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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 19: Slade 98
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Previous chapter: Chapter 18: Kondor 101
Slade awoke. He realized that the darkness in his room was due to the fact that there were no windows; a clock glowed the time, zero seven one two. He guessed that it must be morning, as the presence of the zero made it seem like military time. Something was bothering him, as he started piecing together where he was. This was that bunker; there was a war outside. What was he missing?
He sat up abruptly. "Where's Joe?" he suddenly said. He had expected Joe to let him know he was back.
"It's all right," Shella's groggy voice came from beside him in the darkness. "He came by last night, said he'd found a library and had learned some things he would tell us after we were out of here today."
Slade nodded in the darkness. Obviously he fell asleep; he was still dressed, and rather uncomfortable.
"I'm going to see if I can get a shower," he said, and felt his way by the dim glow of the clock in the direction of the bathroom.
He found the light switch, and started undoing his leathers, his weapons, his boots--the medieval garb was protective and familiar, but it took a fair amount of effort to get dressed, or undressed.
He turned on the water, set the temperature, and stepped into the shower. The hot water felt good on his back.
There was a loud banging. Who would have thought they would have trouble with the plumbing in a place like this? Well, it was the army. He'd never been in the army, but he always had the impression that things in the army didn't always work quite the way they should. He soaped up his face; the banging came again.
The bathroom door opened; he felt the breeze. "M'lord?" He heard Shella's voice over the pounding water and the banging pipes.
"Hey, love; come on in and close the door, don't let the draft in. Were you thinking of a shower, too? It's not terribly roomy in this stall, but I don't mind squeezing a bit."
"M'lord, what is that wizardry outside?"
"Wizardry?" he said.
He turned off the water. The banging continued. It wasn't the pipes.
He pushed the stall door open. "Pass me that towel, love," he said. "I think we're under attack."
Drying himself rather incompletely, he pulled out his old jeans and a T-shirt, and pulled on his tennis shoes, a bit old but not so worn as he'd mostly stuck to leather boots for decades now. These were quick and easy to don.
As he pulled open the door, he stopped.
"Shella," he said, "I'm going to head out to the control room, to see what I can learn. You're welcome to come, but I'm not sure it's somewhere you would want to be at the moment. I can't promise you'd be safer here; I can't really say what part of the bunker is safer or more dangerous. But I'll feel better if I know you're here, and I'll come back to you as soon as I can."
She smiled. "I'll straighten up a bit, and get your leathers ready for you," she said, and he smiled back, then continued moving as if he'd never stopped.
He nearly collided with Joe in the hall, who was coming from his own room. "It sounds like the party started without us," Slade joked.
"I guess we're missing out on the fun," Joe said rather somberly. "I gather you're going to the control room."
"Seems to be the place to be at this moment, wouldn't you say?"
"I was thinking much the same myself. I'm not sure whether they'll welcome us or shoot us, but at least we'll give them the choice."
"Shella said you learned a lot of stuff last night," Slade said, as they quickened their pace going around a bend."
"Yes, but there's really not time to discuss it at the moment. Follow my lead if in doubt, though--it's a very strange world."
As they approached the door to the control room, a guard looked momentarily confused, then snapped to attention and saluted. "At ease," Joe said, returning the salute, and pressing forward through the door. "He's with me." The next moment they were in the control room.
The screens were ablaze with action, but it struck Slade as incongruous. The enemy was apparently bringing up cannon, wheeled artillery pieces with some shielding added for the operator, but moved into position by horse or man. They carried simple rifles--it was difficult to make out on the screens at this distance, but they looked like long-barreled muzzle-loaded flintlocks, possibly, with fixed bayonets. The men swarmed over the field, at a distance, positioning their relatively primitive guns, pouring powder and shot into them, and touching torches to the back end to fire cast iron balls at the building.
Meanwhile, the bunker was defending itself. Quite a few of the guns were firing not at the enemy cannons nor the cavalry nor the men, but at the cannonballs themselves, in flight. These were being computer tracked, and knocked out of the air while still some distance away.
It was the most mismatched battle he had seen since--no, there was nothing to which he could think to compare it. He didn't understand why there even was a war at this point. If this was typical of the tech levels on each side, it should be over.
"Colonel?" one of the men said, and then when the officer turned his direction, he nodded toward the door where they had entered. The colonel looked, then looked, perhaps, resigned, or something like it. He said something to the officer beside him, and headed up toward them.
"Mr. Kondor," the Colonel said.
"Colonel," Joe answered.
"Can I ask what this ghost is doing in my control room?"
"Sir, we heard the battle, and thought we should check in with you, to see if there was anything we could do to help. Although I'm sure you have everything under control, protocol would demand at least that of us."
"I see. And what help do you suppose your companion might offer?"
"Possibly none at all," Joe said. "However, Mr. Slade is an expert in single combat using both primitive and advanced weaponry, and I have combat leadership experience and am a medical doctor in addition to holding advanced degrees in physics. Further, it is just possible that Mr. Slade would have a better understanding of how the enemy thinks than you do."
"I would hardly call what the enemy does thinking," the Colonel said.
"All the more reason why it would be useful to have someone available who is likely to understand them on a more intuitive level. However, we are only offering our services. Neither of us have ever operated systems of these models, nor worked with artillery at all. If you need us elsewhere, we'll go where we're sent; if you don't need us, we'll retire to our quarters and await your orders."
The colonel stared at Joe for a moment, breaking only to glance at Slade and then back. He bit his lower lip.
"No," he said, "feel free to observe, and if you have any suggestions," he turned and walked back toward the front of the control room, and continued more loudly. "If you have any suggestions, please relay them to my adjutant, Lieutenant Lyson."
He turned his attention back to the battle, and Slade stared at the screens, trying to take in everything that was happening at once. He glanced at Joe, whose attention seemed to be focused on trying to grasp the function of each station.
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: