprise, and since there's probably no one left here anyway, we bring the Munch around to the big dome with the hole blasted out of it. It's a big hole, just large enough for the Munch. Edvard steers it through and we find ourselves floating next to a de-gravitized chunk of city. Well, "city" might be too grand, but at least a small cluster of buildings. All the windows are blown out and bits of glass are still ricocheting around the dome. Faint infrared traces point to the center of the blast. Local radiation levels are normal, unlike those on the Destine cities, or the moonbase.
Tom goes out, with Dafnord and Robbie. He's looking for something usable as a dowsing token, on the off-chance that he could use it to track the departed Destinos. What we find are vacuum-dried trees and grass, indicating this is a residential part of the dome-town. Good; better chance of a personal belonging.
But the departing Destinos have taken most of their treasures with them. Eventually, Tom finds a toy -- a stuffed animal. It gives no sense of direction, though, so either it had no owner, or the owner is dead, is psilenced, or has traveled through time, hyperstate, or dimension. Tom suspects the last, but there's no new data here. Salimar tries a retrocog and gets an image of a small girl unwrapping the toy under an elaborately decorated tree. Oh.
We climb back on the Munch and head back to Destine. Tom puts in time repairing Robbie; Edvard does radiation maps of the city; the autodoc whips up some anti-radiation serum (not as good as the anti-radiation psi score, but the score would take too long). After Edvard has his maps, we compare them to the Map of Here. As expected, the site of the vast and continuing dimensional anomaly and the peak radiation coincide, in downtown Destine City. And the individual dimensional incursions concentrated in that area, too. We're looking at the aftermath of a hyperspatial invasion.
A landing party -- Tom, Kate, and Dafnord -- suits up, takes their anti-radiation serum, and flies out on the grav sled, landing at what looks like a barricade made of deliberately crashed air-lorries. Tom hunts for some more dowsing tokens. Dafnord the place looks like a large-scale assault started near the devastation center and moved out, then scattered and went aerial. Tom starts looking around for signs of chaos infringement and other dimensional wobbles -- matching rates of separated watches, checking alignments on plumb bobs, etc. He also notes a distinctive psi signature.
Kate finds something odd in the patterns of destruction and collapse. Over the telepathy net, Robbie takes a second look, compares what Kate sees with our maps, and notes that lots of the falling buildings fell in toward the center.
Salimar now disembarks by the unusual process of bilocating, so that she also stays aboard. Her retrocognition and life-sensing uncovers some glimpses of the battle, and a trace of someone still here, about a kilometer thataway.
So we betake ourselves thataway. Edvard scans the area, and Robbie notes that it is near one of the blue markers on the Map of Here. The area is out in the suburbs, a very countrified or park-like area. Setting down right at the location of the blue marker, the landing party looks around for dimensional oddities again. Salimar finds a few stray threads caught on a bramble. Dafnord spots an odd shadow on a rock, a shadow only visible from a specific angle, vanishing on approach. Tom approaches, talked in by Dafnord, but he sees nothing. Salimar tries clairviewing nearby hyperspace and sees a suggestion of a tunnel into the rock.
This begins to look like a job for Brunalf, with his transdimensional egg-ship. Accordingly, he flies down and gives the place a once-over with his feline witch-sight. Sure enough, the place is swarming with those things that only cats can see.
Salimar tries a retrocog. In the octarine glow, we see a small figure wrapped in some loose garment -- robe, sari, highlander garb -- crawling frantically through the bushes, then into the rock and away. Brunalf, all engrossed in this, tries to follow the image and bumps his nose on the rock. Being a true cat, he tries to look like he meant to do that, but you can't lie on the telepathy net...
We load the over-eager neo-cat into his ship and try sending him into the rock, on the witch-trail. Tom conjures an ectoplastic rope ending in a net spun around the ship, so others can follow. Robbie suits up (even robots don't like radiation) and comes down to join us, bringing weapons, a medical kit, and Tom's collection of transformation amulets. While these preparations go on, the cat goes steadily nuts with impatience.
At long last, he is allowed to set out on the witch-trail, while Robbie, Dafnord, Kate, Tom, and 50 percent of Salimar look on. Just as the ship starts to fade into the rock, Salimar notices that the net is not passing through the rock, but instead passing through the ship.
Tom grabs the egg, trying to pull it back, and his fingers hurt where they touch the ship/rock joint. Salimar tries throwing a Knock spell at the rock. The egg-ship does sink halfway into the rock, but the dome also pops open and the net unravels. Soon, the ship is two-thirds into the rock and the cat is fading off the telepathy net. Tom does not give up dragging on the ship, with hands and TK, despite getting pinched all over, inside and out.
Sooner than anyone expected, Tom has been squeezed into the rock. The egg and cat are out of sight, except by Salimar's third-sight, and only Tom's hinder parts are normally visible.
Tom, still faintly on the net, urges the others to follow. Kate grabs Tom's belt, but starts to lose him. She shoves her hands in his back pockets and gets wickedly pinched as the pockets start to move into the rock. Kate pulls back.
Now, Tom and Brunalf are in the rock, or more exactly in the hyperspace adjacent to the rock. It's dark and foggy here, and not the same as a witchpath, which is after all not located in hyperspace or anywhere else. Tom and Brunalf are still on the net only by grace of Salimar. Kate notes she is tied to Tom's ectoplastic rope, which is still paying into the rock face. She unties herself before she gets squeezed again.
Out on the astral plane, or wherever the heck it is, Tom urges the cat to back up. He heaves on the egg. It spins. He spins. The egg vanishes off into the gloom. Tom hastily locates his rope, his only clue back to a place, any place. "Come back!" he yells, mentally and vocally.
Somewhere, the egg is spinning. Salimar reads Brunalf's uppermost thought -- Does spinning trigger that damned safety foam?
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.