"Only in a general sort of way," said Merlin. He whipped some device of obscure function out of his pocket. It emitted soft beeping noises as he waved it around the room. "I don't know who's taken the baby or why, just that he was in danger."
"There's no physical evidence of an intruder," said Alcides. He was scanning the house with his hero vision, for the third time, on top of the two walkarounds he'd done during Deianira's initial scream.
"Teleport," said Merlin tersely, looking at the readout screen on his feinberger. "Check the near ultra-violet spectrum," he added to Alcides.
Alcides adjusted his pupils and retinae. "Yes - I see a trail leading off toward downtown." As usual he was unable to relate the color of what he saw to the vocabulary of the human visible spectrum.
"Wait -" said Deianira, even in this extreme the instinctive investigative reporter, "I thought the definition of teleportation was to move from one place to another without passing through the space between."
"Not as matter, no," said Merlin, "but as energy. Unless it's a relative dimensional effect like the CAVE - but that would be gross overengineering for simple matter transmission through space without any time displacement. Most teleporters use a matter-to-energy-to-matter conversion process. That's why, even when we're a planet that doesn't yet have teleportation, we instinctively say, 'Beam me up' - we assume an energy beam is involved."
"It's not a very coherent beam," said Alcides. "At least, not as coherent as I'd expect from something that had that much information to carry for any distance."
"Do you mean you don't think Kryptes survived?" gasped Deianira.
"If they wanted to harm him there are easier ways," said Merlin. "This -" he waved his sensor device at the energy trail "- only means they can't have taken him far."
"We have to go find him!" said Deianira.
"Yes - and we have to be careful," said Merlin.
"Because," said Alcides, "following him is exactly what they'll expect us to do."
Amber didn't really know who Merlin was - just that he was someone who worked with Mom and Dad, and had been go-between for his adoption. Amber figured that meant Merlin was one of Them, whoever Father was one of, but Amber obediently didn't ask.
"Amber!" Merlin was the only person who could be relied on to never, ever call him by the full name Amber disliked; not that he saw Merlin often. "I just stopped by for a moment's talk with your parents. Many happy returns of the day." And with that he was gone. Dad said he said goodbye to everyone like that.
"Anything serious?" Amber asked. Dad had stood from where he and Mom were sitting together on the couch. Mom looked like she'd been crying, but like she'd finished and settled down. "Is something wrong?"
"Please sit down, Amber," said Dad.
Amber was a little nonplussed. Usually he only got please sit down when Mom and Dad had found out about one of his "crusades" before he was ready to tell them. But right now there wasn't one they didn't know about.
He sat down.
"There's something I want to tell you," Dad started.
"Now that -" Mom stopped before she said whatever she'd been going to say.
"Now that you're old enough," Dad said. He gave her an odd look, as if she'd been about to say something she shouldn't have. "There's something about me you should know." Apparently whatever it was was in the front closet. Dad reached inside, pushed all the tunics and robes aside, and opened a hidden compartment Amber had not known was there.
From the secret compartment Dad pulled out a brown and yellow animal fur - the most famous costume in the world.
They'd piled into the car. Alcides was driving, since he didn't need a special device to track the energy trail. Fortunately it was almost due east, which meant it was just about parallel to their street.
"Oh - a twinge of cosmic angst," answered Merlin with an awkward smile.
"Is Kryptes that important to history," Deianira asked, "that you could just feel it when something was going to happen to him? Who is he?"
"Something like that," said Merlin. "Could we discuss this later? I'll tell you everything when we're through this."
"Here we are." Alcides pulled up to a factory building about half a mile from the house. It looked abandoned, but the teleport beam led right into a second storey window.
Deianira got to the entrance first. She pulled and pushed on the door but it was locked. Alcides saw Merlin reach in his pocket, but before the wavicle torch even cleared the fabric of Merlin's tunic, Alcides had wrenched the doorknob assembly out, reached in for the bolt and crushed it.
"You could have just melted it," Merlin suggested.
Alcides regarded the powdered metal of the bolt in some surprise. "I could have changed and followed the trail by flight. I didn't even think of it till now."
"You reacted like a Greek, not an Olympian," said Merlin.
"I love you," Deianira said.
Alcides smiled at her. Then the three entered the factory. Alcides led the way up some rickety stairs, pointing out a rotten step that Deianira or Merlin would have fallen through without the warning. Alcides's depth perception didn't need Merlin's tracking device to identify the room which the teleport trail had entered from the outside, but Merlin had it out anyway. Alcides went into the room first.
It was a large room, formerly the factory's employee cafeteria. In the very center was a huge complex construction comprised of jungle-gym pipes, and a variety of lethal devices trained on a hammock deep within the structure. On the hammock, in what Alcides could tell with his hero senses was natural sleep, was Kryptes.
Sitting calmly on his haunches in front of the structure was a familiar six-limbed figure, holding what Alcides didn't have to be told was a remote control.
"Nessus!" snapped Merlin.
"How good of you to come," said the centaur.
"You knew we'd come," said Alcides. "What do you want?"
"I? Nothing, really. Stay back." The three had pulled up in surprise at the sight of him, started forward again as Alcides spoke, and now halted when Nessus brandished the remote control. "I have no reason to use this if you don't give me one."
"You were killed," said Alcides. "With the clone of Deianira, when the tunnel collapsed. I saw the body."
"You saw the body when I jumped off the skyscraper too," said Nessus. "Maybe that was a clone, in the tunnel, like the other Deianira. Maybe I'm the clone. Does it matter?"
"Why are you doing this?" Deianira bit out.
"Morgan le Fey put me up to it. Said because of dimensional convergence she couldn't try again herself."
"'Again'?" said Merlin.
"Morgan?" Alcides blurted. "What does she care about Kryptes?"
Nessus frowned. "You mean," he said to Alcides, motioning at Merlin, "he hasn't told you?"
"Told us what?" Deianira looked at Merlin now. Several behavioral indicators only Alcides could perceive showed she'd about reached her limit.
"This isn't really the time," said Merlin to Nessus in a singsong voice, as if the criminal genius was about to give away a surprise party.
"What's Morgan's interest in - what did you call him - Kryptes?" Nessus asked rhetorically. "It's very simple, when you realize it's time travelers you're dealing with. Who does Morgan hate most in the universe?"
"What's Merlin got to do with this baby?" Deianira demanded, glaring at Merlin now almost as much as at Nessus.
"Don't do this," said Merlin. "This is not the way."
"If you were a time traveler," continued Nessus almost cheerfully, "and hated someone that much; no. If I were a time traveler, and hated someone that much - what would I do about it?"
Alcides looked from Nessus to Merlin. A moment before Nessus concluded his oration, Alcides saw it himself. After all, Morgan had tried to do this to Hercules once, too, occasioning the Daily Constellation reporters' first meeting with Merlin.
"This baby," said Nessus, "is Merlin."
to Chapter 3
Back to King Arthur of Time and Space index.
Back to Paul's index