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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 82: Slade 116
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“How much farther, my lord?”
Shella’s voice was hushed. They were certainly in enemy territory. Slade answered in similar tones.
“Yeah, that’s the problem with this scriff sense--direction, but not distance. But we should probably start using that invisibility trick, and remember to keep re-doing it so it doesn’t run out.”
“You know it’s not invisibility, really,” she said. “It’s more like, insignificancy?”
“What’s the difference?”
“If it were real invisibility, no one would see us at all. With this, we are seen, we just are not noticed.”
Slade nodded. “That’s why no one bumps into me when we’re walking through the hall, because they recognize somehow that someone is there, but they don’t pay any attention to who it is, so they don’t know it’s me. Does that matter?”
“I don’t know, my lord. Will their machines see us?”
Slade stopped short in his tracks. “Well then,” he began. He had not thought of that. The cameras would pick up their images as they approached the bunker. If men on patrols came upon them, they would ignore them; but what of men watching the screens? If someone happened to snap a photo of him while he was so enspelled, he would appear in the photo when it was developed. Would people not notice his image in the photo because he had been enspelled at the time, or would they notice him there when the spell wore off, or could they see in the photo what they could not have seen directly? That mattered, because the images on the screens were more like photos--the men in the bunker were watching televisions, and if the cameras found them their images would probably be on the screen. Would the magic prevent the soldiers from noticing their images on the screen? He did not have an answer to that. “We’ll have to do our best not to be seen by the cameras.
“Cameras,” Shella repeated, obviously trying to learn the words for things in this world she did not yet know. She performed her ritual--her “insignificancy” spell, Slade reminded himself, as he performed his. He thought that a timer would be helpful about now, but then, he did not have a watch, and was not likely to be able to acquire one in this world unless things changed significantly.
He had decided they should attempt to steal their things from the bunker. It was not so much because he wanted them, although he did not want them to come to harm, and did not know what the soldiers were likely to do with the property of a couple of “ghosts” left there too long. It was more because he thought it might be fun to practice breaking into a high-tech facility, and to teach Shella a few tricks of the trade--although really, most of it would be stealth, and they would use their invisibility--that is, insignificancy--spell for a lot of that. Besides, at this point, he had no idea what else they might do. He repeated his spell, remembering that there was no way for him to know whether it was still working.
They soon reached the artillery-pocked clearing around the bunker. Slade could have wished for a foggy day, not just for the cover but also for the fact that the armies tended not to fire at each other when they couldn’t see each other. This area was not too dangerous, in that regard, because the computerized weapons of the shades tended to track and destroy the primitive incoming missiles of the ghosts well before they reached this point. Indeed, much of the damage to the surrounding grounds was from the bunker firing at approaching enemies--which, he realized, meant people who looked much like him.
He studied the movement of the guns on the rooftop. They were focused to the corner to his left; his best bet would be to move to the right around to the opposite corner. On the other hand, he had apparently taught the colonel something in his last visit: one of the gun cameras swept the area around the outside every few minutes.
“This way,” he said, falling back under the cover of the trees and moving counterclockwise around the bunker. “We’ll have to get to that opposite corner, and then cross quickly to the building between camera sweeps. Then we edge along the wall under the view of the guns until we reach the door.”
Cover was thin; he could have hoped for better. But then, he was also hoping that his spell would keep him from being noticed--he repeated it again as he thought of it--and that the shades would be focused on the ghosts’ artillery positions. It took several minutes to maneuver them to the position he wanted, and then he waited for a camera sweep.
“Go. Now.” He kept a low position and rushed forward toward the bunker, angling slightly toward the door. He almost slammed against the wall as he stopped short; Shella, a step behind, nearly collided into him.
“We’re good for the moment, but there’s a camera by the door so best make sure the spell is good.” He started to do his own, and she stopped him.
“My lord, you are right that the spell might run a very short time, and might have lapsed; but each time you use it, it might go wrong, so it is a gamble either way.”
Botches. He hadn’t really thought about them, but she was right. He had gone up in flames one time, trying to cast a little spell out of a book that he didn’t quite know. He nodded, and continued toward the door.
His next hope was that they had not changed the security code. There was no particular reason to believe that they had, unless of course it was standard procedure to do so periodically. He tapped in the letters; the door opened. For an instant he thought he should let Shella go first, and then decided that in this situation that was not the chivalrous choice. He stepped through. They were back in the bunker.
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 #243: Verser Redirects. 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: