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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 17: Brown 104
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 16: Slade 97
It was not long at all before Derek was settled in his own apartment. All his equipment was here, and it seemed he could have anything he wanted. They supplied the latest video games, a huge television in some new format that was more like a small movie screen than the old boob tube, movies to watch, junk food, whatever he wanted was pretty much made available. He didn't just go for the junk, though. He requested and received extensive manuals on current computer hardware and software, which he was browsing (after his experiences in Starson's world and on the space station, this was kind of nostalgic). He realized that he didn't really know how to cook (his frying pan had always been a weapon, never a utensil) and should eat something besides pizza and hamburgers, so they provided a cook and caretaker to come in each afternoon, clean up a bit, and fix his supper.
It wasn't all fun and games, though. He had discussed his skills extensively with C, and laid out something of a training program. It included coaching with a martial arts instructor, practice on the firing range, and using arrows and darts. A team of doctors worked with him to come up with the precise nutritional needs for transforming; the theory was proposed that when he lost so much mass it was shunted into the scriff, from which he recalled it when he returned to full size, but it was just a theory. They did determine that his energy release when he transformed to a smaller size extended widely across the electromagnetic spectrum, as he had supposed, momentarily jamming radio and television signals within a few hundred yards. Soon they found a commercially available canned energy drink which had just about the right number of quick calories to support the transformation, and Derek practiced drinking these while changing to make the transformation smooth.
He cleaned and checked all his gear. The laser rifle went to the department they called Gear to be examined and analyzed, and they got the extra dirt out of the system. He did his own computer work; although he let them look over his equipment to aid their research and development, it was clear that what he had was well ahead of them. His bicycle went to a repair shop, to have rusted parts cleaned or replaced and minor repairs made so it would be in full working order. Within a couple of weeks everything was in better shape than it had been when he got it.
They analyzed the drugs in his porcuperson darts and on his sprite arrows. These proved to be very similar, chemically, and they soon had an analog which he could use to increase his stock of arrows and of darts. They produced these for him, scores of miniature arrows and a couple dozen darts, of modern materials but sporting the same weights and balances. They provided him about a gallon of the drug, very like paste in its consistency, in sixteen small containers of about one cup each, so he could prepare his own missiles and not have drugged darts and arrows lying around.
They also introduced him to many things which seemed to be the stock in trade of spies, but with which he had some limited familiarity. Surveillance gear included bugging devices and remote cameras similar to things he had operated and disabled years before, along with stuff like Joe's rig. He was given a crash course in weaponry, so that if he found himself in the field picking up an enemy's missile launcher he would have some idea what to do with it. Disarming explosives, from simple fertilizer bombs to nuclear devices, was covered in a quick overview. There wasn't much they could teach him about electronic locks, but alarm systems were something with which he was not so familiar, and he didn't really know much about simple lock picking.
Identification was part of the package. He received several passports, one making him to be a common British citizen named Derek Jacob Brown, another, a British diplomatic passport, making him Kyler Bryant, son of an English earl. There were also Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and American passports, each in a different name. With each, he received a stack of accompanying documents, including drivers licenses.
This last meant he had to learn to drive. It was strange, in a way, that he had not done so; but he was twelve when he left home, and had not even seen a car in the decades that had passed since then. Fortunately, he now looked to be about seventeen--a fortuitous side effect of having lived as a sprite for that many years, he supposed--so it was unlikely that anyone would challenge his age if he had the license. Professional driver training started with the basics, until they were satisfied that he could have passed the test.
After that, he began to see how much there was that he could learn. He had access to weapons and handbooks about weapons, and trainers who could teach him how to use them. He could learn more about explosives, including demolitions work, and about second story operations in which security systems and locks were a major focus. He could pick up new languages, as well as study accents so that he sounded like he came from all these places, and he could work with the surveillance gear. It was difficult to decide what to try, and since no one knew what sort of problems lay ahead, no one could really tell him which would be most useful. However, one thing he did know he wanted to do was learn to drive--that is, really learn to drive.
He worked with race drivers, stunt drivers, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, and demolition derby drivers. He enjoyed driving, and he wanted to be able to do anything he'd ever seen done with a car or even imagined might be done with it. C was quite obliging, and he worked on closed courses, doing heart-pounding chases and heart-stopping jumps.
Several months of this passed. It occurred to him to wonder whether they were giving him extra time to train because he appeared to be so young; but he didn't question it, as he was learning a lot of new things he'd never tried before.
One evening, after Missus Baker had cleaned up dinner and left, as he was sitting in his apartment playing the latest games on the new console (his own was now years out of date) he glanced around at his things. He was a bit like a pampered pet, he thought; they gave him food, toys, exercise--he never lacked for things to do. Yet there was something amiss. He wasn't happy. It wasn't that they expected him to risk his life for them; that was something he didn't mind doing, and had done before, several times. It wasn't that they hadn't yet asked him to do so, as things were comfortable here and he was sure that there would be work eventually. He ate well, learned a lot (Lauren had made him realize years ago that he enjoyed learning), got to play with things he enjoyed, and had everything he could need. What then was it that was bothering him?
He paused the game and looked around the apartment, standing up to see all of his things. He had many times been places worse than this, but this place was less satisfying than any he had been for years. Something was missing. Something was bothering him. What was it?
Then he knew. He was lonely.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. 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: