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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 154: Brown 52
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Previous chapter: Chapter 153: Hastings 93
As Lauren disappeared through the open hatch above, Derek climbed back up to follow her through; he had not counted, though, on how awkward getting off the ladder and through the hatch would be. The first time they did this, the gravity was off, and he basically floated through. A moment ago, at the top, after fumbling with the catches (apparently the galley was secured against the possibility that crewmen might sneak in after hours for snacks) he had virtually leapt to the ladder without thinking about whether he might fall. Now, with his pack on his back, his laser in his right hand, he was not certain how to release the ladder and get hold of the exit to climb through. He was, for the moment, stymied.
Bracing himself in the tunnel, he passed his rifle through the hatch and leaned it against the wall. Thus freeing his hands, he took hold of the sides of the portal, passed his head through, and went up a step on the ladder. At that moment his rifle fell over. Lauren whirled toward him.
"Sorry," he said. She turned back to watch the hall ahead of her.
Derek then pulled himself upward into the hatch, but the top of the pack frame stuck against the top of the exit. As he shifted forward, one of the upright poles caught; as he shifted back, he bumped the other.
Before he could think what to do, one of the creatures suddenly appeared from his left, from somewhere behind the open hatch door, running. "Lauren!" he cried, but that was all he could say. It leapt, mouth open, for the center of her back, and hit solidly. She was knocked forward.
Desperate for some way to help, Derek tried to reach his gun. The distance to the floor was just a bit longer than his arms, and the pack prevented him from shifting forward adequately to grab it. He tried again to get through the hatch, but only succeeded in rattling one frame against the other.
A glance at Lauren suggested that she was holding her own. The beast had badly torn her robe, but the back plate on her plastic armor had thwarted its bite. She had rolled away from it up the hall, and then when it rushed her she shot it and leapt over it back toward the room. In the time it took the beast to get turned around, she was able to hit it twice more with the blaster and once with the drill, but it was now closing on her again, and she was looking for a way to get out of the line of fire.
Derek realized that if she stepped aside, he would be the obvious target—and he had nothing to use for a weapon. Lauren wouldn't intentionally leave him defenseless, but she might not realize his situation. He was having trouble realizing it himself. He had worked out that he was going to have to go down the ladder a step and come back up to get unhooked from the frame, but this was going to take time–and time was not something they had.
He fumbled for his pocket, and drew out the dart case. There were eleven darts left, and he readied one; if he could make it count, it would at least slow the monster. Passing it to his good left hand, he aimed it, and threw.
As it left his hand, he started to lose his balance. Instinctively he grabbed the portal, dropping the dart case down the shaft to the depths below. He watched it fall; there was no retrieving it now.
Looking back, he saw that the dart had landed in the creature's forelimb. It was again closing on Lauren, but somehow seemed to be unsteady on its feet, limping perhaps, or woozy. She shot it again, and it collapsed.
"Sorry about that," Derek said. "I seem to have gotten stuck here. Let me–yes, there it goes." He managed to lower himself and come back up through the hole. "Make sure it's dead. That poison doesn't usually kill anything."
Lauren prodded it with her foot, and stamped once on its head. "I think we got this one. Are you all right?"
"Me? I'm fine. You're the one who was in danger."
She shrugged. "That's why we're here. Joe? You coming?"
The tall soldier was emerging from the portal even as she spoke. "I'm glad you're all right," he said. "I should have given more consideration to that."
"Nonsense. What would have happened to you had it hit you in the back?"
"Well, I don't know—but I've got a flak vest and it's never been tested, so maybe I'd have been all right. And maybe I'd have noticed it before it got that close."
Lauren started to say something, and stopped, biting her lip. "Which way from here?" she asked. "We'd better keep moving."
"Right," he said. "This way." He led down the corridor before them.
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 #148: Characters Succeed. 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: