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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 35: Slade 103
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 34: Brown 112
Not knowing how long the magic would last if it did work, Slade decided to wait until they were closer to the populated areas of the bunker before casting it. Thus he and Shella were nearly to the mess hall before they tried their new technique. She did it first; he watched how she did it, and then copied her. Of course, she didn't look any different to him; it wasn't supposed to work that way.
Drawing in a deep breath of trepidation, they rounded the last corner and walked the short hall to the mess entrance. It was filled with soldiers, eating, talking, walking around. No one looked at them as they entered. Was it working, or had they grown accustomed to his presence?
Two soldiers, engaged in their own discussion, walked around them, seemingly oblivious to their presence--the way one steps over a dog or a pile of laundry without even realizing it is there. It seemed to be working.
Slade walked over to a table; one of the soldiers was talking animatedly to his fellows.
"I don't know; he really looked to me like he knew what he was doing. That covert ops guy was taking lessons in primitive weapons from him, and he looked bored, like he could have killed the guy in a second and moved on to the next one. I say he's a lot more dangerous than he looks."
Obviously the magic was working; Slade couldn't imagine that anyone would talk like that about him with him standing there, even if they did think him some sort of semi-intelligent animal incapable of anything like real thought.
"Yeah," said another, "but do you really think he could kill someone in the barracks? I mean, in a fair fight--like taking on the Colonel, knife against knife."
"Knife against knife, I think he could kill my weapons instructor. That Kondor fellow thinks he could beat anyone in this base."
"But do those covert guys know anything really about fighting?"
"He does," another said. "I saw him shooting today. He's an incredible shot. The other guy, I don't know--was using some sort of toy pistol, something I'd never seen before, but it did something weird. Must shoot ice pellets or something, 'cause he was hitting the target, but there weren't any bullets or shells anywhere."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean he knows jack about hand to hand."
"And where do you think he's been? He was out there, somewhere; he came back with a couple of ghosts, and took shelter here. They don't send people into the ghost towns who can't defend themselves."
"So you really think this ghost is dangerous?"
"I don't know why he's here; he really could kill us all, if he had a mind to do it."
The skeptic spoke up. "Now you're exaggerating. He couldn't kill us all--how would he manage to get to us? One ghost wandering the halls killing people? Like we wouldn't know immediately who was doing it, and take him out like that," he snapped his fingers.
The first speaker shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you're right." For a moment they all fell silent.
The one directly across the table from him suddenly looked right at him, and paled slightly.
"What's wrong?" someone said, and looked; he, too, stared at Slade. Soon the whole table was staring at him.
Obviously the magic had run out. He couldn't easily cast it again with everyone staring at him. This was a definite flaw in the system. They hadn't noticed Shella; either her spell outlasted his, or she had thought to cast it again before it was over. Well, he'd been in tougher spots than this.
He wondered for a moment what he should say; then he decided perhaps it was best that he not say anything. He smiled, trying for a knowing look, turned, and headed for the door.
Shella was with him before he reached it; the entire mess hall was silent.
Suddenly she turned back, looked over the crowd, and spoke. "You're the ones who call us ghosts," she said, and the room gasped. Quickening her step, she was through the door and moving through the hall.
Slade had all he could do to keep from laughing.
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 #226: Versers Adapt. 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: