Lords of Being
Chapter 14: Captain Barron's Briefing
The RV has arrived from Iowa and Catalyst has been introduced when Captain Barron comes over and asks where we’re planning to eat. There’s nothing like a long road trip with a couple of anxious hours wondering about a mysterious motorcyclist to give one an appetite. Neville enthuses, “Dinner sounds great!”
Glass is less keen on the idea. “I’m willing to go anywhere you’d like to eat.” Which is reasonable, since the Elemental Knights don’t eat food. While the Courtiers can eat, or at least give the appearance of eating, they don’t really need to eat either.
Captain Barron says, “I’ve flown to Ft. Lauderdale before, but never had much time to get beyond the airport diners. Have any of you ever been here before?”
When the rest of the group admits that they haven’t had much dining experience in the Ft. Lauderdale area, the Captain goes and asks some of the service crew for suggestions for local restaurants. He returns with a recommendation for a restaurant named “The Claw and Hoof”, on the beach. The flounder is a specialty.
Glass shrugs and decides to just have a drink. Anything, as long as it comes in a glass.
The Captain Barron asks who the newcomer is.
Glass replies, “This is Mr. Baker. He’s a candidate for copilot, should he meet your high standards. But let’s worry about that later. There’re only so many hours in the day that can be devoted to work. I can carry one in the sportscar.” Catalyst wastes no time stepping over to the car and sitting down.
Captain Barron looks disappointed and enters the RV. We all follow, to find the Captain stopped just inside the door. “Do you have pets? Something was rustling in here.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Hellgrammite replies. “It was probably just something shifting from your weight as you entered the RV.”
Captain Barron dubiously says, “OK…” He sits down, then stands and removed a tiny little tool, obviously meant for tiny little hands. He looks at it, and then sits down again.
Hellgrammite makes his way to the front of the vehicle, and enters the name of the restaurant into the built-in navigation system.
Attempting to make conversation, Captain Barron says, “I keep wondering when those things are going to make me obsolete. The Restaurant is near the beach. Lots of sand. Your friend likes sand, I guess.”
This is answered with an echoing silence.
Captain Barron continues, “Are you all into glass?”
Mabel attempts to pick up the conversation, “No, I live and breathe dogs.”
Claude observes, “Glass is extremely useful in my business.”
That pretty much exhausts the conversation until we arrive at the restaurant, which fortunately isn’t very far away. The GPS leads us to a seaside restaurant, just off a public beach. It seems to have a good clientele. It has outside tables, which is good, since Hookie can join us. It’s reasonably crowded.
Over in the sports car, Catalyst says, “So we’ve got monkeys in Ames. Lady D told me that there’s the monkey-specialist Chaos Lord that’s after you. And isn’t there an Order Lord after you too?”
“Yup,” Glass answers, as he pulls out of the hanger. “There’s one of them after us too. We need to keep that bit of Asiras out of their hands.”
“Yes, Lady D said that. She wants you to keep it until ‘someone with their head screwed on right’ comes and picks it up. Preferably a Lord of Chaos and a Lord of Order together. Until then, we keep Mr. Carrols safe, right? That means being on the run.”
“And you’ve got this plane to be on the run with, right?”
“Yes. And this human pilot who’s just a tiny bit skittish.”
“Has something happened to make him nervous?”
Glass grins. “Oh, I probably helped. We need him to be able to cope with unusual things. So I gave him to understand that we do unusual things. So I think he thinks we’re quasi-governmental. And there’s always the possibility that instead of being the good guys, we’re actually the bad guys.”
“How moral do you think he is?”
“If he thinks he’s you’re the bad guys that could be a problem.”
“Since I know we’re on the side of the angels--”
Catalyst notes dryly, “They were very clear about that.”
“--I figure in the long run, we’ll likely win him over. But there is the danger of the short run. We need to work on that.”
“I’ve just remember that Lady D talked about money problems with your plane?”
“Yes, it’s kind of pricy.”
Catalyst reaches into his satchel and pulls out a black velvet lump. As he unfolds it in his lap, it becomes clear that it’s a big sheet of black velvet with a lot of little pockets in it. “Lady Diamond sent this to you. Each pocket has a diamond, half of them cut, half uncut. Most are clear white, some are yellow, and a few are red. The only thing is that they may be hard to convert into cash.”
“I can work that out. Thank you. And thank her.” Catalyst folds the sheet back up, and puts the bundle away in his satchel once more.
Glass muses, “One of the things about convincing the pilot is that we need to convince him that you are a suitable copilot.”
“That may be hard since you don’t yet talk a good game.”
“I could keep my mouth shut a lot. We could say I’ve had a lot of training but it was all informal.”
“At least you’ll have good paperwork. It’s a well-used plane, so I assume you’ll be able to demonstrate immediate skill with it. I guess it's best to try not to talk about it a lot until we’re up in the air somewhere.”
“We can try that.”
“Meanwhile, we’re going to have to spill a bunch of beans to him.”
“That would make life easier. You know him best. You’re the better gauge than I am on how much these people can take. How fast.”
“Right. My experience is that they adapt very quickly if it’s to their advantage.” Glass then cites the example of how quickly humans take to new technologies.
As the car glides to a halt at the restaurant, Catalyst sums up, “So if I can show Captain that I know my stuff, it will probably be okay. And I’ll probably be able to use the right terminology when I’m in the pilot’s seat, 'cause that will be part of the job.”
Glass and Catalyst find the rest of us seated, outside. Captain Barron notices that Glass orders two glasses of water and a small appetizer. The two glasses are initially identical, and both are full. He watches as Glass sips from his glass, and each time he puts it down, it still appears full. Though he suddenly notices that the glass that Glass has been drinking from is smaller.
Claude mentions, “You’re right captain, this flounder is delicious.” He's been smelling it.
“Think nothing of it,” says the Captain, with his eyes on Glass’s glasses.
Neville chats with the Captain, and draws out of him that he’s been all over America, as well as Europe and Japan. His parents are living in Kansas. He grew up in that area.
Neville discusses legends of the Kansas area, which leads us to crop circles, which leads us to “How are you on UFOs?”
Barron has never seen one.
Claude looks up from the sugar packets he’s been playing with and says “I haven’t seen one in months.”
Neville looks at him, “You’ve seen one?”
Claude reconsiders, “Maybe years.”
“Where did you see a UFO?”
“Oh, no, it hasn’t been here. Nowhere around here.”
Glass breaks in, “They really haven’t been much of a concern for us. It’s not like everything that’s odd or peculiar is our bailiwick. We’d prefer that many things didn’t get attention.”
Neville grins. “Like the frogs?”
“Yes. And the Nut-Walters.” To Barron: “And you wouldn’t believe them if you saw one.”
Rosamund adds, “It’s not that we’re in charge of the weirdness, we’re charged with dealing with it.”
Glass shrugs. “I might have overstated things before. Thinking back, there have been UFOs for just about as long as there’s been recorded history. Some of those do end up being our business. But largely, most of the things that are called UFOs aren’t our business. Or at least I haven’t found them to be. But we should be having this discussion someplace more private.”
Captain Barron suggests, “How about we go for a walk on the beach after dinner.”
Glass nods, “That would be an excellent idea.”
The conversation turns to more mundane topics, until Captain Barron and Neville, the only humans in the group, have finished their meals. After the meal is paid for, we walk down to the beach until we’re a good distance from the restaurant, and the sound of the waves will cover our conversation.
Captain Barron asks, “So, what would you all like to tell me?”
Mabel attempts to start. “There’s a basic truth that we don’t want to tell you, because it’s so terrible.”
Rosamund cuts in, “Oh, that. We don’t need to talk about that, because it’s not going to happen.”
Glass interrupts. “Without going into the details, which are odd enough to make even him,” with a nod to Claude, “think it was weird. There was recently a real crisis. In our own ways, we represent two or three groups who have been chartered with cleaning up the mess. The fallout of the great crisis is that there is a very valuable object that we have to protect. We’ve discussed that a bit, but I’d prefer not to discuss it now. We ended up with two goals. One is to put right things that are seriously out of place. And the other is to protect the object that I’m not talking about.”
Captain Barron responds slowly, “And you have competition so you need the plane to keep moving, or do you need the plane to get to the things you need to put right?”
“So we’re talking about going anywhere in the world to clean up this crisis.”
“Yes. The first one was in Bugtussle where Mr. Carrols got dragged into this. The second one was in York, England.”
Rosamund interjects, “I think this might be more understandable if we introduce ourselves. I’m Lady Rosamund of the Courts of Chaos and my specialty is horticulture.” She holds out her hand for the Captain to shake. It has sprouted a few leaves, and has a mossy feel. “I love the beauty of gardens, and I help keep them here. The garden of Eden was lovely. There are still remnants of it here on Earth.”
Captain Barron appears to be taking this fairly well. “Lady of Chaos?”
“Gardens are not naturally orderly, but they do not thrive in a world without order.”
Mabel chimes in, “I on the other hand, am a Lady of Order.”
Thinking over what Rosamund has just said, Captain Barron asks, “Because Dogs are so orderly but need some chaos to thrive?”
“No, because I like dogs. Always have. We’ve been around since the beginning of time,“ she adds, to underline the “always.“
“So you’ve liked dogs since there were dogs.”
Mabel grins. “Yes, that covers it.”
Captain Barron now turns to Hellgrammite and asks, “Lawful neutral?”
“I’m a Lord of Chaos myself. Though I do love your gadgets. They’ve very orderly.”
Glass interjects, “This makes them collaborationists.”
The Captain asks, “And you are which?”
Glass shakes his head. “No. Neon and I are Elemental Knights. I believe you heard that phrase earlier.”
“Yes. You’re knights?”
“Well, yes, it’s an Order.”
“I wish I’d paid more attention when I played D&D in college. You’re saying your elementals?! If I hadn’t just seen her do her trick, and you do your trick, I’d think you were handing me the biggest pile of fertilizer in the universe.”
Speaking of tricks, Claude moves his finger in a circle in the air. Where his finger was, the air glows red and the slowly fades back to transparency.
Glass continues, “Having mentioned that they’re collaborationists, the other side is made up of two flavors of separatists.”
Captain Barron says, “So that’s who you’re on the run from.”
“People who believe in only one or the other, either Chaos or Order. And that the one or the other is superior, instead of complementary. My own job is to see that important pieces of technology come to be so I tinker and try to help and encourage people who are inventing. The job is about helping your folk. And it just doesn’t help if other people get into wars here. It’s not good for people and it’s not good for dogs and it’s not good for plants.”
Captain Barron turns to Claude, who’s still doodling glowing figures in the air. “What do you do?”
“I’m a lighting designer.”
That explains so much. “Oh.”
Claude continues, “As soon as they discovered how to excite neon correctly, this became a much more fun planet.”
That didn’t help. Barron now turns to Neville. “And who are you?”
Neville replies, “I’m a paranormal investigator.”
“So are you in charge of making sure weirdness turns out right?”
“No, I just investigate it. I'm a... an ordinary person.”
“You really struck it rich with this bunch, didn’t you?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“And we’re the only two who are human, right?”
The Captain now points at Hookie, “Is he a dog?”
Mabel answers, “Yes…”
“I hear dots after that.”
“He’s one of my own special breed.”
“I can live with that.” The Captain walks a bit down the beach and sits on a bit of washed up log to think.
Looking after him, Glass says, “I’d rather hoped to ease him into it a little.”
Rosamund shrugs. “It’s also good to know how he’d react to strange things like if a monkey is coming at him with a missile.”
Glass says, “I was typing on my keyboard one day. It went away, and so did the rest of the world. Given how much that shook me, I’m thinking we could go a little easy on the mortal.”
Neville asks “The world went away?”
“It was a real pain.”
Claude adds, “Just for a moment.”
“How did the world go away and I managed to miss it?”
Hellgrammite replies, “You went away too.”
Glass explains, “Most of what you think of as you went away too. And the bit that was left behind had a hard time putting it together before the world came back. But I’ll bet there are some folk like you that managed to remember it.”
Rosamund adds, “Humans are very tied to your physical manifestations. And when that goes away, most humans tend to forget the time that it wasn’t there. In fact, when that’s gone, and the spirit hangs around, sometimes it doesn’t believe that the body is gone.”
Hellgrammite adds, “Then there’s traumatic experience amnesia.”
Neville asks, “What caused the world to end?”
Hellgrammite replies, “The Breakdown.”
Glass explains, “Separatists got the upper hand for a moment.”
Mabel adds darkly, “Sabotage by entities unknown.”
Glass looks at her, “They didn’t really cover it in my briefing.”
Neville asks, “Briefing by who?”
Glass replies, “Exactly.”
Before Neville can ask again, Captain Barron comes striding back. He seems to have worked himself up into something that looks like anger. “You guys, except him, are metaphysical agents.”
Glass replies, “Yes.”
Barron continues, “Got that part, I think. But. We haven’t heard any details. I know about collaborations.”
Hellgrammite notes, “It hasn’t been visible, until recently.”
Barron goes on, “That was what I was getting to. You were talking about a crisis. And you’re cleaning up after the crisis. Should I know about the crisis?”
Mabel sighs, “In some sense, knowing the nature of the crisis is irrelevant.”
Glass turns to Neville and asks, “Would it help to tell him about the thing that I was just mentioning, or do you think that would only add to his confusion?”
Rosamund says, “It’s been said that you can only believe only a few impossible things before breakfast.”
Captain Barron replies, “Six, it was the white queen; Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking-Glass.”
Rosamund counts party members on her fingers, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7... We’re already over your limit.”
Mabel adds helpfully, “On a full stomach, you can believe more.”
Neville tries to bring the topic back to Glass’ question. “I suspect he’s as confused as he’s going to get, and telling him more won’t hurt.” The same probably applies to Neville himself.
Glass says, “Let me see if I can lay it out. A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk. The desk went away, the Earth went away, eight minutes later, the sun went away. Basically, it was the end of the world. Lords of Order and Chaos who were supposed to be working together, started quarrelling and the world went away. Fortunately there are higher powers, and they decided to take over and put it all back. And on the whole, it’s back.”
Captain Barron notes, the qualifier. “On the whole?”
Hellgrammite tries to explain: “They don’t know what they’re doing. For example, you’re an expert pilot. When you’re flying the plane, the passengers can expect a smooth ride. If an amateur took over, the ride wouldn’t be so smooth.”
Glass adds, “So there are the occasional bumps along the way.”
Captain Barron asks, “Like UFOs?”
Mabel replies, “Like rains of frogs in Iowa.”
“Which you cover up.”
Glass soothes, “To keep the bosses from getting embarrassed. And to keep the natives from getting restless. We’re really more concerned to keep people from getting hurt than embarrassed. This was a rift in space and time and causality. So basically, we go plaster up these cracks.”
Captain Barron considers. “Worthwhile job.”
Glass says, “Sometime I’ll tell you more. When we’re up in the air. In addition to being a fan of the way things work in this country, it’s this continuity thing. Everybody’s got problems if there’s no continuity. And it's better for you people if you deal with the world you're given and don't get distracted by, uh, ‘magic.’ So we have to deal with cracks, and we have to deal with the fact that the Seperatists are at odds and maneuvering. So we need to be able to move around.”
“To plaster the next crack.”
“Yes. There are some of us who can get around very fast. But doing that takes energy that’s needed to plaster the cracks.”
Captain Barron grins. “So God might not need a starship, but you need an airplane.”
Glass continues, “So, on the whole I expect that Catalyst…”
Captain Barron interrupts, “You mean Mr. Baker?”
“Yes. He can fly the plane as well as anyone ever did. But there’s a lot to be said for firsthand experience.”
“You already expected there to be some danger, but it would all be in a good cause. The danger is somewhat bigger, and so is the cause.”
Captain Barron considers, “What you say makes sense, given the other stuff you’ve said. I’ve seen some funny stuff… I’ve gotta say that some mouthfuls take a while swallowing.”
“I understand. I was going to break it to you a little more gradually.”
Captain Barron looks at the group and asks, “The world ended a couple of weeks ago and they put it back. What happened to me?”
Glass replies, “Everything material went away. But there’s more to humans than just the material. You’re used to perceiving the universe materially. All of the mechanisms for perceiving and recording that memory went away. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some who remember. But I suspect that they’re not doing as well as they could. I’m literally as old as dirt, and it shook me up.”
“So you’ve never been through anything like that before?”
Mabel says, “13.7 billion years, and it’s never happened before.”
Rosamond notes, “There would be two kinds of people who would remember. Those who aren’t doing well, and those who are doing extremely well, since they always do extremely well. People like Buddha.”
Captain Barron appears to have made up his mind. “Well, it all fits. I picked the restaurant, so I don’t see how you could have rigged those glasses. That was a warm-up for me, wasn’t it?”
Rosamund says, “I, on the other hand, tend to be fairly direct, as Neville will tell you.” Neville nods, emphatically.
Captain Barron asks, “So you’ve got Separatists after us. What can you tell me about the opposition? What am I up against?”
Glass replies, “They’re not as powerful as angels, but a heck of a lot more powerful than humans.”
“Oh great, the goblin king is after us.”
“Very good! There was a movie recently, with Jet Li and Jackie Chan. There was a Monkey King in it. If you see him, you want to go the other way.”
Rosamund says, “A couple of dozen of the Lords and Ladies. On this planet.”
Even given all that Captain Barron has heard, this is a startling statement. “They’re coming in from other planets?”
“So far as I can tell, it was the universe that went away. But I’m thinking that there’s something exceptional going on here.”
Rosamund says, “I’d say that there are probably several exceptional places in the Universe, and this is one of them. And I would guess unless there is another Si elsewhere, only some of the elements are here.”
Glass goes into a trance for a moment, and then says, “Most of me are having troubles. I have a fixed amount of attention that I can put in a fixed number of places. I can’t attend to all the silicon on all planets, etc. But I don’t have to attend to just one, I can be a little skitzy. I’m attending to a lot of things in a lot of places. Yes, there are terrible things happening in other places. But what’s going on here is highly unusual. So this place may get more attention than it’s gotten in the past.”
Rosamund notes, “It’s not every place that we go that has this much of interest.”
Glass agrees. He looks at Rosamund and says, “The place that the crystalline city just collapsed has no use for you whatever. There’s never been a vegetable there. That is a very specialized place. This is a generalized place.”
Rosamund replies, “In the universe, boring places are more common than interesting places.”
Hellgrammite adds, “Not to mention that we have the higher-ups looking over our shoulders.”
Captain Barron has a lot to think about. “I need to collect my thoughts. Can we go back to the airport? I need to rent a room and sack out. However, before we go, there was there was guy who said ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ Can you show me something extraordinary?”
Claude floats up about 3 feet. The bottom of his feet are glowing red. Barron walks around him, and waves underneath his feet, finding nothing supporting the floating Knight.
Rosamund says, “I knew about your health issues.”
Captain Barron considers. “And you knew about the cholesterol.”
Rosamund adds, “But you’re extraordinarily healthy.”
Captain Barron grins wryly. “Real glad to hear it. I expect I’ll need to handle some stress soon. Can we go back to the RV now?”
As the walk back to the parking lot, Captain Barron asks Hellgrammite, “What did I hear rustling in the RV?”
“Never mind. I’ll find out later.”
Glass offers, “There’s nothing weird in my sports car.”
Captain Barron and Glass get into the sports car, as the rest of us pile into the RV. On the way back to the airport to pickup the Captain’s overnight bag, Barron asks to stop at a Blockbuster Video store, where he rents “Forbidden Kingdom,” the movie that Glass alluded to earlier When he comes back out, Glass hands him his phone and tells him to press “OK” if he likes the hotel Glass picked. They drive to the plane, pick up his overnight bag, and then drop him off at the hotel, wishing him a good night.
Once the others have boarded the plane for the night, Catalyst observes, “Well that didn’t go too badly, all things considered.”
“No gibbering in the corner,” agrees Glass.
Rosamund notes, “He is healthy.”
While we were out, a pile of stuff had arrived.
Glass settles in to spend the night running fiber optic cables with the help of his little glass figurines.
Hellgrammite moves those servers from the RV that aren’t required to drive the vehicle, along with a collection of clanks.
He also checks on his home servers. Someone has been trying to hack in, though they haven’t been successful yet. And the background noise of hacking in the local area is a little high, which is mildly worrying.
Rosamund goes out on a series of shopping trips to acquire various chemicals in batches that won’t attract attention if purchased in small quantities. She’s buying things that can be mixed into explosives with the right know-how, as well as medical supplies for the two humans, the dog and some plants.
Neon is working on the lighting and considering what illusions it might be useful to hang on the plane.
Mabel works on the papers for Mr. Baker, a.k.a Catalyst.
When she returns, Rosamund asks Catalyst for his help. “I will be making some defensive items for us. Your skills might help these become just the right level of dissuasion.”
“Oh sure. I can help make the force of the explosion as small or large as you want. And I can help with the timing.”
They repair to the gallery to whip up a trial batch. In a short while the come up with balls of gunk in carefully graded sizes that go bang if not handled properly.
At around 3 AM, phones ring throughout the plane. The caller ID reads Steve Barron.
Captain Barron’s voice is strained, “I don’t want to overact, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I’m not sure what ‘overact’
is at this point. I watched the movie. I trust you’re not going to turn everyone into worms at the end?” (This is what happens to the villains.)
Glass replies, “No, that’s not in the plans.”
Captain Barron continues, “Then I sat up thinking until I nodded off. I woke up a few minutes ago. My room was extremely cold. There was a young woman talking to me. I wasn't dreaming because there was no break between that and me talking to you now. She didn’t look well. She had no hair and was in a hospital gown and had an IV and she was telling me ‘You’re working for destruction you know.’ And she said ‘You can’t trust them.’ And then she wasn’t there.”
Mabel says, “We think we’re not working for destruction.”
“I’m glad to hear that, ma’am.”
Glass says, “I don’t think it was just a psychological phenomenon. “
Rosamund says, “Even if she was a ghost.”
Captain Barron takes a deep breath. “Ghost. That’s the word. I was wondering when it would come up.”
Mabel says, “If a dog doesn’t react to it, I don’t tend to believe in it.”
Glass interrupts, “I don’t want talk about this over the phone. Would you mind coming to the plane?”
Captain Barron laughs shakily. “I’d like to get out of this hotel.”
Glass drives to the hotel and picks up Captain Barron, who’s waiting for him in the hotel entrance. It’s a short drive back to the hanger. Once everyone is onboard and the hatch closed, Glass says, “Anyone who was already dead at the time the world went away would be more likely to remember the event and may have been traumatized by it. But the fact that she knew to find you here suggests that someone knows about us. My advice to you is that you want to commit to helping us protect Mr. Carrols, or you want to get out of here as fast as you can and hope that they’ll not notice you. That was a real event.”
Captain Barron takes a deep breath, “I’m in. But I’d better not find that you’ve been lying to me.”
“I may have misinformed you if I’ve been misinformed myself. But I can confidently say that I have not been lying.”
Claude remarks approvingly, “You said on the telephone that you were afraid you might be overacting. I’d say you’re being remarkably levelheaded. Reporting first and then panicking is an excellent reaction.”
Last Updated: Jun 5, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved