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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 41: Brown 208
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Previous chapter: Slade 181
On the last day before they were leaving to find the hand-helds, Derek informed the Captain of their intention, including the location of the devices. “I don’t know what we’re likely to find out there,” he said, “so we might be delayed if something goes wrong.”
That night they went to bed early, and in the morning packed their bedding along with everything else they owned. They stopped in the officer’s galley to pack some food into the bicycle baskets that would last a couple days, in case they didn’t get back right away. Then they took the elevator.
Getting off between decks required a command override, but as first officer Derek was authorized to do that. Since he had programmed the central computer to understand English, he had no trouble getting it to cooperate. They were soon delivered to the specified level.
Stepping off the elevator, Derek immediately had the impression of the basements and steam tunnels and maintenance areas of every science fiction movie or suspense thriller he ever saw. His mind recalled a time when he felt like his life was like a movie, or rather, like reel after reel of all the horror films he had seen. He was past that now. He brushed it off.
“What is this place?” Vashti asked. Derek looked around before answering.
“Well, I suppose that the best way to explain it is that it’s the machinery that makes everything work. Those huge ducts over there,” he nodded toward them, “are undoubtedly moving air, pumping fresh air into the living spaces above and below us and sucking out the stale air to be filtered and returned to circulation. There are also heating and cooling machines, and water and sewage pipes, and electrical power lines, and communication wires. Probably some other stuff I’m not remembering.” He drifted into silence for a moment.
“But the things we want, they’re here somewhere?”
Shaking himself back to focus, he said, “Yes. Somewhere. And therein lies the problem.” He looked around at the vast jungle of pipes and conduits and ducts, between which were crates and cartons and casks, plus machinery he could not readily identify. “Well, I suppose we pick a direction and--wait a minute.”
Checking his pockets, he found the identity card he had picked up back in the futuristic earth with Grarg and Starson and the other mutants. It was just the sort of worthless bit of equipment he needed.
“Do you have something,” he said, “that you can do without for now? Something that you would keep but don’t need for where we’re going.”
“I can find something. Why?”
“Well, you already know that you can sense the direction to your belongings. If you leave it here and we get lost or separated, you can use that sense to find your way back here, to the elevator. You’re the second officer; it should let you access it.”
“Do you think that’s likely?”
“I hope not, but one thing I’ve learned is that it’s better to have a backup plan than to wish you had one, even if it’s not a very good backup plan.”
Vashti produced a silk scarf from a pocket, and Derek nodded; it would do. He wrapped his identity card in it, and found a place to put them atop a squarish machine across from the elevator that was about as tall as they were--tall enough, he thought, that the shorter indigs probably wouldn’t see it, if they happened to get into this space.
He stepped back and looked at it. He was satisfied.
“Let’s go,” he said. Of course, he had no good idea of which way to go, but straight out from the elevator door was as good as any, and he started walking his bicycle in that direction.
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 #437: Characters Relate. 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: