Really big. Doc didn't quite realize how mind bogglingly big it is. He has traveled to Saturn in hours, halfway to Alpha Centuari in days, and he once went to Miranda for a weekend alchoholiday with some mining surveyors he met after he left the service. It took the Younger Brother Pear mere minutes to reach the asteroid belt, but now, unable to use it's XD drive, it has to limp back across half the solar system.
They're still traveling faster than any man-made object for years, but it's still a three month trip. Early on it's not so bad, but with the TV busted and the holobooths inoperative boredom quickly sets in. Many hours are spent sitting on the observation deck, staring at the stars. It's surprising how little they actually move.
Their route is direct to Earth. Since the Pear holds a moon's worth of exhaust mass in an extra-dimensional pocket, the ship has nearly unlimited fuel. So there's no dicking around with transfer orbits or anything like that.
"Just turn up the juice until you're halfway there, then turn around and slow down," Veronica had explained. "Artificial gravity means we can accelerate at maximum Gs and not have our brains seep out our ears. It's just too bad we just doesn't have the power to get us there faster. If we didn't have so many problems, we could get there in 26 hours."
Mark and Thunderhorse spend most of their days floating around the ship in space suits spraying on the new thermal coating. It took a while to convince them that they wouldn't be left behind if they stepped outside the ship while it was moving. Veronica taught them how to use the spray guns and goes out every once in a while to smack them around and keep them on track.
Steve and Veronica spend their time wiring and re-wiring, building complicated electronic systems, reprogramming interfaces, and generally cleaning up the mess. The Cook's head is permanently detached, since there is one microscopic and vital component missing that no one can find a replacement for. It's okay, though, since Jazelle too can cook. She has a much more limited repertoire, but she cooks with passion.
And such passion she has. Her gazes towards Doc intensify with passing days, but she conceals it with vitrol towards everyone and everything. Doc is careful not to allow her to corner him for fear she might simply mutilate him with lust. Everyone but Thunderhorse, who is blindly in love, is irritated with her if not somewhat frightened. But she cooks a hell of a meal.
Veronica and she nearly came to blows one day. A snide remark about the lack of work ethic on the ship quickly devolved into rude comments on personal hygiene, which then spiraled further into derogatory accusations concerning breeding, in both the familial and habitual senses. Jazelle became frustrated by her inability to use her extrovertant willpower on the android, and Veronica was similarly frustrated by her moral inability to squish the human's skull with her bare hands. Thus Veronica permanently excused herself from the dinner table, and Jazelle permanently excused herself from happy hour.
Since Thunderhorse was practically chained to Jazelle by his own member, he too was absent from happy hour, which made the occasion much more quiet, sullen, and slightly dull. But such is life on a space ship. Mark, having no one to compete with at his usual level of drinking, began to curb his appetite for hard liquor in order to keep up in conversation with Veronica, Doc, and Steve.
"So, those guys who chased us into the asteroid field? They were time cops, weren't they?" Doc asks Steve pointedly.
"What makes you say that?"
"Veronica showed me the message they were trying to implant in our computers. It said, 'Halt immediately. We are the Time Police.'"
"It was dangerous to watch that. It could've melted your brain."
"Veronica saw it first. Then she showed it to me when she knew it was safe. But you knew what was going on the whole time, didn't you?"
"Have they come after you before?"
"What will they do if they catch us?"
"I don't know, for sure. I think there's a trial by jury where we're instantly convicted retrospectively, and then either executed or exiled."
"When, more likely. The far future, maybe? Somewhere we can't step on any butterflies."
"How can they tell if we're changing the time-line? If we've changed it isn't it a permanent part of history in the future?"
"Remember how the Q-Net articles from the future were fluctuating so wildly because the outcome isn't yet decided for this time-line? Well, the further in the future you go, the more wild those fluctuations swing. By studying the variances, you can calculate how far back and how significant an event a change is. When someone goes back in time, the fluctuations begin to change. If the Time Police think it's a big enough event, they come back and try to stop it. But if they're too late, like they were for us, their past is altered and, yes, it is a permanent part of their history. "
"So they won't be after us again until we start to change something?"
"Do they know about the end of the galaxy and that we're trying to save it?"
"No, they wouldn't listen. I tried to explain it, but they're bent on upholding the law as-is."
"If an alteration in the time-line is really just us traveling through alternate realities, what difference does it make whether we alter it or not? Why do they care where we go or what we do?"
"There's an alternate hypothesis, which much less evidence to support it mind you, that essentially states that there's only so much reality to go around, and that by changing a time-line we're not traveling through alternate realities, but creating new ones and spreading the 'fabric' of reality thinner and thinner. The more drastic the change, the more stretched the fabric becomes. No one has put forth a reputable interpretation of what happens when that fabric tears. In my opinion, no one reputable has contributed to that idea in any way whatsoever.
"But to alleviate fears that the universe will be prematurely ended by rampant time-travel, or probably more-so to give people a more comforting sense of linear time, the government of the future will pass laws limiting intentional time travel, and will create the Time Police to enforce them. I can only imagine the corruption, hypocrisy, and misuse of power that has brought. Will bring. Whatever."
So far the most significant event on the journey was the halfway point on the forty-fifth day. Everybody gathered on the observation deck to watch as the stars turned mechanically halfway around the glass dome and then stopped. The automated process took less than two seconds. Everyone cheered.
Today is the sixty-second day. Less than a month to go. Doc has been continuing the task of monitoring the sensor equipment which is mostly concerned with analyzing broadcasts from Earth. More easily said, he was watching TV. Among the few shows in English is Abbot and Costello doing their famous Who's on First skit in full color with an 8-bit electronic soundtrack. On another channel is the Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts, a live boxing match in Madison Square Garden. There's a German sitcom starring a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed actress being pursued by the affections of a gorgeous-but-shy young blonde, blue-eyed man and a clumsy caricature of a Jew, played by a blue-eyed blonde in a costume. The serial seems to revolve around the Jew trying to win the affections of the woman by use of greed, cowardice, and temptation, while the perfect Aryan specimen either undoes the evil the latter has done, or competes with him using
humility, modesty, and courage. Every day, the serial ends with pretty much the same result: the Jew is humiliated and sulks off to plot and the Aryan just misses kissing the girl by some comedic error.
It makes Doc want to puke, but there is honestly nothing else to do. Except, of course, for going down to the cargo bay and cataloging the artifacts there, which Doc decides to pick up again when Goebles comes on the tube for his daily white-power hour. It's almost as bad as Rush Limbaugh.
Doc makes his way down the elevator. He's been combing through the cargo bay the last week or so, trying to identify what's in the crates and barrels there, and if they've been broken. So far nothing has been damaged, so far as he can tell. There are thousands of artifacts, though, all vessels, spoons, masks, anything concave representing nearly every era in human cultural evolution. He's found that the cargo manifest was not remotely completed. Steve must've abandoned the effort to catalog them years ago.
There are, at least for the most part, rough piles of crates by culture and era. Doc has made his way through to the early Imperial China section. Doc begins the tedious task of separating the Qin artifacts from the Han.
Many of the crates were packed with hay which has long since rotted into dust. Doc wears a bandanna over his mouth and nose to keep the stuff out of his lungs. However, as Doc cracks a rather difficult one open, some of the dust gets up his nose and he sneezes. As he flexes over from the sneeze, he ends up projecting most of the expectoration into a small ceramic urn. He wipes his nose on the hankercheif and catalogs the urn into the late Qin pile, and returns to his task.
A moment later, he is aware of a faint screaming sound. It's growing louder. Doc turns to the Qin pile, which seems to be the source of the noise. It's coming from the urn. It begins to shake.
Out pop six men, all Chinese. They're dirty and dressed mostly in rags and carrying iron short swords. All of them are burdened with gold, jewels, and other trinkets far too extravagant for these men to have come by them honestly.
Surprised and alarmed, they drop their booty and draw their swords, shouting something Doc can't understand.
The crew of the Younger Brother Pear meets in the galley for dinner. The host has set the largest table for them, and the wine is already breathing.
Mark and Thunderhorse are already seated when Doc arrives from his office. Steve and Veronica arrive shortly after.
"Where's Jazelle?" Doc asks.
She shows up with a platter on a cart. "Cooking, what else would I be doing?" she says with a sneer. "That strange headless man was trying to roast one of those chicken lizard things in the washing-up device. I know there are many strange things on this star boat, but, honestly, why put a headless man in charge of the kitchens?"
She unveils her platter. Roast chiguana, mashed glazed yams, and cheesy sprouts. It's smells like Thanksgiving. The Host begins dishing it out.
"Well, I suppose we should start with the damage report, then," Steve says. "The Chef is apparently decapitated. Thank you for reporting it, Jazelle. Life support is back in the green, no problems there. Computing systems are back at 80% operational capacity. Main generators are at 20%. Our particle cannon is still online, there's just not enough power to use it. The replicator caught a power surge and needs some replacement parts that the concept for won't even be discovered at least a century. The Electromagnetic shield generator overheated and fused into a ball of gold and copper and if it weren't we wouldn't have enough power for it either, so we're sitting ducks if there's a solar flare. The thermal shielding still needs repaired. Structural integrity is still critical. XD drive is operational, but with all the micro-fractures in the skeleton we can't use it. Priorities are power, structure, shields, and thermal coating. The TV and holobooths have to remain offline until further notice."
"Fuck me," Mark says. "What're we supposed ta do then?"
"Help fix things," Veronica replies impatiently.
"I don't know nuthin' about fixin' this ship. Shit, I don't know half'a what Steve was talkin' about just now."
"Ever paint a house?" Veronica asks.
"Good. You can paint a new thermal coating on the ship. Thunderhorse, you can help him."
"Uh, don't that mean we gotta go outside the ship?"
"Don't be a pansy about it. I go out there all the time."
"Yeah, but you don't need ta breathe."
Steve interupts. "Mark, we can discuss your vacuuphobia later. Veronica, continue."
"Well, if those two monkeys can paint the ship and Doc can help me with the structural repairs while you're working on the power and shields, I'd say two weeks."
"Flying into an asteroid you are currently drilling into with nuclear warheads tends to rattle things up a bit. There's exactly fourteen thousand nine hundred and twenty one microfractures in the framework. Each effected beam needs to be removed, heat treated, and welded back into place. We have the cutting and welding equipment, but nothing that can re-crystalize the diamondsteel. We're going to have to fabricate something."
"We can't use thermite patches?" Steve asks.
"Not if you really want the ship to stay together in warp. There's just too many fractures."
"We don't have anything to fabricate a forge with. We can power something, but we need a shitload of tungsten and a forge to melt that into shape, not to mention the hydrolics and everything else we'll need to keep the pressure up."
"Is there much tungsten in the asteroid field?" Doc asks.
"There is some, but it will be hard to find. Still doesn't solve our forging problem, though."
"So, long story short, we need to get supplies from Earth," Doc says.
"Well, that will be a trick. We've arrived in the middle of World War Two, and not just your average hum-drum World War, but one with jets and rockets. Imagine World War Two taking place in the 1980's. As a matter of fact, I dug up this picture off their television broadcasts."
Doc shows them his I-Browse.
"Also, the United States seems never to have existed. The Q-Net entry is wigging out because of all the undetermined factors, so it's hard to figure what's going to happen, but from what I can tell without the US involvement, the world is much more likely to fall into Hitler's lap."
"What the fuck happened to the United States?" Mark asks.
"I tried to figure that out. Apparently, Father Nathan and his monks made a more permanent copy of the star chart. Nathan studied it for a few years before returning to France to give a lecture on what he'd found. He was not only laughed out of the conference, but branded a heratic and forced to flee back to Norway. He and the monks still loyal to him formed a sort of underground branch of Catholicism focused on new-found tenants of science and astronomy.
"A later pope took action against them and invaded Norway to root them out with an inquisition. The subsequent war forced many Norse to flee across the Atlantic to Greenland and eventually Nova Scotia, where they became the first permanent European settlers to North America. They brought with them 13th century tools and technology, and this was during the 12th century. This technology acceleration seems to have somehow effected all of Europe and Asia, although now it seems to have slowed to only 40 years ahead of where it should be."
"So this is World War Two with nuclear weapons?" Steve asks.
"Not yet, but soon. Possibly within two years. Strangely enough, some things didn't get accelerated. I think it has to do with the minds involved in inventing them. Nuclear physics really relies on Einstein and his contemporaries, even though in this timeline Gallileo describes Newtonian physics and Newton lays the framework for Relativity. Still, the world needed Einstein to really understand it, though."
"Interesting discovery," Steve hums. "We'll call that Shaw's Great Minds hypothesis."
"The Native North Americans got the best deal out of it. The technology the Norse brought, metallurgy, swords, chainmail, longboats, horses, things like that, gave them more of an advantage when dealing with the other European settlers that started coming around the time they should have. Earlier exposure to diseases like small pox and the plague allowed them more time to discover treatments and build immunities to them, certainly not like the Europeans but enough that it made a great difference. All in all, the Indians never got pushed aside by European culture and instead absorbed it."
"Are you tellin' me that injuns run the United States?" Mark replies incredulously.
"I'm telling you there is no United States. There are several smaller nations composed of tribal groups. They seemed to have taken to the European notions of political borders and real estate much easier than the indians we know. There are European settlements, New England and the Confederated States of America. They were never united, hence there was never a civil war. Slavery is still legal in the Confederated States."
"What about Lincoln? If the Great Minds hypothesis is correct, he must've accomplished something."
"Yes, in fact. He was an itinerant lawyer who successfully lobbied to have slavery outlawed in New England, settled several disputes between the Cherokee and Shawnee, and brokered peace treaties between nearly every warring nation in North America. He was asassinated by John Wilks Booth at Ford's Theater after he started lobbying to liberate the slaves in the Confederated States."
"So what does all this mean?" Mark asks.
"Well, on one hand the Native American tribes never suffer genocide at the hands of the Europeans. On the other, slavery still persists in the South. Color TV, video games, supersonic passenger jets, personal computers, and other foundations for modern society have already been invented, but some of the most evil men in history stand a good chance of conquering the planet."
Posted 5/28/2009 10:05:00 AM
While Steve and Veronica perform some critical repairs, Doc decides to do a little research in order to see if anything in history had changed. The ship's Q-Net uplink is still functioning, fortunately, and Doc downloads an entry onto his i-Browse.
"In 1933, Adolph Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, marking the beginning of the Third Reich. His broad reforms over the government placed him as dictator and sole leader of the country. He sought to expand his influence over the rest of Europe, starting by taking back lands that Germany had lost in World War One.
"Although he had annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, the invasion of Poland in 1939 is considered to be the official start of the new World War. France, England, and the Arctic Alliance disapproved of the military action and declared war on Germany.
"Under stealth of night in June 1940, German bombers slipped through the French RADAR screens and attacked Paris. With their air defense crippled and otherwise occupied, German helicopters flew around the French Maginot line, inserting SS special operatives in the heart of Paris. After capturing the Curie Nuclear Reactor, the French government was finally forced to surrender.
"The Germans had much more difficulty invading England, as the British RADAR screens had been amplified for wartime, and new laser guided surface-to-air defense systems were brought on-line shortly before war was declared. It was German stealth technology that finally broke through the line and brought London to it's knees. The British government was forced to retreat across the Atlantic her colonies in New England.
"The Arctic Alliance had more success in maintaining ground against the Germans. Their submarine networks beneath the Arctic ice allowed them to bring supplies undetected from their North American states. The excellence of the Nordic Navy combined with the vast natural resources and industrial power of their North American territories allowed them to maintain a hold of their ancestral homelands for much longer.
"After Norway fell, the focus of action took place in Africa as the Axis and Allies vied for valuable oil and mineral resources there. The Germans also continued fighting in England and France, as resistance movements began to spring up and cause disturbances to the Nazi logistical systems.
"In June 1941, Hitler retracted his peace treaty with Stalin and declared war on Russia. The German Luftwaffe was no match for the performance of the Russian jets, while Russian ground forces, while superior in numbers, were no match for German armor and artillery. Intense rocket fire from both sides devastated Russian and German cities and infrastructure while rapidly draining both sides resources.
"Meanwhile the Japanese began their invasion of North America. The Republic of California allied with the Japanese, allowing their forces to gain a foothold on the continent. The Republic of Nevada fell next, while the Northwest Nations held fast. British Columbia was annexed by the Japanese.
"The United Territories of Utah, the Apache Alliance, and the Crow Nations formed a mutual defense pact and were able to hold back the Japanese. Meanwhile, New England and the American Confederation formed an alliance, resulting in their ultimate victory against the Axis. The remaining American nations joined the Arctic Alliance.
"By 1945, after years of stalemate between Germany, Russia, and the Arctic Alliance, German scientists perfected the Atomic bomb. It's use against Stalingrad ended the war at last. Hitler had at last united the Earth into one glorious empire."
Doc, Mark, and Steve pour out of the automatic door to the bridge and collapse into the hallway. A billowing cloud of black smoke chases them, while alarms of all kinds scream relentlessly.
The three lie there a moment. Veronica steps out casually, kicking Mark's legs out of the doorway.
She seals the door. "Initiate halon flood," she tells a com panel beside the door. The small panel displays some red warnings. There is a great hissing sound from behind the bridge door. The alarms die off one at a time.
Doc is the first to his feet. Soot splotches his face. Mark follows him up, exactly one half of his face is totally black, the other is slightly stained in vomit. Steve continues to lie down.
"Are we clear?" Doc asks.
"Yeah, we're clear," Veronica answers.
"Did we take a lot of damage?"
"Not sure. The damage analysis computer is offline. I'll have to go down to engineering to have a look. At a guess, though, I'm going to say yes, we took a lot of damage."
Steve finally struggles to his feet. He pants a moment. "I'll go with you. Doc, see if you can figure out when we are."
Doc heads back up to the galley. He calls out to the Cook, who is in the kitchen.
"Coffee, please, Cooky."
"Yes, sir, right away."
The Cook comes out carrying a fresh pot and a mug. His head is missing. The decapitated body places the cup down two feet to Doc's left and pours out a precise measure of coffee exactly four inches right of the mug.
"There you are, sir. Enjoy," the Cook says from the kitchen.
"Leave the pot, please," Doc asks.
The body of the cook sets the pot down gently a full inch from the top of the counter. Fortunately it doesn't break. Doc pours himself a cup.
Veronica calls up on the com. "Damage analysis reporting is back on-line. We're in the red here. Life support systems are yellow, main power is at 20%. We may need to dry dock. See if you can find one."
Doc decides to be straightforward. "Computer, what is the date?"
"Mission Time is 372 years, 11 months, 14 days, 16:13:52," the computer's voice replies. It has an English accent.
"What's the date on Earth."
"Unable to comply. Navigation imaging offline."
"Computer, turn on the monitor."
"Unable to comply. Fault detected in monitor hard-lines."
"Can you see infrared?"
"What about radio?"
"RADAR systems online. Analog radio signal detected. Earth origin."
"Put it on, please."
It's in German. The voice is too familiar:
"...by circumstances again and again to keep silent, the moment has now come when to continue as a mere observer would not only be a sin of omission but a crime against the German people -- yes, even against the whole of Europe.
"Today something like 160 Russian divisions are standing at our frontier. For weeks there have been constant violations of this frontier, not only affecting us but also in the far north, as well as Romania. Russian airmen consider it sport nonchalantly to overlook these frontiers, presumably to prove to us that they already feel themselves masters of these territories. During the night of June 17 to 18 Russian patrols again penetrated into Reich territory, and could only be driven back after prolonged exchange of fire.
"This has brought us to the hour when it is necessary for us to counter this plot of Jewish-British warmongers and equally the Jewish rulers of the Bolshevik center in Moscow.
"German people! At this moment a deployment of forces is taking place that, in its extent and scope, is the greatest the world hitherto has seen. United with their Finnish comrades, the fighters of the victory of Narvik are standing in the Northern Arctic. German divisions commanded by the conqueror of Norway, together with the heroes of Finnish freedom under their Marshal, are protecting Finnish soil. Formations of the German eastern front extend from East Prussia to the Carpathians. German and Romanian soldiers are united under Chief of State Antonescu from the banks of the Prut along the lower reaches of the Danube to the shores of the Black Sea.
"The task of this front, therefore, is not merely the protection of individual countries, but the safeguarding of Europe, and thereby the salvation of all.
"I therefore decided today to once again lay the fate and future of the German Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers.
"May the Lord God help us especially in this fight!"
There is a thunderous applause.
Doc shuts it off. "Steve? Veronica?"
"Tell me there's a space dock out there," Veronica replies in a frustrated tone. "We've got a thousand structural micro-fractures and our ablative thermal shielding is down to less than 5%. We need one hell of a paint job."
"Sorry, I don't think there is one."
"You know when we are then?" Steve replies.
"June 22, 1941."
The Younger Brother Pear drops out of hyperspace in the midst of the asteroid belt. It is a place of serene chaos. Immense space rocks tumble silently towards each other for millennia, eventually crashing into each other with extraordinary violence resulting in peaceful coagulation.
"Okay." Steve spits out bile and attempting to regain some of his fortitude. "Start the asteroid collision tracking program," he manages to force his tongue to say.
Veronica brings the program up on the screen. Steve begins inputting a series of queries on his console.
"What are you doing?" Doc asks Steve.
"Trying to find a crater we can time-jump into."
"To where? I mean when?"
"The future. Home."
The alarms go off again. Veronica cancels them quickly.
"They're back. They followed us. They are maneuvering to flank us."
"Move, then!" Steve shouts.
"This ship cannot outperform theirs at sub-light speeds."
"Go to warp!"
"In the asteroid field? Are you insane?"
"Well, do something!"
They watch on the viewscreen as Veronica pilots the lumbering Pear around a large rock, trying to keep it between them and their pursuers.
Another alarm sounds. "Shots fired!" Veronica shouts. A streak of light blasts forward across the viewscreen and annihilates a small asteroid in front of them. "Warning shot. 20 gigawatt proton pulse passed 100 meters from our starboard side."
"Damnit!" Steve shouts. "Now the collision tracker has to recalibrate! It will take hours to recompile!"
"They're hailing us again."
"Do not answer," Steve tells her.
"Normally, you don't call a ship if you're trying to basilisk them. You just hack their monitors.'"
"They can't hack this ship. I designed the security systems myself."
"I hacked it," Veronica replies.
"Well," Steve thinks a minute. "I made you. I used some of the same security routines when I programmed your remote access system."
"Did you use the same routines to hide your anime porn collection?"
Steve is silent. "Just fly the damn ship."
The Younger Brother Pear dives close to the surface of the potato shaped asteroid. The two gunships fly in high orbit around the rock in opposite direcions, followed soon by the bigger and slower cruisers. They stop just above the Pear, where "up" in this case is relative to the asteroid, surrounding them. The large destroyer makes it's way over the asteroid and into the center of the circle that the other ships are forming.
All the ships are smooth yet triangular, and look a lot like shoes with wings. The gunships are the smallest and most angular, with sharp wings poking out of its slightly rounded pyramid structure. The cruisers are bigger, only slightly smaller than the Pear. They are more elongated and more rounded. Their smoothed noses are only interrupted by an intimidating pair of particle cannons. The Destroyer is much larger, nearly four times the size of the cruiser. It reminds Doc of the Star Destroyers from the old-timey Star Wars movies, except these are much less angular. It has sort of gull-wings that bend in a way that matches the top contour of the cruisers. The ships must dock together for long trips. To prove that point, two more gunships fly out of the underbelly of the destroyer, joining the circle.
"Shit," says Steve.
"Can we fight them?" Doc asks.
"I might be able to take out the gunships and maybe a cruiser, " Veronica answers, "but not before that destroyer turns the Pear into another floating wad of iron."
Another alarm sounds.
"Firewall intrusion detected!" Veronica shouts. "They're hacking our computers and attempting to plant a message in our com system."
"I told you!" Steve yells back. "Fuck the simulations! Doc, on your console is a command sequence for the ship's outboard Q-TIP. I want you to start running through it. Veronica, turn us around and launch a string of 20 megaton drilling warheads at the asteroid. We're going to tunnel through it, or at least make them think it. Doc, when the sequence is ready, open a wormhole at the nearest convenient crater, and Vernoica, fly into it with an explosion as cover. We're getting the hell out of here!"
Thunderhorse and Jazelle lie in the grass beside the pond on the observation deck, staring up at the rock filled sky and sharing a bottle of Chanana brandy.
A burst of violet light jumps from one of the other star boats and transform into green auroras dancing above them.
"Oh, how beautiful," says Jazelle.
"Yes," says Thunderhorse. "The spirits of the dead dance with us even here. The old man says they protect us from the fires of our enemies."
Another particle beam hits the shields, creating another dance of lights which lingers a bit after the beam is gone.
The two sigh in wonder.
The sky above them turns 180 degrees as the ship comes about.
"Oh, my! The stars do dance differently here."
The four gunships begin to swarm around them, circling closer and closer. Their beams of light stir the auroras around them, creating a tie-dye of colored ribbons that spin as if on gymnasts' wands.
"Ooooh," they sigh together.
A new light show begins as bright flares and large flashes begin tearing away the mountain of rust colored rock at their feet. Streaks of white-hot glowing rock burst like fireworks from the stone. Giant boulders start barreling past the sky, brushing aside the circling sky-boats.
"Ahhhh," they sigh.
The flashes get bigger and brighter and shorter in between. The beams of light and the dancing auroras intensify. The boulders get larger and closer. The mountain splits in two, parting for them like the Clashing rocks after Jason had sent a dove. The thrill of whether they will smash together again strikes them giddily as they pass through.
They slip into the yawning mountain as the flashes glow and the lights dance. The bursts come ever faster and brighter, until one last flash, brighter than all the rest, engulfs the entire sky then shrinks away into the shadows of nothingness. In an instant, the Universe is reborn.
Jazelle applauds enthusiastically. "That was brilliant!" she says. "Have them do it again!"
"Well," Steve begins.
WHOOOUP! screams an alarm.
"What was that?" asks Doc.
"I don't know," replies Steve. "It's never done that before."
WHOOOUP! it screams again.
"All hands to the bridge!" Veronica yells at them over the com.
"Are we hands?" Steve asks, half slurring.
"I think so," Doc replies. "Where's the bridge?"
"Downstairs. C'mon, I'll lead the way."
"Damnit!" Mark shouts as he wakes up from his drooling stupor. "What in God's name is that fuckin' rooster doin' up this late?"
"Something awful," Doc explains. "Let's go."
The bridge is one of the last clean places left on the ship, mainly because no one goes there. The cleanest place is the conference room just off to the side. No one has been in there for over three hundred years, as all official ship's business is done at the bar.
Doc wishes this situation was one that could be handled from the bar.
"Remind me to install a command console in the galley," Steve says. Doc isn't sure if Steve just read his mind or if he's accidentally projecting his thoughts on others. This sort of thing has been happening too often, lately.
Veronica is in the pilot's seat busily mindlinking with the ship's computer. The large, curved holo-viewscreen is splattering a technicolor array of data and incomprehensible three-dimensional imagery faster than anyone but she can process.
"What's going on?" Doc finally asks after failing to make sense of the thing. He casually takes a seat left of Veronica at the helm.
"Incomming starships, unknown design. Three gunships, two cruisers, and one destroyer. They're on an orbitital intercept course. Targetting hot." She manipulates the display to provide a better view. It doesn't help much.
Steve plants himself in the captain's seat and promptly vomits.
Mark takes a seat to Veronica's left. "Woo-hoo! Where's the button for the missiles?" he asks.
The touch-screen command console in front of Mark promptly powers down.
"Any idea who they are?" Doc asks.
"Negative," she responds in total business mode. "Not Exkorean, not EDF. Configuration suggests Earth origin. Specifications unknown."
"Where'd they come from?"
"They just appeared on the scope. Either they just jumped out of hyperspace or they just dropped their stealth shields. Trajectory implies the latter."
The computer dings a bit.
"Incoming transmission," Veronica says.
"Don't answer it!" Steve shouts. "Activate temporal jumper thingy!" he slurs.
"What are you talking about?" Veronica yells back.
"I just installed it!"
"Whatever it is, it's not online."
"Shit! I forgot to plug it in."
Another alarm sounds. "They're painting us," Veronica says. "I really think they want us to answer the phone."
"No! It could be a basilisk! Get to the asteroids as fast as you can!"
"A what?" Doc asks.
"A mind-locking program," Veronica answers. "Visual and audio stimulation designed to hypnotize and possibly damage the brain. Brace for emergency warp."
Veronica does them all the favor of turning the viewscreen to internal ship status displays so as to spare their alcohol soaked brains the nausiating visual effects of XD warping. It doesn't help. They all feel the universe turn inside out, mostly in their stomachs.
Steve vomits again. Mark does too, all over the console. Doc considers throwing up as well, but ultimately decides to save it for later.
"Doc!" Thunderhorse calls from the observation deck. "What is happening? The sky is turning inside out."
"Someone's after us. We're flying to the asteroid field," Doc explains.
"Ah," he acknowledges. "Doc?"
"What is an asteroid?"
"A big rock."
"Why are we going to the field of big rocks?"
"I don't know. Steve, why are we going to the field of big rocks?"
"What?" Steve asks, wearily leaning over the arm of his captain's chair, drooling.
"Why are we going to the asteroid field?" Doc repeats.
"Time jump," Steve barely answers. He returns to being sickly.
Mark, meanwhile, has passed out.
Veronica is busily navigating the ship through it's mind-bogglingly complicated multi-dimensional hypserspace route.
"Are they following us?" Doc asks.
"Impossible to say. We don't have any long range hypserspace sensors. We'll only know if they get directly ahead of us."
"How does that work?"
"Too complicated to explain. Think of a boat where the only way you have to navigate is a map of the currents and a fishing bobber. Then imagine there's a boat in front of you leaving a wake."
"Aha. Could they throw us off course?"
"Possibly. But our map of the currents is so good they would have to be very subtle about it. They would not be able to get in front of us at this speed, at least with any engine I've ever seen."
"That means we're leaving a wake, too, right? They can follow us?"
Doc ratchets down the last tie-down strap on the Jeep in the hold and stands, straightens, and stretches his sore back. The last time Doc felt this tired was after his three day survival drop in the Georgia swamps. "Veronica?" calls to the intercom. "Yo?" she responds. "Hold our position until we figger out where we're headed." "Check," she says curtly.
Doc heads for the bar. After this last excursion, there is a beer in his future. The way there seems longer as his tired feet plod along the hallway. Steve is sitting at the bar with an untouched whiskey at his elbow. Off in the corner, Mark is fast asleep with a plate of steak & eggs half-eaten in front of him while the tv plays a porno with the sound down. The Cook and the Host busy themselves filling two picnic baskets with hot food and bottles of booze.
"Where's Thunderhorse?" Doc asks. "He and Miss Jazelle are on the observation deck 'reconecting' as he put it sir. Would you like some refreshment sir?" the Host responds.
"I'm too tired to eat," Doc says as he stretches, "but a tall draft beer would be nice." Doc settles in to the stool next to Steve. "How's it going?" he asks Steve softly.
"Huh? Oh, good." Steve says looking up from his calculations. "Nice job down there. Low body count and a successful mission. Good work..." he trails off, obviously thinking of something else.
The Host delivers Doc's cold beer with haste and returns to loading the groaning picnic baskets. The cold beer strikes Doc's throat with it's welcome chill and sting. It goes down easy, unlike Father Nathan's horrible wine.
The beer finds it's way home with a comforting warming effect and offsets his fatigue, but this isn't enough to calm Doc's concience. Looking for comfort, he asks Steve, "How badly could I have upset time by giving Father Nathan that map? Is it enough to screw things up, or just be a minor blip in the records of history? I'd hate like hell to think that I've buggered things up..." he trails off, looking deeply into his glass of beer.
"Well," Steve begins...
The hour is late and the wind is bitter cold, swirling snow all around the small band as they make their way carefully down the mountain in the dark.
Doc is huddled on a horse wrapped in a blanket. He is completely exhausted, having climbed up this mountain only a few brief hours earlier, routed an entire town's guard, talked a master out of his slaves, calmed a mob of angry monks, and convinced vikings not to kill anyone. Quite a day's work. He desperately wishes for sleep, but the wicked cold wind and the rocky, snow covered slopes will not let him. It takes everything he has left to stay sitting on his horse.
Mark walks alongside him, pleased and impressed. He's found a new respect for Doc in that he delivered what he promised: the mission went off without a monk or preacher killed. Plus he got to fire off a rocket and blow shit up. He tells Doc he doesn't mind about killing the archers in Bridgeton. They're enemy soldiers, "no better than Brits or Injuns," as he puts it.
Jazelle, Skye, and Tempesta ride alongside their viking men. Tempesta has taken an immediate shine towards Aerikson, who rides behind her. She's desperate for children, and talks loudly to everyone about how she and Skullfucker will be concieving as soon as they make camp. Skye and Fairhairson remain quiet, mostly, simply happy to be in each other's presence again. Jazelle rides her steed nobly. She occasionally barks at Thunderhorse to keep up and to make sure he's careful with her mother's guilded bones, which he carries wrapped in a stolen curtain.
Four of the "nuns" from the Abbey had decided to come with them. They ride together on two horses, huddled together for warmth and familiarity. They've been very quiet about the whole thing, but seem very happy to be leaving. Skye says their names are Aesa, Valka, Hjotra, and Svana.
The remaining five women decided to stay behind with the disenfranchised ex-monks, as they are suffering a fair bit of Stockholm syndrome and no one wanted to argue with them about it. Besides, having at least some of the women stay helped keep the ex-monks from becoming hostile again.
Brother Broderick elected to remain at The Abbey of the Morning Star. He too is exhausted from the day. He wishes to assist Father Nathan in his studies, at the abbot's request in fact.
At long last they reach the glacial lake they stopped at on the way up. It was easier going down than up, but the cold wind and snow made the journey seem a thousand times longer. They stop and break out the tent they found in the Python. Doc instructs Mark and Thunderhorse in it's assembly. Foregoing a groundcloth for the nylon structure, they instead use the tarps to create a simple shelter for the rest of the party. They set up camp near the trees where the wind does not cut through quite so harshly.
Doc, Mark, Thunderhorse, and Jazelle stuff themselves into the two-man tent. The other nine huddle together in the lean-to, surrounding it with the horses to keep it warm.
They sleep fitfully in those cramped quarters. Doc dreams of nuclear death and lecherous old Frenchmen. His cold dreams slowly turn warm as the sun rises outside. He finds himself in Milwaukee, in Nadine's apartment once again. She's nude, her back to him, staring out the window at the bright blue sky. She turns. It's Jazelle.
Doc wakes up. She's still there looking at him. He blinks a couple times to make sure he's awake. It's realiy alright, he can tell by the smell of viking armpit inches from his face.
Jazelle's expression changes when she realizes he's awake, like she's putting her tough-girl pants back on. She slaps Thunderhorse, interrupting a deep and thorough snore.
"Wake up!" She calls at him.
He does, reluctantly.
In the warmth of the sunlight, the party breaks camp. They enjoy some Exkorean dry rations from the backpack; compressed little nuggets of a meal which expand in the stomach when chased with water, good for a full day's nutrition. Skullfucker and Thunderhorse pop two each and become sickly full very quickly. Tempesta eats three and seems fine, perhaps even more chipper than usual.
On down the mountain they go, towards Bridgeton. The fire is out, but the entire town looks abandoned. As they approach, they spot movement inside one of the thatched huts. Everyone's still just hiding from yesterday.
Svana and Aesa run out ahead of the party, calling out for their mothers and fathers. Their relatives appear from the huts, surprised and relieved to see them again. There is much embracing and rejoicing. The other townsfolk begin to poke their heads out to see the comotion.
Doc and friends stay in town for a few minutes, enjoying the reuniting of families, a few hearty thanks from the men and women of the town for returning their daughters to them. They get a few disdainful looks from within the church window.
After an unneccesary lunch and some congratulatory mead, they leave Bridgeton behind. Valka and Hjorta stay as well, even though this is not their home. They're tired from the journey, and want to stay with their friends.
Doc, Mark, and the Vikings head back to Hilton. It's a quick ride there, and Doc is glad to be back within sight of the Jeep. As they approach, he calls Steve and Veronica asking for a pickup in the Pu.
"So," Doc asks the gang. "Are you coming with us?"
"Where?" asks Fairhairson.
"To the stars," Doc replies.
Fairhairson looks up to the sky. He looks around the burnt-out town. He looks to the mountains and land beyond.
"My place is here," he says, holding Skye close. "My family legacy is nearly dead. We will stay and bring it back to life."
"What about you?" He asks Skullfucker.
Skullfucker looks tempted. He looks to Tempesta, who looks sad and afraid he might say yes. "No," he says while looking at her. "We'll stay as well. They can't rebuild the village without us, and only Tempesta's wide hips and my strong seed will bring our people back to the strength they once knew," he answers smugly. Tempesta smiles, almost giddy.
"I'm going with you!" shouts Aerikson.
"If they aren't coming, neither are you," Doc rebukes. "You're just not old enough."
Aerikson turns his head down and kicks the dirt, dejectedly.
"Thunderhorse? You're coming back with us, right?"
Thunderhorse thinks about it. "There is much to do here. The Pickled still lives, and he must face justice. I think it would be best if-"
"You pig, always thinking of yourself." Jazelle interrupts. "Of course we're coming with you," she tells Doc. She turns back to Thunderhorse. "You wouldn't deny me the stars, would you? All for your petty vengance?"
Everyone considers the hypocracy of that statement for a bit.
"Yes, we're going with you," Thunderhorse says finally.
Just in time, as well, since the bright daytime shooting star falling towards them slows to a hault above their heads and makes a careful vertical landing in the middle of town.
Doc steps forcefully forward, staring the man down. He knows they will not be friendly, but if he is to leave here without bloodshed, he'll have to use everything he's got. He focuses his mind on the group of men. He's never attempted to read the emotions of this many people at a time before, but as a group they should have some shared driving force that binds them together.
He focuses. He doesn't look them all in the eye, just the leader. From there he feels out to the rest of the crowd, funneling through the foremost monk. Their emotions are high, they are angry, frustrated. They feel like their lives on this mountain have been a total waste, and they're looking for some justification. If they can't get that, they're going to take it out on the nearest warm body. Of course, there it is again, good old fashioned fear; the usual clincher when it comes to anger and hatred and people who mean Doc harm. Their binding is fear of a new life, fear of having wasted the old, and fear of getting the shit beat out of them if they decide to attack.
It all snaps into place for Doc. He feels the collective mind of the entire band of monks. He can almost see it, an ethereal octopus in the air above them.
Doc speaks. "You sir, are a monk and have taken vows of poverty and chastity. Do those mean nothing to you? You have promised to follow the ways of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Do you not remember the most basic of rules to being a Christian? Thou shall not kill. You have made slaves of these women just as Pharaoh held the Israelites in bondage, and now that the Red Sea has parted for us, you would mount your chariots to ride us down and kill us all?
"Unlike Cain, I am my brothers keeper. This," Doc points to Thunderhorse, "is my brother and I intend to keep him. You have held his wife for five long years, and now they are reunited. I am willing to forgive your transgressions, but don't think for a second that he has. If you make one aggressive move, he will slay you all and burn this place to the ground. Do not underestimate our ability to do you harm. If you attack us, it will be you who lines a fresh grave in the morning, not us."
Doc points at the vikings. "Look at these men. They are hardened by a thousand battles, killed men by the hundreds and even now, they lust to spill your blood like so many before. So ask yourself brother, do you want to die on a cold night for a piece of ass? Take my advice and in the morning go to Bridgetown and aid the people there. I'm certain that there are some young widows who would welcome your 'counsel' and your warm advances in the night. Don't throw your God-given life away on some hill girl who would knife you in her sleep if she could.
"So what do you say brother? Are you really ready to meet your maker tonight?"
For a moment, there is nothing. The band of angry monks slowly relax their aggressive posture and slink back to their corner of the dining hall.
The spokesman tries to maintain his front of being in control. "Alright, offya go then. But watchyer backs."
Doc returns to the party. Jazelle is impressed, though she tries not to show it. Doc feels exhausted. It's been a long day, and that speech has left him totally drained. His mouth is dry, his muscles are tired, and he just wants to sleep, but they have to forge on.
"Okay, lets get the hell out of here."
Level 3 XP: 3000 Next: 6000 Skill: 0
Str: 10 (+0) HP: 10/10
Dex: 11 (+0) Chi: 20/20
Con: 09 (-1) Ref: 0(0) Fort: 0(-1) Will: 1(5)
Int: 13 (+1) Atk: 0 Melee: 0 Ranged: 0
Wis: 18 (+4) Def: 10 Dodge: 0 Armor: 0
Cha: 16 (+3) Init: 0 (+0/+3) Move: 5
Treat Injury +5
Mind and Body, Advanced
Out of Body
Chi Thief (1d4+1 Chi stolen, Mindlinked target, 1 chi)
Brain Lock (Daze 1d4 rounds, Mindlinked target, 1 chi)
Mind Force (1d4 dmg, Mindlinked target, 2 chi)
Electrokinesis (1d4 shock dmg, 1 target, range 20', 1 chi)
Doc briefly considers what might happen if he spent the night in a tower full of angry vikings and the monks who had taken advantage of their women. He quickly decides it would not go very well, and that they should leave tonight.
He pulls the vikings aside while they wait for the girls. "The instant we get the girls down here, we're leaving."
Thunderhorse does not like this idea. "We've come all this way. We will have our revenge."
"I ain't gonna let you kill no monks or no preachers," Mark interrupts.
"Shut-up, Mark. Remember Rule 1: Do No Harm. We've got what we came for, and I can guarantee that the Abbot will never bother you again."
"Only the Pickled's blood will satisfy justice. He has killed our families and raped our women," says Fairhairson.
"Perhaps, but not today. Today we take our victory and return home. We've got more important things to worry about than killing an old man who will die alone and without honor soon, anyway. Like rebuilding your village and your lives."
To Doc's relief, the Vikings seem to accept this as a reasonable course of action. It helps that they are instantly distracted from their thoughts of vengeance by the arrival of the womenfolk. The three from Hilton approach them, while the rest huddle around the fire, unsure of what is going on or what to do.
Skye tears off her habit and runs to Fairhairson and they embrace, crying. Tempesta lunges at Skullfucker, who pretends to be in discomfort but Doc can tell he's really happy to have her back. Jazelle marches smartly towards Thunderhorse, who awaits her with open arms. She throws a mean right hook, bloodying his lip.
"You stupid bastard! What took you so long?!"
"Five insufferable years of slaving for that old man and his limp fish dick! And just where the hell were you?!"
She catches him with a left hook. "We slaved away! Momma got killed trying to get us out, but were you there to help? NO! Her bones are still splayed on the wall!
She catches him with the right again. "I don't want any of your shit excuses! Now, did you kill that ugly wrinkled bastard yet or what?"
Before she can hit him again, Doc steps in. "No, ma'am, he's still alive."
"Well why the fuck not?! Get up there and kill him this instant! Or do I have to do everything myself?"
Doc continues. "Negotiating your release was difficult enough. We need to get out of here while we can. We can deal with him later."
The monks who have decided to stay and continue their study of the stars have already retired to their quarters. The eight who decided otherwise still sit in the dining hall, discussing their situation in sharp whispers, occasionally glaring at Doc and the vikings. A spokesman finally decides to approach.
Jazelle continues yelling. "DEAL WITH HIM NOW! I'm not going anywhere until-"
Doc shushes her and turns his attention to the approaching pack of monks. "May I help you, gentlemen?"
"Yeh. Ye' kin giv'es back are wimen," the spokesmonk says.
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't do that," Doc instructs them.
"We had a gud thin goin here, an ye took it from us. We aim te get it back." The band of monks agree. "Now ye kin jes goh, an leave the girls behind, or we'll hafta kill ye. Now, whas it goin'ta be?"
The dinner conversation is exquisitely dull. Monks are not known to be chatty folk, and Doc continually has to dodge specific questions about who he is and where he's from. This task is made more difficult by Brother Broderick chiming in excitedly detailing the Jeep ride up here. Doc allows the Brother to go on and on.
The food is even more dull, consisting mainly of oatmeal and turnips. The wine is excellent, however.
"...and it had fat wheels made of some strange black stone, and it roared as it rolled forward as if pulled by a hundred horses!"
"Two hundred horses! And inside, it glowed! There were lights that were words and dancing pictures. It sang to us, too! When he fed it a silver saucer it began to sing while invisible minstrels played strange instruments! I do not know the words of the song, they were in the strange language he speaks sometimes. Dear friend, do tell us what the chariot sang?"
Smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
All you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be."
The monks look at him quizzically, especially Father Nathan.
Mark calls in from upstairs. "She's here."
Doc stands. "Your scroll is arriving," he informs the Abbot.
Father Nathan gets up as the monk he had sent up races down the stairs shouting "Dragon! Dragon!"
"Calm yourself, Brother," Nathan instructs. They all proceed towards the gatehouse.
Doc tells Thunderhorse and the vikings to hold their ground and not make any sudden movements while they proceed, reassuring them that it's almost over. Two monks crank open both portcullises. Mark joins them as the chains clink and the iron gates rise.
The collection of monks, vikings, and time travelers step out onto the cold mountain top. The monks and vikings flinch in unison when Veronica suddenly streaks overhead, leaving a small glowing flare falling gently to the ground.
It's a very precise drop. The wind shifts it only slightly. The bright orange parachuted package lands only about a hundred yards in front of the tower, it's little flare which turns the snow red where it fell.
Doc sends Mark out to retrieve it. He returns with the hard plastic cylinder and hands it to Doc.
They all return indoors to the dining hall, leaving the icy cold behind. There, in the golden light of the fireplace, Doc hands over the cylinder.
Father Nathan runs his fingers over the silky nylon of the parachute. He examines every detail. Doc interrupts him and twists open the top of the cylinder, revealing the paper scroll within. Nathan withdraws it carefully.
He spreads it out on the dining room table. A hushed awe goes through the room. It's nothing special to Doc, just a simple star chart with the constellations of the northern and southern hemispheres and a map of the solar system, showing all the planets and their orbits in a logarithmic scale. It has some finely printed reference information, all in English. Just as he had asked, the thing is printed on low quality recycled paper. Already the ink is smearing a bit, it obviously has not had time to properly set and the paper is just not holding it right.
"Well?" Doc asks. "What do you think?"
Father Nathan says nothing for a while. He remains fixated on the scroll. After a while, he speaks. "Brother Maynard, open the gate to the Sisters' quarters. They're free to go."
"Father?" replies Maynard, "What about us?"
"It is over. This is all that I sought from the Heavens and more. Three lifetimes worth of knowledge. Those of you who wish to stay and assist me are welcome. The rest of you may go with the women."
There is a murmur amongst the crowd. They are divided, but a significant minority express their desire to stay without benefit of women. The rest seem rather upset by the whole business.
Father Nathan rolls up the scroll carefully and returns it to its case. "I am retiring to my study for the evening. It is a dangerous trek down the mountain, even worse in the dark. If you wish to stay the night, you may. Good-night."
From the looks on the viking's faces, and those of some of the now disenfranchised monks, Doc gets the feeling that it will not be a good night.
Father Nathan leads Doc and Brother Broderick to the dining hall two floors down. On the way they pass the scribal workshop, where monks are setting pages, copying text, and inking pictures. There is a harsh smell of chemicals from one of the towerhouse workshops. Father Nathan explains that is where they create the inks and dyes. Another workshop houses racks of parchment being stretched and dried by a fire. The last shop is shared by a tinker and carpenter, who are working together to repair some of the book binding tools.
They reach the ground floor where the dining hall and gatehouse are. Thunderhorse and the vikings are standing against the gate. Thunderhorse snarls at the sight of Nathan descending the stairs.
"Ugh, your servants are a bit uncouth," Father Nathan complains.
"Thunderhorse, please stand down and relax," Doc orders.
Thunderhorse does not back down, but makes no aggressive movements other than fingering the shoulder strap of his assault rifle.
As they get to the bottom of the stairs, Thunderhorse unslings his gun and fires a carefully aimed shot right at Father Nathan's head, blasting his face and brains all over the wall.
"THUNDERHORSE! NO!" Doc shouts an instant before he realizes it was an illusion. His head spins like it did before down in the valley.
Father Nathan turns to stare at him, head still perfectly intact. Thunderhorse looks like he's been caught with his pants down. The Viking backs off into the stables.
"Is everything alright?" Father Nathan asks. "Do you need to have your servant flogged?"
"No, thank you," Doc replies as he gets his head back to normal. "Everything's fine."
Father Nathan gestures for Doc, Mark, and Brother Broderick to follow him back down the stairs.
Doc begins an Eye-Type message to Dr. Ritenrong regarding the scroll he promised. While this method of communicating is a bit of a strain at first, it becomes easier with practice and time. Doc's glasses, assisted by their brainwave reader, are learning his patterns and begin to identify whole words rather than single letters.
"I need a star chart," Doc writes.
Dr. Ritenrong responds by voice. "Star chart? What kind?"
"A simple scroll, with times, sizes, and distances."
"Trade for the women. Make it pulp or something fragile. Have Veronica airdrop it."
"Are you sure about this?"
"Just make it so it won't last long."
"Alright. Give me an hour or so. I'll call you when it's ready." Steve adds, "I hope you know what you're doing."
The next floor down from Father Nathan's parlor is a grand chapel, exquisitely ornamated. The large, detailed stained glass window depicts Lucifer's battle for Heaven as the abbot witnessed it. Friezes along the top of the walls illustrate the fall of the Archangel, as well as various stories from Genesis. The rich smoke of incense rolls from censers hanging from the ceiling.
Each flight of stairs ends on the next landing, which is a large circular area each floor of the main tower. The next flight down begins on the other side of the room. Each of these circular landings is decorated with flowers, vases, and religious statuary. The smaller, circular towerhouses are connected from this central area, as is the rectangular main portion of the abbey dug into the mountain side. The chappel is on the fifth floor up and the topmost of these areas dug into the mountain.
The fourth floor contains the monk's dorms. The tops of the towerhouse rooms begin to connect here. On one side of the fourth floor's main foyer, in the taller towerhouse, is a library. Next to it, through an arch that passes beneath the staircases leading to the chapel, is a workshop that smells harshly of horse-glue. A monk is brushing this substance on the edges of a stack of papers, about to bind it to leather. In the middle of the foyer is a pleasant rock garden with green and blue mosses and lichens, ferns, and a few edible mushrooms growing here and there.
The stairs down to the third floor descend along the mountain's side of the tower. The arch between the stairs leads to the nun's dorms. Attached to the foyer, which contains a statue of Mary, are three workshops. Two of them seem concerned with the weaving of cloth and tailoring of clothes, while the third, at the top of the shortest towerhouse, is some kind of apothecary. There is a gate between the central tower and the nun's rooms. It is locked.
Father Nathan calls out into the locked hallway. Women clad in brown robes and habits file out slowly from their rooms into the hallway, heads downturned and hands clasped. Doc is careful to look closely at each of their faces as they approach the gate, although the habit and angle makes it difficult to see clearly.
"Do you see them?" Doc secretly texts Thunderhorse.
"Nml0," he responds. Thunderhorse's Eye-Type interpreter is learning to spell as well as he.
Doc turns to Nathan. "Open the gate," he demands.
"Why should I?" asks Nathan.
"I am a physician. I want to inspect them closely and make sure they're in good health."
Father Nathan delays a moment. "This is agreeable." He finds some keys from within his robe and opens the gate. The nuns make no movement towards them.
Doc steps in. It startles him when the Abbot closes and locks the gate behind him. A swift look back reveals his intentions to be precautionary, not outright agressive.
The nuns line up against either side of the hallway, still staring at the floor. There's about a dozen of them. Doc walks between them, individually turning their chin up with his finger and giving them a good look. They're dirty from a days labour, but relatively hygenic, at least in the context of the time period. Their cheeks are sunken, on the whole slightly malnourished and overworked. He has one say "Ah." Their dental hygine is atrocious, as is to be expected.
One of them has fierce green eyes and dirty blonde hair. She's nearly a foot taller than the rest, and she looks as if she's ready to kill. She snarls as Doc lifts his hand to her head. He backs off. She glares menacingly at him.
"Jazelle!" comes Thunderhorse's voice loudly over Doc's headset.
"Jazelle?" Doc whispers to the nun. She cocks her head inquisitively. "I'm here with Thunderhorse to rescue you."
Her eyes light up. It's hard to say if it's excitement or rage. She nods knowingly, quietly and turns her head back down, glaring at Nathan through the corner of her eye.
Doc continues on down the line. Thunderhorse identifies Skye, a short red-haired beauty, pale and delicate but worn down with toil, and Tempesta, a wide-hipped burnette with giant doe eyes whose cheeks are the least gaunt, as they obviously had plenty of reserve. The rest are unfamiliar to him, and there are a great many missing from his tribe.
Doc returns to the gate. He has to ask Nathan to open it, but the abbot complies.
"Satisfied?" asks the old man.
"They're malnourished," Doc replies.
"Our stock is low right now and will dwindle until harvest season, so we must reserve our food for those whose tasks are most important. They get what they need to live and work, though. None of them have died."
"There are only three from Hilton where there should be many more. Where are they?"
"Ah, the Goeths? They have been most difficult. Many of them simply did not accept our way of life, and were punished. Several of them banded together in an attempt to flee, and killed one of my men. They were put to death, of course." He turns to point out a pair of skeletons, carefully wrapped in gold-leaf and hanging on the wall above the stairs behind them, their ribs broken and spread out like eagles' wings. "There have been no further incidents."
Doc can hear Thunderhorse breathing heavily over the headset.
Father Nathan continues. "Now what of this scroll?"
"I do not have it with me, but I have called for it. It should be delivered within the hour. Have one of your men watch for the black dragon. She will be dropping it off."
"You are in league with the dragon, then?"
Broderick cannot contain himself. "Oh, Father, forgive me! For I said a backwards prayer and called it up straight from Hell!"
"Relax, Brother." Doc interupts. "I summoned her, and she is not from hell. Remember our guardian angel? She's been keeping us safe from those evil agents that chased us from Nidaros."
"Oh. Yes." Brother Broderick looks confused, but easily accepts the reality presented to him, especially since the last couple days have made him question everything, anyway.
"I will assign one of my men to the task." With a snap of his finger, one of the Monks eavesdropping below runs up the stairs. Nathan gives him instructions, and the man hurries up to the top floor.
"Mark, you go with him," Doc says. "If you don't mind, Abbot?"
Mark nods in acknowledgement and follows the monk up the stairs, no doubt stopping at the wine carafe.
"Now, let us dine while we wait. You can tell me of your home and your journeys."
"Brother Broderick!" Doc snaps. "I will thank you to remain quiet!"
The monk hushes up and sits back down without question.
Doc turns back to the Abbot. "Now, Father Nathan, calm yourself. You are not the first man to lay with a woman and you won't be the last. Your vows are not an issue here. Resolving our problem is."
Father Nathan seems to agree and comply. Doc sits back down on the sofa and Father Nathan returns to his chair.
Mark helps himself to more wine from the etched silver carafe.
"Father Nathan, I want to help you. You have come to this inhospitable place and spent your life studying the Heavens in search of the unknown. What if I could give you a scroll that would teach you more about the Heavens than you could learn in three life times? Then there would be no more need to stay here at the roof of the world and you could take your knowledge to the Church and the world. Tales of your past transgressions need not be known, and who would care if you had a dalliance? Most of the Cardinals have some little minx tucked away in the city of Rome. You would be an enlightened spark in Christendom and remembered as a great man. That would be a fine legacy to leave. Let me help you Father Nathan."
Father Nathan thinks about this. "So, what you propose is a trade three lifetime's worth of knowledge of the Heavens in return for the women from the valley?"
"Yes," Doc replies.
"Let me see this scroll."
"Let me see the women."
"How do I know this scroll is all you say it is?"
"You've seen my mind. How can you say it isn't?"
Nathan returns to his feet. "Alright. I will show you the women, and you will see they are not harmed. But I will not release them until this scroll is in my hands and I am satisfied of its veracity."
Doc regains control of his limbs and stands. The room around him swirls as if he's looking at it from within a water tornado inside two pop bottles. The only thing that can be made out clearly is Nathan's face on the other side of the bottle.
Doc summons his mental strength. He focuses his thoughts and feelings towards a sense of perfect calm. "I am NOT a devil or interested in anyone's soul, NOR am I an angel here to pass judgment. I am here to bring about a good thing for all Christendom, and if you have sinned before, don't compound it now by turning me away."
Father Nathan's mind races through a tumult of emotions. His fear turns to shame, his anger intensifies his guilt, which overflows into sorrow and desire for repentance. Father Nathan breaks the psychic bond and is overrun with tears.
"Oh, Lord, why did I stray!" He yells to the sky. "Why have you sent this... this... man to torture me?" He turns back to Doc. "But it is not you do not torture me, you expose me to myself and it is unbearable!"
"Where is Jazelle and the women of Hilton? Tell me what you've done," Doc demands.
"There are not nuns here, but concubines. It is the one desire, the singular corruption I carried with me from Avignon. They are slaves here, they cook and clean and wash up. They carry water and harvest grain in the valley. The monks of this abbey are their masters, and I am theirs. If you come to free them from their servitude, my men will resist you."
Brother Broderick is taken aback. "Why, Father? Why have you done this?"
"Come now, not even one as devoted as you would join me on this mountain. My work is of dire importance, but I could not stay on this mountain alone. I have important work to do, and I cannot waste my time with the trivalties of existance. These monks were men of the valley, the only men I could recruit into my service. Those women are the only reason they stay on this wretched peak. Without them, I have no one to keep this place."
Broderick is still upset. "And what about yourself?! Did you partake of these women? Have you broken your vows?!"
The brother's tone is upsetting the delicate balance of Nathan's emotions, edging him back towards fearful reprisal. "You insolent little pup. You've not seen the world, and you understand none of it. When you are as old as I, you will be counting the vows you have broken on blades of grass. I have more virtue than any of my peers, for I alone volunteered to take on this duty at the top of the Earth. How dare you question your better!"
Father Nathan's penetrating gaze leaves Doc with a feeling that all his thoughts are echoing off every wall of the circular chamber.
After a moment, he stands and paces towards the fireplace, his back turned to the group.
"Thirty-six years ago, I was still a young scholar in Avignon. This was before the Pope sided with the king of France, before the schism between east and west. But I was not interested in the greed and corruption of politics. I was, and still am, a student of the heavens."
He grabs a wooden box off the mantle. Inside are two spy glasses with pearl handles.
"A learned man and glassmaker gave me these. If you hold these two lenses at the right distance apart, distant things become large. What better way to examine the eternal dance of the angels.
"On a dark day, those thirty-six years ago, my colleagues and I witnessed an evil omen. The Morning Star, the Arch-angel himself, returned to the kingdom of heaven. There he waged war with the angels, and did battle with the Son of God outside the Kingdom of Heaven. His shadow marred the Sun, but he was defeated. He fell from heaven once again.
"It was a great omen, a sign that Satan was gaining in power and would soon be able to make war on Heaven. Eight years after, he tried again. We watched in horror as stood his ground outside the Gates, and was again rejected. It was then that we realized, if he could not stand at the Gates of Eternity, his war would be made here on Earth. And that time is now.
"For these past three decades I have watched the heavens carefully. I have seen things no mortal can imagine. Firey arrows shooting across the sky. Great beasts of fire lumbering towards the sun, only to disappear forever. I have seen the beginning skirmishes of the great war, the war to end all wars. But now I fear it has truly begun.
"Three nights ago, another star appeared. It was so bright, it could be seen in the day, through my larger lenses, of course. It moved swiftly across the sky, faster than any I've seen yet. It stayed its steady course, disappearing over the horizon only to return from the east in a few hours. Until yesterday. Another star appeared, moving swiftly towards the first. It was smaller and dimmer, but faster. As they approached, great flashes of light burst between them. After but a few minutes, the smaller one disappeared in a brilliant flash, and the first remained.
"Then today, some of the monks began seeing a dragon roaming the skies. I thought them mad at first, but only briefly. Then the flash. The same flash of light that had destroyed the small star had happened in the sky just above us, this time accompanied by a sound so loud it shattered nearly every window on the east side of the tower. The light was so hot it melted the snow off the rooftops and flooded our troughs. We saw Bridgeton burning. We saw the dragon lighting the fire and circling our mountains.
"Then you arrive. You, whose thoughts and speech are so... different, whose clothing and dress are not of our world, and whose identity and purpose must remain secret. And now you ask me-"
He stops and turns around. He's flooded with emotions, fear mostly, but shame, too. Greed and lust and the shame of it, and the fear of biblical reprisal. The world as he knows it is already destroyed, and he is deeply frightened by it, though his cold exterior reveals nothing. "You ask me to reveal my singular sin," he says, his eyes burning cold.
Doc alone is not taken by surprise. He could see it coming, if only moments away. Father Nathan continues. "I know that you come from the sky, and I know your purpose."
Doc smells ozone as Nathan's gaze locks into his. The world swirls. Doc's fingers go limp, dropping the chalice. Nathan's mind enters his, and speaks in all the languages the two men know. "Be you a Devil, you shall not have my soul. Be you an Angel, you shall not make your judgment upon me!"
"Thank you Father Nathan," Doc says to the offered cup of wine, "this should chase the chill away very nicely." He has a sip.
As the wine settles over his tongue and begins to warm a small spot in his belly, Doc looks around the room. Mark, to his left, sniffs the wine once and then takes a large swallow, smiles, and smacks his lips. Brother Broderick, on Doc's right, sits very upright on the bench and tries to disguise his shivers as he he holds his cup of wine in both hands and keeps taking small but steady sips. The room is decorated with elaborate tapestries and bookshelves crammed with scrolls, and even though the fire glows brightly in the fireplace, the frost is still edging it's way to the center of the window panes.
"There is no Duke of Bologna," Father Nathan insists, "Now, tell me," he demands, "who are you really?"
"As far as the Duke of Bologna goes, that is neither here nor there," Doc says casually.
"The Duke is neither here nor there. He isn't in Bologna and he isn't here either. That was a deception to throw off those who would do us harm."
"Which brings me back to who are you? Who are these people who want to harm you?"
"If I am vague with you, it is because I must. Trust me when I say the less I tell you, the safer you will be. You perhaps noticed the commotion in the village below today?"
"Yes, several of the brothers were shocked when this loud blast was heard from the valley below. Smoke and fire rolled for half the day!"
"It was even more frightening to behold from the valley!" volunteers Brother Broderick as he cringes and crosses himself at the thought. He quickly returns to his wine.
"There are dark forces in the land and they seek nothing but the rampant destruction of all things and they will stop at nothing to achieve that."
I have seen these dark agents of the Devil," Brother Broderick offers, his eyes wide with wine. "They travel in a black carriage with no horses and spit fire and lightening. Their vengeance shakes the ground. They are truly to be feared," he concludes and tries to shake the frightening thought from his mind before he returns to his wine and staring at the floor.
"They are terrible fierce," Mark suggests as he looks from Father Nathan to his now empty wine cup.
"So what is it you want from me?" Father Nathan says with more than a little exasperation. He quits leaning on his desk and brings himself to his full seven feet height and squares his shoulders.
Doc reads his body language and sees that Father Nathan is more than a little irked at being imposed upon and also that his questions seem to remain unanswered.
"What I need from you is a little information. I'm looking for a woman by the name of Jezelle. She is said to be a nun here and joined your order with several others from a local village at about the same time. If I can find this woman and her fellow villagers, I can steer these dark forces away from you and your abbey."
Father Nathan gives Doc a long, hard penetrating look trying to fathom the amount of truth there.
"I know I am asking a lot of you Father Nathan and I am not volunteering much in return, but I need to find these women quickly before more foul deeds are committed in this land, or even worse, on your doorstep. Help me find these people and we will leave with all haste and you will never see us again, of that I promise." Doc hopes that his words have found their mark and Father Nathan will be inclined to help. He waits for the good Father's reply.
Posted 4/20/2009 10:00:00 AM
Following Doc's previous instructions, the Vikings stay back with the horses, out of sight but not unwary.
Doc summons Mark and Brother Broderick forward. Brother Broderick takes off the goat skull and holds it somewhat behind his robe. He dons his wooden crucifix.
Doc turns his attention to the Abbot. "Ah, Father Nathan! It is a strange omen that brings me to your door."
There is a brief moment of intensity between the two. The old man stares him down, hard. For a moment, the outside world disintegrates and the universe is between the two mens' eyes. The old Abbot tries to tear Doc down emotionally with the force of the wisdom of his years, but Doc's not so easily overcome. He knows full well that wisdom does not come with age, but age with wisdom.
The old man seems frustrated that his silent attempt to dominate the young stranger has failed. Doc grasps that hole in his psychic wall and turns the tables right around. The man is old, his health is failing, he knows it, and perhaps his wits and strength is not what it once was. The events of today have shaken his understanding of the universe. There it is, Doc thinks. That shining beacon that lies behind every psyche, a pure human weakness; the fear of the unknown.
Doc grasps on to this key. He can start by building trust via familiarity. He turns to the monk behind him "Brother Broderick, I'm sure you know, has guided us here."
"Yes, I remember this young lad," replies the Abbot.
Doc turns to Mark. "This is Sir Mark, Captain of the Duke's own guard. If we could just have a private word with you for a few moments, I'm certain I can explain everything."
Doc can tell immediately that he's not buying that one.
The abbot looks them over. "What Duke?"
"The Duke of Bologna." Doc pushes it.
The old man looks them up and down. He looks at Mark carefully. "What are those things you carry? Weapons? Leave them behind."
Doc turns to Mark and nods. He unslings the rocket launcher and assault rifle from his back and places them gently on the ground.
"And your sword," Father Nathan insists.
Mark complies. He's still got a side arm stashed, as does Doc.
Father Nathan turns to the monk with the hoe and instructs him to open the gate. The monk goes to one of a set of cranks and begins the laborious process of rotating the lever. The portcullis rises.
"Your slaves will stay behind, for now. Follow me."
The Abbot leads Doc, Mark, and Broderick into the foyer and up the stairs. The portcullis cranks down behind them.
Doc opens a video link to Thunderhorse. Doc's sunglasses send what he sees to Thunderhorse's glasses. Doc sends him an eye-typed text message. "Tell me if you see the girls."
"Yerdsw, I wiklmj," replies Thunderhorse via eye-typed text, much later.
The Abbot takes them up several flights of stairs to his personal parlor. The "armed" monks escort them, but stay behind as they climb the final flight, past the beautiful stained glass window which depicts the sun and what is presumably Venus amongst a battle of angels and demons.
The parlor is very ornately decorated with golden trinkets and precious gems. The Abbot is a wealthy man.
He asks them to sit at the wooden bench, and he pours them all a glass of wine.
"There is no Duke of Bologna," he says to Doc as he hands him the goblet. "Now, tell me," he demands, "who are you really?"
Doc's recent level advancement has inspired me to think more carefully about how the Powers system works. We haven't really got into this part of the game system too deeply, and I think it's about time.
1. Power Variables
Effect: The description of the effect is having a words that explain it does.
Requirements: Any Training, Ability, Level, or Power Chain requirements.
Cost: The Chi, Hp, Ability, or Level cost of the power.
Damage: Any HP, Chi, Ability, or Level damage the power inflicts.
Range: The effective distance of the power.
Area: The radius of the power's effect, either from the caster or the target at range.
Target: A number of effected targets within the area of effect, or the caster himself. If no range or area is specified, then Targets are assumed to be within Line of Sight (including psychic sight)
Duration: The length of time the power remains in effect.
Save: The Saving throw required, if applicable, and whether success negates or reduces the effects.
Ability: The Ability Bonus used during a psychic attack
Max Level: The maximum power level that can be used with this power
Some Power variables are interchangeable, like number of targets versus duration of effect, or area versus range.
2. Psychic Attacks
A Psychic Attack is a Will save by the target versus DC 10 plus the Ability Bonus specified by the Power (default is Wisdom), Plus the Power Level, Plus the Caster's Level. The Target can apply any Psychic Defense bonuses.
Target Will Save + Psychic Defense vs. DC10 + Ability Bonus + Power Level + Caster Level
3. Power Levels
Power Levels are Multipliers a caster can apply to the Powers he/she commands. They are no longer purchased separately with Skill points. Increased Power Levels multiply the Cost of the power, and also increase ONE Power Variable unless otherwise specified. Some Powers have level caps, otherwise the limit is the amount of Chi a caster has to spend.
For example, using Doc's stats:
Read Emotions 1 Costs 1 chi, effects 1 target for 1 hour. Save to Negate is DC10+3 wis+1 power level+4 caster level= DC18
Read Emotions 2 Costs 2 chi, effects either 1 target for 2 hours or 2 targets for 1 hour, DC 19
Read Emotions 3 costs 3 chi, effects 3 targets for 1 hour, 2 targets for 2 hours, or 1 target for 3 hours, DC 20.
Note the +4 Cha bonus against the target(s) does not increase with Power Level.
Suggest Emotions 1 Costs 2 chi, effects 1 target for 1d6 rounds or 1d6 targets for 1 round. DC10+4 Cha+1 Pl + 4 Cl = DC19
Suggest Emotions 2 costs 4 chi, effects 2 targets for 1d6 rounds or 2d6 targets for 1 round, DC20
Suggest Emotions 5 costs 10 chi, Effects 5 targets for 1d6 rounds, 4 for 2d6, 3 for 3d6, 2 for 4d6, or 1 for 5d6, DC23.
Precognition is limited to 1 Power level.
4. Power chains
Some powers require other powers to be active in order for them to be used. Other powers can make it easier to use successive powers on a target.
Example 1: Read Emotions grants a +4 cha bonus against a target. Suggest Emotions is a Cha based power, so it's DC is raised by 4 when Read emotions is in effect.
Example 2: Going Out of Body will allow a caster to do remote sensing, astral projections, and even take possession of a target.
Example 3: Establishing a Mind Link with a target will allow for the transfer of Chi, Powers, or information, or perform special attacks or deep probing.
Most powers require concentration to manifest. Manifestation time is 1 standard action unless otherwise specified and provokes an attack of opportunity. Concentration can be threatened if the caster is attacked, has to move suddenly, or if there are environmental concerns ( weather, explosions, etc). Some powers require constant concentration to maintain them. If interrupted, the caster must make a Concentration check to keep the power going.
Concentration check is a D20 + Con bonus vs. DC 10 + modifiers (i.e. damage taken)
A List of Powers (To Be Amended)
Read the emotions of a target to gain a conversational advantage. +4 to Charisma checks and Sense Motive versus that target.
Cost: 1 chi. Targets: 1. Duration: 1 hour. Ability: Wis. Save: Negate
Induce an emotion into a target; Fear, Confusion, Happiness, etc. Difference in save affects level of emotional change.
Cost: 2 chi. Targets: 1. Duration 1d6 rounds. Interchangeable. Ability: Cha. Save: Negate.
Predict the immediate future to gain a +2 bonus to a single roll. Effect is automatic unless the player specifies otherwise. Auto-fudge, essentially
Cost: 1 chi. Save: N/a. Max Level: 1
Mind and Body, Limited
Transfer Chi to HP & vice-versa, 2:1 ratio. Unlimited uses.
Mind and Body
Transfer Chi to HP & vice-versa, 1:1 Ratio, Wis bonus uses per day. Requires: M&B, Limited
Mind and Body, Advanced
Transfer Chi to HP & vice-versa, 1:2 ratio, 1 use per day. Requires: M&B
You can hear the surface thoughts of a target or targets, which you can use to gather information.
Cost: 2 chi. Targets: 1. Duration: 1d6 rounds. Interchangeable. Ability: Wis. Save: Negate
Predict the reflexive actions of a target and effectively negate their Dex bonus to initiative, attack, defense, and reflex saves against your area-effect attacks (i.e. rockets, grenades, auto-fire weapons, painguns, etc)
Cost: 2 chi. Targets: 1. Duration: 1d6 rounds. Interchangable. Range 20'. Save: Negate. Ability: Wis
Negate a target's Intelligence bonus when dealing with the caster
Cost: 2 chi, Targets: 1. Duration 1d6 rounds. Interchangeable. Range 20'. Save: Negate. Ability: Int
Negate a target's Wisdom bonus to will saves or psychic attacks versus the caster
Cost: 2 chi, Targets: 1. Duration 1d6 rounds. Interchangeable. Range 20'. Save: Negate. Ability: Cha
Negate a target's Charisma bonus when dealing with the Caster
Cost: 2 chi, Targets: 1. Duration 1d6 rounds. Interchangeable. Range 20'. Save: Negate. Ability: Cha
Boost an ability bonus by 1d4 for 1 roll. Must buy this power for each individual ability.
Cost: 1 chi. Max. Level: 2
Out of Body
The caster can project his or her consciousness beyond the confines of his or her material form. The incorporal form can fly and pass through walls. Power Level increases as distance from the body increases. The body is considered unconscious while in this state.
Cost: 2 chi to start, 1 chi / round upkeep. Range: 100'. Full round manifestation, constant concentration.
Establish a telepathic link between the caster and a target. Link can be voluntary or forced. The target and caster can share thoughts regardless of language. Save DC is lowered by differences in language & culture. Target creature must have an Int between 6 and Caster's Int +10.
Cost: 2 chi to establish, 1 chi / round upkeep, Targets: 1, Range: 30'. Full round manifestation, constant concentration.
Send a one-way psychic message to someone across long distances. Target must be known to the caster. As distance increases, difficulty increases. The Distance Category is the nearest power of 2 in miles. Dist 1 = 2 miles, D2=4m, D3=8m, D4=16m, D5=32m, etc. A previously established Mind Link or close physical relationship grants a bonus to success. True love knows no distance.
Cost: 1 chi. Successful sending is D20+Wis+Caster Level + Power Level vs. 15 + Distance Category (2^x miles) - Relationship bonus.
Example: Doc uses Telepathy 3 to contact a relative across Ohio. Cost 3 chi, Roll 7 + 3 wis + 4 CL + 3 PL = 17 vs. 15+8 disance category (~256 miles) - 5 relationship =18, failed. Telepathy 4 would've connected, while Telepathy 8 would've negated the distance altogether, making the final DC10.