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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 3: Slade 93
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Previous chapter: Chapter 2: Brown 97
Slade was angry. He was angry at himself for not expecting an ambush, and for walking right into it. Of course the vampires would be waiting at Geneva; it was their last stand. He charged with sword and blaster, but they were ready. It was foolish to have thought they could just walk into Geneva and open the dome. Others had been driven back before reaching those controls, and he felt stupid not to have been ready for it.
He was angry at the vampires. They were defeated; they had to know that. What were they defending? If they'd any sense at all, they'd have saved themselves, fallen back into the hiding places of the world, each hoping to escape the purge that was sure to follow, and those who survived waiting as secretly as they could for one of those more enlightened ages when vampires were properly relegated to the superstitions of the past, and they could again work quietly behind the shroud of disbelief.
Above all, he was angry at the world. It failed to fit into a cubbyhole in his universe sorting system. He was fighting against vampires with laser rifles. Stealth, magic, strength, cunning--these were the weapons vampires were supposed to wield; laser rifles were supposed to be carried by aliens, or crazed robots, or space marines. It made no sense. He was getting hit by laser fire, from vampires.
The pain was becoming extreme now. He knew Shella was working to help protect him, but he'd taken too many hits. Then something struck him--magic, he supposed--which knocked him back into the wall some distance behind him, knocking the air out of him, and leaving him dazed and injured. On a guess, he'd have said several ribs were shattered, and he wasn't entirely certain his back wasn't more serious. He was losing blood somewhere, he guessed, and as it wasn't hitting the floor it must be inside him. He started to swoon. Just before he closed his eyes, he saw Shella running toward him, rushing amidst the flash of more laser fire.
He caught himself. The pain had passed; he was sitting on a soft seat. Catching his weapons before they slipped through his fingers, he opened his eyes to face his enemies.
There were no enemies to face. He was alone with his bride, Shella. She was sleeping peacefully if not comfortably on the floor, apparently once more dragged along with him to a new world. He was sitting on a bed, the more comfortable spot perhaps, in a room of perhaps a dozen beds, all made up well, like a hospital ward or military barracks, and all empty.
He reached out for that sense of where things were; he didn't have much that he didn't carry, but it had become habit to check, to make certain he hadn't dropped something. No, everything was here, including his wife--but there was another sense, a sense of someone. They were not alone.
One thing that seemed obvious about sensing the presence of other versers is that you could do it when you stopped to do it, but it wasn't something you'd notice if you weren't attending to it at that moment. You had to sort of relax inside and turn your attention to what they called the scriff sense, because it seemed to pick up the presence of scriff in your equipment, your companions, and elsewhere. Since he had just arrived, Slade realized that this meant it was probably the case that the other person, whoever it was, had not yet noticed him, and it might be better to find him than to wait for him to notice. The versers he had met so far were all good people; but he'd only met three (well, five if you counted his wife and her uncle, but they weren't versers when he met them), and that wasn't a lot of people on which to base a conclusion.
He slipped quietly out of the room and down a hall in the direction he felt. Years ago another of Shella's relatives had taught him how to move quietly through castle halls, and this seemed a good time to put the skill to use. There were a number of offices and other rooms the purpose of which he didn't care to determine, but the door at the end of the hall seemed the right direction. Reaching it, he opened it quietly and spied a familiar figure.
"Mister Kondor!" he declared.
The black man in military fatigues spun round sharply with gun ready, but then the face smiled. "That's Doctor Kondor now," he answered. "Advanced degrees in medicine and physics. Robert Elvis Slade. It's good to see you. Where were you? I didn't feel you here."
"Just arrived, actually. Versed in awake, felt someone here, and came looking. And if we’re standing on formalities, I believe it’s Robert Elvis Lord Slade."
"Of course; how could I have forgotten? My lord.” Kondor said this last with just a touch of a smile, revealing a bit of good-natured kidding. Slade glanced around the room.
“So, what's this world all about? Any great wars I can join?”
“I'm afraid I'm new here myself. I versed in to the conference room over there just minutes ago; I must have been right before you, because you weren't out there when I started--all I could sense was my suitcase, and it's miles from here. It's good to see you, though."
Slade walked into the room and looked around at the equipment.
"So, can you do anything with this stuff? Maybe it can tell us something."
"Possibly. I haven't touched it yet, because I don't want to trip some security alarm or something. Funny, I know a kid who could probably get this thing to tell you its designer's mother's maiden name, but he only taught me a few basics."
"Sounds like Derek," Slade said.
"It is Derek," Kondor said. "How do you know Derek?"
"I just left him. He and Lauren were fighting vampires somewhere in the twenty-fifth century or something, and I gave them a hand for a bit. She went down in flames a couple months back, taking out one really nasty one named Tubrok, but Derek was still there when I left."
"Are we talking about the same Derek? I just left Derek and Lauren a few minutes ago, when our space bubble popped, and he never mentioned you."
"Oh, are you just coming from there? Oh, no, that's been like forever. Since then, Lauren spent a century on a tropical island, and then hit the vampires. As to Derek, he did mention you. Derek Jacob Brown, little guy with remarkable computer skills, a decent shot with a laser, and the strange ability to turn himself into a sprite."
"What, actually get inside the computer?"
"No, the other kind of sprite--little fairy people that live in the woods? Apparently he went through something more frightening than efriit or giant snakes or vampires or evil empires: puberty. He was born again, quite literally, as a baby sprite. He grew up with his sprite parents, learned their ways, and then saved them from the terrible humans who were hunting them. Weird, if you ask me, but apparently it happened."
Kondor shrugged. "Well, other than the sprite part, that sounds like him. I knew that time didn't mean much in the multiverse, but to have both of us have been with the same people in different worlds mere minutes ago is just stranger than I imagined.
Shella's voice interrupted them from the door. "My lord?" she asked, "Where are we?"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. 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: