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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 32: Brown 183
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 31: Slade 159
It was another couple hundred yards including a right and a left (or was it a left and a right?) before Derek found Vashti, seated on the floor patiently awaiting him. She smiled radiantly when he came into view.
“I knew you were coming,” she said.
“Of course you did. I told you.”
“Yes, but also, I could feel you out there, and knew where you were, sort of.”
Right. Scriff sense. She was a verser now, and they could sense the direction to each other. He helped her to her feet. “So, what do we do now?” she asked.
“Well, normally I would say we follow the scriff sense to find our things--”
“That would be that feeling that I left something up that way?” She pointed toward the ceiling and a bit to the right.”
“That would be it. However, in the present circumstance we have two problems.”
“Yeah. The first is, it’s obvious that our stuff is on the floor above us, and at this point I have no clue how to get upstairs. From the look of things, there’s probably an elevator--a lift, a machine that moves people up and down between floors--”
“Sounds like something the Caliph could have used.”
“Sure. But I have no clue how to find it.”
“And the second?”
“The second is these indigs here--the people who live here, apparently. I’ve agreed to let them think we’re their prisoners. It saves me having to fight them. But I don’t know how helpful they’ll be for how long, or what they’ll do if they decide to stop being helpful.”
“I see. Well, you’ve got all the experience.”
“Yeah. I wish it just fit here. I don’t know whether they talk--they appear to have ears and mouths, but so far all communication has been telepathic. I’ll have to teach you that, sooner rather than later, but not right at this moment. But Lauren taught you to read minds, yes?” She shook her head. “Well, it wouldn’t have been a lot of help anyway, probably, because creatures tend to think in their own languages. And I’ve kept them waiting long enough, I’d better talk with them.”
Turning back to the alien with whom he had been communicating, he sent, This is Vashti, my wife. It occurred to him that telepathy tended to translate concepts into the language of the recipient, and he wondered exactly what sort of concept “wife” would have to them, but he continued. Our gear is up there, he pointed in the direction he felt. How do we get there?
The alien looked at his companions, apparently communicating for a moment, then looked back at Derek.
What do you mean, up there?
Probably a deck or two above.
What do you mean, above? The ceiling is above.
Somehow he was not making himself understood.
How do you get to the other decks? he asked.
Oh. Deck selector. This way. The alien waved his spear and started walking away from them. Derek and Vashti followed, and the other aliens fell in behind them.
“They don’t walk very fast, do they?” Vashti more stated than asked.
“No, I think if we tried to escape they’d have a hard time keeping up with us. But they’re telepaths, and one of my friends had an older brother who used to say, ‘You can’t outrun a radio.’”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means if they can call to people ahead of you, you can’t get away from them. I don’t know whether they can, but we shouldn’t assume they can’t.”
Their guide abruptly stopped and touched a panel on the wall, and the wall became a door.
“Magic,” Vashti said.
“Probably not,” Derek answered. “I’d bet it’s highly advanced technology. I’ll explain later.”
Everyone stepped in.
There were four columns of buttons, about twelve rows. One was lit. The symbols alongside were evidently numbers, but neither Arabic nor Roman. Derek was trying to make sense of them. Suddenly he had a thought.
Let me see your hand, he sent.
The alien looked at his own hand, then held it up. It had three fingers and a thumb. Derek looked back at the symbols.
“Base eight,” he said. “The single symbols at the top are one through seven, then the double symbol at the left side of the second row repeats the first symbol with a placeholder equivalent of zero, to the left, and we have one-one through one-four on the third row. Most of these people must have been left handed, because they’ve developed a right-to-left orthography, at least for their numbers, but also in the arrangement of the buttons. This floor is twelve, that is, one-four in base eight. The question is, are we near the top or the bottom? I think if this were a high-rise building, the lower numbered floors would be at the bottom, and the buttons would be arranged that way. Here the higher numbers are at the bottom, which suggests that this is an underground complex, higher numbers being deeper levels, and the first floor at the top. That’s how it was at Cavalier. So if we want to go up, we need deck eleven, which is one-three, to the right of one-four.”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” Vashti asked.
“Sorry. Thinking out loud.” He pushed the button.
The door closed.
The door opened.
Derek realized that he had had no feeling of movement while in the deck selector, but that the vector to his gear had moved such that he was now on the same level.
“Inertial dampening?” he mused. He supposed it was possible in this crazy multiverse that the building just moved and the elevator stayed still, but the best bet was that some kind of artificial gravity system adjusted for the movement so that they wouldn’t feel it. That must mean something, but he was not yet certain what. Right now, he had to find his equipment. “Come,” he said, and walked out into a hallway, then followed his directional sense as well as he could. It involved working around a few walls and passing through a couple doors, but within a few minutes they arrived at the spot that must have been their bedroom. All his things were there, and he packed everything in the two backpacks and the bicycle baskets.
“Need help packing your things?” he asked Vashti, who seemed a bit dazed by it all.
“Unearthal damping? Base eight? Cavalier?”
“We’ll get to that. Right now we want to pack our things and go meet our hosts’ friends.”
“Right.” She proceeded to gather her things, mostly clothing but also a good knife and a wooden practice knife, and a few other odds and ends. Finally, “I’m ready,” she said.
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: