With Kevin off fooling around on the Dragonworlds, Marty opted for a bit of a vacation. He’d had Kevin set up a gate to the step-function universe before he’d left, so he had his choice of endless almost-uninhabited space and direct access to both Core – including the mountains and beaches of Lahien – and Kadia.
Thrall-operated gate-services were SO convenient – and they were splendid company as well.
He went for the step-function universe first. A bit of time for just him and the girls seemed like it would be a great change.
Some of the “asteroids” there turned out to be miniature water-worlds. Some with solid cores – or at least a ball of roots – and some that were water all the way through.
Ooh, scuba diving! He’d never been scuba diving before! One of the smaller ones first, how many people could say that they’d swum through an entire planet?
The water-asteroid shone with a cool blue color as the local sun reflected and refracted through it. The water bulged and rippled across the surface as the waves circled around the small body of water, never reaching a shore.
Marty took some pictures.
Oh yes: before diverting entirely to vacation, he sent some reports back to Mr Leland on the progress of the Manifold branches.
Mr Leland was most pleased. The expansion rate was nearly-geometric, and the market appeared to be both virtually limitless and almost completely untapped. As long as Marty could continue expanding at such a rate the prospects were bright indeed.
Marty was pleased as well – looking back on things, the expansion had indeed been going fantastically well. It was hard to see that when you were in the middle of things and devoting a lot of time to hunting down foes who were hiding amongst near-infinite worlds. Still, he had to wonder when the inevitable duel for corporate supremacy was going to occur – although he carefully didn’t mention that, which was probably a good thing.
Still, the water asteroid was AWESOME.
It was about two hundred feet across, although it didn’t seem to have very much in the way of fish or plant life. It was either relatively new or short of nutrients to maintain a biosphere. There’d be no fights with hostile wildlife here – although some of the larger and more developed biospheres around should have plenty. He’d have to drop by one of those if he had the time.
First off though, he’d play tag with the girls for a bit. Fun with sharks and other predators could wait until later.
The ripples from the splashing circled the water-planetoid endlessly. Diving deep into the water, only to jump out of the other side of it and splash down to do it again was marvelously entertaining. Was this what it felt like to be a dolphin?
Heh. The girls could shapeshift. Maybe he should try to get them to teach him how. The trick didn’t seem all that complicated in comparison to picking up a new Identity, and that seemed to be pretty much instinctive! Then he could go swimming as a dolphin, and flying as a bird, and… come to think of it, there were a lot of very interesting possibilities there.
In the meantime, he felt like a little kid again!
There was some algae, some bits of flotsam, and a few small fish. It looked like the ball had accumulated some debris over the years – fern fronds, some bits of wood, some pebbles – and something shiny. An old coin? Pretty classic gold piece… a Spanish Doubloon? Marty took that along – hey, it wasn’t every day that you found some classical old pirate treasure – put it in his bag, and headed off to a bigger, more lively water asteroid.
Wait a second… Old Spanish coins on an empty random worldlet in a nigh-infinite space? Was the place simply so empty that it reflected passing thoughts a bit? The girls had reality shaping, and he could draw on their power, and might have done so without thinking – or there could be somebody else around. That would be a hell of a coincidence considering the size of this place, but where there were people, there would be a stronger reality, and thus a more likely place for the gate to anchor if Kevin hadn’t been intentionally targeting it for a particular location.
Oh blast it. Kevin was rubbing off on him. Who cared about that kind of detail if it was fun?
Now, there was a larger nearby worldlet with a very large river, a waterfall, a small rainforest and and all sorts of lively sounds coming from it. No apparent people or casinos (well, if the place was responding to stray thoughts, it wasn’t THAT responsive), but lots of high-pitched squealing and chirps.
He headed for it. It was a buzzing place, swarming with insects, plants growing, and flowers blooming everywhere. Noisy too: birds chirping and singing and what sounded like something whistling from over by the river. He headed that way. Fortunately, curiosity could never be the death of him! At least not for long… Maybe it was some kind of weird lure?
The river was close to half a mile wide and the water was bustling with activity under the surface. There were schools of fish and crustaceans everywhere, and – out towards deeper water – whistling sounds and occasional water plumes from multiple sources.
Hadn’t he seen something like this on TV once? And hadn’t that new guy from California said something about it his sort of thing?
Marty swam out to check.
Once he was in the water, a lot of other sounds turned up. Stuff he hadn’t been able to hear before, and greater clarity and definition on the stuff he had been able to hear. Clicking, whistling, splashing…
He whistled back.
The sound of the whistling stopped briefly, and there were multiple clicks that somehow seemed to be “aimed” in his direction. After a moment, shorter whistles started going back and forth again.
He kept on heading out to take a look. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t wind up back home if something killed him.
Below the surface there were faint glimmers and shadows in the light – and the shadows were definitely the source of the whistles and clicks. One of them started to approach slowly – and it was definitely aiming more clicks at him… He could make out the outlines of a sleek shape with a tail fin, a dorsal fin and some flippers.
Marty started to whistle and click back – and got the girls to use their talents to let him communicate a bit better.
“It talks?” “Well of course they do” “What did you think they did?” “I don’t know, gestures or something? Remember how sight based they are.”
“Some of us blow hot air, but those are just the politicians. The ones in charge.”
“Uh-huh, yep it talks, and it understands us.
“So, uh, what are you doing here? I’m on vacation, relaxing. “
“Well that is good I think.”
“You’ve got a nice home here. Mind if I swim with you for a bit?””
“Uh sure, I guess that wouldn’t be a problem. So where are you from?”
“From a distant world. It’s not very relaxing.”
“Ah, well that sounds like the majority of human worlds to me.”
“Do parents routinely strangle their kids at bedtime on most human worlds?”
“I didn’t think your kind was that set against propagating the species. Of course, there are a lot of you.”
“Well, the kids pop up fine the next morning. My world’s weird even for a human one.”
“Most human worlds are weird I’ve found.”
“Eh, enough chatter about me. Why don’t you show me around?”
“Well this place is full of little nooks and crannies to get lost in. This particular asteroid seems to be partially hollow, with numerous caverns and such going all the way to the center. Most of them are underwater though. As for the surface of it, there are quite a few varieties of plants and animals, and even a species of monkey or something similar that runs around the trees throwing stuff and howling at each other. Nasty buggers.”
“Are the caverns too small for you to get into?”
“Some of them yes, although we manage with the others, we’ve been exploring this rock along with several of the others.”
“What’s so interesting about it?”
“Well the most interesting fact about this place is the large amount of habitable volume and so few inhabitants.
“I think it’s some nature preserve for you guys and the other animals.”
Jamie was out looking for Marty – but he was carrying enough electronics to be easy to trace. What was he doing in a river playing with fish though? Not to mention spending time in a universe this silly. It looked like a damned jungle that went on FOREVER.
On the other hand, it wasn’t like she was any too clear on the notion of “vacations” anyway.
Jamie headed on down to the river.
“More of them? And this one appears to have been in a machine accident of some sort.”
“Oh, that’s just Jamie. She’s a cyborg. Enjoying the asteroids?”
“Why would humans feel the need to modify yourselves? You already are the dominant species.”
“And you appear to be a vocally communicating aquatic mammal that is rather delightful eating when cooked properly.”
“Uh oh, this one is hostile.” “Well you said something it didn’t like to hear, what did you expect?”
“Not without a reason to be hostile I am not”
“How am I supposed to know what annoys them? We hardly see them.”
“If given a reason to be, I am efficiently hostile in the termination of the target.”
“And what is the target if I may ask?”
“She won’t hurt you unless you attack her.”
“The person or item that is engaging in hostile actions upon my person.”
“Ok, that is understandable I guess.”
“I was going to go swimming with them. Want to come along?”
“You find the oddest places to engage in your R&R affairs don’t you Martin.”
“Hey, I’ve got the whole Manifold to play with. Cancun and the Carribean just won’t cut it anymore. Don’t think there are any bars around here though.”
Jamie knew how to swim – in theory. She hadn’t really been trained for amphibious assaults with water-born insersion as the means, and was carrying an awful lot of metal inside.
“First time for everything! I’m not really good at it either. Dad just threw me into the pool. I learned to manage after a few drownings.”
“I tell ya, I wonder about humans anymore.”
Jamie picked it up quickly enough; after all, she didn’t have to worry about drowning as long as she could walk along the bottom to the shore within fifteen minutes or so.
“What would you do if the entire place was water?”
“That is easy, I am not sent there for operational status. The marine specialists are sent to places like that .”
“Yeah, but what if they didn’t have any and you had to go?”
“If there isn’t a need for hostage rescue, direct-action counter-terrorist, or direct action frontal assault, I would not be sent to the hostile area”
“Good enough for me. Let’s go swimming.”
They started with the shallower waters, and gradually worked their way deeper as the dolphins bounced in and out of the water’s surface around them. The dolphins were quite willing to turn the day into one full of lessons on swimming, diving, and surfacing – although their lessons on technique were a bit difficult to match given the anatomy differences.
The water was so relaxing. It wasn’t like a swimming pool at all!
“What is this relaxing you talk about Martin?”
Marty explained the concept of relaxation to the best of his ability.
“So why does the idea of doing nothing and not getting anything accomplished appeal to people when they are working hard and diligently?”
“If you don’t do it, you can go ballistic and start stabbing people to death.”
“I believe it is something you learned from watching us.”
“Stabbing isn’t that efficient if you’re not close enough to stab though Martin.
“You forget, I’m not used to guns being around. But yeah, you’re right.”
“Meh, I do not need a gun.”
“Me either. Hey, does anything try to eat you guys?”
“Not on this ball. A few of the really big ones have sharks and squid that try to, but they are stupid.”
“Know where the nearest one is? (To Jamie) I haven’t gotten in much fighting lately.”
“Then there are a few with some really weird creatures, never seen the like of them.”
“Oh?! like what?”
“So you are going to go trying to find trouble while you are on R&R then.”
“They swim like we do, but they aren’t dolphins, nor are they sharks. They do need to breathe air though.”
“It just gets boring without it. You’d understand better if you visited my world. (To the Dolphins) Heh. They sound interesting.”
“Are you wanting to see them?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Well follow us then.”
Three of the dolphins surfaced, then – with the sounds of fans running – began to float up into the air with a bubble of water surrounding them.
Marty had to resort to air-swimming.
“Came unprepared to travel I take it?”
“Through the air, yeah.”
Jamie hooked onto the dolphins with her linespinner and grabbed Martin.
“This is why you always go prepaired for anything, even on R&R leave “
“Humans, I tell ya. You are at once the most capable and the most incapable species in the multiverse.”
Marty made a note of that – and watched as the dolphins flew ahead of through the asteroid field, zooming here and there and pulling off and series of maneuvers that would make the average human pilot jealous with envy.
“I must warn you that the salt content of the water we are going to be entering is substantially higher than the water we were just in.”
Marty put his scuba goggles back on. Jamie simply didn’t worry. Salt water wouldn’t bother her.
As the dolphins approach the larger world and descended to the surface of the water, they began to slow and hover for a few moments.
“Sorry, we gotta see where that school of the things ran off to.”
“Take your time.”
Two of the dolphins zoomed off over the water, running a high-speed search pattern. It didn’t take them too long.
“Found them! They are over here!”
“Let’s go, then!”
“Are you any good at a fast insertion into water Martin?”
Jamie dropped the towline as they came up on several dark shapes beneath the surface. The outlines were vaguely dolphin-like, but something was distinctly wrong with that idea.
“Never tried it.”
As they dived, they found themselves quickly surrounded by the dark shadows. More clicking noises could be heard as sonar waves were bounced off of them. The tails were more like a sharks tail, and the body had four fins as opposed to the standard two found on dolphins.
Marty tried to open communications.
“No, I am a tourist.”
“MINE!” “MINE!” “MINE!”
The six whatever-they-were’s started to circle.
The fool things kept chanting “Mine!” over and over again as they began to circle around Marty and Jamie. Still, as long as they were just conventional animalistic menaces, they should be able to handle them pretty readily.
“My, what large teeth you have! (Marty drew his knife) “I’ve got teeth too! Bring it on!”
One lunged in and bit Marty’s arm, grinding it’s teeth through the Smartclothes.
“My wife bites harder than that!”
Marty crushed the head of the first one with a massive power-backed knife blow. Blood filled the water, giving it a distinct iron scent.
“Who else wants to eat me?”
One of the remaining ones begins to attack and tear off chunks of the one Marty had just killed while the other four kept after Jamie and Marty.
They proved easy enough to fool – as well as inclined to turn on each other as Jamie and Marty took them down. Still, it was a lively little fight.
Marty took the corpse of the last one that tried to attack him back to shore to cook (fending off its relatives with his plasma pistol along the way). He’d never hunted before.
Elera and Minel were happy to cook it for him – and turned it into quite a tasty meal. A bit like shark or crocodile.
The dolphins found the fight fairly impressive. Most humans were pretty helpless in water, even if they could swim in the first place.
“Yeah, well, when you’ve had to stab a guy a foot taller than you and riding a printer, you’ve seen it all.”
They shared the feast with the dolphins (cooked food was an interesting change for them ), saved a bit for Kevin, and settled in for a couple of days of relaxation. There weren’t any large land predators around this particular rock – at least that the dolphins knew of – but some of the smaller ones had nicer scenery, and commuting – both between rocks and between Kadia and Core – was easy enough with Elara and Minel around.