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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 57: Brown 19
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As Derek awoke, he realized that he had been asleep. As obvious as this sounds, it was the other things that he realized that made it strange. Although he was now waking, he had not been dreaming (or at least he did not remember any dreams beyond the moment when he had saved Ralph from Michael). Furthermore, although he seemed to have been asleep, he was not at all rested, as if he had only been out for a few minutes. In that sense, it was less like sleeping and more like fainting.
But whatever it was or was like, he was now in the other part, the part that was like being awake. He remembered once hearing a comedian joke about dreaming you were awake, getting ready for work, and how he had dreamt such a dream once, thinking that he was getting his school books together and grabbing breakfast all while still actually in bed. The joke had been something about how the whale in your living room was perfectly reasonable, as he had just stopped by to give you a ride to work. He realized now that this wasn't like that at all. There were normal things and there were strange things, but the strange things didn't seem normal. Check that; he couldn't really be sure of that. What he could say was that there were things that seemed strange, and he didn't just accept them as normal as he probably would were he dreaming. So unless this was a different kind of dreaming, he must be awake; and unless the world was very different from what he'd been taught in school, he must have left it for another, probably several others. In other words, this was all real, it was just a different kind of real.
He shuddered at the notion; at this point, though, it seemed the best explanation he had. Somehow when that game controller shorted out it removed him from the universe of his birth and threw him into another one. Now either because of something that game controller did to him or because the afterlife was very different from what he had heard, whenever he was killed it happened again. He wondered briefly whether he might have been sucked into the video game system, his life now at the mercy of whoever was playing it. It did not seem to him as if he was being controlled by someone else (although what would it feel like to be a video game hero?); he didn't die and come back in the same world–oh, and his things came with him. Video games weren't like that. This was real. It wasn't like reincarnation; he wasn't born an infant or a calf or piglet or something. He just suddenly came back to life, as himself, in a new world.
Oh, yes, and all his things came with him. That was very unlike any stories of the afterlife he had heard. "You can't take it with you," people said. He apparently had. Now, was his experience common, or unique? He glanced over at his things, packed as they were in Bill's backpack. It didn't appear to be Bill's experience, or Pete's or David's or Carlo's. They died, and their bodies and their things stayed behind. Of course, these could be perfect matches for his things, but somehow he didn't think so. Besides, he now had some of their things, so if he could make other people's things his, they probably didn't have them anymore.
Speaking of his things, he should get them together and see where he was. They had all been fairly close together when he died, the bulk of them packed in Bill's backpack and his book bag, the frying pan loose in the room and the knife in his gut, and his bicycle outside. He scanned the area to see if he could find them.
He was in a large room with tables and chairs of some sort; although he could see the backpacks from his seat on the floor, the bicycle was hidden from view. He stood up to see if he could find it; at the same time, he tried to tune in to that sense he got of where things were as he picked up the knife beside him. Four directions came up distinctly; the frying pan and the backpacks he could already see, and now that he was standing the bicycle was in view. The fourth sense was something else, and it was beyond the wall of the room.
He couldn't think what it might be, but he should probably go after it. At the moment, though, he was faced with a different problem. Although he had found several doors, or at least frames which were the right size and shape for doors, none of them had doorknobs. They had panels beside them on the walls, like something out of a science fiction movie. I wonder when the monsters start attacking, he thought. Or is it an insane robot? He touched one of the panels and tried a few buttons, but it didn't open.
He next turned his attention to the desks in the room. They were less like desks than he had assumed from his perspective on the floor, and more like consoles, the sort of thing NASA had in roomfuls when they launched the shuttle, or NorAD hid under mountains. They were computers, closed circuit security systems, tracking systems, communications stations–it could be the bridge of a starship, or the control center of a space station. The idea was exciting, to be traveling in space somewhere. But there were no people operating it. That was a bit disconcerting. Even if this was the emergency backup control station, there should be someone here.
He was here. Perhaps if he could figure out how some of this stuff worked, he'd be able to open the doors. Anyway, it would be fun to look, and the worst he could imagine happening was that he'd set off some kind of alarm and security guards would come lock him up somewhere. Then at least he would have found people. He picked a console, and started looking at the controls.
It took him a minute or two to get it to do anything, but soon he had an array of screens alight showing him corridors, entries, doors–maybe a dozen small screens split into four views, and a main screen which for the moment was blank. But it was very like a video game in many ways, and he quickly determined that he could move things around–an image from any screen could be displayed on the large one with a few clicks, and any image on any small screen could be enlarged to overlap the others. It was the security monitor for wherever this was, and since some of the cameras showed blue skies over countryside, it was not a spaceship.
The security monitors had been easy; they hadn't required passwords or computer hacking or anything like that. He looked over the screens carefully; he seemed to be alone here, as far as he could see. He played with this for a while, and then moved to another console.
This was more like a computer; maybe it would open the doors for him. A brief perusal of the panel, and a push of a button, and it came alive–but it wanted a user ID and a password, and that would be a guess. It would probably be the first of several levels of security on this console. He tried a few guesses, and tried to ask for help, but it quickly locked him out of the system. Shutting off the power, he thought he might try again; but he could try user names and passwords until he was blue in the face, and never get anywhere.
Of course, he had his laptop. There were electrical outlets here which looked like standard outlets. He could probably write a program to throw names and passwords at the system until it found something. That was a good idea. He would have to find a way to connect his laptop into their circuits to do it. He had never really tried that; yet as he considered it, it seemed a less daunting notion than the doors. After all, once protocols were established, they tended to be accepted for a long time even if replaced, so that systems would be reverse compatible with earlier systems. And if the power outlets along the walls were like home, there was good reason to think that the ports and card slots and cables and pin connectors in use here would at least be similar to those with which he was familiar. Probably there would be a lot of new ones, but just as probably many of the old ones would still be in use. If he could figure out what was what, he might be able to interface the systems and at least find out what this console did.
Walking around to the back of the console, he took his pocket knife out and began removing the access panels.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #94: Novel Meetings. 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: