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He settled in a cleft in the rock to wait out the day, and surveyed the sand in search of landmarks. He found none but a few other rock outcroppings, and decided to move between these from one to another in as straight a line as he could choose until he found something else. If there was decent light at night-and in a bright-sand cloudless desert there should be--he could see those shadowy rocks in the darkness. Resting until dusk, he began his trek.
It was just after sunset but not yet nightfall as he was noticed by a group of indigs. It was a strange group. There were men on foot wearing some type of suit, probably plastic, with coverings over their faces, colored to match the desert sand. These were accompanied by men in similar suits, except that they were colored as if they were uniforms and had a clear crest on them as of a club or a military unit; they rode in flying machines which seemed to maneuver much like helicopters, but used wings more like a bird. Seeing him on the sand, they converged on his position with remarkable speed but an odd uneven gait. It was not difficult to surmise that the group on foot were born to the desert, but the off-beat step was striking in its peculiarity.
As the others came near, one stepped forward and loosened part of his mask. Dylan could see--even in the late dusk--bright blue eyes which seemed to have no other color in them. Although this immediately seemed very inhuman, the creature spoke, and in English, and in a very human-sounding voice.
"Hold your ground and identify yourself." It seemed an odd thing for anyone to have said, since Dylan had been standing there watching them approach for some time, and had made no move since they arrived; but he obliged them.
"My name is Dylan", he said. "I'm kind of lost, and would appreciate any help you can give me."
There was some discussion of this. There were some who felt that a lost child should be helped. But others claimed that there could not be a lost child here in the desert. He was not one of their people, and were he with the Duke's household they would know it. He had to be a spy, from the Baron most likely, or possibly from the Emperor. No ships had crashed, there were no visitors, no spaceports were authorized outside the Duke's domain. How could he be here, but if he were a spy? Possibly he was a spice smuggler, someone suggested; but this seemed unlikely, and didn't make much difference.
Throughout the discussion, Dylan was trying to get their attention and explain that he was just a lost traveler, but they didn't seem interested in his explanation. He had decided that the whole truth was not his best option. Finally the indigs decided he was a spy, and should be killed in single combat. One of the plain-suited ones stepped forward and drew a large knife.
Well, Dylan had the plastic steel bo stick he had made back on NagaWorld in his hands, and Whisp had given him a few lessons in how to use it, so he took his stance. As his opponent moved in, he successfully shifted out of the way; but as he went to make the counterstrike, the end of the staff had sunk into the sand, and slipped from his hands. As quick as lightning he drew his dachi, the Dar Koni knife they had given him after his visit with them. He had never used it in combat before, but the teaching machines had implanted in his mind the best ways to use the long-bladed knife with the hook below the handle. He parried the next blow quite adequately, and landed a blow of his own. Then he took a nasty wound from the opponent's knife, and delivered a returning blow; but as the attacker parried his next effort he lost his grip on this weapon also, and it flew onto the sand several yards away.
He had a small arsenal of techniques to try, but was uncertain which to attempt next. He decided on the pyrogenesis--he had never used it against a live target before, let alone in combat, but he had done a few tricks with it back on NagaWorld. He focused his psionic energy on increasing the molecular motion within his opponent's body. Perhaps it had a small effect; but the opponent was born to and dressed for the desert, and the heat increase did not seem to be damaging in any way--besides, this was combat, and Dylan did not have time to make careful observations.
Not having a good day, he yanked the psi blaster from the harness he had made for it on his belt; but he fumbled this, and it fell to the ground. Having no better plan, he dove for the dachi, his clothes being caught by the tip of the opponent's knife as he passed it.
He reached the dachi, and used it to parry the next blow; but he was in a bad position, and Whisp had not taught him how to fight from his back. He expected that this was going to be another short visit as the knife blade returned to view.
"Stop". It was a new voice, young but carrying quite a bit of authority. "I see no danger in him. Bring him, and we will find out who he is and what he knows."
The several hooded figures who grabbed him seemed a bit foolish to him. After all, he was lost in the desert, and eager to be anywhere else. They even picked up his fallen weapons (although they did not give these back immediately, and took the dachi also). So he was taken through the desert until they reached a particularly large rock area, where a city was built resembling a fortress. Here he was delivered to a comfortable but secure room.
I won't bother you with the details. He did illusions, invisibilities, generally playing with the minds of his guards. He sharpened and expanded his clairsentience and telekinetic skills, and came up with new ideas for manipulating sub-atomic structures (he had won a medal at the science olympics not long before hitting the verse). He moved on to physical forces and mental attacks and defenses--all of this he studied in some detail, looking for new nuances for his skills, and expanding his abilities in psionics probably even beyond my own.
In the midst of this, he had an interview with the young man who had ordered him spared. Not wishing to sound crazy, he just said that he had been separated from his father, and found himself here (leading them to believe that I had sent him here by some means available to me). He explained that he had materialized on the plane shortly before they had found him, and did not know where he was.
His captor/host, who was the son of the duke on this planet, and called himself Paul, sometimes The Mouse, took this with great interest. He seemed able to recognize that the information was true, as far as it went. This was increased by another series of events which emphasized the point, and made me seem quite powerful. (Dylan had told them that I was quite powerful, and could do many things that he was only just learning; he also demonstrated some of his psychic techniques, which helped bring home his point.)
I had come up with the concept of the scriff mail. I reasoned that if everything you owned went with you when you versed out, it would be possible for me to send something across the scriff to him by placing it where he or his gear was when he left, and declaring that it was his. Turns out it's much more complicated than that; but it worked. He received the bow, I think, while he was still in the psi cop world. Now I sent him arrows. He got that feeling--the feeling of having left something somewhere--and, remembering the bow, he told Paul that there was something of his in the desert near where he arrived. Paul said it would be lost in the sand, but Dylan insisted he could find it, and was taken, along with a group of soldiers, to the location he designated. Going directly to the spot and digging in the sand, he turned up a quiver full of arrows made of the same material as the bow. Paul was intrigued, but not convinced. He did have the area searched, but nothing else was found.
A couple days later, he got that feeling again, and asked to be taken back there. This time he dug up the psionically-boosted bo stick I made for him, in the same spot as the arrows, only not quite so deep--and with a note attached from me explaining how to use it. He quickly practiced this, and demonstrated it to Paul.
Paul was now convinced. He had very strong precognitive abilities himself, and had experienced the effects of a psionic pain inducer as a boy, but had never heard of anything quite like the toys Dylan had brought. A new deal was struck: Paul would provide Dylan with any reasonable request, including a place to work and any assistance he required. They would also assign one of their experts to train him in combat techniques; although swords and blasters were the weapons of choice, the man called Duncan was a capable fighter, and could teach him how to adapt the techniques to his own preferred weapons. Dylan would teach Paul and Paul's top guards some of those psionic techniques. No one was to say anything about whence Dylan had come, and he was to have minimal contact outside of the elite group. Of course, he had essentially free reign of the palace (outside of the bedrooms) and would be allowed access to outside areas within it; but he was too valuable to risk, and would not leave the grounds without approval and escort. Dylan was quite content with this idea, as it would give him plenty of time to develop and improve his skills. In fact, when Paul was looking for ways to keep him secret while allowing him some freedom of movement, Dylan suggested the dual identity: when he was roaming around the palace, he was to be addressed directly as Dylan; but when anything was being said about his work, it was to be credited to someone called the Psientist, even if he were present in the room, and no one was to know that he was the Psientist.
There was a minor problem. A ancient law was still strictly enforced in this universe, something about machines not being allowed to do the work of men. Dylan was to be trained in the sophisticated mental techniques of the class of individuals who did all of the higher calculations in this world. Unfortunately, he owned not only several video games but a television with computerized circuitry within it. (I have often said that the rule is foolish and vague. After all, my washing machine has an extremely primitive mechanical computer within it which allows it to decide when to do what. Thinking in the machine world is a matter of degree; and computers which can chart interstellar courses can calculate with tremendous speed and accuracy, but still fall short of artificial intelligence in my estimation.) Anyway, it was agreed that Dylan should keep those things safely in his private quarters, and use them only when alone, and discuss them with no one.
As soon as Whisp arrived, he sensed the presence of another verser and followed the sense to determine who it was. Whisp has never cultivated that sense--as far as I know, only Aaron, Michael, Pete, Dan, and Mary can do it, and I have no idea how (in fact, I could be wrong about Aaron: it may be that he senses a presence, and uses a clairvoyance ability to reach out and see who it is)--the sense that tells some of the more experienced versers who is there. He's also not the most careful verser, always rushing in, never imagining that there's anything he can't handle. Anyway, he knew it wasn't Mother (her scriff signature he has learned to identify, as she has his), so he went to find out.
Mercifully he did not kill anyone. Dylan also sensed that someone was present, and was waiting--he informed Paul that there was another like him in the universe, and that the other might contact him. Although Whisp looks nothing like Dylan, the kid was able to identify the copper man, and the guards reluctantly allowed him to enter.
As often happens in such encounters, the two versers traded tricks and techniques. But then Mother arrived-Whisp knew this immediately. Dylan, understanding the situation, informed Paul that a very dangerous creature from the verse had arrived, and asked that it be captured alive if possible. Conferring with Whisp, he gave specific instructions for how to capture and contain Mother (which I'm sure Whisp wishes he could remember). Within a day, the Duke's crack troops had caged the monster which bore the name Mother, and presented her to Dylan.
Calling Paul, Dylan reminded him that he had explained a little about his ability to travel between universes. He offered to demonstrate how that happened. Although he could not prove that Mother would go to a different universe, he could remove her completely from this one with a simple high-voltage attack, such that no trace of her save a few dust particles which were not her would remain. So saying, he applied the power, removing Mother from the universe, giving Whisp a respite from his flight, and convincing Paul of the truth of the insane story he had constructed of the Psientists origin.
The plan was to arrange for the space pilots guild to carry them to their adversary's planet; the spice that only existed in the desert was vital to the precognitive interstellar piloting techniques used, so the Duke had a lot of leverage. Once there, the infantry would be placed on the ground some distance from the Baron's palace. Then light orbit-to-ground ships would swoop down and bomb the compound, attempting to breach the main walls and take out the primary defenses. It went quite smoothly. Dylan even took the opportunity to develop the use of a telekinetic technique to tamper with the flight of missiles, tapping his own on course when they were a bit off, and bumping enemy fire way from him when it was headed his way. The battle was quickly resolved, and the Baron's house was no longer a threat.
Whisp never returned from this battle. When I asked him what happened, he said, "I don't know; I never saw it coming"--and then he ranted and raved for about twenty minutes, tossing a few parked cars up on the sidewalk for emphasis. He was really enjoying himself in that world; but for him, it's usually the trouble he didn't expect which gets him.