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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 151: Brown 51
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Previous chapter: Chapter 150: Hastings 92
Watching Joe move through the halls, Derek was reminded of his companions in the last world. There was something about it; it was alert, furtive. He once thought it like a rabbit, but now cat seemed the better analogy. It was aggressively defensive.
Joe had drawn a gun; Derek checked the status of his laser rifle, and carried it at the ready. He tried to remember his own brief experience, not so long ago, and use it here.
This did not seem the safest route. It was as much a service tunnel as anything else, with pipes and wires overhead and on the walls, supported by frames and beams. Open doorways to either side led to rooms full of machinery, for water purification, atmosphere maintenance, temperature control, waste recycling, and more. Other corridors crossed at irregular intervals and odd angles. If their creature liked to leap down upon prey, this was a good place to do it. But whether there was another route Derek did not know, nor whether any other route would be less utilitarian, nor whether the maps and schematics showed which routes were paneled and which open. He suspected Joe was making the most direct line to the bridge under the circumstances, and the sooner they got there the more time he would have to get control of the ship.
A sudden movement to the left caused Derek to whirl toward it. A bit of metal grate crashed to the floor, apparently pulled from some weak tether by the restored gravity. Derek saw it hit the floor, and almost shot it; Joe, he noticed, was surveying the ceiling from which it fell. Then with a wave of his weapon he continued forward. There was a hatch visible ahead.
Derek fired almost before he knew it. One of the creatures swooped down in front of them, and his laser struck it straight on. Joe's blaster also hit it, knocking it from its course. It fell to the ground motionless. Joe paused a moment to look at it.
"A small one," he said, and resumed his course.
The hatch was sealed; Derek wondered whether the creatures were contained in this area, but then realized that this area was probably connected to the entire ship, by air ducts at least. Still, it would be good to be out from under all the futuristic canopy.
He heard the pop of Joe's gun before he saw them; they were swooping down from all directions. He started firing at the nearest. His first shot burned its wing, but the second missed, and before he could shoot again, it had passed in front of Joe. But it turned toward him from the other side, as if he was its selected target, and he hit it full in the face. It crashed into him, knocking him over, but was already dead.
Three of the beasts passed over his head in what he thought a strange formation. It took him a moment to realize that Lauren had captured them in that force field she was using, and was now using them as a club to knock others off course or out of the air. Seven were on the ground, but as he looked he realized that three were dead–the one he had killed and two others, brought down by Joe's blaster. One was going for Joe's legs.
He grabbed a dart from the case, and flung it into the beast's flank. It slowed and collapsed. He would kill it in a moment; better to fight the active ones first. The three in the trapped bubble rose above him, and smacked sideways into another which was swooping down from the ceiling. Joe had, surprisingly, shifted to his mace, and was bashing the beasts on the head, or as near the head as he could manage. There were now six dead and one unconscious on the ground, and Derek fired his laser again at the one Lauren had knocked out of the air. It seemed to be trying to scamper off along the ground, but he didn't like the idea of it attacking again later, so he shot it again, and again, and it stopped.
"I don't think I can crush these," Lauren said. I'm going to have to let them go, change weapons, and try to kill them. How should we do this?"
There was a moment of silence before Joe answered. "Let Derek get around you, since he's shorter than we are. Then take them behind us about twenty or thirty yards and drop them from about ten feet up. We'll each shoot one. I'll take the one on our right, Derek the one in the middle, and Lauren, you find a weapon and go for the one on the left. If yours is dead, pick another target."
Derek moved into position, and readied his rifle. Lauren moved the beasts as instructed, and on a word from Joe released them. They fell rather awkwardly out of their containment, and one was knocked out of position in response to a pop from Joe's blaster. Derek hit the one he targeted before it hit the floor, but then he missed it as it charged toward him, and his third shot–the last in his gun–only slowed it down.
He scrambled for his knife; all he could see was this monster racing toward him along the floor. Fumbling with the blade, he got it turned right, and ready to strike.
The creature folded, as if stepped on by an invisible foot. Joe had killed it. All were dead.
"Let's hope we don't have to do that too many times," Joe said. "We'll go through a lot of ammo."
"How are you doing for that, Derek?" Lauren asked.
"One spent," he said. "Five to go."
"Look, give me your spent one for one of mine. I can recharge it later, if I need to, and I certainly have enough weapons that running out of power for the laser rifle isn't going to hurt me."
"You sure?" Derek asked, but Lauren was already holding out one of her power packs, so he yanked his and made the trade.
"It will be interesting to see what happens," Joe said grimly, "if you verse out while he's using your power pack in his gun."
"Oh, I'm pretty sure it's not a problem," Lauren replied. "I just gave him a power pack; it's his now. He gave me his, so it's now mine."
"I hope you're right," Joe said.
"Better than that," Derek suggested, "let's hope none of us verses out until we've managed to beat this thing."
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 #142: Characters Unite. 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: