keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 107: Brown 37
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 106: Hastings 77
Derek awoke with the memory of a terrible headache and several other sore spots. He did not want to open his eyes. He had been careless, and he knew it; he hoped his friends would still succeed.
He couldn't lie here with closed eyes forever. Eventually either he would discover this world, or it would discover him. He opened his eyes.
He was inside, somewhere; it was a room, not entirely dark but not lit well enough to see much. He realized, too, that there were other people around, and that there was quite a bit of furniture about. Slowly he put together what he could. This was some sort of restaurant or bar or something, tables and chairs, people sitting at many of them. He was half under a table, but there was no one at it or the next one. He slipped under it the rest of the way, and sat up beneath the cover of the furnishings. These were very modernist appointments, mostly plastic of some sort, but not at all cheap. That told him something, anyway.
He raised himself from the floor into the chair. His assessment had been correct, so far as he could tell. People were at other tables, eating and drinking and talking. The room was dimly lit.
He realized that his equipment was going to look a bit odd–laser rifle, backpack, tool bag, and a lot of other stuff. He also realized that that sense that always pointed him to his equipment was pointing above him–as he had left his bicycle, baskets filled, his laptop, and some chips outside when he had descended into Cavalier. That suggested he was on a lower floor of a building, probably a hotel or something. He hoped it would be possible to get his things without causing problems. But right now he had to get out of this restaurant without incident. He rose, made sure he had everything, and walked toward what looked to be the exit.
"Kid, what are you up to?" a voice suddenly said. He looked toward it. He realized that he wasn't looking at a human; that gave new dimension to everything. This was in some ways like that last world, maybe was that last world at a different time. But right now he had to answer.
"Sorry. I thought my mom was in here, but I don't see her."
"O.K. Next time ask someone."
"O.K. I should have thought of that."
He stepped out of the restaurant and found himself in what he wanted to call a concourse. It now appeared that he was in a giant mall. Escalators were visible, so he headed up. He had never seen a mall quite so big, but then he already knew this was the future, or a future, or a world like the future, so that didn't seem so difficult.
He found his bicycle and his laptop easily enough. It was a bit tougher finding the chips, as he could sense them but couldn't really see them until he was right on top of them. Mercifully, all these things were in public halls, and out of the way. But the more he saw, the less he understood. It was less like a mall and more like an enclosed city. There were stores, restaurants, offices, apartments, recreation areas, and things he didn't recognize. He was very uncertain how to get outside–or even, it occurred to him, if there was an outside.
Finally he saw something that he thought might help. There was a computer terminal; it appeared to be an information aid, something you would use to get directions and such, but he thought that was as good a place as any to start, particularly as it was down a side corridor that was otherwise empty at the moment. He went to it and started accessing what he could.
It was indeed a low-security system. As it recognized his presence, the screen lit up with a concourse map flagged with you are here roughly in the center. Color coded symbols showed restaurants, offices, apartments, retailers of various types, plus manufacturing areas, medical facilities, control centers, visitor assistance, and more. At the top of the screen was the legend Terranova Habitat; this seemed unrevealing. At the bottom was a blank for entering a destination, presumably to get directions. Derek entered the word exit. The screen returned a question: Terminal A, B, C, D, E, or F?
This wasn't getting him anywhere. He realized that he was going to have to get somewhere soon. He was in an alien future world, trapped inside some kind of enclosed living compound, the sort of place that takes the concept of a mall and makes it an entire world. If he couldn't find his way outside, he was going to have to find a way to live inside. He had some food and water he had packed for their explorations, but it wasn't going to last more than a couple of days, and if he found a way out he might very well need it then.
This led him to consider the possibility that going outside was not such a good idea. His old distaste for roughing it came back, with a new element. What if this was like that last world, only worse? If the outside world had been so totally destroyed that it supported no life at all, or so little life that survival was a major undertaking? As between barbarian in harsh untamed wilderness and vagrant in high-tech post-industrial city, Derek thought the latter more comfortable. He thought of the former in terms such as painful, struggling, hopeless. No, better to eke out a living in a comfortable habitat than to starve in a post-nuclear desert. He would have to find out what lay outside, but meanwhile he should plan to live within.
That meant he was going to have to make himself part of this place. He started running through available systems, trying to figure out how things worked. The computer was part of something much bigger than travelers' assistance. It was connected into banking, communications, law, commerce, and more. But whenever he attempted to access anything more than the simplest functions, it required his identity. In this world, he did not have an identity.
That was something he might be able to fix. After all, this was a computer, and the user interface was in English. The hardware, although in many ways futuristic, echoed of the familiar. Screens, keyboards, trackballs–things he knew in other forms were in use here. Perhaps there was an innate logic to the design of input/output devices, or perhaps he had landed in a universe once again a possible future of his own. He understood computers; they had in some ways become his world.
However, he did not think he could do this standing in the hall. As private as this concourse was, it was still a public place. He was going to have to do more than press keys and answer questions. Somehow he was going to have to interface his own computer with theirs, so that he could get around their security. That meant opening access panels, clipping wires to circuit boards (or whatever form the chip technology had taken here), and generally taking things apart. He guessed that he didn't much look the part of a service technician. If a twelve year old boy gave him such a story, he might be gullible enough to believe it, but he didn't think an adult would buy it from him. Besides, he had too many things here that would raise questions–a bicycle, two backpacks, tent, sleeping bag, laser rifle, chain. No, he looked much more like a traveler, even a vagrant, than a computer technician. He was going to have to find a better place to work.
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 #116: Character Missions. 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: