Chapter 16: Tom Found
We left our heroes looking for Tom in the Back of Beyond, in their new
air-ship, the "Pudgie Budgie." They have just been given directions by
a strange, huge, gray figure who (1) pulled Robbie out of his body
(again), and (2) pointed toward Tom in a direction only the
newly-discarnate Robbie can see.
We all agree that Robbie should do the steering if the ship is to go off in some odd new direction. He can point in the "Purifier's" direction, but then his hand disappears, just as the Purifier's did. Accordingly, Robbie takes a rope and uses TK to make it point and pull in the right direction. For the rest of us, it just fades out of sight, but Gannar gamely tries manipulating the tiller to get the best pull possible. He thinks it best to do this with his eyes closed.
When he opens them, the ship is plowing through vague grey mist, the sort of thing we're used to seeing while on a witchwalk. We seem to be moving very slowly. But we're moving.
Markel tries dowsing for Tom and, for a change, actually gets a bearing. Gannar follows the new lead, which is close to Robbie's. Time passes. Or evades us. We wait.
Eventually, Dafnord spots something. Some patch of ... irritating color, possibly yellowish. It hurts to look at it, but it's a clue. "Ow. Look over-- ow --there." Robbie sees it. Dafnord gazes masochistically into the yellowish hurt and sees it churning a bit. =20
It's not in the way we're going (fortunately), but we're not passing it at all quickly, so Robbie sends out an eye to check it out. (This demonstrates that he can still pop out eyes, even in astral form.) Robbie discerns a yellow oval, and, once he's close enough, it doesn't look painful. (It never really bothered Robbie, just the rest of us. But we can tune in on his eye telepathically.)
The oval looks familiar, brighter at the edge. It doesn't look particularly awful, for a mysterious object encountered in a dimensionless gulf. It's about as tall as a human, or a bit taller. It looks, we decide, like a pantope portal. Tom has them glow yellow at the edges when they're open.
Robbie moves the eye forward. Thump. This one is not open. He tries to look in. Dafnord, sharing the vision telepathically, notes that the portal gives a close view of a rocky surface. Only yellowish.
Robbie steers the eye around to the other side of the portal, launches a second-sight viewpoint from it, and successfully gets through the portal. He is viewing from a point up in the air, near a cliff face. It's very high, part of a big canyon system. Down below, far, far away, there's activity. Robbie sends the viewpoint diving down and sees a battle -- several grey-clad ninjas battling a much larger figure, who looks more like an animated statue than like flesh.
Dafnord recalls, some years ago, being in a battle against these grey ninjas, at the castle of the Black Mage, at the feet of some prodigious cliffs. The Mage employed, or had created, some big golem-like fellows. Might we be looking at this event again?
(See http://home.comcast.net/~burrowses/Tuesday/Chaos/Marches-3.html and http://home.comcast.net/~burrowses/Tuesday/Chaos/Marches-4.html.)
Robbie tries to feel around for psi or magic signatures, but fails painfully and loses the second-sight viewpoint. Looking around with the astral eye, he spots a second yellow oval glow. It lies more in the direction we're hoping to find Tom in. But, approaching this portal, all he sees is his own eye staring back. This "portal" is a mirror.
We resume our tracking of Tom. Markel second-sites along the dowse this time, and soon sees the mist thin. Below, he sees some flat, corrugated surface. Dunes? No, waves, very slow grey waves. Ahead is an island with a bit of woods on it. And something on the beach. A figure, sprawled on the sand. Tom.
Eventually, the Pudgie Budgie plows out of the mist and we can all see what Markel saw. Robbie flies down to Tom. He checks out the woods, but nothing moves there. Good. We recall that, in the Back of Beyond, there was a sluggish sea with a wooded island, very possibly this one, but at that time there were aggressive flappy things in the woods.
(See http://home.comcast.net/~burrowses/Tuesday/Destine/Destine-35.html, the pantope's origin.)
Tom, on inspection, is breathing and has no obvious holes in him, but looks thin and dehydrated. A few days' growth of beard suggests the amount of time he's been stranded here. Robbie and Kate fly him back to the air-ship.
Robbie sprinkles him with water and calls his name. Tom wakes, wondering for a while if he really has. Where is he, and why is Robbie translucent? Some time and a fair bit of water later, he understands where he is (not looking very thrilled about the ship's name) and what happened to Robbie. He appreciates the robot's/eidolon's/whatzit's sacrifice.
What about his own story? It is briefly told. He sent the pantope windows flying along the coast, widdershins, and passed by the fishing giant and the sirens' beach. He saw the Purifier from a distance and passed him by, cautiously. Further on, he saw, from a distance, a band of the grey ninjas sneak along as if on their way to an ambush. He steered the window closer, to look, and-- BANG PAIN
He woke in the thick, sluggish ocean. Fortunately, it was easy to float on and he wasn't too far from the island. Once he swam there, he found very little to drink and even less to eat. He tried eating the local vegetation, but it never seemed to nourish; it was just shapes, like eating styrofoam. Since the sky was an unchanging dim grey, he had no idea how long he was there, but it was surely several days.
We make our slow way back up and ... out ... into the intercosmic mists. Tom eats, slowly and carefully, but persistently. Presently, we see the yellow glows again. About that time, Tom notices that, though he feels very full, he doesn't feel satiated. Just like on the island.=20
Here he is, fallen out of the pantope, or something, and the pantope's portals (or things very like them) are found in an interdimensional gulf. Dimensions. Hm. He asks Kate to raise her left hand. She raises the hand that looks, to Tom, like her right. Damn.
Tom mentions his gastric distress and says he's afraid that he fell back into three-dimensional space "the wrong way up," so that his left and right sides are reversed. That's trivial; what's not is that his sugars and amino acids are also reversed, so normal food is indigestible to him. He goes to the ship's head, to purge, and Robbie has the autodoc run off a bar of rock candy made of levulose -- invert sugar.
Tom returns, chews on his candy bar, and presents Robbie with a sheet of ectoplasm with "TOM" written on one side. Since Robbie can point off into other dimensions, can he also flip the sign around, extra-dimensionally, so it reads "MOT"? Robbie tries a few times, but he only succeeds in making the thing disappear and re-appear.
Never mind. Tom can live on the autodoc's formulations for a long time. We can try again later.
Meanwhile, what about those lost portals? We re-locate them (or re-dislocate them, considering), and Tom feels them out, psychically. They do feel like the pantope omniports. Tom can move them by mental command, and he gets the one looking out on the fight to lose its discoloration and become a true open portal.
However, he does not get it to open on the pantope. At least, not on the first try. He then looks over the other portal, the one acting like a mirror.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.