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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 29: Slade 101
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Previous chapter: Chapter 28: Brown 109
Joe was as good as his word. After they had eaten, he took the trays on the cart, and came back fully dressed with his mace and his blaster.
"Which would you like to do first?" Joe asked.
"Well, my blaster is still charging, so let's do the mace first, if it's all the same with you."
"Yes, that's probably better. I'm going to have to requisition some parts to build a charger, as the one I've got is solar powered and takes hours to do one battery. I'll also need some bullets for my guns, and that's going to take some time. Let's see if we can find the gym."
Bob grabbed his own mace, and his sword and dagger, and they headed through the halls toward the main area of the compound.
"I should warn you this time," Joe said.
"What, there's something worse than what we already know?"
"No, but this may not go entirely smoothly. See, I asked the adjutant whether I could use the gym and the range to practice; I didn't tell him I would be practicing with you, and I doubt it occurred to him, as he didn't ask."
"So what you're saying is that you have permission to use the gym, but you don't actually have permission for me to use it, and you're planning to surprise them on that count."
"Well, you wanted to shake up their world a little."
"Yeah, I did. This should be interesting."
"I believe the gym is right around this corner," Joe said, and sure enough, there it was.
There was no one in it at that moment; Slade wasn't certain whether to be relieved or disappointed.
"Well," he said, "let me see what you can do with that mace." He readied his own, and took a defensive stance.
Joe was not being modest. He had very little idea what to do with a mace, and only minimal control over it. It was easy to block his blows, and he often left himself open. Slade watched his movements, and tried to think of how to help him improve.
"The mace is a very simple weapon," he said. "It's a lot more basic than a sword, for example. But there's still a lot you can do with it, both in the way you attack and in how you defend. The weight and the balance make it awkward and slow, but at the same time give it power. The trick is to put that power where you want it, when you want it there. That's really what it's all about." From there he began to show Joe what he could of how to use the mace.
A few soldiers arrived; they stopped short at the door to watch the two sparring, and seemed uncertain as to whether they could use the gym at the same time. Joe was too busy trying to focus on his technique to notice them, and Slade didn't really care if they stayed or not, so he didn't say anything. In the end, one walked over to the weights and started lifting, one left, and one stood in the doorway watching for quite some time.
Eventually Slade switched to his sword. It was his better weapon, by far. Joe's minimal skill with the mace was little challenge for him, but it had been a while since he had fought against heavy blunt weapons, and the blocking and parrying techniques against these were a bit different. In all, the practice was of some benefit, although he wished for a more capable opponent.
Stopping to pick up their guns, they went to the shooting range.
Joe talked to the guy at the counter for a while about obtaining bullets, and apparently also asked about parts to build a charging unit. In a moment he came back with two pairs of headphones.
"What are these for?" Slade asked.
"I know your gun isn't too bad, but other than my blaster, these guns are pretty loud. That's protection for your eardrums."
"Yeah, I guess I've seen it in movies; I'd never really thought about it, for real. So, that guy have what you need?"
"Yes, he's going to provide me with more bullets. I'm afraid a lot of mine are in my suitcase. But he said he couldn't give you any bullets for practice, as that would be against protocol."
"Yeah? What did you say?"
"I said that wasn't a problem, because you didn't need any bullets at all to kill any man in this place if you chose to."
Slade stared at Kondor; he was a bit stunned by this. "Are you sure you should have said that?"
"It's true, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah--but it's not likely to make them feel more comfortable about having me here."
"I'm not interested in their comfort levels," Kondor said, and donned the ear protection. Seeing that his friend was about to start shooting at targets, Slade did the same, and readied his blaster.
The targets were easy to hit; Slade wasn't even really thinking about it, but fired a full barrage into the center as he considered Joe's words. He wasn't worried about their comfort levels. He thought it would be better for the people in this bunker to be uncomfortable about Slade's abilities as a fighter. Of course, Slade couldn't be killed; but it would still hurt if they tried it. Also, there was Shella to consider. She couldn't be killed either, but he would if he could spare her from pain or worry. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe trying to shield her made him unable to be the warrior he should be. That was possible, he supposed; it was also possible that his desire to shield her would give new importance to his abilities, new focus to his faith. He needed to be a warrior worthy of Odin because Odin was counting on him for Ragnorak; but he needed to be worthy also because Shella needed his protection.
He saw Joe move the target farther away, and figured out how to do the same, setting it at its maximum distance. It was rather a far shot for the blaster, which he realized for the first time was best at the relatively close ranges at which he preferred to fight; however, with a bit more attention to what he was doing, he had no trouble pounding the target at this distance.
When he finished spending his second clip, he turned to Joe and waited. In a moment his friend also stopped shooting, pulled back his headphones, and asked, "What?"
"I'm really not getting much out of this. I should be shooting at much smaller targets, I think. I'm going to call it a day, and head back and recharge the clips. You?"
Kondor looked at the target; there appeared to be a rather large hole in the center of it. "Well, I think the practice is good for me; but I can see that these aren't really good targets for kinetic blasters. They're much better for bullets. I'll catch up with you in a bit."
Slade replaced the clip with the third one, mostly out of habit (but it was, he thought, an excellent habit), and dropped the headphones at the desk. The man there seemed reluctant to touch them, but Slade didn't wait to see how he would solve the problem.
Returning through the halls, he felt very out of place. He was the enemy, in the eyes of these people. He had saved all their lives yesterday, and they almost certainly had to admit that; but it didn't really make him their friend, nor even their ally. They hated him, feared him, watched him when he passed. He was not safe. That is, at any moment one of them might try to kill him, and if they did, they would almost certainly wind up dead. He was very dangerous here. Alone in the halls, he felt it acutely, so acutely he wanted to vanish.
He wondered just how dangerous he and Shella really were. Could they use magic here? How much could they do?
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 #226: Versers Adapt. 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: