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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 21: Beam 62
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Takano 19
Beam was quite surprised at how long it took for his next order to arrive. Apparently the items he wanted were not in stock in any outlets nearby, and it took the computer probably twenty minutes to locate a retailer that had what he wanted, and another several minutes to determine how to deliver it through the transit system to his address. It was then two days before he received something he would have thought he could have picked up anywhere: a clipboard, a pad of graph paper, a box of pencils with erasers, and a hand-held pencil sharpener. The fact that these simple items were so difficult to obtain added to the mystery of the world; but he needed them to advance his plan.
The next day, having sharpened a few of the pencils and unwrapped the rest of his stationary supplies, he mobilized the team.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, mostly because he wasn’t sure at all how to begin, “we are about to explore the world beyond our front doors.”
“Why?” Bron asked.
“Well, primarily because it bothers me that I don’t know what’s out there. We’ve been here at least a week, and we use the computer to get robots to deliver everything we need, but we don’t know where those robots come from, or who controls them, or where they get what they bring. For all we know, we could be specimens in a zoo, or a lab. We could be pets entertaining children. We could be livestock being fed and fattened to be eaten by some more advanced creatures who think of us as we think of cattle. If we aren’t wondering, if we aren’t asking the right questions, we might be very nastily surprised by the answers when they come uninvited.
“But apart from that, assuming that everything is copasetic, that the world is as pleasant as it seems, well, that suggests that there’s probably more of it out there. There might be parks, pool halls, game rooms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, places we would enjoy that we’re missing because we don’t know they’re there.
“So we’re going to open those doors and take a bit of a walk, and I’m going to use this graph paper to create something of a map. We shouldn’t be more than a few hours. Dawn, bring the weapons. Bron, make sure you have a few pennies in case we need to get Bob’s thoughts. Wear comfortable shoes and travel clothes. Fifteen minutes, and I expect everyone to be ready.”
Dawn was of course ready in perhaps fifteen seconds, and Turbirb’durpa had no way to prepare. It crossed Beam’s mind to wonder whether they could get the alien a pair of shoes, and whether that would help him walk, but he wished he’d thought of it sooner. It might have taken Bron ten minutes, but he brought his hammer and his cart of tools, saying that they didn’t know what they were likely to need, and he’d rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them. Sophia took the longest, which Beam expected, but it was only about twenty-five minutes before she was also ready.
He led his motley crew out of the apartment and down the ramp, and across to the double doors he had previously identified as the entrance--or in this case the exit. Pausing for a moment during which he took a deep breath, he pressed his left hand against the plate which he believed would open the door.
The double doors swung outward.
Ahead there were three hallways. One led straight out from the door, the other two perpendicular to this. Convenient, James thought. If the paths are all on a right angle grid system, mapping will be much easier. The corridors were more cave-like, in that the walls were stone, but they had a peculiar rounded look and were smooth as if they had been machined.
Beam stepped into the doorway. He started his map near the bottom edge of the paper, making a symbol that indicated doors to him and marking the three corridors, each one block wide on the graph paper. He hadn’t really thought about scale. He remembered that when he was in marching band--he played trombone--they had taught him sometimes to march by raising his knee, and sometimes by extending his leg. The former in theory produced a distance eight steps to five yards, the latter six steps to five yards. However, yards weren’t really important here. The hallways had a standard width, and that was going to be his unit. He walked straight forward with normal steps, counting how many it took before he was across the crossing hallway. Accuracy was helpful but not essential.
Hearing the door close behind them, he turned around and examined it. He walked over to it, saw the panel which wanted a palm, and nodded. He was confident they could return, and saw no compelling reason to test the door.
Returning across the corridor, he continued down the hall counting his steps, periodically adding to the map as the distance extended. He came to a set of double doors on his left, which he examined. “Dawn,” he said.
“Sir, yes sir,” came the reply.
“Is there any reason to think that this door is not residential quarters similar to our own?”
She examined the door perfunctorily, and responded, “Sir, no, sir.”
“That’s what I thought,” Beam said, and marking his map he continued.
“Aren’t we going to check?” Bron asked.
Ah, yes, the stupid questions.
“Bron,” the white-haired man began, “What’s behind that door?”
“Well, we think it’s--what did you call them? Compartments?”
“Close enough. Do we have any reason to think that it’s not apartments, much like our own?”
Bron seemed to ponder this for a moment, then tentatively said, “I guess not.”
“Absolutely not. And if they are apartments, and we enter, what then?”
This seemed to stump the blacksmith, so Beam continued.
“Either they’re empty like ours were, or someone lives there. If they’re empty, we’re wasting our time. If someone lives there, well, we wind up introducing ourselves to our neighbors--and as much as I’d like to know if someone else lives in the neighborhood, I don’t really want them to know that we live in the neighborhood, at least, not yet. Not until I know a bit more about the layout of the neighborhood. At the moment, if they prove hostile, they have the home court advantage.”
“They know the lay of the land, where the corridors lead, what’s around that might be tactically useful--and we don’t. So let’s not meet anyone we don’t have to meet. The time will come for that. This is not that time.” He continued, marking the map as he went. There was another similar set of doors on the right, and soon a couple more, and then a crossing hallway. Carefully pacing and mapping, Beam continued straight. The next block was similar, residence doors to either side and then a crossing hallway.
It made sense, he supposed, for residences to be grouped thus. He had hoped to find retail stores--not because he needed anything he couldn’t order through the computer, but because there was something comforting about walking into a hardware store and feeling the tools in your hand before buying them.
It was in the sixth block that something changed. He stopped short in front of a door and studied it carefully. Satisfied that it was what he supposed, he said, “Who’s hungry?”
“Hungry?” Sophia replied. “I didn’t bring food.”
“That’s O.K.,” he said. “We’ve found ourselves a restaurant.” So saying, he walked forward through doors which obligingly opened as he approached.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #359: Characters Engage. 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: