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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 82: Slade 27
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The tingling ended, and Slade, catching the toothpick with his lips before it managed to drop, looked around at his new surroundings. Tom Titus and George White were both there; and he could hear the echo of his own wail fading, as they both turned to hush him.
He had never felt anything quite so like traveling to another universe. But this time it was just traveling to another spaceship.
"Sorry," he whispered. "It was my first transmat."
George hit a transmitter. "We're safe," he reported, and then headed down the hall. Tom followed, and Slade quietly took up the rear.
George stopped at a door, and put his back to the wall next to it. In seconds, Tom had bypassed a rather sophisticated-looking electronic locking panel, and he and George were through the door. Slade had all he could do to keep up with them. The room was large, and filled with pipes, conduits of some sort. Dashing from point to point, George placed his timed bombs where he wanted them, and then prepared to return to the hall. Again, Tom had to disable a security system. They were off in search of another room.
Slade should have had his mind on his work; but thus far his work consisted of keeping pace with two people who knew the job extremely well. His mind wandered to the other team, on the upper decks, stealing equipment. He wondered how they were doing. While he wondered, Tom opened another door, revealing a room filled with electronic control systems, and another rash of timed explosives was planted.
As Tom turned his attention to the third door, suddenly an alarm sounded. "It's not us," Tom assured them. "The other team must have been discovered. Come on, we don't have much time." And by the time he finished saying this, he had the door open.
This room was mechanical. Slade had some notion of how mechanical things worked, of course, but this wasn't entirely clear. It appeared to raise and lower an array of frames which passed through the floor to something below. It was also hotter in this room than it had been elsewhere. George was arranging his explosives in a manner which clearly was intended to prevent the machines from lowering. But he wasn't explaining anything.
The door opened. A man entered wearing coveralls of some sort and carrying a clipboard. He was so absorbed in whatever was on his papers that he didn't react to them until he was well into the room, almost on top of Slade. Suddenly he stopped short, and looked at the intruders, first one, then another, then the third. Everything for a moment seemed frozen.
He started to turn; he started to run; he started to cry out. The light flashed on the blade of Slade's sword as it cleared the sheath and passed through the thin cloth coveralls and soft flesh of the technician. Blood spilled from the wound as the man collapsed to the floor.
Somewhere in Slade's mind he realized that for all his practice with the sword and other weapons, and for all his talk of being one of Odin's chosen warriors, he had never killed a person before this moment. It was not at all what he had expected. Somewhere in his mind his training was in control, as he carefully wiped the blade and sheathed the sword. But foremost in his thoughts was that they had been discovered, and it was because they had failed to keep alert. He moved to the door, and drew his dagger. Behind him he heard George resume the task of setting charges, and Tom alternately swearing that he would never do anything like this again if only he could get out alive and insisting that it was not his fault because everything had been done right and it was just chance that brought that technician there at that moment.
The moment passed. Tom again opened the door, and the trio were back in the halls, retracing their steps. George led them to a side room, apparently a store room, and again used his communicator.
"We're done here. Are we in range for pickup?"
Ann's voice came back. "We're a little busy up here right now. It appears that there are more fighters on this base than was being reported."
That can't be good, Slade thought.
"Understood," George said.
"What do you mean, understood?" Tom blurted out. "How long have we got?"
Undisturbed by the interruption, George continued. "Charges detonate in...thirteen point three minutes. Advise."
"Cannot guarantee pickup within thirteen point three minutes. Use alternate escape. Any word on second team?"
"Intruder alarms were triggered; have to assume that second team is under fire. Make them priority; we will use alternate."
"What do you mean, we'll use alternate escape?" Tom demanded. "What alternate escape?"
"Calm down," George said. "There are life pods on this deck, more of them than the crew will require. We climb into them, and with two minutes to spare we eject. Destiny cleans up the fighters, and then picks us up. No problem."
"No problem? No problem? And if one of those fighters decides to use us for target practice?"
"John intends to trigger an abandon ship alarm. Assuming he does, the sky should be flooded with pods. The fighters aren't going to shoot on their own life pods. Destiny can figure out which ones are us because we've got the harnesses; they'll just scan the pods and transfer us aboard."
"I don't like it. It sounds like too many things can go wrong."
"It's plan B. It's a good plan B."
"There are no good plan B's. If they were good, they'd be plan A."
"Look," Slade said, "I don't much like it either. But at the moment the choice seems to be get to the life boats or go down with the ship. Personally, I'd really like George to stop arguing with you and show me where the lifeboats are. You're welcome to come with us."
Tom paused, and stared at Slade a moment. "Right," he said.
"Right," replied George.
"Right," added Slade.
And with that, they were out of the storeroom and on their way through the halls toward a somewhat distant outer hull.
After several minutes of brisk walking, George spoke again. "Of course, there is one other complication."
"What," Tom said, "it isn't complicated enough already?"
"It's just a little thing," he insisted.
"I hate it when you tell me something is just a little thing. I think you have no concept of proportion."
"Do you two bicker like this all the time?" Slade asked.
Tom answered first. "He's a danger to everybody. He takes unnecessary chances."
George responded. "Tom's like this with everyone. To him, an unnecessary risk is leaving the lid up on the commode."
"Well, someone could fall in," Tom insisted.
"So what is this little problem?" Slade asked.
"The life pods are on the other side of auxiliary control."
"And?" Tom asked.
"Auxiliary control is likely to be manned; we may have to fight our way through."
"Manned? How manned?"
"Don't know; could be empty. Could be as many as a dozen or so."
"A dozen? We have to fight our way past a dozen men to get off this thing?" Tom was not happy.
"Like I said, it could be empty. But we should be ready." And saying this, George drew some kind of ray gun, and pressed himself against the wall by a door. "This is it."
"Oh, it is, is it?" Tom said. "And I'm supposed to get this door open, and be ready to fight on the other side? You know that puts me in front. I'm the guy they'll be shooting at."
"No," Slade said, "I'll be in front." He drew his sword in his right hand and his dagger in his left, and stood squarely in front of the door. "Open it," he said.
Tom looked at him for only an instant, and then expertly punched code into the panel so the door would slide open. And indeed there were several people in the room; they seemed far more surprised to see Slade than he was to see them.
Someone across the room started to draw a gun; Slade's dagger flew from his hand with enough force to break through his rib cage. His sword swung upward and across, knocking back a guard by the door and slitting his throat. Slade plunged into the room like the warrior he always wished to be.
George must have come through the door as well, because he heard a strange sound behind him and saw someone fall in front. But as quickly as that the battle ended. The remaining people in the room had surrendered.
"What do we do now?" Tom asked, and George had to think for a moment.
"I'll tell you what we do," Slade said, pulling his dagger from its target. "We let these people get into life pods; there should be enough for them and us as well. We sound abandon ship--if George doesn't know how to do it, I'm sure one of these people will oblige. And then we get out of here."
"Agreed," George said. "Tom, take Slade to the life pods in the next room, and get going. I'll be along in a moment."
Slade didn't wait to see how George would do it. He led the way into the next room, where there were a dozen doors. "How do these things work?" he asked, stepping into one.
"I really don't have time to explain," Tom said, and as he touched a control panel, the door closed and there was an abrupt lurch throwing Slade against a wall. Stars appeared in the windows to either side. He was adrift in space in a box not much larger than a coffin.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #53: Character Battles. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: