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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 79: Slade 26
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It was a little like being on the freshman football team. Slade had little idea what the plan was overall, but only what he was supposed to do to make it work. And his part was rather simple. He was to go with Tom Titus and George White. As near as he could figure, George was going to set explosive charges on critical systems in engineering, and Tom was supposed to get them past locked doors and electronic security systems. His job was to incapacitate anyone who happened to see them, although that was everyone's job on the team, and his part was more of a back-up nature.
There was a second team going aboard the station. Captain Alexander, Philip Banson, Marilyn Wells, and Burly were invading the upper levels. Their job was to steal the gear they wanted for Destiny. Tom's pride may have been a bit bruised by this arrangement.
"Why do you guys get to do the stealing? I'm the thief," he had said.
"We need you below," the captain explained. "You're the only one who can reliably get past their security systems."
"But surely there are security systems in your area, too."
"There are also more people," Banson argued. "We are more likely to be caught, and we are more likely to have to fight our way out. Your presence on the lower decks won't be known unless you make a mistake."
"I don't make mistakes."
"We're counting on that," Banson finished; and Tom, if not entirely satisfied, was at least persuaded.
The rest of the crew--pilot, communications, weapons, and assistant engineer--were to stay with the ship. They were providing a distraction, and defending the ship against attack. Torbin could keep the ship in position in their absence, but the computer couldn't respond quickly enough to a multi-pronged assault without human assistance.
And someone had to stay behind to operate the matter transmitter.
One of the systems which made Destiny such a superior ship was matter transmission. It was a technique the Federation Planetary Militia had been unable to master; for what it was worth, it didn't appear that Burly and Banson together understood how it worked. But they had figured out how to work it. Each person had to wear a harness (and Banson commented that it was one more evidence that the builders of the ship were very like humans in size and shape), and transmission was always either from or to a platform. There were also cargo markers of some sort, or that's what Burly called them. These could be attached to non-living objects to transport them to and from the same platform. That meant there were inherent size limits on what could be moved, but thus far the crew had never had cause to exceed these. There was often speculation as to whether the machine could move people or objects from one point to another without stopping on the platform, but working the alien technology was to some degree guesswork, and no one had yet been confident enough in their guesses to try it--especially since the cargo markers were in short supply relative to the creature harnesses.
Thus it was that Slade was carrying select tools and equipment and standing on a strange platform with Tom and George wearing a harness, and planning to materialize on another spaceship.
As the machine was activated, he had the strangest sensation. But it was not an entirely unfamiliar feeling. He felt the molecules of his body coming apart, as they did when he died. Although he had never been fully conscious through the experience before, he had been in something of a daze the last time, and recognized the sensation. It felt like goodbye. He opened his mouth, and a low wail came out.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #53: Character Battles. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: