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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 32: Brown 252
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Slade 221
Things were becoming somewhat routine. A couple times each day, sometimes overnight for them to find in the morning, a message would be sent giving coordinates for a point on the globe, and Derek and Vashti would plot it. This would be followed perhaps an hour later with a transmission indicating that a ship was returning. “Obviously,” Derek said, “these are survey missions, examining specific sites that have been identified from orbit as potentially significant, to get more detailed information at ground level.”
Then two things happened which were entirely unexpected.
The first was an absolute flurry of location data, in overlapping messages on different frequencies. His computer being more sophisticated than that on the alien ships, Derek was able to keep up with the incoming messages, but it took them most of an hour to plot them all. It included every major technology hub on their map, and most seats of government, several known military installations, and a few spots which as far as Derek and Vashti knew were empty space, uninhabited or sparsely populated wilderness areas.
He had his computer sort them geographically, and list the names of the sites where known.
Then the next surprise came: one data channel began counting backwards. Derek stared at it.
“What do you think that is?” Vashti asked.
“I think I know exactly what that is,” Derek answered. He typed a command into his computer, and confirmed his thinking. “It’s a countdown, seventy-two hours, one second at a time, but using the alien’s clock rate, which makes it roughly,” he did the math quickly in his head, “sixty-three hours by our time. In a little more than two and a half days they’re going to do something, and in preparation for it they are dispatching ships to all these significant locations.”
He closed the laptop. “We have to tell the others. Fast.”
“Telepathy?” Vashti suggested.
He had used it, and he had contacted both Bob and Joe, so that would probably be fastest; but had he ever contacted two people at the same time? He couldn’t remember an occasion when he had done so; in fact, when he was visiting the elves, he had moved from one to another. But it should work, right?
Joe, he began, then Bob. We have a situation; it’s serious.
Joe was the first to come back to him. Should we meet somewhere?
Probably, but it’s urgent enough that I wanted to let you know immediately.
Bob’s mind came into the mix. So, what’s so urgent?
Derek paused. He wasn’t sure how to explain it. Well, just tell it.
The aliens just dispatched ships to--it looks like sixty-four locations--and started a sixty-three hour countdown to something.
Those seem like odd numbers, Joe suggested.
Well, not really. The sixty-three hours is sixty three of our hours; the alien day is twenty-four of their hours, but only twenty-one of ours. They’re counting down three days, second by second.
And the sixty-four locations? Bob asked.
Let me see--oh, yeah, obviously. Sixty-four in base ten is one-zero-zero in base eight. They’ve picked what for them is a round number.
There was mental silence for a moment, then Bob broke it. So, what do we do?
I’m working on that, and I’ve got some thoughts, but that’s why I contacted you.
Joe responded, You say sixty-four locations; do we know where they are?
Oh, yes; we plotted them to degrees, minutes, and seconds on the visitors’ grid. Most of them are known significant places--seats of government, technological hubs, military installations, and of course the university. There are a few that seem to be nothing in the middle of nowhere.
Again there was a brief silence, and Joe broke it. Those will probably be secret installations about which we weren’t informed. Someone’s going to be upset that we know about them, but better that we should alert everyone than that we should let them be caught unaware.
Alert everyone? Slade queried. What do we tell them?
Absolutely, Joe sent. We tell them what we know, that the visitors have dispatched ships to these sixty-four locations and are expected to do something sixty-three hours from now, but we don’t know their intentions.
Derek, Slade put in, you said you had thoughts.
Well, I agree that we need to let everyone know, and as quickly as possible. I also think that it’s time to break our radio silence--that is, when their countdown reaches one of their days, I should try to contact them.
What will you say? Joe asked.
I’m open to suggestions; but I’ve got forty-two hours to figure it out, and in that time we have to contact the entire world using short telephone lines, telegraphs, and limited radio communications. I’ve got the list on my computer, but--
But what? Bob asked.
But I just realized that the coordinates I’m using are all those of the visitors. We’re going to have to figure out how to convert their numbers to whatever the birds are using. Vashti can do it, I’m sure, but it’s going to take a bit of time and probably help from some professor of geography or something.
Right, Bob said. I’ll find out who we need, and bring him to the hangar. Joe, you alert the head of the university of the situation. Also, tell Zeke; I’ll tell Shella. Questions?
No one had any. Derek dropped the link.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eleven other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #480: Versers Think. 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: