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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 118: Hastings 132
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 117: Brown 91
By the time Lauren caught up with the long-legged fighter, Bob was already studying the larger gears of the complex drive system.
"If I'd known you were coming," she said, "I'd have brought the diagrams. We've got a lot of material back at the cave."
"Uh-huh", he replied, perhaps a bit absently. He was muttering something to himself, and tracing in the air with one finger, as if trying to work out what everything did. It took about a minute before he spoke again.
"Right. Well, if I could do anything at all, I'd want to take out that huge gear. Without it, the entire system is crippled, and it would be a nightmare to replace. But I'm not sure how to do that, unless you've got some explosives."
"I don't have explosives," Lauren said, "but I've got this." She showed him the disintegrator rod.
"Oh, you fixed it," he said with some excitement. "I've always wondered how it worked. Will it take out that gear?"
Lauren stared at the massive metal wheel, several times her size.
"I can't say for sure; but I think I could take a solid bite out of it."
"Then bite it right about there--see between those two gears, on the right near the top? I think that that will cripple it quite nicely."
She pointed the disintegrator at the wheel, and focused her mind into it. She'd never intentionally dissolved anything so large or so hard--although she had shot a few rocks and once taken out part of a brick wall. The beam hit the inner edge of the outer rim on one of the huge spokes that ran from the center, and ate away a large chunk.
Looking at it, she was not entirely pleased. It had not actually eaten through. "Sorry," she said. "I guess it's not so easy to disintegrate something like that."
Bob looked at it for a moment, and then said, "That's all right; I think that's going to do just fine. Now, what's you're exit strategy? It's time to use it."
Lauren saw what he meant. The weakened gear was starting to buckle; gears above and around it were shifting toward it, and as they moved gears they were supporting similarly shifted. This machine, perhaps this entire wall, was going to collapse.
"Bethany!" she shouted, as she turned and started running back to the office; then she shifted to the telepathy. Get the mist open; we may have just brought down the house.
As they rounded the corner back to what remained of the office, Shella caught up with them carrying some luggage. The mist was forming, and Derek was holding his technical equipment in something of a disorderly bundle. Quickly the five of them vanished into the fog, but already they could hear the world crashing down around them.
At the first stop, they paused to organize and pack their gear. From there they made three more hops, coming to rest near a small café somewhere in the less developed parts of France where the proprietor still insisted that tables under the open sky were a necessity.
"Lunch?" Lauren asked. "I'm buying."
"Actually," Bob said, "I was on my way to bed, and that pretty late, when I was interrupted by a deposed nobleman with a grudge. I'm pretty beat. And besides, I think my wife would probably rather not be in too many public places in her robe and slippers, at least unless one of them is a hotel."
"What's a hotel?" Shella asked.
"It's an inn, sort of," Bob explained. "Don't worry, we'll find a place."
"Yes, that's going to be a problem, perhaps. The money's not a problem. But all the hotels are inside the cities, and the cities are not good places to be." Beginning here, Lauren explained what had happened and what they were trying to do. Slade listened attentively, asking few questions, all of them good.
When she had explained it all, he had one more question. "So, if not a hotel, what do you recommend?"
"I'm not entirely sure," she answered. "I don't guess you want to stay in the forest with the wolves, and we'd be pretty crowded in the cave. I suppose a hotel is about the best thing I can offer at the moment. Wandborough is probably the best place for this, but we've got a couple more stops to make on the way."
She'd already explained the notion of the convoluted paths in and out on their assaults; Bob at this point just nodded. "Well, as long as we're at a genuine French café, I'll have a cup of coffee--and Shella, you have one, too. If you remember that horrid black liquid I use to have the cook make when you were younger, hopefully this will be a suitable sample of what it's supposed to taste like."
"Thank you, my lord," she said. "Perhaps a cake with it would be nice?"
"We'll get some croissants," Bethany suggested. "This place makes their own, and they're very good."
"Well, I'm hungry," Lauren said, "so forgive me if I have lunch. Derek?"
"Oh, please. But nothing, you know, French--snails or anything."
"Don't worry, I'm sure we can find something you'll like. Sorry I don't have another robe, Shella. Actually, I've got a couple back home, but I've never needed a spare on a job before."
"I'm all right, really," she said. "It's just a bit embarrassing."
"Actually, for all that," Slade said, "probably no one here will have any idea that that's a night dress, particularly given the robes Bethany and Lauren are wearing."
"Oh, but theirs are so stylish," Shella said.
Bethany laughed. "These? They've been out of date for centuries."
Lauren ordered food for everyone. She realized that the conversation was drifting into small talk, but of a very peculiar sort. Shella asked Bethany about how to walk the twilight. Bob got talking with Derek about the laser rifle versus the blaster as weapons, and how to recharge power packs. He asked where it came from, and that led to comparing notes on the worlds each had visited. Shella became interested when Derek mentioned again that he had been a sprite, and then Derek and Bethany were explaining his ability to change between forms. You would not have known that they had just come from a guerilla assault on a city which may have killed an unknown number of vampires and certainly forced the rest to stay inside.
In the midst of it all, the proprietor came out to tell them the news: terrorists had destroyed the dome over New York City. Workers defending it were brutally killed. Chairman Tubrok has promised to find these criminals and bring them to justice. The man was visibly upset as he returned to his kitchens.
Bob was the first to speak after that. "You've got to get better PR," he said. They stared at each other for a moment, then everyone laughed.
"Yeah, maybe so," Lauren answered. "These people have no idea what we just did, and unless we take control of the media, they're not likely to find out. Whatever happened to the Internet? I thought that was going to make it impossible for governments to control the news."
"For a while it did," Bethany said. "But then, it was never completely impossible to trace people on it, and as the Superiority Party grew in power they began tracing their critics and silencing them."
"Amateurs," Derek said. "I could set up something they couldn't trace."
Lauren stared at him. "How would you do it?"
"Rotating path commands, for one thing. Also, probably use integrated multiple servers, so the information comes from several places at once and comes together in the recipient's system."
It was all beyond her anyway. "What would you need to do it?"
Derek shrugged. "Internet access and my computer hacking gear. Time to play with it."
Maybe they could win the PR war, too. "We'll work on that," Lauren said.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #205: Verser Reunion. 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: