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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 45: Slade 106
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Travel through the fog was slower following the whites than it had been following Joe; they obviously were more uncertain of their direction and less able to recognize things in the fog than he had been, and were relying on an unreliable terrain to direct them. More than once they backtracked on their course. It was already dark before they reached camp.
At that point, Slade and the others were told to wait for the commander. Several men stood guard over them during this time, which was long enough that Slade asked if they might sit somewhere while they waited. The soldiers were uncertain what answer to give to this, but soon moved them closer to a campfire where several large rocks and logs served as primitive chairs. Joe sat on his suitcase, which after a few minutes on the log Slade envied.
Finally, the sergeant returned, accompanying another man who was apparently the commanding officer in camp. The sergeant seemed to be trying to explain something that didn't make any sense, and the commander appeared rather beleaguered by it all. He scanned their faces as he approached the campfire, pausing a bit longer on Joe than on Shella, and landing on Slade.
"I take it you are Sir Robert," he said; not waiting for confirmation, he continued. "Perhaps you can explain to me what this is all about."
Slade rose to his feet. "Gladly, sir. This man is one of the top physicists among the enemy. Men like him make their weapons possible through their science. Now I've got him. I'm taking him back to work on weapons systems for us, to try to make our weapons better so we have a better chance to win this war."
"What does he get out of it?"
"Him? He lives, for now, and he knows that I don't arrange the horrible deaths of his loved ones."
The commander nodded; that seemed sufficient explanation for him. "What do you need from me?" he asked.
Slade hadn't thought that far ahead. To this point, he was trying to cover their tails, to keep Joe from being summarily shot. That had worked; but now that they had been accepted based on this fanciful explanation, where were they to go? They didn't know anything about the organization of this army. He couldn't guess where they would be expected to go, to whom they would be expected to report. Even if he could figure that part out, the entire story would certainly fall apart when he got there. The odds were very much against there being a real Sir Robert Elvis Slade of Slade Manor in this world, and someone was going to know that even if this officer did not (and besides, if such a person did exist, that would make him seem an imposter). Joe could do many things, but teaching a nation how to improve their weapon manufacturing from simple muzzle-loaded muskets to fully automatic rifles probably was not one of these, even if it were the sort of thing Joe would want to do. Slade's explanation had kept them alive, but it didn't give them much of anywhere to go.
Shella pulled him from his thoughts. "Good, sir," she said, "we have had a long and dangerous journey. If you would be so kind as to share a bit of food and drink and a place where we might rest, we might then be able to continue our journey in the morning."
Again the man nodded. "We don't have much, and certainly nothing suitable for your ladyship," he said, "but you are certainly welcome to what we have."
Slade pulled himself from his thoughts. Certainly he was going to have to figure out what to do next; but once again his wife's instincts were on target. Now was the time to get information. Tomorrow was soon enough to decide the next step.
"Thank you," he said. "I'm sure it will be adequate for our needs. If you can show us where we should go, we'll get ourselves settled."
As Joe scrambled to collect his luggage, they headed through the foggy camp.
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 #235: Versers Infiltrate. 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: