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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 108: Kondor 125
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Previous chapter: Chapter 107: Brown 143
As the pain passed through him, Kondor realized that he was lying atop a body. It took him a moment to remember that he had leapt atop Zeke, so this would probably be Zeke’s body. He wondered whether Zeke was alive, but then he realized that he was alive, and since the pain was already gone he was unharmed despite having once again been hit by the force of a significant explosion. That meant he was in another world now, and as he managed to focus on the world around him he saw that the ground was dry and sandy, smooth but uneven, dunes of dust and sand. It was a desert.
The body, meanwhile, was definitely Lieutenant Smith. The man was unconscious but seemingly unharmed. He obviously had come with Kondor. The question was, did he come because the explosion drove scriff from Kondor’s body into Smith’s, making him a verser, or did he come because Kondor was holding him at the time, like some piece of equipment?
Did that make a difference?
It might, he realized. If Zeke was here because the scriff infected him, then the lieutenant was now a verser, would no longer age or die, and would go to other worlds the way Kondor did. On the other hand, if he was just a piece of equipment, as it were, then he had been moved to this universe where he would continue to age until he died, and then his life would be over, unless Kondor took him to another universe from here. There was, he thought, only one way to test that, and it was a rather final way of doing so.
He could sense the direction to his equipment. It would be close together, having all been in his room in his barracks, and he should get it before something happened to it. On the other hand, he shouldn’t leave the lieutenant alone here. He was not sure how long it would take for the man to awaken--indeed, it might be that he suffered a concussion in the blast and was not going to awaken any time soon. However, he thought it likely that a few minutes would be enough to know whether it was going to be a short time or a long time.
It was a short time, mere minutes, until Smith awoke. Kondor watched him for a moment, to be sure he was awake, and his wakefulness was confirmed by an expletive-laden string that seemed to be asking “What happened?” and “Where am I?” without entirely coherently expressing any of those specific words.
“Welcome to the verse, Lieutenant,” Kondor said. “It’s a bit difficult to explain, but you’re in another universe now. If you’re lucky, you’ll live the rest of your possibly long life here and eventually die.”
“If I’m lucky? What happens if I’m not lucky?”
“Then I’m afraid you might be facing the sort of crazy life the army gave me. I told you the army gave me a crazy life, and this is it. What I didn’t tell you was that it wasn’t your army, but an army in another world, about half a century in your future, similar but different, and that they didn’t actually intend to give me this life, and it really has very little to do with covert operations. It was connected to high-tech experiments with something called scriff that accidentally got in me when something went wrong enough to be fatal, and I have been bouncing around from universe to universe every time I die since then. We are in another universe, and so far I know about as much about it as you do: this is a desert.”
Zeke stared at him for a moment.
“No, really.” Zeke said.
There was another pause.
“Is this that show with the hidden camera and microphone somewhere, where they show how funny people act when they face ridiculous situations?”
“Do you see anywhere I could hide that kind of camera?”
“No, but it does seem--well, let’s say you could have come up with a better story.”
Kondor nodded. “I lost my left eye to a grenade fighting space pirates aboard an interstellar cargo freighter. They replaced it with what they call a cybereye; the controls for it are on the inside of my left forearm. Maybe a year or so after that I was killed by space pirates, taking a very advanced medical kit, an electronic book, and a kinetic blaster--a ray gun--with me, and landed in England in the time of Richard the Lion-hearted. I used my knowledge of modern and future medicine to take care of peasants including some of Robin Hood’s Merry Men until I was executed for giving aid and comfort to enemies of King John. I next landed in a world where humans were under attack by creatures which gave the appearance of being undead monsters, but some of the humans had psychic powers. Should I continue?”
“No, that’s all right. I don’t believe you, but it’s a good story.”
“If you’re able to stand, I want to go collect my gear. It should be over there, a few hundred yards where the barracks stood in the other world.”
“Right. Wait, why are you even standing? What happened to the bomb?”
“The bomb killed us, ripped us apart. The scriff put us back together and healed our injuries--mine, I know. I’m guessing that it healed yours, too, and that the reason you’re alive isn’t because I shielded you from the blast--or it is, but not in the way most people would understand that. Are you all right?”
Zeke poked multiple fingers of both hands against his chest in several places with a puzzled look on his face. “Um--yeah. Why am I all right?”
“It has to do with the scriff. Don’t worry, you’ll get it eventually. Let me give you a hand.”
“Mighty kind of you, Captain,” Zeke said, grasping the extended hand and pulling himself to his feet. “So, where are we?”
“As I say, we’re in a desert in another universe, and the barracks in which I was housed were that direction, so that’s where my gear is. Come on.”
Not waiting for a response, Kondor trudged across the loose sand in the direction of the scriff sense. He wasn’t worried about whether Zeke would follow; where else would the guy go? He was reminded that loose sand, whether deserts or beaches, was among the worst surfaces for hiking, as it shifted underfoot, but it was only a few minutes before they reached his destination. He quickly gathered his things.
“Given the uncertainty of our situation,” he said, “I’m going to change into the desert camo. The sand color is better camouflage, and it also reflects more light, making it cooler under the hot sun, which I am guessing this place has in abundance.”
“Whatever you say, Captain.”
This took an extra few minutes, and he had to roll up his bedroll, too, but soon he had everything packed. Then he had a thought.
“You probably have stuff, too,” he said. “We should find it.”
“What do you mean, have stuff? How do we find it?”
“Well, it’s a bit difficult to explain. Do you have the feeling like you left something ‘over there’ somewhere? Relax and see if that comes.”
“Oh--oh, yeah, kind of like when you walk into the kitchen and feel like you were supposed to bring something with you and you left it on the counter, but you don’t remember what it is?”
“No, I don’t feel that at all.”
Kondor scowled. Zeke laughed. “No, I’m just kidding you. Yea, it’s,” he paused and moved his pointing hand in a bit of a sweeping motion before settling it, “that way.”
“Well, let’s go. You can always tell the direction, but not the distance, but when you verse out you land the same distance and direction from your gear as you were in the other world. Oh, and I can’t feel your equipment, only my own, so at this point I’m going to have to follow you.”
“Right. Well, it sounds crazy, but here goes.” And with that, Zeke began trekking across the sand--not in the same direction they were going, nor in the direction from which they came, but at a different angle Kondor recognized as the way to the other barracks.
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 #265: Versers in Motion. 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: