“It’s no good, mistress,” Kin Tovere said sadly, “I can’t grind lenses fine enough, and we can’t seem to coordinate well enough with your One Power attempts.”
Discouraged, the craftsman dropped his fine sandpaper and oilcloth, and Janica released saidar with a sigh. A small collection of things that to the untrained eye looked like spectacle lenses lay scattered across the table.
“Ach, that one there lukes alreet,” Debs said loyally, pointing to a little round curved piece of crystal in a wire frame. It was one of the ones Janica had tried to make with weaves of Fire and Air. There was a little black spot on the tabletop where its convex surface was resting.
“I suppose so, but it doesn’t actually help my eyesight when I look through it,” Janica said in frustration. “Plus, it’s too hot to put on my face.”
“It’ll cool daen.”
“Not the way I weaved it,” Janica disagreed. “It’ll stay hot, and if I release the weave…” she channeled briefly, and the glass cracked into a spiderweb pattern. “Hopeless. It’s almost as if there’s some sort of skill to making spectacles.”
“I thought, if I simply made lenses to a smaller scale, but similar to the ones I placed in my telescope,” Kin mourned, “they would help you. But there must be more to it.”
Janica was about to suggest they try again, with her channeling and Tovere doing his best to give her directions even though he couldn’t see what she was doing and she couldn’t see what she was doing either, when the door to their room opened and Contro and Egwene came wandering in.
“Hello there!” Contro exclaimed cheerfully. “It’s been a very long time since I saw anybody!! I thought you were all gone!”
“What are you talking about?” Janica asked, although she’d learned from long experience that she should never ask questions like that to Contro. “We had dinner with you about half an hour ago.”
“An’ I threw a lamb shank at ye,” Debs added, “because ye would’nae shut up aboot beans on toost,” she did a vague double-take. “But where did Egwene come from?”
“She was in the wagon!” Contro replied happily. “But she got hungry and decided to come out! I think!”
“The wagon got left behind when those little gateways sliced its axle through,” Egwene corrected, “and Someshta jumped out and carried us both to safety, and unfortunately Bela and Cow survived too, except Cow got a popped eye,” she shook her head in good-natured affection at Contro’s labrador-blank expression. “How can you have forgotten already? You got your ear cut off.”
“Did I?? But I can hear you!”
“So? You can still hear people when your ear gets cut off,” Janica snapped. “It doesn’t make you deaf unless the ear drum itself…” she realised her mistake, but it was too late.
“Drum!! Ha ha ha! There’s no drum in my ear! I would have heard it by now!! Unless of course I can’t hear it because my ear is cut off! But if my ear was cut off, how would I be able to hear anything?? If you can still hear things when you don’t have ears, what do people have ears for?? I guess that proves it! Ha ha ha!!” Debs strode over and gave him a swift but fairly gentle thump on the bandage. “Oi!”
“Whee’ve ye got a bandage on yer heed, an’ a sore spot where yer ear used tae be?”
“What are you two doing here anyway?” Janica interrupted while Contro was doing that momentary silent act he did sometimes, when a normal human being would be thinking of a response. She suspected that Contro’s silences were nothing more than breaks in whatever signal it was that guided his stimulus-response process.
“We were sent by the Wise Ones,” Egwene said. “Those who remain awake with the Dragon Reborn wanted to let you know that we are ready to begin. Operation Dream Wolf Dream Tickle Dream Tum is about to commence.”
Janica reminded herself that letting Contro name the operation had been a necessary evil. Otherwise, he would have tried to help out in some other way.
“Nice place you have here.”
“Lots of space.”
“Not that I need a lot of space, you understand.”
“I guess not.”
“I can be stowed quite conveniently in the overhead compartment, if you must know the truth.”
“I suppose you can.”
Cooper Two leaned back on the couch, sighed in contentment, and revelled in having a truly placid stomach for the first time he could remember. Why was it that every John and Jenny al’Taxpayer he was sent out to kill happened to be ta’veren? He’d forgotten what it was like to completely digest a bellyfull of blood.
Maybe it was intentional. To keep gholam cranky. An intentional design-flaw. Yes, that sounded like the friendly motherfuckers at Aginor Bio-Weapons Corp. If only he were biologically capable of finding them, pulling off their gonads and pushing them into their eyeballs until he hit brain and then scooping…
Well, first things first.
“This is a whole other world,” he mused, “but it’s also the same world, in a way. It’s sort of a dislocated plane of Tel’aran’rhiod, or it’s like we travelled along the spokes of the Wheel to an Age where the real world hasn’t happened yet, or happened a long time ago, or might not happen at all, and it all really only exists in the writings of this author guy.”
“Who you killed,” Morelin pointed out.
“Let’s not get bogged down in who bludgeoned whom with what,” Coop said reasonably. “The thing is, your man and a few other people have been placed in my world, as a form of entertainment, and I have been dropped into your world. I got here through the Bore in Shayol Ghul, and I arrived in some sort of office, through some sort of … well, this world’s version of a ter’angreal.”
“A computer,” Morelin said, tapping the screen in front of her. She was debating contacting the police, or maybe the Tor offices, but wasn’t sure how one went about being taken seriously via e-mail. It was difficult enough getting the authorities to listen to her over the phone, or even face to face. “This computer was used, somehow, to transport Shannon across. But you say you didn’t see him.”
“No, just a guy called Dr. Nick and some woman called Nancy Sidesaddle. There were a few others, but most of them didn’t want to talk to me,” he brooded. “Then there was Mister C of Mayene.”
Morelin laughed. “Mayene. I know Dr. Nick,” she said, “but I’ve never heard of Nancy Sidesaddle. Must be some lurker, or a crossposter out of alt.wheeloftime.”
Cooper Two smiled and nodded. When he’d first arrived in this odd World of If, he hadn’t been able to understand a damn word anybody was saying. It wasn’t the Old Tongue, but a sort of primordial version of it that made no sense at all. However, with a gholam‘s inbuilt ability to blend in, he had found the dialect swiftly layering itself over the top of his mind, the way Chaggabaggawoggan had imposed itself over the top of the Old Tongue. Sometimes, however, his interpretations broke down and it seemed Morelin was speaking an alien language again. He wasn’t sure what an alt.wheeloftime was, but Nancy Sidesaddle had been a crossposter if ever he’d seen one.
The human female shuddered as Coop’s smile revealed his elongated fangs. A gholam‘s inbuilt ability to blend in extended, sadly, only as far as speaking the language. Everything else about a gholam tended to stick out like a stolen kidney.
“And you can’t get this computer to do it again, and maybe send me back?”
“How about if I pulled off your nose? Would that make it easier?”
Cooper Two was impressed by Morelin’s cool disposition, but probably would have been far less so if he’d known what New York was like. He hadn’t had much chance to get a look at it while he was fleeing from the resident law enforcement, all of whom looked as if they followed the Way of the Doughnut a little too rigorously.
“But you seem to be the only one who knows who I am and understands what’s going on,” he complained. “If I’d slipped into any other building around here, they wouldn’t have known what was going on and they would have screamed and run around and then died in a limb-pile. In fact, if my stomach wasn’t telling me otherwise, I’d suspect a swirl in the Pattern.”
“I don’t think there is a Pattern out here,” Morelin said. “We don’t have ta’veren, just ‘shit happens’.”
Cooper Two grinned and jumped to his feet. Morelin flinched, but disguised it as a minor hair readjustment. “Shit happens,” he said, “I like it. So what do you think I should do now?”
“Why not sneak back into the Tor office and use their master computer to send you back?” Morelin suggested. “I’m sure whoever it was that worked this competition out works for Tor somehow. So they’d know how to get you back.”
“It might be difficult to get back in there,” Coop said, “the whole place is crawling with smokies. And anyway, wouldn’t the ter’angreal in the Tor place drop me right back at the Bore? As much as I respect my employers, I prefer to work through middlemen. Shai’tan gives me the willies,” he paused, and smiled. “You twitched.”
“When I said Shai’tan. Do you feel nervous when I say the name?”
“Not really,” Morelin admitted, “it’s just a habit. I would have thought you’d be more nervous about saying it than I would. You’re from a universe where it actually has an effect.”
“I just thought I’d try it, since now I’m in a different universe and all the rules seemed to have changed,” Coop said cheerfully. “Now then, where were we?”
“The computer that can put you back in the Wheel of Time world,” Morelin said. “I suppose, unless all of the guys were sent straight to the Bore – and it doesn’t sound like they were – there must be some way to reprogram a normal computer with instructions from the centre, and use an ordinary modem to send you wherever you might want to go.”
“Yeah,” Coop said, “that sounds sensible. Let’s do that thing that you said.”
“We’ll need somebody better at computers than me,” Morelin mused, then pointed at the computer. “But as it happens, there’s a whole community of people right here who know everything there is to know about computers and the tricks you can pull with them,” Morelin considered. “Eventually, that is. Collectively.”
“In there?” Cooper Two looked skeptically at the computer monitor. “They must be pretty small.”
“You have no idea,” Morelin murmured.
Staggering under the suspiciously heavy weight of Mister C of 9, Chucky and Perrin headed back outside. The forger, Billy Joe-Bob al’Peterson Meatballs Smith, was standing patiently in the same place it’d been standing in when Lord Luc broke up the fight earlier that afternoon, and it looked as though it would be happy to keep standing that way for the foreseeable future. They draped the myrddraal over Billy Joe-Bob’s still-extended squashing arm.
“So just like that, you’re going to go?” Slayer asked. “What about my story? What about the…” he paused, and lowered his voice, “the ‘H’ of ‘V’?”
“That’s the brilliant part,” Chucky said, gesturing to the drooping shape of Mister C of 9, who was trying to lean his entire weight on Smith, without putting any pressure on his wrist, ankles, or proto-arm. “He’s got it. He’s had it all along, hidden in his magical cloak. Give him the Horn, C.”
“Huh? I don’t have it.”
“He stole it from the Stone of Tear, as I recall. Quite a hilarious story, actually, but we don’t really have time for it right now. Of course, it’s been blown by an Ogier, from what I’ve been told, so it won’t work unless you – what?”
“I don’t have it. I don’t have anything. I was robbed while unconscious from the weight of the One Seal.”
“The One Seal…” Slayer frowned. “You mean this is that halfman? Oh, brilliant! He’s a collector’s item! If they don’t restore him for you, at least make sure you get him replaced by a super premium. He’s worth his weight in cuendillar.”
Chucky waved this aside. “What do you mean, robbed? You let somebody steal the Horn of Valere from you?”
“I don’t even have Stormbringer Sting Snaga anymore. That bitch Logain took my sword, but that’s okay because I don’t have any hands anyway. He must have taken the Horn at the same time.”
“What a bastard,” Chucky grumbled.
“The party seems to have moved on,” Perrin pointed out, “and gosh, I’m very sleepy. Good luck on your journey, Chucky – I look forward to hearing all about it at the next meeting of the Gentlemen’s Club,” with suspicious lack of ceremony, Lord Goldeneyes trotted away, already unlacing his breeches as he went.
“Must be tired,” Chucky said idly.
“Must be,” Slayer smirked, then grew serious. “But listen, gleeman, what’s your part in all this? The Nae’blis says nothing about you in his updates, and you seem to be out of the loop and yet very much privy to inside information…”
“Oh yeah, he’s privy,” Mister C of 9 had flopped off Smith’s arm, and was now curled in a foetal position under the forger’s hanging belly. “Talk about privy. If he was any more full of shit, he’d turn into a privy.”
“I’ve been out of contact,” Chucky said conspiratorially, “looking for Seals and infiltrating various groups. You heard about Padan Fain?” Slayer nodded. “How about Sheriam?”
Slayer gasped, and actually took a swift half-step backwards. “You weren’t in her company!”
“For a little while, unfortunately. We ended up near the Tower of Ghenjei, actually,” Chucky summoned up enough courage to step up give Lord Luc a comradely nudge with his elbow. The weird Darkfriend felt like a charcoal sketch to the touch, which was pretty weird but Chucky had stuck his elbows into weirder. Luc looked a little queasy and a scattering of notes appeared in the air around him again for a moment. “I’ll tell you all about it next time we meet.”
Luc stepped back again, still looking uneasy. “I look forward to it. So what do you suggest? I’m stuck here, this ta’veren son of a she-wolf won’t let me leave.”
“I reckon you should just march out of town,” Chucky said, “Billy Joe-Bob too. The effect might wane a bit tonight while he’s sleeping, and everybody else will be busy drowning their sorrows over this Rosie Cauthon thing. You should get on Logain’s trail. That’s what you need – a good distracting hunt. Nobody can hunt down the quarry like you, Slayer,” Slayer preened. “He’s got the Horn, and you’re a Hunter for the Horn, right? So go and get him. A mission will draw you away from this ta’veren. After all, isn’t the Horn a sort of ta’veren of its own?”
“Who even knows, frankly,” Luc said blandly.
“Are we just about done here?” Mister C demanded. “My stumps hurt.”
“Okay,” Chucky shouldered his barbecue-forked bagpipes, knelt down next to the battered halfman, and clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m going to need you to do that thing with the shadows now,” he said, “and I’m going to need you to take me with you.”
Mister C eyed Chucky up and down as well as a being without eyes could manage. “That’s going to take some adjustments,” he predicted. “You might be used to lugging that much weight around…”
“If you can do it without the wise-ass comments, that would be sweet.”
“You’re not serious. After what you put me through … where are we going anyway?”
Chucky turned to gaze up the main street and out of town with a steely, determined expression on his face. Cenn Buie ruined the tableau somewhat by staggering out of a nearby house, reeling in the middle of the road, vomiting, and then tripping and falling over into it and saying “blood and bloody ashes.”
“Cairhien,” Chucky told his friend. “We’re going to Cairhien.”
“All over my besht vesht.”
It was a very strange gathering in the glittering vault of the dreamscape. Wolves and Aiel Dreamwalkers and assorted extras milled and blundered around above the serene ocean of glowing human dreams. Perrin and Berelain and Elyas and Satsujinki and a half-dozen other Wolfsiblings were strutting around in lupine form, urinating on things and giving a lot of people quite horrible nightmares as a result. Cyberwollf and the rest of the pack were sitting at ease on nothing, looking on with weary patience. The Wise Ones had thought it had been difficult explaining to the wolves what they wanted to do. This was because the Wise Ones were stupid, and it had taken a long time for the wolves to stoop to their level.
“Is everybody here?” Moiraine, present by use of a small collection of angreal and ter’angreal working in synchrony, shouted over the general hubbub. She was a lot more confident now that she knew Janica and Debs were on another plane of reality altogether. She had done her best to ask the Wise Ones and the Clan Chiefs for help, but their haughty expressions and their insistence that she ask again without any clothes on had just been too much. Even she had her limits.
“All the Dreamwalkers are here,” Sorilea said.
“The pack is here,” said Young Bull. “Sorry we’re late.”
“I’m here,” Nancy grumbled. “Sorry I came at all.”
“So am I,” Dr. Nick said, “together with Elayne, and Nynaeve, and Min.”
“We can speak for ourselves, leatherleaf ears!”
Shannon spluttered and started to laugh. “I’se goan hav’ta remember that one.”
“You go right ahead and remember it, Hooty McBoob,” Dr. Nick Simpsoned viciously, “but you didn’t just chase four terrified Ogier through the Ways from Ghealdan to Tar Valon with a busted-up wagon, a multicoloured wolf, three women who could bitchcrank for their country, two semi-comatose Heroes of the Horn, and Stifler. I reckon a leedle bit of a break is owed somewhere along the line.”
“Did y’all say Stifler?”
“Let’s all float here like severed testicles and listen to it now, then,” Moiraine snapped. “Fuck’s sake.”
“The Ways were quiet,” Min remarked. “We didn’t encounter any problems, except for Coarshus’s panic attack. Cyber managed to calm him down by biting him on the-”
“Long story short, we’re in place,” Nynaeve interrupted.
“And so am I!!!!”
Moiraine sighed. She just didn’t have the energy anymore. She glared as best she could at the floating, brightly-attired moron with the big smile and the ter’angreal headband that was slipping slowly off one side of his head because he only had one ear. A couple of people had tried to explain to him that, in Tel’aran’rhiod, you could alter your body in any way you wished, and if that happened to include having two ears again so your ter’angreal wouldn’t fall off, then that was a bonus. The explanations had failed. Nobody had, so far, tried to explain to Moiraine why he was here at all, except as resident tickle-tum expert and not the sort of person you want to leave alone while everybody with half a brain is asleep.
He was also the only person floating upside-down.
“We’re ready,” Moiraine said, doing her best to stop looking at the Tinker and casting her mind’s eye over the rabble that was, heartbreakingly, the hope of the world. “Have the dreams of the sleeping Aes Sedai been identified?”
“They’re right here,” Sorilea said, and a cluster of soft glowing lights swirled up onto a new level, manipulated easily at her command. “A large number of Aes Sedai are sleeping in Tar Valon and Cairhien, and they are easily recognised by their links to the Sightblinder and the wards over their dreams. It shouldn’t prevent us from doing our work, though.”
“Fine,” Moiraine said. “On my mark, prepare to … tickle,” she shook her head. “This is what it comes down to. Thirty people administering tickle-tums to wolves in the World of Dreams in order to thwart the…” she sighed again. “Mark.”
“Just rub, you little smiling gobshite!”
“Ha ha ha!”
The liberation of the Aes Sedai began.