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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 116: Beam 33
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 115: Hastings 169
They walked across a pocked landscape, picking their way around large potholes and small craters, maintaining a rough heading toward the source of whatever it was the three of them felt. Beam recognized that wild grasses and weeds were growing on the slopes of the upturned earth, suggesting that it had been months but not years since the devastation hit this area. He hoped that meant they were reasonably safe.
“So,” Bron asked, coming up alongside him, “how do you know all this stuff?”
“Stuff?” he responded.
“You know--shotguns, rail guns, smoke reflectors, all that.”
“Oh.” Well, it was a fair question, but called for a weird answer. “Some of it,” he suggested, “is pretty common in my own world--the world in which I was born. But then, some of it is because I played real role playing games with a bunch of geeks.”
“I’m sorry,” Bron asked in confusion, “what are geeks? And while you’re at it, what are role playing games?”
The white-haired man smiled.
“A role playing game is when a bunch of people get together and pretend that they’re other people, different kinds of people, usually living in a different kind of world. Collectively they imagine what that world would be like, and what those people would do in that world. It’s like writing a story, collaboratively. So in my imagination I’ve been in worlds like this one, like yours, and a lot of others, while sitting safely at a dining room table or in a donut shop or something.”
“Something like a pub. Anyway, geeks--what are geeks, anyway? They’re people with offbeat interests, usually related to computers, who don’t fit in with normal people, or at least, that’s what they were when I was a kid. Now because computers became so important they pretty much run the world, although not legally or officially. They’re usually more intelligent than most and interested in really off beat things, like science fiction and fantasy.”
Bron nodded. “Well, I think I understood about half of that. Anyway, you were friends with some people who knew about such things, and you learned from them.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s the short version.”
Bob’s voice suddenly came to him. Attackers. Hungry. Multiple. Fast. He stopped walking.
“Does Dawn know?” he asked.
“Does Dawn know what?” Bron replied, and Beam signaled for quiet. He looked toward Dawn, who apparently did know, as she was prepping her rifle for combat. The answer was thus unnecessary, but came too quickly for him to say never mind.
Dawn Project Prototype Unit Number Ex Dash Zero Zero is aware. It struck Beam that although he heard all of those words at what did not sound at all a rushed delivery, the entire message arrived in an instant, like text messages on a cell phone. He did not have time to ponder that, though.
“What direction?” he asked. Dawn answered.
“The creatures have split into two groups, sir. One is sweeping our left flank while the other is moving more slowly on our right.”
Wolf tactics, he thought. Cats were more dangerous individually, because they used claws and teeth together for good effect; wolf claws were not really well designed as weapons. However, cats were usually solitary hunters, and those breeds that hunted in groups tended to come straight in from the same direction and spread among the prey. Wolves, by contrast, tried to use one group to drive the prey into a box created by another group.
Well, they weren’t going to be driven.
“Let’s form a circle,” he said, “backs toward the inside, weapons ready. We’ve got something coming, wolves from the sound of it, but I don’t want to underestimate them. This is your first live practice session; make sure you have extra ammo ready. Don’t waste shots trying to hit things that are too far, but don’t wait too long, either, because you don’t want to die with unspent bullets in your gun.” He saw to it that Bron and Sophia were on either side of him, Dawn facing the opposite way, and unarmed Bob in the middle.
He heard the baying before he saw them, but could tell they were approaching rapidly. “Here they come,” he said unnecessarily, and the wolves charged into view.
Beam did not know whether these wolves were larger than those he had seen in zoos, or whether they only looked so when they were threatening to tear you apart and eat the pieces. He knew he couldn’t hit one at this distance, and that his revolver had only six bullets before he would have to reload, one bullet at a time (there was no reloader with the gun when he got it). There was no point in shooting at creatures he couldn’t hit. Not surprisingly, Dawn was the first to fire. She, after all, had the superior weapon and the superior skill. Her first shot, from the sound, was a grenade fired at the oncoming pack; he did not turn to look, but heard her shift to bursts from the rifle shortly thereafter. He picked a target and took aim.
The explosion of the shotgun next to him disrupted his concentration, but it was a good shot, as one of the nearer charging beasts was clearly injured, stumbled and rolled in the dirt, and ran off. Bron was cocking the weapon for another shot while Beam reacquired his target and put a bullet in the new leader. It slowed, but kept coming, so he shot again, and this time the creature turned and fled. Bron’s next shot missed, but it apparently frightened a few of the beasts (or maybe they got hit with the spread and didn’t like it). Beam kept shooting, and heard more shots from Dawn and another from Bron. The wolves were thinning, a few dead, more injured or frightened and fleeing. The revolver put a bullet in the neck of one closing fast, and it fell, but then the gun was empty.
Sophia screamed, and Beam looked to see a wolf charging and ready to spring. She fired a flechette, but the missile went wild.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twelve other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #313: Verser Solutions. 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: