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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 66: Brown 22
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Previous chapter: Chapter 65: Hastings 65
Mrs. Hastings–that is, Lauren–had some odd ideas about things. The trouble was, the more Derek thought about them, the more they seemed to make sense. He had thought about them lying long in the darkness before he fell asleep, and as he awoke still in darkness his mind returned to them. It took him a moment to realize that it would remain dark in his underground room until someone turned on the lights, but he had activated the voice command system in his room so that wouldn't be a problem.
"Lights," he said, "on," and the room was illumined.
It was not unreasonable in theory to suggest that God had something for him to do, and had sent him to do it. The questions then became why he was here, and what he was to do. Viewing his situation that way put a very different spin on it all. Now his life wasn't something that was happening to him, but more of a journey he was taking. That was very different, less like an accident and more an adventure. He couldn't say whether or not it was true, but he certainly liked it better.
Finding his way back to the kitchens, he found several of the others eating. Lauren was not there, but that was good. He wanted to give more thought to what she'd said before he asked her more. He grabbed something and ate it, and then returned to the room with the consoles.
He spent a bit of time showing Dorelle how everything worked on the two systems he already understood, and then began examining another. He wasn't terribly concerned about what each did now; he was more interested in whether he could get past the security and figure out how to access them. This one was proving quite a challenge, but much of the urgency had left his efforts, now that there was food and he was here by choice, not trapped.
He had not succeeded in accessing the system when he realized he was hungry for lunch. This time, he was alone in the kitchen when he arrived, and wasn't certain what to eat or how to make it. There wasn't any bread or peanut butter sitting in the cupboards here; everything he saw required preparation. Fortunately while he was pondering this, Spire came in looking for something, too.
"Looking for lunch?" Derek asked.
"Lunch," Spire replied. "Food."
"Yes, food for lunch. What do you know how to make?"
"Make soup," came the simple reply. Spire seemed like a moron when she spoke, yet at the same time she had a very keen insight into how things worked. She moved around the kitchen as if she had grown up in a similar place, testing the various appliances as if she already knew what they did, and merely needed to confirm that they were working. In a few minutes she had gathered the ingredients for some sort of stew, and had them simmering on the stove. As those ingredients included some frozen meat, Derek could see that it would be a while before it was served. Spire didn't seem to know this, but stood watching the pot. Derek wondered whether she also lacked a sense of the passage of time.
"That looks good," he said, "but it isn't going to be ready until suppertime. Is there anything we can eat sooner?"
"Sooner," she said; it didn't seem like a question.
"Yes, sooner; like, now. I'd make myself a peanut butter sandwich, but there doesn't seem to be any bread."
"Bread," she repeated. She stared at him for a moment, then abruptly turned and strode over to a pantry door. Within there were uncounted foil-like packets, and Spire took several from different places and brought them back to the counter near the stove. She began opening them; Derek picked one up, hesitantly, intending to assist. There was something written, perhaps stamped, on the side of the packet, but it appeared little more than an elaborate letter and number code which probably included the lot number and expiration date. Derek opened his.
By this time Spire had produced several items, including something like granola bars, a pouch of mixed dried fruits, and some crackers. Derek found potato sticks, a cross between a potato chip and a pretzel stick, in his pouch, and set it with the others. It wasn't lunch at Burger King, but it was food, and he ate his share.
Dorelle came in while they were eating.
"Oh, good, I'm glad you're both here," she began. "I've got a cabinet–oh, what is that? It looks good."
"Food," Spire replied precisely. "Pantry," she added, and pointed to the door.
"Looks good," Dorelle answered, lying, Derek thought. "Maybe I'll grab something. But anyway, there's this cabinet, and I haven't found a way to open it. I thought one of you two might be able to get it open before Qualick decides just to smash the thing."
Derek wasn't certain he knew anything about locks; on the other hand, most of the security around here was electronic, and he was proving he knew something about that. "I'll have a look right after lunch," he said. "Where is it?"
"It's in the room you said was the security office."
"O.K.," he said. "I'll bring my stuff and take a look at it."
His "stuff" amounted to his laptop computer, a couple of small tools, and a batch of cables, connectors, and such he had gathered during his work. When he arrived in the security office with it, Spire was already working on the lock. He stood by, patiently.
"Give the boy a chance." It was Qualick's suggestion.
"Boy?" Spire answered, turning around. "Derek. Try?"
Derek took that as his turn, and moved closer to the lock. It was some kind of electronic panel, and he decided he wasn't going to be able to guess the code easily. But he had another idea.
"Let me try something; I'll be right back." Leaving his gear there, he rushed back to the consoles, to the security control panel, and pulled up the system for the security office. With a few clicks, he set the system on "maintenance status", and returned, a bit out of breath, to the security office. Then, after looking at the cover for a moment, he used his screwdriver to remove the plate and get at the works. This did not have the access plugs and such that he had exploited in his attack on the consoles, but it seemed fairly clear that the security controls were one part of the system, and the door solenoids were entirely separate. The trick really was going to be bypassing the door controls so that power could be routed directly to the solenoids. As it turned out, this wasn't so difficult as it might have been. With the main system set for maintenance, there was no reaction when he cut a few leads on the controls, and in a moment he had power to the locks, and the cabinet pulled open freely.
Within there was a row of weapons, rifles of some sort, but not the sort that fired bullets. They were electronic, highly sophisticated, with few metal parts visible. Starson immediately pulled one out.
"These are wonderful," he said. "Fully loaded laser blasters. Do you think there's extra ammo for them here?"
"Try drawer," Spire suggested, and Qualick pulled open a drawer which revealed what looked very like a set of video game cartridges without labels.
"Excellent," Starson said. "Let's pass these out. They're the best weapons we've seen in a long time, and we've got plenty of ammo for them. Take them all; we can use the extras for trade, if necessary."
So someone handed Derek a lightweight laser rifle and several power packs. He thanked them; they thanked him. Then he left to put his gun with the rest of his gear. As he stepped into the hall, he heard Starson behind him saying, "Make sure the lady gets one, too. I'd bet she could make good use of it."
As he took the gun back to his room and returned to the consoles with his hacking gear, he realized that this was his first real weapon. So far he'd defended himself with a knife, a frying pan, and a bit of chain. Now he had a laser rifle. He should learn how to use it. One thing of which he was certain: a weapon would be useful in the life ahead of him.
He was up late that night, but before he went to bed he had some of Spire's soup and cracked the function of another console. It didn't work, really, but it wasn't his fault. He did learn that they were in some kind of satellite or missile tracking facility, probably industrial rather than military, and probably capable of accessing satellite data. Unfortunately the antenna array which connected the compound with space had not survived whatever disaster had driven this world into primitivism; and even if he were able to rebuild that, he couldn't say whether there were any functioning satellites still orbiting which might provide useful information for them here. Still, tapping into the systems was good practice, and he was determined to do them all before he left.
He slept well that night, better than he had in a long time.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #100: Novel Settling. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: