keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 122: Beam 36
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 121: Slade 153
They plodded through a nearly silent world--silence disturbed by the sounds of their feet in the soft dirt, and of the two crawlers which accompanied them, and of the breathing, heavier for some than for others. Beam’s thoughts wandered.
They wandered mostly to the girl holding his hand. O.K., so “girl” might be understating her age, but to the fifty-year-old white-haired man, any female who had not yet reached forty was a girl. This one was cute, and feisty, and vulnerable--and apparently she liked him, not merely whoever he was when he was wearing that ring, but the person he became when he removed it. He would not have chosen to marry, perhaps, but he could have done worse, and he supposed he should treat this woman as his wife. It wasn’t going to be difficult.
His musings were disrupted by a shout from Bron, whose cart suddenly came to a dropped stop as he pulled the shotgun off his shoulder and aimed it ahead. It took Beam a moment to spot the target, as the machine was camouflaged, but it was also obviously closing on them and bringing weapons to bear. The sound of a loud explosion told him that the shotgun had fired, but at this range the pellet spread and velocity loss meant little damage to a mostly metal shielded attacker. Beam was fairly certain that his pistol would have little impact, and Sophia’s flechettes less.
An explosion blasted the machine to parts. It took Beam a moment and a glance behind to recognize that Dawn had expertly hit it with a grenade. She was scanning the area, apparently concerned that there might be another, but after something just shy of a minute she decided it was clear, and shouldered her gun. She motioned with a hand, apparently intended for Bron, who saw it and said, “All right, then, we’ll continue,” and they resumed moving forward.
There were no other interruptions to their journey, and as they reached the bunker Beam grabbed the edge of the propped door with one hand and pushed--only to find that it did not move. He looked at the gap, not wide enough even for Dawn, certainly not wide enough for the crawlers or the Pyronics.
He shifted, trying to use the doorframe for leverage, but couldn’t shift the door.
“Need help?” Bron asked, and Beam realized that Bron was stronger than he was, thanks to a life of working with iron.
“Yeah, we need to get this door to open.”
“Not to make it difficult, but will we need to close it again?”
Beam pondered for a moment, then answered, “N-no. I mean, it might be nice to be able to secure the bunker against outsiders, but the fact that we faced an infiltration crawler inside demonstrates that some things can still get in, and I somehow expect that we don’t really want to stay here, so being able to get out again is kind of important. Not sure whether the fire alarm trick will work again; might have damaged the sensors.”
“All right,” Bron said, “let me see what I can do.” He rolled his cart over and pulled out a few tools, including a heavy crowbar, another hammer, and a piece of what looked like scrap iron.
“Can I help?” Beam asked.
“Not yet, but stay close in case I need you.”
As Bron worked on the door, Beam scanned the land around them, looking for potential threats. He felt a bit redundant. Dawn never missed anything, and Bob--wait, why didn’t Bob alert them to the crawler?
No brains, Bob’s voice came. Apparently he was listening to Beam’s thoughts; probably he couldn’t help hearing them. Also apparently Bob heard Beam’s reaction to that statement, because a clarification came immediately. Machine. No brains. This one hears brains.
Yes, and eats them, too.
So Bob could alert them to human and animal attackers, but not to mechanical or cybernetic ones. That made sense, when you thought about it. Even that monster no one ever saw back on the space station had a biological brain, so as alien as it was Bob could hear its thoughts before it attacked. The wolves didn’t have much in the way of brains, but their brains were biological, so Bob could hear them coming. The machines, though, had electronic brains, switching systems that received data and made decisions based on programming, and Bob couldn’t hear that.
He wondered if there might be a machine around that could hear it.
Sophia interrupted his wondering. “So, what do I do with this?” she asked, waving the taser around.
"Dawn, show her how it works."
The child-like killing machine took the taser, glanced at it, adjusted the settings in a second, and promptly tased the witch, who went down in a crumpled mass. Dawn dropped the taser on top of her and returned to her self-appointed watch post.
"Yeah, I guess she knows the important part now, doesn't she?"
“J.D.?” Bron said with a bit of strain in his voice. “Do you think you could grab that piece of iron and drop it in the door track in place of my hammer? I think we’re good if it holds.”
The white-haired man sprang over, picked up the iron bar, and swapped it for the hammer. Bron released the pressure on his crowbar, and the door settled against the metal.
“We’re good?” Beam asked.
“I think so,” Bron answered. He grabbed his cart and led the way inside, followed by the others, Beam carrying the unconscious Sophia.
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 #316: A Gather World. 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: