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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 6: Slade 94
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Slade looked at the newly revealed terrain on the screens. Joe was right; this was a war zone, and they were inside some sort of military facility. The question that leapt to mind was, why had it been abandoned? The next question was, where are the soldiers?
The answer to the second question was not long in coming. A group of men in green and brown camouflage not much different from Joe's suddenly appeared on one of the screens, moving surreptitiously toward the bunker.
"As I expected," Joe said, "they appear to be human."
Slade did not know whether to be more surprised that Joe had expected them to be human, or that he had entertained the possibility that they were not. However, Shella raised the question.
Joe looked around at her, and at Slade, but Slade figured he'd let him explain it. Joe obliged.
"We've been to some worlds, ma'am," he said, "where the indigs--the people who live there--weren't people like us. You might think of them like talking animals, but if so you would have to think of us the same way. Bob will certainly remember the bird people we met some time back, and although most of the worlds I've visited have had humans, I have encountered some creatures who were something else."
Bob hadn't really thought about the bird people as people. That was probably because in some ways they seemed so much like children, and probably also because they were so primitive they didn't even have swords. He'd never met any real people who didn't at least have swords. However, that didn't really seem a fair definition of what it was to be a person.
Shella was still talking. "Bird people? Could they fly?"
Slade laughed. "That would have made things a lot different, I expect. No, dear; they had feathers, and they built nests, but they didn't fly. They walked, and they waded in the lake and caught fish, and they climbed trees to get fruit, but flying wasn't something they did. Good thought, though. I did know someone once who could fly. He was a sprite."
"A sprite, m'lord? Then you do have elfish blood?"
"No," Slade mused. "People might think so, but as far as I know I'm human. I was thinking of Derek."
"Oh," she said. "Of course. He could become a sprite because he had been a sprite in another world." She thought about that for a moment. "Have you ever been anything else, M'lord?"
Joe laughed. "Slade has always been Slade; I don't think you could make him something else."
Slade could feel himself blushing a bit. "Well," he said, "unless you count that I was an auto mechanic and now I'm a warrior, but that's more a change of job description. I've always been as human as I am now."
"Which some might say is not entirely so human as it seems," Joe said, "given that we don't age or die. Well, it looks like our new arrivals are arriving. Now the question is, are they returning to their own base, or assaulting an enemy stronghold?"
Slade stared at the screens; the soldiers were very close now, it seemed, moving from cover to cover, watching in all directions. "I don't know. How would you tell?"
Joe eyed the screens a moment. "Well, if they're assaulting us, I'd expect them to take attack positions and then launch an attack; if this is their base, I would think they would create a defensive perimeter around the door and then unlock it. Looks like they think they own this place, but they're being careful, so they've probably got the keys. They should be here soon. Meanwhile," he added, as he turned toward them, "I don't know that we should all be out in the open. Why don't you two take cover in the conference room back there, and I'll hold position here. If you hear a fight break out, you can attack from the flank; otherwise, you can come out once we've established that we're not enemies."
Slade nodded; that made sense. "You're good here?"
"Hey, I'm military, they're military, as long as they don't take me for the enemy I should be good."
A smile passed between them, then Slade turned to Shella. "Let's get comfortable in that room," he said. "Company's coming, and we want the chance to see them before they see us."
As to the old stories that have long been here: