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."
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.
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?"