Chapter 96: Adventuring Backward
Our heroes have been tying up loose, ends, getting ready for the mass
escape of the nephilim from Yazatlan. They've located a missing agent,
done their best to quell an ill-timed war, and now have to find out what
happened to seven missing messengers.
These fellows were sent out by Gon Tum Sun, over three months ago, in the Archipelago of the Sun, a quasi-Japanese part of Yazatlan. They were to spread the word north along the island chain. Or rather first three were. The next four were sent to find them and also haven't been heard from.
With Mr. Sun's assistance, we zero in on the first trio, at their point of departure. We then follow them, with a window, Kate driving. This is not all that easy, because they start from a village on the Great Isle, which is heavily wooded, and you lose track of them on the windy forest trails if you try to fast-forward too much.
They go several miles the first day, then stop at a village inn and have a brief conversation with someone at another table. We fast-forward through the night. They leave, talking briefly with their contact from last night. Back onto the forest roads.
We see them starting to look nervous and wary, but we don't know why. Fortunately, the Gargoyle happens to look at the other side of the omniport window. This shows the backward, rear, view, and he spots something moving in the woods. We freeze-frame and look closer. Dafnord guides us in, and we eventually see that the trio are being tracked by a humanoid draconian in exotic, stripey, very effective camouflage. This is just what we were afraid of.
Dafnord recommends we stop following the trio forward in time and start following the dragon back. This is a very good idea, tactically, but tricky when dealing with an expert and camouflaged stalker (albeit one who can't see you), and all working backward.
In fact, our heroes spend a great deal of time in reverse gear from this point on -- or back -- giving our gamesmaster brain-cramps and making for what would be a very odd narrative. So let's just leap ahead -- or back -- to the end/beginning of this line of inquiry and relate what we discovered:
A draconian (not the one we first picked up) camping in a forest clearing, apparently sitting and waiting, around dawn. We open a very small door to listen as well as watch. (We have already learned, from -- er -- later experience, that the draconians can sense doors, though not windows.) A twig snaps, the draconian turns his head, and a human enters the clearing. He's a local, no one we know. He approaches the dragon deferentially and they talk. In Japanese or something like it. And, since our door and our window are not open on exactly the same moment, the effect is like bad dubbing. The dragon is peremptory and cross-sounding in the samurai mode. We record it all. The human departs and, a little later, so does the dragon.
He trots off into the woods and joins a group of seven other draconians -- six of them humanoid like himself, one of them more saurian, of a breed we've seen on draconian starships, acting as middle management. They presumably discuss things, then the whole group sets out, looking like a hunting party. (They carry weapons of the spear and halberd family.)
When they cross the forest road, they appear to pick up our trio's trail. They follow it for some time, pausing for a picnic lunch. (Which is not a nice thing to see when the picnickers are draconian and the whole thing is observed in reverse.) (Even if they do disgorge everything very neatly.)
They resume tracking, and the group of eight splits into two groups of three and five. We were following one of the threesome, who peels off alone, running with great stealth through the woods, until he gets within eyeshot of our human trio, which was when we first spotted him.
Robbie and Daphne depart the pantope to find Mr. Sun. Robbie tries to download his visual record to the comm system of the Tellemataru and is annoyed to find he can't. He can download to Gannar just fine, but close inspection shows that this was telepathy, not telemetry. Gannar relays all this and it eventually winds up on a wall screen for Mr. Sun's inspection.
He's very unhappy with what he sees.He's sure the draconians are quite suspicious of these messengers, tipped off by the fact that one poor fellow is wearing sandals that betray, by their weave pattern on the soles, that he's from a far prefecture. And, of course, they were tipped off by a traitorous human back at the first village, reporting a "suspicious gathering of strangers."
The saurian middle manager in this group of eight was a "dragon lord," and second subaltern for this area. (Mr. Sun proudly tells us that the dragons have to give the Archipelago of the Sun more attention because it has been a long-standing area of resistance.)
If we make all eight of these draconians simply disappear, that will arose even more suspicion in draconian circles. Having the quarry just disappear will be suspicious, too.
Mr. Sun proposes killing his messengers, making it look like it was done by draconian loyalists, or persuading them to commit suicide. (He's sure they'd be happy to cooperate.) Here's another bit of backward adventuring: we usually go about saving people. We would much rather, say, fake the bodies with brainless clones, though these would be difficult to manufacture. (Our new field hospitals could do it, if they work at nothing else for a week. But we Have Time On Our Side.) But Mr. Sun doesn't think these clones would fool the draconians, nor could the details of the scene of battle.
Robbie reluctantly suggests we acquire the trio, then edit their memories (which will work much better with volunteers), returning them to the forest for the dragons to capture and interrogate. The cover story is that they are dragon-quislings themselves, bait to lure the underground fighters into a bandit ambush. They might be turned loose alive, Mr. Sun says.
Looking down the forest road, we see a twisty stretch that would be a good place to intercept our luckless trio.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.