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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 132: Kondor 132
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Periodically through the night Kondor would scan the land in the direction of the sensed verser. The night vision and binocular scopes did not work together. He deduced this was because the night vision used oversized lenses to gather more light and then focused it into a smaller television image for the eyepiece, while the binoculars used the same oversized lenses to create a magnified image. He considered adjusting his cybereye to look for a heat signature, but even now the sand was hot enough that a traveler would be a bright speck against a bright background, and the night vision viewer included those frequencies in its process.
It was shortly before dawn that he spotted someone moving on the sands, silhouetted against the earliest light of sunrise.
“Zeke, he’s coming,” he said, then, focusing a bit more clearly, he said, “Correction. They’re coming. There are two of them, one considerably taller than the other, the taller in a tight outfit using something like a spear for a walking stick, the shorter dressed in what appears to be a dress or robe--”
He halted, and just looked for a moment, then said, “Wait a minute. I know those people.” Pulling off the goggles, he started trotting their direction. “Slade! What are you doing here?” He shouted.
Zeke had gotten to his feet and was following, trying to ask a question, but Kondor was ignoring him. It took a moment to hear a response, but the distant figure started trotting toward him and shouted back. “It appears I’m following you.”
“And why would you do that?”
“Well, you’re good company, and you’ve got a good head on your shoulders when there’s trouble. But really,” Slade said as they came to within normal speaking distance, “I didn’t seem to have any choice in the matter. So, it’s been several weeks since you left us in the Ghosts and Shades world. What have you learned about this one?”
“Ah, you know time doesn’t work that way in the verse. I have been here, what’s it been, Zeke, two days?”
“Almost, I think.”
“Besides, I spent a couple months in another world on an army base.”
Coming within range, Shella said, “Good evening, Doctor Kondor. It is good to see you again. We missed you toward the end there.”
“Good evening, Lady Shella--although for that, it’s nearly sunrise, so good morning is probably the better greeting.”
“Of course. Walking through the night tends to confuse such things.”
“Wait,” Zeke interrupted. “What’s this, ‘Doctor Kondor’?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, introductions. Slade, Shella, this is Lieutenant Ezekiel Smith. Apparently when I tried to save him from being blown to bits by a terrorist bomb in my last world I wound up bringing him with me. Zeke, this is Robert Elvis Lord Slade and his wife, the Lady Shella.”
“There are titles that go with that,” Slade said, “but you don’t need to know them. Joe here picked up a couple of doctorates somewhere in his travels, one of them in medicine, so he’s a genuine doctor. What’s the other one?”
“Physics,” Kondor offered. “Technically gravitic and kinetic engineering, but physics is sufficient.”
“Wait,” Zeke said. “What in blazes is gravitic engineering?”
“It means,” Slade offered, “that Joe knows how to design, build, and repair artificial gravity systems, probably tractor beams, and other science fiction space ship stuff.”
“I’m not really all that good at it,” Kondor opined. “I got my doctorate in a world that was just developing its first gravity systems, and then advanced some of my understanding during a brief stay on a space station in another universe where they had refined the process beyond anything I’d ever seen anywhere else. Also, you really need some sophisticated support technology in lasers and integrated circuits and such to begin to create a gravity generator.”
“And you’re not kidding,” Zeke said, which this time was not posed as a question.
“No, he’s not,” Slade responded.
Everyone stood for a moment, then Kondor turned back toward their camp. “So, welcome to the desert. We have a solar still to collect a bit of water, and a tent large enough for the two of us but not really comfortable, and some rations from another world. We haven’t yet worked out either how to survive here for the long haul or which direction to travel to find civilization--if there is any such thing here. But you’re welcome to what we have.”
“It sounds like we’re going to be helping you more than you help us,” Slade said. “Shella says the mag bias is pretty high, and she’s been able to do quite a few useful things so far, including provide us with a decent breakfast.”
Kondor hid his scowl. The others were behind him and wouldn’t see it.
“It’s probably time for us to eat anyway, wouldn’t you say, dear? Or do you think we should create the shelter first?”
“With the sunrise so close, we should probably have the shelter up and plan to eat inside, my lord,” she said.
“I certainly agree. So, Joe, we don’t want to mess up your camp arrangements--I see sticks and lines and covers. Where do you want us?”
Kondor indicated a spot where they would be out of the way of everything, and waited to see what kind of tent Shella was going to pull out of her bag, or whether it was in Slade’s backpack. Instead, she did something familiar, something he couldn’t place that involved waving her arms and speaking a string of nonsense, and then they started setting up their gear on the sand.
“I thought you were going to erect a shelter,” he said.
“She did,” Slade said. “Oh, you’re standing too far out. Come over here. You should be able to pass through the wall without any problem.”
It was ridiculous, of course, but Kondor walked toward them. Abruptly he stepped from hot air to cool.
It surprised him, but he realized what it was. Shella obviously had the same kind of psychic powers Lauren had. “This is like Lauren’s comfort bubble, isn’t it?”
“Probably,” Shella said. “I learned it from her student Bethany.”
“How long does it last?”
“It is a bit random, lord, but usually several hours. Usually I go to sleep, and most of the time it has collapsed by the time I awaken, but sometimes it is still there.”
Kondor thought it odd that she could maintain a mentally-created shield while she slept, but not knowing much about how those things work he did not pursue it. After all, if Shella was anything like Lauren, she would just say that it was magic, not psychic.
“Excuse me a moment,” Shella said, and began some complicated ritual of some sort. Kondor recognized that she came from a foreign culture, about which he knew nothing, and while he disapproved of religion he was courteous enough to respect unfamiliar practices by not interrupting.
Slade, though, interrupted a couple minutes later. Shaking out a blanket, he said, “Would you care to join us for breakfast?”
Zeke said, “Sure, what have you got?”
Abruptly a buffet of choices appeared on the blanket Slade had spread on the ground. “Looks like ham, sausage, a couple kinds of bread, I make those poached eggs, sliced peaches, orange juice, coffee, and tea. I also see cream, sugar, and lemon. I’m afraid we don’t have plates, though, and so it’s finger food unless you’ve brought your own.”
“In fact, I did. I’ll be right back.”
Zeke popped over to his duffel by the tent, and returned with four plates, four cups, and one set of tableware. “It’s a four-man mess kit; it was my job to carry it for the squad. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with forks and such, because each man was responsible for his own--but we can use mine for serving, and those eggs will make decent sandwiches on that bread, I think.”
Kondor stared at the food. “I never saw Lauren do anything like this.”
“Oh?” Shella said. “I don’t know, but I learned it from Bethany. I don’t know where she learned it.”
With some trepidation, he tasted the food, wondering if it were all some sort of hallucination, an illusion induced by telepathic suggestion. He could not find any basis to conclude that it was not real food, and he knew his rations were limited, so he helped himself and puzzled and pondered while he ate.
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 #269: Versers Arrive. 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: