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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 75: Beam 80
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Previous chapter: Takano 37
Although he felt like he worked late into the night, the white-haired man realized that this was a bit of a silly concept in a world in which light and dark was entirely controlled by the computer. He managed to fill all the apartments, housing more than a third of the population and leaving the rest for the next day. The last thing he did was order one hundred fifty breakfast sandwiches with single-serving milk and orange juice and a comparable number of breakfast hashbrowns, to be delivered in seven hours, and set the lights to run dim for that time and then return to daylight levels in a slow increase, which he thought was a nice touch.
People were eating by the time he was up, and rather than get his own breakfast sandwich he raided his refrigerator to make omelets for himself and his two human companions. Bob had worked out his own system for having freshly thawed brains every day, and the others had grown accustomed to his somewhat unorthodox meals.
“Well, today I have almost twice as much work to do as yesterday,” Beam said. “At least, though, I understand what I’m doing, and I’ve already got people set up to teach everyone how to use the bathrooms. That was not something I thought I would ever have to do again after my children had learned.”
“Well,” Bron said, “you did have to teach me and Soph. We didn’t have anything like that back home.”
Beam nodded. “Hopefully this will be the last time. I’m kidding myself--we’ve got a lot of worlds ahead of us, I expect. Maybe next time I’ll let you two teach people how to use bathrooms.”
“Thanks,” Bron said with a note of sarcasm.
“Well, it’s off to work,” Beam said as he placed his plate by the sink. “Soph, if you could get the dishes that would be great.”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll do the dishes,” she said somewhat unenthusiastically.
“Hey, I made the omelets. I can’t do everything.”
She gave a disgruntled nod, and he headed for the door.
His three leaders were awaiting him, along with a fourth he did not recognize.
“Varlax,” he said, “is everything under control?”
“So far, so good, sir.”
“Today I’ll have to learn two more names,” he joked, looking at his other two leaders. “But,” he added, “who is this, and why is he here?”
“If you please, sir,” he said, “I came to see how I can help.”
“And you are?”
“I’m the tribal Ner.”
Beam thought he must have blinked more than once before he managed to stammer out, “I--I’m sorry. You’re the what?”
“The Ner, sir. I’m the person who talks to the gods on behalf of the people. I learned from my father, who learned from his father before him, back through the generations.”
A tribal priest. Well, obviously there was magic even in this world; it made sense that there might be gods. “And how,” he asked, “do you talk to the gods?”
“Through the altars on the walls,” he said, pointing vaguely back toward the front door in the common area.
Wait a minute, Beam thought. “Show me,” he said. He followed the Ner down the ramp over toward the door, and was not entirely surprised when they stopped in front of the computer screen he had first accessed when they arrived. The young man stood on the floor pad and spoke to the screen.
Whatever he said was spoken quickly and in a blur, much as the young Roman Catholic James Beam had learned to pronounce a fifty-word grace before meals in seven seconds. The boy then touched the screen and followed a pattern that had him hitting the right buttons for something.
“So you can read?” Beam asked.
“Read?” the Ner replied. “I’ve heard of reading, but am not sure what it means.”
The kid accessed the computer by rote, putting his hands where he was taught to get the result he wanted. Anyone in the tribe could have been taught to do it; indeed, chimpanzees could have been taught that much. Somehow, though, this had become proprietary knowledge, something handed from father to son as part of an office in the tribe, like shamanic magic.
He thought for a moment. He didn’t want to dismiss the kid out of hand, but he wasn’t at all sure what help he would be.
“I’ll let you know,” he said. Then he turned back to his waiting leaders. “Tennan,” he called, because it was the nearest thing to a name he had, “What’s your name?”
“All right, Tamis, I trust you have your family and the people who are going to be organized into apartments under your supervision. I’m making you leader of the Northern Empire of Beam. Let’s go. Everyone else, wait here. I’ll order lunch once I’ve got these people settled.
Tamis complicated Beam’s life a bit. He had two wives and six children. In the end, Beam put him in one of the five-room apartments, installing a second bunk bed in the room with the first and replacing a bed with a bunk in another room, so they could put four children in one room, two children in another, give each wife her own bedroom, and let him have the main bedroom. He also set it up to give Tamis access to every apartment in the block. He had done the same for Varlax in his own block, excepting that she did not have access to his own apartment.
He slotted the rest into slightly more than half the apartments, which he realized he should have anticipated, pausing only to order lunch for the people back at Empire of Beam, steak sandwiches and sodas. He realized that all the people he was slotting into North Empire were going to have welcome wagon food by lunch time, and he hated to waste food. Having finished the northern group, he took a break long enough to grab one of the steak sandwiches and a beer from his own fridge, and then in the afternoon tackled the Southern Empire.
He still had a lot of work to do to get these people living like human beings in these apartments, but at least at this point they all had beds and knew how to use the bathrooms. He was getting there.
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 #381: World Complications. 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: