Helia Sarina is very interested in the concept of
an evil mind-sucking Joe, and what it might be. She asks the server
behind the cafeteria counter, and he says she could find them in comic
books. So she rushes off to a newsstand to find some, taking Sagan
with her -- sie also wants to know what evil creature sie was mistaken
At the newsstand, she asks the man where she'd find comics that have evil mind-sucking Joe's in them. He points to the comic rack, and when she asks he recommends several that are popular. She buys them and she and Sagan return to the cafe.
Seated at the table again, they go over the comics. There's nothing that looks like a hiver in them. Lizards, yes, other aliens, and humans, but no hiver. There's some pictures of an odd green being with an enormous head and shrunken body, floating on a tiny grav apparatus of some sort. It's apparently commanding some creatures which look somewhat like it but have normal human proportions. There's lots of shooting and spaceships and so on, but they're still at a loss as to what an evil mind-sucking Joe might be.
Mind-sucking, now that sounds like psionics. Helia knows how much Mich Saginaw abhors psionics, so calls him to warn him. He replies that there aren't enough psi helmets on the ship for everyone, but he'll be wearing one himself. He finally tells her that "Joe" is derogatory slang for "Zhodani", and "evil mind-sucking Joe" is just an extension of that.
Helia, though, is still concerned. Perhaps there are evil Zhodani here even now, working to influence their minds...
Meanwhile, the rest of the group has left the cafe
to try to contact Erwin Hedaker. A short trip upstairs two floors
leads them to public telephones -- which Robert Morris alone can identify
as such -- and a puzzle in the form of a directory in the local language.
Marquis Marcus Crestworthy tries asking a local for help, but is rudely rebuffed. He then approaches a child, and after a short period of amused confusion over the phrase "look up someone" he points out the entry for Erwin Hedaker.
The telephone routing system seems to consist of 30 two-position switches, all in the up position. Each one is identified by a symbol. Robert, as the communications expert, picks up the handset and pushes down the switches corresponding to the symbols in the directory. To everyone's dismay, nothing happens. Eventually Robert notices a hand crank on the side of the box, and cranks it. Success at last!
But that's as far as success goes. The call is answered by what seems to be a recorded message saying that Mr. Hedaker is not taking calls at present, and anyone wishing to communicate with him should visit in person.
That's a setback. Time to find out about Erwin Hedaker, and how to reach him. It'd also be sensible to find out a bit more about this planet before trekking too far from here. According to the liaison officer at the port, that should all be available in the library at Center.
They are still pondering the situation when Sagan
and Helia arrive from downstairs. Since they want to go shopping
too, the whole group decides to make a trip to Center.
The whole group, that is, except Vonish. He is more concerned with finding out about the local cuisine than shopping, and so leaves on his own to pursue his interests.
The Marquis leads them to what appears to be a ticket booth, and purchases tickets for them all for the railway trip to Center.
After about ten minutes, a loud noise starts getting
closer. It's a train, apparently powered by internal combustion,
rumbling and whistling into the station. It comes to a halt, and
the doors open and they board.
The train is quite full, but the presence of Sagan gives the crew half a car to themselves, as the locals give them plenty of space. Sagan can't fit between the seats easily, so sie spends the trip in the aisle near the doors.
The train is fairly comfortable. The trip takes about 30 minutes, all on elevated rails. They estimate the speed of the train at around 50kph. The view initially is of First City, with commercial and office buildings giving way to some residential areas. Then there's a band of scrub, rough ground with bushes and similar vegetation, before approaching what is presumably Center. Staying two stories above the ground, the railway passes over a residential area before entering what seems to be the commercial district.
Center is a much greener town than First City. The buildings are farther apart, with more greenways between them. There's no sign of an industrial area, and the air seems to be free of visible pollution.
The train slows and rolls into the third floor of a large building. It's much like the mall in First City, but very much larger, encompassing several city blocks. A sign on the platform in Galanglic indicates that they are indeed at Center.
The doors of the train car open, and they step out. It's clear from the flow of people where to go. They follow the crowd into the building. Marquis Marc is a bit surprised that no-one seems to be checking tickets.
The building turns out to be
one vast three-storey mall. There are shops for almost anything conceivable,
and various public service buildings as well.
The crew immediately split up into two groups. Helia and Sagan want to shop -- or watch people shopping, in the case of the hiver -- while the Marquis wants to start at the library. Ed "Shark" Teeth accompanies the shopping group to act as their bodyguard. Misha Ravanos performs that role for the Marquis and Robert.
Shopping is most successful. Visits to clothing stores yield some exciting outfits for Helia, but the most interesting place of all to her is the toy store. Here she buys the largest erector set she can find for Mich -- the case is about a meter by two meters, and 25cm deep. It's heavy, but not so heavy in this gravity. Still, its sheer size is awkward enough for Helia to handle, so she asks Ed to carry it for her. He's delighted to do so, for some reason known only to him. As for herself, Helia buys a small erector set and a number of the wonderful metal mechanical toys (some clockwork, some not). Happy with her purchases, she leads them on to the bookstore.
The Marquis leads his group
to the library at the other end of the mall. Looking around fruitlessly
for a console to access the catalog, he resorts to talking to the librarian
on duty. He tells her what he's looking for, and she is glad to point
him to the right areas, and reassures him that many books are available
in Galanglic. He soon realises that the library is vast, and searching
through all these paper books here is going to be very tedious. What
he really wants is to have all the information in the ship's computer...
But it's a simple matter for him to pick out a few books, and ask the librarian
where he could buy copies, and for recommendations of other to add to the
So, list in hand, they proceed back up the mall towards Rimes, the bookstore.
At the bookstore the two groups
once again meet up and start shopping. By now Marquis Marc has worked
out how to handle a world of no computers -- simply ask others to do things
Helia, who's already mastered the art of shopping in the real world, heads off to the folklore section. She picks up several books -- some children's, some college-level texts -- on the legends and lore of Digitis. Then she decides to bring another present for her friend Mich, and seeks out the engineering books. Here she picks out a large detailed book on the design and construction of internal combustion engines. Then to the cookbooks, and with some recommendations from the staff she selects two of the best books for Vonish -- one large format, fairly thin, the other a thick detailed book.
Meanwhile Marc has already picked out several maps of the planet, especially of the forests in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately there's very little detail on them -- they show the rail lines from Center to Cormor Forest, but no real detail of the forest itself. He adds several books on the planet to his purchases, with particular attention to books which talk about the forest areas. He also selects a few books about the fauna of the forest ecosystems. On a whim he grabs a copy of Who's Who, so he can look up Erwin Hedaker and anyone else they come across.
Suddenly a thought occurs to Marc -- they're not in the Imperium. A quick question to the store clerk, and he's eagerly perusing the section of psionics books! Some of the books are quite old editions, but there's several new texts as well. A lot of the books are by Zhodani authors, but there are some local ones too, some of which aren't available in Galanglic versions. He collects a large but carefully chosen number of them, along with a Galanglic-local language translation book so he can read the local ones.
Robert has wandered over to the communcations section, and picks out a book which describes the inner workings of the telephone system. He is very surprised to find such information freely available under such a restrictive law level, but certainly intends to take full advantage of it.
Marquis Marc's books are far too numerous to carry back to the ship, so he asks the store staff about shipping. This turns out to be no problem (money being no object), and Helia adds some of her books, which she's already bought, to the shipment. They should arrive the day after tomorrow.
Time to head back to the ship...
but before doing so, Helia wants to spend the rest of her money.
She does so by loading up on candy. First of all she buys a large
quantity of cheap candy, which she hands to Ed to carry. Ed is delighted
-- with a very heavy case in one hand, and in the other a large quantity
of small round objects that would scatter if dropped, he's ready to deal
with any eventuality.
Helia then heads for a whole different style of candy -- exotic delicacies that delight the senses. The specialty of this planet seems to be a confection that's somewhere between the consistency of fudge and caramel, somewhat grainy to the tongue. The visual pinnacle, though, is candy in the form of a transparent globe or egg, containing another detailed and delicate object fashioned out of various forms of candy. She completes her spending here, and carries them in her backpack for safety.
All board the train for the return journey to First City. The trip follows the second half of the circular line connecting just those two stations, and the journey back is much the same as the journey out.
Meanwhile Vonish has spent the day with a local master chef. A taxi ride back to the yacht club reveals that the restaurant there is in fact the finest in the area. He talks his way back into the kitchens and introduces himself to the chef. The chef is taken by him, and they spend the day in enthusiastic conversation, accompanied (to Vonish's surprise) by several most excellent bottles of local wine. They exchange information, discuss the subleties of flavorings and techniques, and reveal recipes to each other. Both benefit greatly from the sharing of information -- presentation is particularly inspired here, and Vonish soaks up all he can.
So when the Marquis calls Vonish
to suggest dinner at the best restaurant in town, the vilani knows exactly
what to recommend. He will select the menu and wine selection himself,
and assist the chef at the Yacht Club with the preparation.
Of course the dinner is excellent... Helia gives Vonish the thinner of the two cookbooks, and tells him about the thicker one she has for him in the coming package. The latter book in fact turns out to be the one recommended to Vonish by the chef here -- an excellent choice on Helia's part. He's also pleased with her gift of exotic confections -- although by now he's seen what it takes to make them.
Fine dinner, fine wine, and
a pleasant evening spent by all... but who is in a state to fly the gcarrier
back to the ship? Robert insists he's fine, and promptly drives the
gravcraft directly into the sea. Submerged near the shore, he takes
a deep breath and corrects his error. Lifting up out of the water,
he then proceeds to fly them to where the Third Eye is waiting at
her berth. Once there, though, he is rather disoriented by the way
the ship seems to be swaying -- perhaps he is more drunk than he thought?
- and wisely passes over the controls to Helia.
Helia confirms the ship is swaying, but nevertheless parks the gcarrier safely in the hangar.
The motion of the ship -- with no inertial compensation -- is a little disturbing to some of the crew, and they are grateful when Mich announces that he's turning everything back on having finished his check of the ship's systems.
Helia delivers her presents to Mich -- the internal combustion book, and the erector set. Mich sets to building a page-turning apparatus with the latter, so that when the rest of the books arrive he'll be able to help Robert scan them into the computer.