It sounded astonishingly difficult to replace the modern world. She couldn’t have done it, she suspected, not even wielding the Namestone’s full power, not even calling the Well of Infinity, even assuming that the Lords of Eternity or Morgan Le Fay didn’t interfere violently. There weren’t many personae with that sort of power. A good list of them might suggest something. Of course, if you hid the real world away, without destroying it, you could put a mutant copy in its place, the copy seen here. All you’d need is the power to create the illusion of a whole world. If this world were some sort of illusion, some complex trap, the cost of producing it would fall dramatically. An illusion world only have had to fool the five of them, not everyone in the world. Why, though, did someone want to fool the Medford gang?
The Why was a separate bafflement. Any number of rogue personae had plans to reform the world in their image, down to the Shakespeare cultists she’d envisioned herself. This world was almost like the old one; it still differed in so many ways you could hardly choose which changes signified, and which were accidents.
The trip here, out to the edge of the universe and back, might mean something. But what? The Wizard of Mars had given Comet a StarCompass, and told her how to use it. The Wizard charged a stiff price for his answers, no doubt, but they were honest answers, clear enough that people always knew what they meant. Fly here, fly there, had been his directions. They’d flown, Comet doing ten billion light years in under ten hours flight time each way. The Wizard’s promise didn’t seem to have been kept. They were back where they started, except they weren’t. That was very strange in itself, even ignoring that the Wizard had disappeared in the middle. The Wizard had a reputation for scrupulous integrity. That led to a question: Who had paid for the Wizard’s answer, the shield against the Two Dooms, and what had been the Wizard’s price?
Maybe, though, she thought, this was completely the wrong question to be thinking about. A right question was surely ‘What are the Two Dooms, and how do we stop them?’ She would not complain if the Andesians had been one of those Dooms. The Starcompass seemed to agree. To stop the Andesians, she’d called the power in her gifts down deeper and deeper toward their ultimate limits. She had something else she needed to try, after she finished supper, and a few more cookies. Pickering’s world’s commercial bakers offered a narrower range of choices than she would have had at home, but the chocolate chip angel cookies were still excellent.
Chapter Two Remote Tibet
People’s Liberation Army
Force Base 137
“Good evening, Comrade Battalion Leader. ” Junior Company Leader Ma Yong rose and snapped a salute.
“Comrade Junior Company Leader,” Battalion Leader Miao Wan-Li returned the salute. “Battalion Political Officer Gong. Good evening.”
“Good evening, Comrade Battalion Leader,” Gong Wei answered, “I hope nothing has disturbed your sleep.”
“The same message has disturbed both our sleeps,” Miao answered. “The Special Message from Beijing?”
“Yes.” Gong waved a sheaf of papers.
Ma looked nervously between the two men, not quite ready to ask if he had orders. After all, they were his superiors, but he was on duty in command of HQ until they relieved him.
“Junior Company Leader,” Miao said. “Bring the Headquarters to Alert Status One.”
“Yes, Senior Officer!” Ma said. “Men! Alert Status One! Comrade Staff Sergeant Sheng, bring up the perimeter warning radar! Comrade Corporals Yao and Tan, immediate cyclic call of all watchposts. Comrade Sergeant Song, wake up the alternate watch platoon!”