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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 5: Slade 169
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Kondor 173
The school was not quite what Slade expected, but he quickly recognized several reasons for this. First, he had to duck to get through the doors and stoop as he walked through the halls. He was, after all, tall for a human, and the parakeet people were all a couple feet shorter, so five and a half foot ceilings and five foot doors gave them ample headroom but were tight even for Shella. This made the buildings shorter as well, since a four story building was already eight feet shorter than one built for people. The stairs were different, the steps smaller and shorter to accommodate smaller feet and shorter legs. He walked up them on his toes, taking four at a time. He thought the architecture a bit different in other ways as well, probably because the history of architecture had been different, but he couldn’t quite place how. What he did notice was that the interior suggested that gas lights had been added only fairly recently to an older building, and many of the rooms still used oil lamps and candles, and relied on large windows for most of their illumination. There were fireplaces in most of the rooms he saw. He realized that much of this was because the building was older than any central heating technology, which probably existed but had not yet been added here.
Shella and the professor were holding a running conversation, and while Slade thought he recognized a word here or there, a lot of the pronunciation and some of the syntax had apparently changed, not to mention that the vocabulary had expanded drastically. Periodically Shella would interrupt and give him some notion of what they were discussing, or ask him a question about events in the past. He gathered from this that Lauren had been right on several expectations, including that having the hens mark their pottery which she had taught them to make with a symbol representing themselves was the beginning of written language, which had developed initially as symbols representing words and later became symbols representing sounds. The myths claimed that the god known as Lauren had taught them the use of fire, writing, and pottery, which Bob confirmed was so. His own fame asserted that he saved them from the oppressions of the dark ones, which through his interpreter he explained was what they called the sparrow people, a race very like the parakeet people (which is what he and Lauren and Joe called the colorful bird race) but with dark feathers. Joe was said to have cured the sick; less was remembered about him.
Being a professor of antiquities, or something like that, their host (and Slade now had an appreciation for why Lauren gave her bird friends names she could pronounce) had cases and shelves in his large office lined with ancient artifacts, chief among these pieces of pots on which were etched many different drawings. Quite a few had images of humans--but three very specific images, which had apparently recurred on pottery from the earliest times--not particularly good images, but clearly distinct from those of the ancient parakeets themselves. The one they called “Bob” was pictured as a giant; not only were all the ancient gods taller than any of the birdmen, Bob towered over the other two in all the drawings. In the relatively primitive early drawings, Slade and Lauren were always outlined with lines streaming from their heads, while Joe did not have those lines but was always “colored in”, a solid figure whose features were uncolored against the solid background rather than colored against the blank area, as his and Lauren’s were.
Seeing him examining the pots, the professor conveyed through Shella that the good pieces, the whole pots, were on display in museums, along with some of the better fragments, but he had collected quite a bit for his studies and had more in the basement if Slade was interested. Slade responded that he was only mildly interested and the professor shouldn’t go to any trouble, as what was on display here was probably more than enough for him. The only thing he could imagine more boring than a lecture on antiquities was a lecture on antiquities delivered through an interpreter.
Eventually the professor left them. Slade gave his wife a puzzled look, and she provided the answer to his unasked question.
“He’s going to speak with someone about finding a place for us,” she said. “They have something here called ‘Mated Student Housing’, and he hopes he can get us a suitable apartment there. He’s also trying to work out how to feed us without creating a major upset. After all, already we’ve been seen by people who will be wondering what we are.”
“Right,” he responded. “Their ancestors apparently decided we were gods, and now the gods have returned, and some people are going to think that’s what we are now. I don’t know about others--industrial revolution, someone might think we’re aliens from another planet.”
“Well, that’s close, isn’t it?” Shella suggested.
“I suppose it’s pretty accurate. The problem is, we didn’t come in a spaceship, and our planet isn’t in this universe.”
“As far as we know,” Shella added.
“As far as we know,” Slade agreed. “But he’s going to have to explain us somehow at some point, so I suppose that’s the best explanation he’s likely to have. I think that nineteenth century man could grasp the notion of traveling through space in something like a ship; I’m not sure they could accept teleporters for most of another century.”
“Machines that--gee, hard to explain. You step into the teleporter, it causes you to disappear from where you are and appear somewhere else. Anyway, I suppose the best explanation for us--what Joe would say is closest to the truth within what these people can accept--is that we’re aliens from another world who teleported here.”
They were silent for a moment, and then Shella said, “I had to explain that I’m not Lauren, and that I wasn’t here before. I suppose I look enough like her that the pictures on the pots could be me.”
“Well, to that, the pictures could be any of a million people, I expect. It’s just that none of them have ever been here, so they didn’t have to be accurate enough to tell her from any other girl, only to tell her from me or Joe.
“I wonder where the professor is? I’m starting to get a bit hungry.”
They waited in silence for a while after that.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #432: Whole New 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: