One hundred sixty-eight

One hundred sixty-eight

Paradoxically, it reassured Jeanette that they stood on the top of the hill paralyzed.  It meant, at very least that this civilization had a high degree of technology, and if they could convince them, they might stand a chance against the Deep Chaos monster.

But that, she realized full well, was making a lot of optimistic assumptions. And it was uncomfortable.

There was one thing she was able to do. She said “Gad? Can you move? I can speak but otherwise I can’t.”

“It is the same, with me,” the beetle’s voice came over her bracelets. “Are you frightened?”

“A little, but not too much. I guess you can’t see anything, stuck down there?”

“I can see your hair.”

Lord Elphinstone said levelly, “I suspect this field is calibrated to allow us to breathe. Overall I would consider that a good sign, although it might mean they won’t get here immediately.”

It began to get really unpleasant. Even though she wasn’t stuck in an odd position, holding her arms and legs and not moving or adjusting them in anyway began to hurt. The tiger, sensing this, told her that soldiers were often punished by having them stand at attention for extended periods of time, and that would put them in the hospital. It didn’t work nearly as bad on quadrupeds, though. This was almost funny and almost horrible at the same time, and, at least for the moment, it prevented her from asking Lord Elphinstone for more stories.

The light had changed to early morning from dawn, when an alien riding a dragonfly, but a dragonfly with monarch butterfly colored wings, came up from the city and hovered before them. It was humanoid, with a long tapered face that was somewhat deer-like, and with magnificent lon backswept horns like an antelope, or no, what was it called--an ibex maybe.It had a uniform-like clothing, with multicolored ribbons flapping on its sleeves..

Almost immediately there came a floating vehicle with an open back bed like a pickup truck with four more aliens in the back, uniformed but with fewer ribbons, and carrying effective looking guns. They all had very different horn sets, which made Jeanette wonder if they were artificial.

“Get the translator up!” Said the officer in a pleasant male voice. Jeanette said “That won’t be necessary,” but realized that it would be for Lord Elphinstone.

“Get the translator up and the shield,” the officer said. He turned and looked at Jeanette. “You’ll pardon our precautions, but your power profiles read extremely high. For the sake of the Balance  we must be careful. We also prefer our own translation devices.”

The soldiers unloaded something that looked like a jumble of pale crystal cubes. A few seconds later Jeanette found she could move again, which felt wonderful. The tiger stepped forward and said “I am Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, Earl of Maurya, and this is Jeanette Ransom, who is under my protection. I will warn you that we are being pursued by a creature of tremendous power. It has already killed this girl’s father and our companions. We have no wish to visit this scourge upon you, but most earnestly ask for your help.”

It was probably his bearing as much as his words that seemed to convince the soldiers. “We’ll take your warning seriously, and consider your request carefully. But you are aliens of types we haven’t encountered. Are you from beyond the Arm?”

Caution drew Silvertyger back. “We have come by an interdimensional gateway. Does that sound preposterous to you?”

“Frankly, it does. It is the premise for a very popular--extremely popular adventure show, and a variety of games. If it were not for your power readings I’d say this was a practical joke--which is also an extremely popular show.”

Behind and over to one side, Jeanette saw an antelope-man standing on the slope of the hill, looking up at them. She looked away for a second, and when she looked back, there were three of them.

“But alien strangers asking for help--and even terrible monsters in pursuit of them--are something we live with. This part of the Arm is rich with old stars and nebulae laden with heavy elements--and home to a hundred star-spanning races which, our xenobiologists tell us, is anomalous. As a result, we have fought--and won--many interstellar wars. Which explains our paralysis field. I hope it didn’t bring too much discomfort to your Ward.”

There were now about six of the other antelope-men--or maybe women. They were clearly not uniformed--loose draping clothing in fresh colors ranging from yellow-orange to powder blue. But for all their grace, quite solid.

“Our standard procedure in these cases is to bring you before the Bar of Defense, and have them decide what resources--if any--be committed to your aid. I believe you and like you--your little ward is especially pretty in an exotic way--so I will give you some advice wwhich, of course, you are free not to take.”

The other antelopes had reached the vehicle and were definitely walking towards her and Lord Elphinstone. They were, however, walking as if the first group didn’t exist. And the first group made no acknowledgement of them. The second ones didn’t collide (or, for that matter walk through each other), but brushed close without any interaction whatsoever.

“Tell your story to the bar in as much detail as you please--but leave out the interdimensional, um, parts. If you turn your dimension travel into space-travel, your monster will be well dealt with.”

One of the other antelopes--shirt open, revealing a white curly pelt--leaned over and took Jeanette’s hand. “You are such a beautiful little alien girl, and your story is so touching--your father! Of course we will help you.” it said, talking over the other antelope’s voice.

“You have to be restrained by force-field when you are called to the Bar, I hope you’ll understand that our regulations are built on a foundation of bitter experience. Now--?”

As they walked to the back of the vehicle, Jeanette whispered, “Did you see that? Hear that?”

“I did,” the tiger whispered back. “My guarded optimism has turned into something else."


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