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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 35: Brown 184
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 34: Kondor 160
“It’s a very strange world,” Derek began, “with some very strange people.”
He said this as he sat next to Vashti on the bed in the room that was apparently chosen to be their prison cell, although the only thing preventing them from leaving appeared to be one of the indigs seated in the hall holding one of the plastic javelins.
“It all looks strange to me,” Vashti said. “The walls, the doors, the floors--I do not recognize what they are made of. And the people, if you say they are people, seem like strange creatures from a dream.”
“Oh, it’s not the look of anything,” Derek said. “I’ll admit I’ve only seen creatures anything like them in science fiction movies, but it’s not the appearance that concerns me. It’s the way they live, the things they do.”
“Looking at the walls and doors and floors, and the elevators--the deck selectors, as they prefer--it’s obvious that this world has reasonably advanced technology. In fact, unless I miss my guess--and it’s not something about which I’m likely to be wrong--that is a computer terminal, built into the wall. A civilization like this, if it had weapons at all, would likely have high-tech weapons, at least guns, probably something better. Yet their guards carry bits of polyethylene rebar and plastic pipes for weapons, and when I picked up my laser rifle they thought nothing of it--it was only when we donned our knives that they appeared concerned. They don’t know what guns are.
“Not only that, but when they brought us here, they walked us some distance on deck eleven, then boarded an elevator and descended to deck seventeen, then walked us some distance across that deck to another elevator and took us up to deck nine, where they walked us back the way we came a fair distance to get here. It would have been shorter to take us from thirteen to nine and walk us from there, or to walk us across deck thirteen to a different elevator and come up to nine that way. Why go to seventeen at all?
“They also seem to know how to work the elevators, but don’t know what they do. They also seem to be able to work the doors, but apparently either the doors don’t lock or they don’t know how to lock them, or maybe they just don’t trust that we’d still be here if we were out of their sight when they closed the door and opened it again.”
“Well, they must think we’re pretty strange, too,” Vash suggested.
“No doubt. I just get the feeling that these people don’t really know where they are, or how the world around them works. Excuse me,” he said, getting up. He grabbed his laptop and his tools and cables. “Maybe this computer can answer my questions.”
“Yeah, you’ll get it. It’s a machine that sort of thinks. Let’s see. Their number system is octal, which is even more compatible with binary than decimal is, and binary is much simpler to use mechanically, so they’re almost certainly going to be coded in binary, probably octal or hexadecimal structures. I’ll need the binary to trinary converter,” he was saying to himself as he set up equipment on the table below the terminal. “Screwdriver, got to open this,” and within a few minutes he had connected his computer to circuits behind the wall. “O.K., now set this to do a bit of decoding. It might have to crack the language, but it’s good, so we’ll let it do its job.”
He returned to sit on the bed beside Vashti.
“What is it doing?”
“My computer is analyzing what their computer is doing, and hopefully will work out what language their computer speaks so they can communicate with each other. Then we try to figure out what the computer knows, and what the computer does, and how we can use that to our advantage. Of course, it won’t all happen at once--some functions are going to require that we work out the computer security system and get around it--but first we just need to figure out what this place is.”
“What do you mean, what it is?”
“Well, my first thought was that we were in a building, some kind of high-rise skyscraper.” Vashti had that puzzled uncomprehending look on her face, but he continued. “Then I saw that the floors were numbered top down, and although it might be cultural, intuitively one expects floors to be numbered from the ground up, if for no other reason than so that the builders can add more to the top one day. But when I was in buildings built underground, the first floor was at the top, and the numbers got higher the deeper you went, so I revised my opinion and decided that it must be underground. Now I’m even less certain. This place actually has a lot in common with TerraNova, where I learned a lot of my computer skills, and TerraNova was a huge space station--like a castle floating among the stars, with everyone living inside. The floors there were numbered bottom up, but there’s no reason why they would have had to be that way. But the fact that they call their levels ‘decks’ makes me think we might be on a ship, and the sheer size of it suggests that unless it’s some kind of floating marine habitat, it must be in space.
“But these are all guesses at this point. I think if I can get into their computer, I’ll know a lot more.”
She stared at him a bit blankly. “If you say so,” she said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get you caught up on all of this eventually. In fact, while we’re waiting for the computer to do its work, why don’t you ask me what you want to know, and I’ll see what I can answer.”
“O.K.,” she said. “Do you think we can close that door and get a bit of privacy?”
“Oh, now, I might just have to work on that.” He walked over to the door and in a moment had worked out the controls, closing it. Turning around he saw his wife invitingly ensconced on their bed.
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 #333: Uncertain Worlds. 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: