Week 50: The Ghost in the Machine
We left our heroes at Vinyagarond, the day after the Second Council on
Lanthil, trying to dig out information on nephilim and related subjects.
It's not clear how much time we've got, because Robbie has asked the
Djinnistani ambassador to take him back to Djinnistan with her, and she
may whisk him away at any time.
Tom has tired of all this pussyfooting around the issue, and wonders if it wouldn't be best to simply tell the Patalan ambassador that what appears to be a draconian (or Lilim) remnant is harassing the nephilite and fay remnants. Might it be an even better idea to tell everyone, since we've got them all here, and such public disclosure might prevent any retaliation by Patala if it turns out these draconians are working with Patalan backing or approval?
We decide that such an important political move should be discussed with Daewen first. A servant tells us that she's resting in the Old Drawing Room. Tom remembers where that has been moved to, and leads the way there. It is interesting to note that, despite the new location, you still get the old view out the window; glamour at work, one supposes. We debrief to Daewen and ask about disclosing our findings to Patala, or to everybody. She recommends not telling Patala alone, in case all this draconian activity is a scheme of theirs. Nor should we tell everyone, since that might embarrass Patala, and none of the involved arcane realms wants to embarrass a major player like Patala (unless there's a clear gain of course). And it is worth noting that the Patala embassy has been acting odd, what with the ambassador departing and returning like that, quite contrary to the security agreements with Alvirin.
Okay, we'll keep quiet. There's another issue. A lot of this turns on keeping arcane folk off "Earth." What, exactly, is "Earth"? One particular planet on one particular timeline? That planet on any timeline? The mundane, physical universe at large?
Daewen replies that, for political purposes, "Earth" is probably best defined as the domain of the Eretsarin. Unfortunately, we don't know what they consider their jurisdiction to be. In particular, we don't know if the pocket-universe of Yazatlan was made by the Eretsarin, by Patala, by Lilith or the Lilim, or by someone else entirely.
So working on the politics of the Plan and the Ban seems futile. We turn our attention to finding out more about these 49 cities set aside for the nephilim in the Kaf Mountains -- the same realm that contains Djinnistan, which is why Robbie asked to be taken there.
Nothing happens for the rest of the day. Very early the next morning, though, the Djinnistani ambassador sends word to Robbie that she's leaving. He can meet her in the back garden, and they can depart from there if it's quiet enough. (?)
Robbie and the rest of us are duly present in the dawn twilight of the back garden. The djinna shows up, looking quiet different. She is still robed, but rather than looking like a Mediterranean human with a sprinkling of pixie-dust, she looks like a silhouette of utter darkness, through which myriads of stars can be seen gleaming. She asks Robbie if he is sure this is what he wishes.
He says yes and asks if this is her true form. She replies that her true form is more spiritual. "And now, if you're quite certain?..." She holds out a hand. He takes it.
And she darts off, shrinking into the heights and the distance with preternatural speed, Robbie's figure in tow. Markel notes something like a glowing, multicolored crystal ball flitting off with them. We all blink, as if dazzled, though there was no flash of light.
Then we notice Robbie, collapsed on the ground. Puzzled, Tom kneels, pulls up Robbie's shirt, opens the access seam in his belly, and tries to re-boot him. Nothing happens. Gannar probes telemetrically and says that Robbie's peripheral systems appear to be working and responding over the comm link, but his brain isn't, and the peripherals are reporting massive system failures. Tom begins to suspect that the djinna (accidentally?) just took Robbie's brain.
To check this out, we need to get him to a lab. There are several in Vinyagarond, Tom being only one of several mad inventors -- uh, dedicated experimentalists in residence. Dafnord hoists Robbie over his shoulder and Tom leads the way into the house. His lab isn't where he last left it, but he soon finds it.
We startle a maid on entry. She stands dumbfounded in the doorway, blocking it for a bit. "Anyone in there?" Tom asks.
"Ah... I suppose not sir," she answers, glancing over her shoulder. Entering with Robbie and following the maid's glance, Dafnord spots a swirl of motion as someone exists hurriedly and shuts the door behind them. Someone who looked a lot like... Hm. Dafnord keeps his thoughts to himself for the moment.
Instead, he puts Robbie on a table so Tom can open him up further. Tom is somewhat disconcerted to find ... Robbie's brain. So the djinna didn't take the brain, she took his ... main process / identity / consciousness / soul, depending on the metaphysics you subscribe to. (On the other hand, the taker was a demi-spirit and we're caught up, at least peripherally, in the politics of angels. What term do you think is appropriate?)
Tom's metaphysical worryings are interrupted by a knock at the door. There's a young elvish page, bearing a tray. On the tray are some copper and silver wire, a trans-dimensional-style watch for reading coordinates, some spoons, and other staples of the spacetime surveyor. The page burbles apologies about being so long in getting these things, but the house is still in some disarray, and...
Tom reassures the page that he did fine, and wonders over the telepathy net about what's going on. "I'll explain later," Dafnord sends back, and resumes keeping his thoughts to himself. After the page leaves, Dafnord tells Tom about that person he glimpsed leaving as we entered was ... Tom. Oh.
Tom puts the tray carefully aside for the use of his later self and firmly decides to go back to worrying about Robbie.
After listening to Tom fizz about souls for a bit, Kate shrugs and pragmatically suggests changing power sources and trying to re-boot again. Tom blinks, shrugs back, and does so. Robbie boots.
He says "Hello, Tom." He asks where he is and why he's all opened up. Tom explains briefly, but notes that Robbie doesn't sound fully functional yet. In fact, he sounds rather like a crude speech synthesizer, or HAL in 2010, when he still has a few circuit boards missing. Experimentally, Tom reaches for Robbie telepathically.
Someone comes on the telepathy net. But it's someone new. Are there two of Robbie, now, one here and one there? This is worse than when Salimar underwent traumatic mitosis. Robbie continues to act confused, dazed, and distracted. Is everything new to him?
Deciding that it's best to resolve this situation as quickly as possible, we beat it for the Emerald Metaphor, which we left parked upstairs in the Grey Room. On the way, we pass a painting hung up in a corridor.
It's a very nice painting. In fact, it's a lost Rembrandt, somewhat resembling his famous "Night Watch," only showing a more civilian grouping. Chris "rescued" it (he always claimed, though he never said from whom) and presented it as a present to Daewen. It grabs Robbie's attention. He gazes at it, fascinated. Telepathically linked to him, Tom knows that this painting "means something" to the robot. Tom tries to help him puzzle it out by assisting Robbie's normally robust total-recall memory. But adding facts is the reverse of helpful.
A disturbing idea occurs to Tom, and he chokes down the telepathy net lest it get communicated to any others, especially Robbie. Tom suspects that Robbie was not after additional facts, but after meaning itself. Machines deal in data; minds deal in meaning. Meaning is now unfamiliar and new to Robbie, but tantalizing. Is Robbie just now in the middle of a sentiency crisis? Or a sapiency crisis? Are we just on the verge of having a new person here, rather than it being too late?
Tom hustles the party the rest of the way through Vinyagarond, into the Grey Room. He then positions Robbie with his back to the omniport -- so as not to engage his attention on anything interesting -- and fast-talks about how, for "technical reasons," it'll be safer if we power Robbie down before going on to try and track down ... something. Robbie dazedly agrees, and we shut him off.
We now board the Metaphor and disconnect from Faerie. Tom notes that the other omniport, which ought to be a gently drifting little ball of green light, is pulsing busily. Puzzled, Tom reaches out to it telepathically.
It bursts open at the first touch, into three windows, stacked diagonally in the air. In each one is a Tom-like person standing at a helm lectern. Everybody stares at the Tom collection, including the Toms. "Are you from the future?" Tom -- this Tom, the one we've been tracking -- asks. The one in the back window hastily taps on his lectern, and all the windows close. We are back in normal self-containment.
What the heck was that about?
Dafnord suggests that the other Toms were all lost and looking for the Metaphor, and found this one. This sounds as likely as anything else.
Once more turning his attention away from temporal anomalies, Tom resumes contact with the omniport and tries to dowse for, uh, Robbie. Robbie 1.0.
The window opens and shows Robbie in a room full of machinery. Tom recognizes it as the engine room of the Nones. But what's Robbie doing with that fire extinguisher? He squirts mist over the hyperdrive's horizon projector. Frost accumulates, and the window abruptly snaps shut.
The other party members explain, with various degrees of humor or diffidence, how Robbie did that to speed-cool the hyperdrive and so shorten the time before the Nones could jump again, and thus dodge battle. This is not safe jump procedure, but, as they point out, Tom did get the ship back, so he shrugs, mutters something about "All's well that ends well," and tries again.
This time, the window opens on Robbie in an earlier body -- the massive, turret-like body that he first went adventuring in, before being jacked into a steam-driven robot by evil techno-mages, then rescued by us and being given a more humanoid Sim body. This body (which is now stashed in the robot garage, in the ranch on Hellene) is holding something weird and twisty, intense curiosity evident in its posture. The twisty thing is trying squirm away and failing. It is, we eventually realize, is a Toon, maybe a hyena, a race native to Robbie's original timeline. So this is presumably a scene from Robbie's earlier career.
Tom tries again, concentrating on the feel of Robbie's mind. The window opens on a scene of snow mountains. They look high and craggy, like the Himalayas, but we hope they are the Kaf. They are pinked by the first light of dawn, and we appear to be looking west. There's a lot of mist.
There's more than mist. Dafnord notes that the air of the Metaphor now has sparkles drifting through it. Tom tests the local ether and is staggered by heavy -- and mounting -- charge of psi. And this is just a window. Tom hastily punches buttons to record coordinates and shut the window. As it snaps shut, he realizes the screen on the console read "Coordinates unavailable." Huh. Well, that, plus the sparkles and the mountains and the psi, all makes it look like we've found the Kaf.
"Tom," Braeta asks, breaking into this reflection, "does it often snow in here?" This place is too new for anything to have happened "often," but Tom is still surprised to see that the sparkles were mingled with some snow. Both are now fading out, but the snow and sparkles have the same psi-signature. A strong one. As in Tom feels a migraine coming on.
Braeta, looking at a sample snowflake, melting on her finger, remarks that it is certainly snow, but doesn't feel like weather. An interesting distinction. Well, the daughter of Zeus ought to know, if anyone would. Dafnord thinks it would be interesting to collect some of this stuff, so Tom conjures a jar and a sponge for him, and we soon have some possibly very magical water.
Tom tries to get that contact back again, and succeeds. Same mountains, same dawn. Same sparkles and snow leaking through the window, into the pantope. Tom walks around to the other side of the window, to get the eastern view. His is momentarily dazzled by a sun that is far too bright and close for any normal sunrise. (Some of the others, remembering the wrap-around nature of the Metaphor's geometry, look over their shoulders to where the other side of the deck apparently descends like a funnel, its point always about 100 meters away. Now, that point shows a dazzling spark of pink-white light.)
So, it would appear we have a window on some point near the eastern edge of the Kaf. And somewhere near Robbie 1.0, we hope. Tom, once his visual purple recovers, tries to home in on Robbie 1.0. The window eagerly zooms in toward the mountain, causing a lot of flinching in the onlookers. But it gets stuck, for some reason, on the slopes, and can't be moved in any closer.
And it's getting heavily psychic in here. It pains Tom to even try analyzing it, it's so powerful. It is also snowing in here. Some of it is getting down Tom's neck. However, we do see a patch along the mountain side. And snow is blowing through the window. It would appear the window is now a door, despite still having a green border. It looks like the only thing to do now is get out and walk.
We open the other omniport into the ranch on Hellene, to go get parkas, snowshoes, and similar equipment. As we come back, hopefully ready for our expedition, we notice the ranch furnace has come on. And it's still snowing in the pantope. We enter.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.