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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 41: Slade 105
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As Slade stepped out of the door, the fog closed in around him; he realized that he couldn't see more than a few feet in any direction.
"Well, we don't have much need for stealth out here, do we?" he said.
"Don't kid yourself," Joe answered. "They'll have infrared, at least close to the base." Slade turned; Joe had pushed his sleeve up, and seemed to be scratching the inside of his left arm.
"Itch?" he asked.
Joe laughed. "No, it's this artificial eye they gave me years ago. I can adjust the frequency sensitivity. In this dense fog, the starlight gear isn't going to do me much good, but I can swing the red sensors in the eye way down into the infrared zone. I'm also wondering whether it would do me any good to push the blue end into the ultraviolet region. Either way, I'll have to put the patch over my right eye, or the visual information will be very confusing."
He didn't say what he decided; but he did produce the patch and secure it over one eye, so apparently he was satisfied with his settings.
"I'll try to let you know when people are coming; otherwise, stay close to me."
"Right," Slade said; he followed this with a wave of his left hand and the half minute incantation he'd learned the day before. Shella started hers before he had finished his. As they finished, Joe spoke.
"So, what was that, some sort of good luck chant? Or are you talking to the weather again?"
"Oh, no, m'lord," Shella said. "It is a spell that enables us to pass unnoticed among our enemies."
"Uh-huh," Joe said, clearly skeptical.
"Look," Slade said, "you lead, we'll follow, and each of us will do whatever we think will help.
The voice cut abruptly through the fog; it was followed by a squad of soldiers wearing elaborate visual gear.
"Oh, it's you, sir. I was not informed that you would be out here.
"Yes," Joe answered, "we're headed out to do some recon of our own, and to pick up some gear I stashed elsewhere."
"Well, sir, if you don't mind me saying so, I think most of the men will be more comfortable once you take those ghosts out of the bunker. The way they seemed to appear from nowhere last night really put everyone on edge."
Slade smiled. Of course, Joe would almost certainly blame this on the fog, or the angle, or a flaw in the sensing gear; but it was nice to know the spells were working.
"Yes," Joe said, "They will be gone with me for a while. We do expect to return, however."
"Well, I guess. Not up to me of course, and I'm sure covert ops knows its business and that ghost--the stud, mind, the mare I know less about--anyway, it seemed to know quite a bit about how to fight, and that was frightening."
"Yes, sir, it should be. War should always be a bit frightening, and we should always be on edge when we're involved in it. Never take things for granted; it can get you killed."
"Well, sir, good luck."
The soldiers moved off.
"I'm sure it was just the fog," Slade said; Joe stared in the direction in which the soldiers had vanished into the mist, and Slade was not certain whether he could still see them.
"Yeah, something like that, anyway. Sorry I didn't let you know."
"It's all right; but let's get moving, 'cause I don't know how long this stealth stuff lasts."
Joe looked at him, but didn't say anything, then plunged forward into the fog. Slade knew he was following the scriff sense toward his lost luggage and looking through the fog using light frequencies only he could see, but it was still unnerving to follow him through the blank gray world.
Periodically he and Shella repeated their ritual; but as they met no one else, they could not say whether it was working. It took what must have been most of the day to cover the distance--probably only about ten miles, but they could not move so quickly through the fog.
Joe's suitcase was undamaged; there were a few things scattered about the area, suggesting that he had not packed them before he left. He gathered those, including a travel alarm clock and a large wooden contraption Slade recognized as something they used on ships long ago, and soon had everything compactly contained in the suitcase or the duffel and pack he had brought with him.
"You're getting a bit heavy in your travel gear, aren't you?" Slade asked.
"Yeah, well I doubt I've caught up with Lauren."
"Oh, I doubt I could catch up with Lauren. She's got that wagon, those staves, quite an assortment of weapons, her chemicals--I think the next step has got to be a car, for her. Not for me, though. If it slows me down, I've got to have a really good reason to carry it."
"Ah, but you forget--Lauren thinks she does have a really good reason to carry everything she has."
Slade shrugged; not only was that true about what she thought, it probably was the case that she did have good reasons for each thing she owned. It still struck him as a great volume of junk. Joe's gear was starting to look like more than one person ought to carry, but at least he could manage it all himself.
"So, what next?" Slade asked, and Joe's face turned to puzzling for a moment; but he never had time to answer, as suddenly the fog was alive with soldiers. The bayoneted muskets identified these as white soldiers even before the faces came into view. A commanding voice apparently spoke to Joe.
"Don't even move, Shade."
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: