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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 28: Brown 182
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 27: Beam 48
This time Derek did not black out.
He had been falling. He decided, almost subconsciously, that he might be better able to slow that fall as the toddler-sized Ferris Hoffman than as the sprite Theian Toreinu Morach (an irrational notion, he now realized, as Ferris was larger and heavier and his wings less effective for his body weight, but it was probably based on the fact that whenever Derek was falling, transforming to Ferris had been the solution), and had transformed only to find that the injury to his wing was still there. Then he decided he should enter the next world as Derek Jacob Brown, and transformed again, surrendering any use of wings to slow him in the face of the fact that he did not expect to survive the impact.
During this he was still trying to tell Lauren what he had seen, what he knew, about the other versers.
He closed his eyes. He felt himself hit the ground.
He felt what was probably every bone in his body breaking, his internal organs bursting, his skull crushing, his skin tearing from the impact.
Then, in an experience that seemed to take no time at all and yet must have done because he felt it in sequence, all his bones, all his body parts, everything including the wing he did not at the moment have, pulled themselves back together and knit themselves into wholeness.
It had been the most painful experience he could remember, but in an instant it was over and a brief residual ache passed almost as quickly. He was whole; he was well.
He had died and versed to another universe, arriving completely intact, as usual.
Almost reflexively he relaxed and felt for his equipment. It was there, ahead and slightly above him. That made sense, since he had been flying toward the castle where it was kept, but had crashed on the ground below the level of the apartment. Yet there was another sense, a sense of someone, another verser but slightly different from all the other versers he had known.
“Vashti,” he said. Then he realized that if psionics worked more than the tiniest bit here, he should be able to reach her telepathically. Vashti, he sent.
No response. But then, the first several times he had versed out he arrived unconscious, and he thought that was probably the case for everyone. He needed to get to her as quickly as possible.
He opened his eyes and sat up, then smoothly got to his feet (definitely more agile than he had been when he started all this, and Lauren’s training to thank for that). He was dimly aware of his surroundings--modern high tech building, low ceilings, dim inset lighting, soft floor surfaces--but his focus was on getting to Vash. His first problem was that this hallway did not run the right direction--it did not quite run perpendicular to the vector that pointed to her, but it took a moment for him to decide which direction would bring him closer. He started running, looking for a right turn that would take him where he needed to be.
He soon reached what he took to be a main corridor running not directly toward her but in the right general direction, and took it. As he did so, he telepathically called Vashti again, and again got no response. As he ran he could feel the vector shifting slightly, as she was slightly off to his left and he was moving as it were along the Y-axis with her a couple blocks negative on the X (why did he think of this as if it were a graph? Too much study in math, he supposed). Just as he had decided he would take the next turn that direction he sent her another Call. Vashti?
He got an answer. Derek? Where are we?
I don’t have that answer yet, honey, but I can feel where you are and am--
He stopped. He had rounded the corner and apparently startled a group of people.
Not people, really, but people all the same. They had been walking together up the corridor that he had just turned down, and from their movements they must have been more than startled, frightened. Two of them were carrying what appeared to be long thin pieces of construction material amounting to short spears or possibly javelins, and the other four cowered behind them as they brandished these in what was obviously intended to be a threatening manner.
I may be a bit delayed, hon. I’ve hit a snag.
He should have guessed that they would be short; he’d had to take care not to hit his head on the ceilings, maybe two or three inches above his own five-foot high head. These people-not-people were between three and a half and four and a half feet tall. Their heads were disproportionately large for their bodies, but not he thought larger than his own, although shaped so that more of the volume was near the top. They had big eyes but small mouths and noses; he could not decide whether the ears were normal sized and only looked smaller against the strangely-shaped heads. Below the heads the necks were short and strong to provide support, atop similarly large shoulders and body, and legs that were a bit too long and thin to be called stubby, but not by much. The arms were frail, almost desiccated in size but not at all sickly, and he could see muscles moving behind the hands holding the weapons. The skin was light tan with a lime tint suggesting to Derek’s scientific mind a trace of chlorophyll, and was only scantily covered in critical places like aborigines.
“Praise to the King,” Derek said aloud to himself, raising his hands a bit in front of him in an effort to look less threatening while being more prepared for an attack. “Little green men. English?” he said more loudly. They looked at each other with puzzled expressions. He realized it was one of those entirely unlikely things, but decided that he should run the other languages--Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Mandarin, French, Japanese, even Spritish, and as a finishing moment of desperation, Romanian. All he got was puzzled expressions. Well, what did he expect? After all, unless you were aware that other languages existed, if someone came and threw a lot of words at you in other languages you would take it all as gibberish. He had to get past the language barrier.
Maybe he could. He reached out with telepathy to one of those in front. It was difficult; there was something foreign, something alien (well, duh, he thought) about its mind. Yet in a moment he made a connection.
I mean you no harm. Wow, what a cliché thing to have said. Oh, well, he’d said it now. My name is Derek, and I have come here by accident, having gotten lost. Can you tell me where I am?
The alien did not appear to be entirely surprised by this thought-to-thought communication. That suggested it was familiar with the method. It answered, Deck twelve, corridor ninety-three, block seventy.
Deck, Derek thought. This is a ship?
The face shifted into what Derek was guessing was a puzzled expression. What is a ship?
Nevermind, it must not be. He was now uncertain what to say or do next. Look, I lost someone; we got separated. I was on my way to find her. Can I get past?
The one with whom he was communicating looked at the other one with a weapon, and Derek realized that they must be using a closed channel telepathy to talk with each other. That, he realized, was what he used. Grarg always used an open channel thought projection, something everyone within range heard. This he could not hear. He thought perhaps to read their minds, but then in the past when he read minds it always came in the language of the target. He would have to be patient.
No, the alien said.
“No?” Derek exclaimed, and then shifted back to the telepathy, No? Why not?
You will stay with us. You are our prisoner.
Derek thought that a bit foolish. From the look of them, he could easily tear them apart and pin them here with their own weapons. However, not only was his sprite morality entirely opposed to killing intelligent creatures even when it would seem necessary to other peoples, he needed to connect with the indigs here and get a favorable relationship in order to survive. Antagonizing them before he had gotten far enough to know anything would be a bad idea.
All right, then, can we go get my companion? Then you will have two prisoners.
Again they looked at each other and communicated silently, Derek wondering what they might be thinking. This time it took longer, and apparently involved several others in the group. He noticed that the group was less wary. He hoped he could keep them that way, for his own safety and for theirs.
Yes. Where is she?
This way, he said, and pointed down the corridor behind them. Then he dropped the link and shifted to speaking to Vashti. I’m coming, he sent, but I’m bringing company. They’re a bit nervous, so let’s try to make them feel at ease.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #327: Verser Crises. 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: