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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 10

Case File X257-19

Report by Detective Scout Carter

I rested for a while, deciding that if I couldn't get a good meal I could at least get a snack from room service and a few minutes' recovery time. It wasn't nearly enough.

Especially not to call the white-clad top candidate on my list, who I'd last left fuming over the damage I'd done to his forest. No, correct that. Who'd last left me by dropping me off in Luke's kingdom, likely expecting me to do something damaging there and hoping it would be Luke's problem.

But I did call him. What else was I to do?

He responded, quickly growing angry when he realized it was me. I said I just had a few questions, he told me to make it quick. I fell back on practice.

"Were you on Earth around the year 1969?" Flora had placed him here, this was just a confirmation question. If he said no, I'd know he was lying about everything. Or Flora was. But she didn't seem to have a motivation to lie here.

"I was."

He didn't elaborate, so I tried to pull that from him. "What drew you to be there?"

"I had dealings with other members of the family there. It was a neutral zone of sorts."

That was news to me. But it made some sense, if only as a way to explain Flora's presence without bringing Corwin into things. "Wouldn't Flora have noticed all the comings and goings?"

"Flora only notices changes in fashions. Why are you asking me this?"

I ignored his question, tried to press on. "Did you have any dealings with the locals while you were here?"

"Carter, I'll make this simple. I hate that place. It's a wasted, desiccated pit of a world and the less time I have to spend there, the better. Anything else?"

I told him no, thanked him and cut off the contact.

Damn. There went the only cross-over between my two lists. Which meant I had to pick an assumption to throw out. That was always the risky part of this kind of work. Of course, the way I normally did this kind of work, I was tracking someone who'd fallen into a psychotic pattern. They tracked easily once you figured out the pattern. Just follow the path, get a step ahead and cut them off. This way, I had to deal with several very intelligent, fully capable people who were also multi-century veterans of the game of lying to each other. I felt pretty damn outclassed.

"You're right, this isn't much like what you're used to," Anna agreed when I offered that observation aloud. "This is more like bodyguard work. Threats can come from anywhere."

"Yeah... Just the opposite, maybe. Information can come from anywhere and go anywhere. I'm going to miss nice, simple damaged thinking."

We went back to the history as Amber would have been around 1969. If Julian was meeting with someone on Earth then, it was likely someone he couldn't meet with directly. He was part of an alliance to put Eric on the throne, together with Caine and Ge`rard. That would imply that whoever he was meeting was not one of those three. Flora had known he was around, but hadn't mentioned him meeting with anyone, so it was likely someone on the outs with her as well. Not Corwin, almost certainly not the mostly missing Delwin and Sand, probably not Bleys, Fiona or Brand, who were the alliance Julian was facing off against. That left Benedict, Random, Llewella and Deirdre. Three I'd met (one had tried to kill me), one I knew almost nothing about.

So I decided to call her.

After introductions, she was quick to offer advice. "Stay out of family politics. It's the only way." I could see the wisdom of her suggestion, though it was very impractical in my situation. She also denied ever having been to Earth, which agreed with Flora's version of the guestbook. All-in-all, though, she offered very little new information, which didn't keep her from being was the most normal-seeming of this family. Despite the green hair.

Anna suggested a new tactic now. If I could search Shadow for whatever I wanted, maybe I could just start to walk Shadow until I found a clue, either to my father or to who was trying to kill me. I wasn't sure that made sense (would the clue be a real clue or just what I wanted to find?), but it was better than nothing. But walking about was likely to draw an attack... She didn't quite like that idea, but agreed it would at least provide a new clue toward the attacker's identity.

I walked. I decided to cut back on the smog since that would take me away from the place with the regrowing truck and used food. Someplace clean and high-tech. And as I walked, I came up with another idea. The modern way of testing paternity which I'd been forgetting. I advanced the technology a bit, until there was a metal strip down the road to guide and power the cars and everyone was wearing nearly skintight clothes and bald heads. Anna an I stood out a bit, but I can take a few odd looks.

We found a hospital and decided it was a good place to start. I dug up a local police officer's ID from where he'd dropped it behind a potted plant (I'm starting to get used to how the Pattern works, right?), used that to get some attention and direction to a lab. There, a technician was told to help the good man from the Science Police. I didn't question the title.

He took a finger-prick blood sample at my request and fed it into a machine. A few seconds later, his expression grew troubled. "The scanner must be broken," he said, though he sounded like that didn't happen very often. He then started pointing to several lines and numbers and trying to explain. I nodded once or twice to be polite.

"Either that or you'd have to be a mutant..." As soon as he said that, I saw the change in him. He moved from confusion to fear. "I... I won't tell anyone. I've got a wife and three kids..."

"Don't worry about it. I just need you to separate out the normal from the unusual. I want as complete a report and profile as you can give me. Major genetic characteristics would be nice."

He sweated a good bit (not comfortable without even eyebrows to keep it from blinding him now and then), but then gave me a quarter-sized disk and looked relieved as Anna and I left.

"Now we just need to find a computer store..."

"Shouldn't be hard for you, should it?" she observed and I near kicked myself again.

"I'm not quite used to that yet," I said even as I bent Shadow a little to make sure there was an open shop just around the corner. And a credit card in good standing in the little plastic pack with the Science Police ID I'd found in the hospital. It wasn't too long until I had a nice little portable PEAR computer. The disk read in on the first try, though the report wasn't all that useful.

'Unusual factors. Should not be given to anyone of usual types.'

Well, I knew something new, even if it was pretty minor. We started our way back through Shadow to LA. "This doesn't get us anywhere. And no one's tried to kill us."

"I feel both good and bad about that," Anna replied.

"Me, too."

But I was speaking too soon, because the tiny version of the Jewel that was once the altar-stone started buzzing.

"Well, now... speak of the devil."

We backed into an alley to put something solid at our backs and watched for any sign of just what the warning was for.

It came quickly, in the form of a burst of energy that struck the building, sending out a few dangerous-looking bits we had to duck under.

"Okay, that's not normal."

I didn't see anything except a slight blur. I didn't like this one bit.

"Our best bet is to get you through a door," Anna said, dropping into bodyguard-efficient mode quickly. She kicked the rear door of a pawnshop open almost before she was finished. I ducked in, knowing she wouldn't give me any choice.

"Whatta you doing here?" the owner demanded. I flashed the ID, which was coming in far too handy. "Don't sell drugs or nothin'," he insisted, but backed off when I gestured him away.

Anna drew a knife and stood in the doorway. A long knife. I was looking at that when the glass front of the store shattered. Instinct made me jump away, and I was glad it did because a spear appeared, buried deep in the store's owner. And I do mean 'appeared'. It didn't fly in to strike him, it seemed to appear already in him. This didn't look good.

"I think we have problems here," I said, trying to find cover and also dig through my memory for a film this might be from. So far, our assassin had shown very little creativity, I didn't expect him (or her, I didn't know) to start now.

"Problems here," said a deep voice from just outside. That and the slight distortion as the door shattered clicked. Not that knowing what the invisible thing hunting us was made it any easier. Still the action movie buff, my would-be killer.

"Get behind me," Anna said as she made her way past me, sweeping a shelf of junk ahead of her to bounce off her target. Smart girl. She pounced and quickly had a bleeding slash across her chest. They traded blows until her knife struck something and it appeared. Just like the movie, it was tall and dangerous-looking, wearing heavy armor and too many weapons. It was trying to look past her to spot me.

"Anna, get down!" She jumped back, barely avoiding the shelf unit I brought down on the thing. A few punishing kicks and punches later and it was out. Possibly dying. And I didn't want it dead.

"Ge`rard," I said after drawing out his Trump, "have things quieted down in the infirmary?"

"A bit. We've gotten rid of those bug things, at least." His reply sounded a little exasperated, as if there was a story there I really didn't want to know.

"Well, funny you should mention those. I've got the newest little thing I suspect is from the same source. I want it kept alive, at least until we can question it."

"No promises," he said, looking past me. "Ugly bugger."

"Yeah. Watch the weapons. It carries a lot."

"They won't work here," he observed as we passed it through.

"Claws work anywhere," I said, pretty sure on that point.

"Doesn't worry me," he said, and I believed him.

"Great. Good luck, then." I dropped the contact and turned to Anna. The cut she had didn't look good. "You should get that looked at, too."

"I've had worse," she said with the sort of certainty that lead me to believe it, "Still, it might be poisoned."

"I can get us past most questions. Let's go."

She turned out to be right. Nothing serious, some quick action to suture the cut and a negative toxicology report later and she was fine. Maybe they would have done better than this in the future, but I didn't want to push Shadow-walking so soon. It was damn tiring.

"So, where too next?" she said, rubbing slightly at the bandage.

"Right now, we wait and call around. That thing may wake up and want to talk soon."

We went back to our rooms and I tried to rest after leaving Anna to recover. But a Trump call came quickly, and I hoped it was Ge`rard with news.

It wasn't. It was the Doctor, still bearded. "Found that Shadow for me yet?" he asked, and I said I'd just been back from looking. I offered him the computer (I didn't need it any more) and he seemed unimpressed. Still, he wanted through.

"Hmmm... Earth. Late 20th century. America," I don't know how he did it. By the smell of the air or something? He saw my puzzled look and smiled. I didn't like that smile one bit. "It was the gunshots that give it away. Those end soon."


"Are these clothes suitable for the period?" he asked. He was wearing something in renaissance fair style, maybe even real Renaissance. 

"This I LA. No one will look twice."

He accepted that and went to his own room.

Now I'd finally get my chance for some sleep...

The next morning, I called Ge`rard. "Any luck with our visitor?"

"Oh, hi Scout. It'll live. But it probably won't tell you anything. It just parrots what I say."

"Great. None too useful, that. Maybe the Doctor can help."

"Oh, is he around?" Ge`rard didn't seem too impressed by that, but didn't voice a complaint.

The Doctor came after I called him on the hotel phone. I pulled the creature through and he put a small chip on it's forehead after only a couple of seconds consideration.

"What are you," it said in computer-voice English, "Prey or Predator?"

"Who sent you after this unassuming quarry," the Doctor said, letting his eyes answer the question.

"A champion much like yourself."

"Did he have a blood-name?" Clearly the Doctor had met this sort of thing before.

"We called him the Little Warrior. He was small, but could defeat any full warrior."

The Doctor described Eric, which wasn't far off from my own guess, but the creature shook its head.

"You wish to die, now that you have failed, don't you?" The Doctor didn't make me too happy by saying this. "Might I be your second?"

"Is that absolutely necessary?" I asked.

"Yes," they both answered in near perfect unison. I didn't argue the point and instead went to get some towels. When I came back, the creature's head laid next to it, no longer attached.

"I did get an image off of him. Anyone you recognize?" the Doctor said, handing me a sheet of hotel stationary with a sketch on it. The face was human, about my age, maybe younger, and chronically stuck in the punk movement. I hadn't seen him before, and said so.

"I can make a Trump, I expect."

"Good idea. I'll clean up."

Actually, the Doctor took the body through some sort of Trump, then went his way, asking me to call when I was ready to walk to the Shadow he wanted. He left me with his Trump and another of the stranger. The stranger who was trying to kill me.

I went to wake Anna.

"That's the one doing this? You two look a lot alike."

I hadn't noticed. Maybe it's because I'm not into stupid hair tricks and piercing. I remembered a cruel voice saying 'I'm his only son' from the Pattern. It seemed to fit the face. "No idea who he is?"

"I know some of the Youngers," she said, "but not too well."

We made a list. Luke, Merlin and Steed I'd met. Benedict had a child in Chaos, she said, and Random had a son named Martin who didn't come to Amber much. Or, of course, he could be someone totally unknown. All I knew was he wasn't someone from the main Trumps.

"We could load for bear and go after him or call someone who might be able to give us an identity."

"I wouldn't vote for attempting a Trump contact with an unidentified person. I am supposed to keep you in one piece, after all." Anna made a lot of sense a lot of the time.

"Right," I said. "Bleys promised some help, even if it probably was just to get a shot at the Jewel. I'll try him."

As I sorted out the cards, I wondered how much safer Trump contact with identified persons was, given that those persons were almost certainly relatives.


Case File X257-20

Report by Detective Scout Carter

I'd made a decision, good or bad, to see how much help Bleys could be identifying my mystery assailant, who just might be my jealous brother if appearances mean anything. I was somewhat surprised at how helpful he was.

"That's Martin. Random's boy," he said just seconds after seeing the Trump the Doctor had made for me. "Where did you meet up with him?"

"I haven't, exactly," I answered, putting aside any likely paternal identification this had provided, at least for the moment. "I've reason to believe he's behind a few bad episodes I've run into recently." I've got a gift for understatement when I need it.

"Sounds like him," Bleys said, clearly adjusting for my minimizing description without comment. "He was close to Dara during the big war. Probably because his only dealings with the family had been when he was nearly murdered as part of Brand's plan to remake the universe."

I didn't think it was diplomatic to point out that, from what I'd picked up, Bleys was also part of the plan-makers. After all, he'd treated me well so far, probably better than most. So I thanked him, told him I'd be in touch soon, and put away his card.

I knew where I had to go next, and who I had to talk to. And it offered a chance to rid myself of the big target on my back, at least from most directions. But Random's Trump didn't want to work. It didn't even seem to chill like the cards always did. That wasn't a good thing, I thought, but since I'd never run into it before, I wasn't certain.

"We need to get back to Amber. Fast." Anna didn't disagree, and didn't worry much about having to come back later for her horse. So I called Ge`rard who, so far as I knew, was still in Amber. His Trump acted normally, though the call found him washing his hands it the somewhat familiar, 'charmingly primitive' sort of outhouse Amber was unfortunately cursed with. That and horses alone were reason enough for me to favor Earth, in spite of "Must See TV."

"Want to come through?" he said, once I'd explained my purpose.

"Once you're finished," I said, and let him dry his hands before I took one and was brought through.

He led Anna and I back to the castle and to Random's private rooms. I liked to think we'd be able to find him there, but I didn't have much hope after how the card had acted.

A loud knock brought a feminine voice. "Just a minute, Ge`rard." Yeah, no one else would knock quite like that. Shortly, the door opened and a somewhat delicate-looking woman in fine but rather practical-looking clothes looked us over. Or didn't. Because her eyes clearly weren't looking at us at all. Random had a blind queen? No one had mentioned that fact to me.

"Please come in, Ge`rard. And both of your guests."

Blind, maybe, but eerily perceptive. I had started to worry about the conversation turning to my father and embarrassing his current wife, but all of a sudden I suspected she knew who I was before Ge`rard finished introductions (her name was Vialle). That, alone, made for a somewhat strained conversation.

I tried to keep it to the simple question of wanting to see Random, and Ge`rard played along, either because he really thought that was all it was or in deference to me (I refuse to underestimate anyone around here, as difficult as that can be sometimes). But Vialle told us she had no idea where Random was. He had vanished during a Trump call, without telling her where he was going or with who. That had me worried, especially if Martin had decided to go to the source of his problems. Though Martin was the least worrisome possibility.

We made small talk and polite good-byes, then got moving. Outside of Random's rooms and Vialle's earshot, I filled Ge`rard in on Martin's recent activities and just how I'd found out about them. He didn't take it too well.

"I'll need to have a talk with that boy," he said, with a tone that made me hope he never needed to have a 'talk' with me.

"This may help," I said, handing off the Trump. "I'll stay here while you try it, if you don't mind. I'm betting Random might be nearby, unless I've really missed the boat on this one."

He didn't comment, but took the card and concentrated. Without any clear result. "He seems to be resisting," the big man said after a while.

"Want some help? Not much, mind you..." I offered.

"He's been leery about these things since... the incident." He didn't elaborate and I didn't ask. I gathered Brand must have done something with Trumps in the matter Bleys had spoken of. "You might," Ge`rard continued, "be better served by finding Random. I'll look for Martin."

"Right," I said, then realized what I'd agreed to. "Random could be anywhere, though..."

"So just walk. You'll find him."

He made it sound so obvious. I really am going to have to find some time with someone I can trust enough to explain just what the limits are. Walk toward something you don't know where and you're sure to find it? That's just too strange.

Considering recent events, I decided it was best to avoid the Arden (or, more specifically, Julian) on my way out. So I used Bleys' Trump again, and after not quite answering this question on how things went with Random and Martin, he pulled us through to a very red place he called Avernus.

A very red place. The dust was red, the people were red (not to mention tall, bald and slightly horned), the plants were red. Maybe it was just to match his hair, but personally I found the place disturbing.

He offered us food and drink, but I passed on that, anxious both to get on with the search and to get out of the sea of red. He volunteered mounts, six-legged, seven-foot tall horse-like things he called "equus". I guess "equi" for the plural. I knew I wouldn't like them one bit, but Anna seemed pleased.

We rode off, shifting shadows slowly at first, then more quickly when it seemed we weren't getting anywhere. I don't know how I knew that, I just felt we were no closer to Random than we had been in Bleys' little piece of Hell. We shifted faster, then faster still, blazing through Shadow in a fairly disquieting fashion.

Still nothing. Was it possible to hide from the Pattern? I didn't know, since no one had really explained the rules to me. But that was what he was doing, so I didn't see any reason to fight it.

We changed targets, looking for Martin in stead. On the off-chance that he wasn't just as hidden.

I didn't know if we were getting any closer, because I felt a Trump call before we covered any real distance. A strong call... I took it rather than trying to fight, especially since it didn't feel like I had a chance to win.

It was Kat. My instinct had been right. "Care for company?" she said, and offered a slight smile that damaged by better judgment. I didn't know what she was up to, but I knew it was better than even money it wasn't a good thing.

"Only if you don't mind searching through Shadow for a while. I'm in the middle of that."

She shrugged, which did away with any sense of self-preservation I had left. I drew her through the contact, showed her the sketch of Martin, then had her ride with Anna so I could concentrate on shifting Shadow.

We hadn't gone far when there was another Trump call. Stronger. Impossibly stronger. A glance aside told me Kat and Anna felt it, too. And, at the same moment, the contact opened.

Who was calling, I don't know. What caused this, I don't know. But, for just an instant, everyone was in contact. Everyone. In all of Shadow.

Then it was gone.

And I was left to wonder just what sort of trouble that was a hint for.


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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Copyright 2001 [Westray.org].
All rights reserved.
Revised: October 23, 2007 .