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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 44: Brown 209
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Derek continued moving forward on a relatively straight line, checking cartons along the way. He was not certain how he would recognize what he sought, but did not have a better plan. Periodically he relaxed and felt the vector to his identity card toward his back, marking the elevator.
“What do you want me to do?” Vashti had asked, and it had taken him a moment to think of that. She wouldn’t understand the writing on the boxes any better than he did, and worse, she wouldn’t know a mini computer if it jumped in her lap. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to describe it--it could be a small plastic box, or an open circuit board; it might or might not have buttons or a screen or ports. He was just hoping he would recognize it.
“For the moment,” he said, “just watch my back. There shouldn’t be anything dangerous around here, but things have gotten so, well, wonky, that anything might be living anywhere, and we don’t want to be surprised by a carnivore. Or an indig.”
“Wonky?” she asked.
“Yeah, um, gone sideways?” Her blank stare told him she didn’t know that expression, either. Her English was good, but modern idioms he rarely used weren’t always in her vocabulary. “It’s kind of an image of everything being out of place just a little bit so nothing fits quite right.”
“I see. Wonky,” she said, as if trying to learn the word. “Gone sideways. I like that one.”
Derek smiled at her. “I like you,” he said, and gazed at her another moment. He’d been very lucky, he thought. No, not lucky. Blessed.
He returned to his search.
There was a noise of some kind of machine. That this penetrated his consciousness was perhaps a surprise, since there were machines making noises in all directions--but this one was different. Maybe it was moving; maybe it was close; maybe it didn’t belong where it was. Derek turned toward the sound.
“A robot,” he said. It made sense, really, that they had robots. After all, the Captain was in large part robotic, although it would probably be insulted for someone to say so.
“Robot?” Vashti queried.
Of course that word wouldn’t be in her vocabulary. She grew up in pre-medieval Persia.
“It refers to a machine that--well, it refers to a lot of machines. Many of them are independently mobile, all of them do work that might be done by people but independently. I’m not sure what this one does.”
At that moment, something flew from the robot and struck Derek in the leg. He was startled, and so didn’t react immediately, but that feeling--he knew that feeling, he’d felt it before.
He had been drugged.
“Run!” he shouted, or at least, he thought he shouted, as he collapsed and didn’t feel the floor.
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 #440: Changing 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: