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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 1: Kondor 97
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Joseph Wade Kondor opened his eyes. He was awake this time. A wave of pain and nausea passed through his body, but it passed through even more quickly than he expected. It was one of the costs of traveling between universes. A moment ago he was floating in deep space in a sort of bubble his verser friend Lauren Hastings had created around them, but he felt it burst and knew that it was time once again to die. Death was not the end; the scriff that infected his verser body kept him alive, or perhaps brought him back to life, always in a new world.
He opened his eyes. It was time to get acquainted with his new home. He'd left some gear back on the space station before they went on that last mission, and he would have to find it; there was time enough for that later, after he got his bearings. There was no other scriff sense. If there was anyone else here that he knew, they weren't close enough for him to feel, but he didn't know how close was close enough. He knew he could feel Lauren from several miles away, and also Derek, and probably Bob; then again, Lauren had theorized that they were attuned to each other–on the same cycle, she had called it–which suggested that there might be other versers here he didn't know and could not feel.
This place was inside. He tended to arrive inside more often than not, although that might be stretching the word “inside”. Twice he had landed on ships, one in space and one at sea, and once in a space habitat, an artificial world adrift in orbit around a star. He'd also landed in a chapel and a museum. If you counted all those as inside, he'd landed outside only three times–two forests and an open grassy plain. That was eight universes, he realized, not including this one; also not including the one in which he was born, the home which was forever lost to him as he wandered the multiverse.
He checked his weapons. There wasn't much ammo left after battling dragons–winged crocodilian serpents was a better description, but dragons would suffice–aboard a spaceship. However, this was a considerably higher level of technology than a lot of worlds he had visited, and it was likely that he would be able to find bullets here for the army issue rifle and pistol. As to the blaster, even if they didn't have something comparable, he'd learned enough about it that he could rig up something to recharge his power cells. From the look of this place, there was electricity here, and probably the components to make what he needed, although he might have to rip something apart if there wasn't a parts storage or repair area.
He stood up. The room he was in had the look of a conference room, a long oval table with about two dozen chairs and another score or so of chairs around the wall. In his mind's eye he could see people sitting around the table, their assistants pulling up seats behind them, giving them information during the meeting, taking notes and running out to do something. In this image they were military people; such conferences always conjured images of military officers and civilian advisors for him. He had been a soldier for a couple years when the experiment that first infected and killed him had occurred. He still looked every minute of twenty years and not an hour more, despite the decades that had passed. That was another cost of being a verser: you never got older. It would be difficult to explain to the people here, if they were at all human, how someone who looked twenty had earned doctorates in medicine and physics, could build a simple gravity generator with the right parts, explain the function of a kinetic blaster, and surgically repair a ruptured spleen, but knew not enough history to recognize events that happened yesterday.
The shape of the room, the design of the chairs and tables, the size of the doors, even the height of the ceiling, all suggested that whoever used this place was very human in design, at the very least bipedal, upright, and about the same dimensions.
Gathering the few loose objects that had been floating with him in space, he began thinking in terms of explaining his presence. More than once he'd had the uncomfortable experience of versing into a relatively secured area–the two ships came vividly to mind–and knew that in these experiences the quality of the story you could spin mattered greatly. Kondor avoided thinking of this as lying; he disapproved of lying and didn't like to do it. However, in most worlds, telling people you'd just passed through some inter-dimensional substance between the universes called the scriff, and so had arrived from another universe, did not win you open-armed acceptance. He might have to explain how he got here.
Then again, he had not yet determined where here was. That made creating the story a bit more difficult.
With this in mind, he opened the door of the conference room enough to peer into whatever lay beyond. The next room was alive; but it was an entirely mechanical life that filled it–consoles and screens, the stuff of control rooms, with no sign of people. Slowly he pushed the door further, watching for anyone he might have missed, but as he stepped across the threshold into this new area he was quite confident that he was alone.
Again, the design of the room suggested humans, or something very like them. Now it was not merely the chairs. The consoles were equipped with the sorts of buttons and dials that suggested hands and fingers not too different from those of men. Although he was not certain how it might be different, the layout of the room, the width of the aisles, the angles to the screens, the heights of the larger systems around the side walls, the tendency for gauges to be near eye level and controls closer to the chest on these taller racks, all pointed to a very man-like creature here.
The presence of a flag in one corner of the room spoke volumes. Like man, this creature had an inherent nationalism, a view of himself as divided into conflicting groups. Flags suggested a history of territorialism, and of the war that accompanied it. It was also telling that the flag did not look at all familiar to Kondor. Its green, black, and blue narrow horizontal stripes certainly represented nothing he remembered from Earth.
He wondered briefly about attempting to activate the panels, to bring something to view on the screens. This was a difficult choice. On the one hand, if he were truly alone, the screens might be his quickest route to full information. On the other hand, if it was merely that the room was unoccupied at the moment, tampering with the equipment had a high probability of getting him in trouble. He would have to explain not only how he got there but why he was attempting to access their systems. No, it was best to explore the old-fashioned way.
The old-fashioned way didn't have to be entirely old-fashioned. He did have his spy gear. He quickly put it in place–enhanced visual and auditory reception and the sniffer to warn of atmospheric irregularities. He wondered whether it was possible to look less like an invading commando. Should he have a gun in hand, in case he encountered something hostile? Or should he leave it holstered to look less so himself? He released the strap that held the pistol in place, but left it loose in the holster. He did not wish to introduce himself in this world through a firefight, but he did not wish to be shot, either. He chose a door.
As to the old stories that have long been here: