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Index
Quantum Coyote
Chronicles of the Cake Stop
Vol IV Prologue
Shipping would take too long
Ravenbait has sent Redshift and Chuffy back to the bar, saying that the next phase of the expedition will require a great deal of effort from her and she needs to compose herself. Not really understanding what is about to happen, they leave her to it, both now carrying their swords sheathed and yet acutely aware of the presence of the great weapons.

When they get to the bar they find that preparations are well under way. Nearly all the bikes have now been checked. Those that have been declared fit to travel are waiting expectantly to one side of the cycle park. There are about half a dozen who need a little more attention, with worn brake blocks or indexing that isn't quite right. Nutty declares it is about time that Chuffy learns to mend a puncture, especially with himself not going to be around so much any more what with the new job and everything, and when the cheeky little imp comes back from the Temple, Kitzy is pressed into demonstrating the technique on a machine that is discovered to have a flat tyre. Chuffy is not very impressed about this, but Gunner tells him that it is important everyone can take care of himself.

After a few hours have passed, as much preparation has been made as can be made and a relative stillness descends. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are nosing around Nutty's feet looking for crisps or fruitcake and Fatty and Rigby are playing cards using the special Sesame Street BDSM set Chuffy got them for Christmas. Nutty is looking through some photos taken on the Banbury Ride while Rob Sallnow is chalking up another Century ride on the board on the wall.

A moving shadow appears on the ground. Looking up the Cake Stop chums see a pair of birds the size of pterodactyls tumbling out of the sky above them. Aghast, they stare in horrified anticipation, waiting for the inevitable impact as the out-of-control avians hit the ground. At the very last moment the ravens miraculously correct their flight and land gracefully on a vacant Sheffield.

Huginn's mad, staring eyes survey the faces peering at him. Muninn preens some feathers into place.

"That was fun," says Memory. "Shall we do it again?"

"What, now?" Thought says to him, irritably. To the cyclists there was nothing but an exchange of braaks, squawks, croaks and strange clicking sounds.

"Yes, now," Memory says.

"No," Thought tells him. "Where's that floosie? The one with the corset?"

The birds hop off onto the ground and half-stride, half-waddle in that unavoidably ungainly walk that all ravens possess, making their way into the bar. They stop, just inside the door, and look around, heads cocked to one side, beady eyes bright as buttons.

"Braak," says Memory, and heads towards Kathy. "Captain Jack," he tells her in passable English, "sends his regards. His exact words were..." At this his eyes half close and the next words are a perfect imitation of Captain Jack's voice, so much so that the rendition could have fooled a blind man into thinking that the wily pirate was right there himself. " 'Tell the little lady that I would be much obliged if she would bring wiv 'er some o' that madeira cake Claire makes, and I do 'ave a hankering for some proper black pudding, if she'd be so kind as to bring some wiv 'er. I shall await her arrival wiv great hanticipation.' "

"Although I think it's the pudding he's anticipating," Thought observes sarcastically.

"But where is he? And how do we get there?" Kathy asks, bewildered. Claire has already set Simplesbharris to wrapping some cake and is wondering whether to get down one of the big puddings or the smaller ones.

"Gods' teeth," says Thought, turning to Memory long enough to say "Where does she find these people?" Memory just shrugs. "How do you think you're going to get there? Going to pack the lot of you onto the next British Airways flight to Singapore, are we, fingerprinting or no fingerprinting? Or maybe you thought that Future Publishing would hire a Hercules for the lot of you? Oi, Withers, do you think you could persuade your employers to charter the Queen Mary for a couple of weeks?"

The cyclists stare at the raven, bewildered by the spectacle of a big black bird hopping up and down and yelling "Braak! Braak braak braaaak brrak braak. Braak braak brakkkk brraaak braak brakk honk braak click braak whurrrp. Chork brrrak braak braaaaaaaaak braaaak."

"Don't be so rude," scolds Ravenbait, suddenly appearing in the doorway. "Go and stand in that bit over there until you've learned to behave." She points sternly at the dark corner to one side of the dartboard. Two sullen corvids go and stand in the corner. "Face the wall!" she tells them.

"We don't need to know where Jack is," says the Priestess. "We're going via A-Time. Shipping would take too long."

"I don't understand," says Kathy.

Ravenbait thinks for a minute, face tensed in concentration, and then she takes a seat and starts to explain.

It is all about information theory. A-Time is the information contained in the world, abstracted from the world itself. But information comprises only new data. The sentence "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" contains no information for a seasoned touch-typist. The sentence "The quick brown fox shags the lazy elephant" on the other hand, does contain information because it has a new combination of words. It imparts something new. Just like turning a photograph into a jpeg, A-Time is a place where only that which is informative is presented. It is thus much smaller than the physical world, more compressed. It is also a much easier place to get lost, for the landscape of information is easily overwhelming, and by definition there is little that is familiar. There is a reason that the ravens travel as a pair.

Just as a person can interact with virtual reality, controlling a body in an environment despite having only an information link with that avatar, there is a way of looking at the universe that describes the physical presence of things in their physical environment as being no more than an avatar of a being that wholly exists in a sea of information and consciousness. Opening the door into A-Time transforms the thing back to information, and that information can be transported much more quickly than can a physical body in physical space.

Transporting so many people, keeping track of so much information over what is a relatively long way even in A-Time — that is going to be very difficult, and is why the Priestess was preparing for so long. Thankfully every single person's subjective view will carry information for everyone else, and so it will be relatively easy to keep them all together. Even so, this is going to be by far the most ambitious crossing of A-Time that she has ever attempted.

"Please," she says, and there is no levity in her tones, only a faint note of pleading that serves as strong warning for her friends to take heed of what she tells them. "Please stay together. I can only do this using matrix theory, and if you break from the set I could lose you."

"Would it help if I told you that in another life I was a walnut whip?" asks Stiffler.

"Not really," the Priestess says. "But thanks all the same. Right then. If we're all ready, perhaps we should get this show on the road."