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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 45: Slade 225
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Previous chapter: Brown 255
Entering their house, Slade began to pack his food and his weapons. Shella picked up clothes, gave them a shake, and muttered a bit of familiar gobbledygook. Presto, the shirt was clean and unwrinkled. She did this to each item of their clothing that they were not currently wearing, even the ones that were already clean. He was in another room, and there was a clean pair of socks on the floor that she had missed. Suddenly it leapt off the floor, and flew out of the room. He grinned. His wife had just used her pack everything spell.
At this point, he thought they were done, but things kept coming up that Shella had to do, and so he sat down in a chair with his packs and waited for her. Finally she came to a halt, and looked at him with a raised eyebrow as if to say ‘what’s taking you so long?’ Slade just smirked back at her until she blushed prettily before he got up and grabbed all the bags and packs in his long arms.
All their gear was packed, and he made for the door, but Shella gave him a ‘kiss for luck’ before they both walked out of their house for possibly the last time. Joe and Zeke, being single men unslowed by female encumbrances even if they lacked magical packing skills, were already standing with their equipment in the grassy yard between the dorms, the most clearly visible space in the whole College other than the field on the edge that was being prepared for a runway. Slade and Shella joined them with clasping arms and serious nods.
After a couple minutes, Slade decided that some stretching might be in order. It was more for something to do than anything else. In the background, as the wind blew softly under the lightly cloud-spotted sky, he heard his wife and Zeke talk quietly about magic and various spells. Joe got out his electronic tablet, and began to read. Zeke broke off from a discussion of elemental spirits, and asked Joe what he was reading.
“Oh, on the Mary Piper, the spaceship, not the sailing ship, I picked up some books. One of them was about the art of the Sardic, which was on their trade route. It's interesting. Some of it is really beautiful and moving.”
“Oh.” Zeke went back to talk to Shella about magic, even as Slade bent to touch his head to his knee while laughing inside. Poor Joe’s art had been shoved aside for magic in which he did not believe.
A spaceship, obviously Derek’s from the trajectory, sped rising over the grass in a steeper and steeper climb into the sky. Derek and Vashti were off, and hopefully they would be safe up there.
A different flying saucer streaked past far overhead. It was the size of the tip of his pinky finger to his eyes. He rolled to his feet, and noted that everyone else was preparing as well as they could, putting up any items, or standing ready. Shella took a step nearer, but a couple feet behind him. Joe and Zeke lined up behind her with a couple feet between them. He was in the front, and for a second the sheer incongruity of it smacked him hard. He was just an auto mechanic from Earth, and now he was attempting to be an interstellar diplomat.
Padding steps came from in front of him and, surprised, he saw the Dean of the College walking their way with a rifle in talon. The flying saucer came back from a wide circle, and this time it was visibly lower. He wondered why they were not just coming straight in, but perhaps this was the more stately diplomatic approach? The Dean came up to them, and all of them could clearly see the Dean was trembling. Slade remembered the Parakeet cringing back from the browbeating the foreign ambassador had been giving him before Joe and he had set the ambassador to rights. He hooked up to the Dean’s speech center. It was very hard as the being was emotionally rattled. For a second, Slade craved a cigarette.
“What are you doing here?”
Slade and the others waited, but then Shella came up as no squawks were coming out of the Dean’s mouth. She put a gentle hand on his lower neck, and stroked the feathers, and gave him a half hug. Half leaning on her, he spoke.
“This is my College. I must speak for it.” Slade thought bitterly of pompous administrators. “Or fight for it.” Slade raised an eyebrow. “Or die for it.” The last came out as more of a squeak than a squawk, and Slade nodded even as the Dean added more. “Please, gods of ancient times.”
“We’re not gods.” Joe sang in his rich baritone.
“I know, but--” The Dean did a little dance move that did not translate--but he did not leave.
“It's his life, Joe.”
“I know. Dean, be welcome,” Joe said, and Shella guided the Parakeet to stand in front of her, and next to Slade. She kept a hand on his back, and shot a glance toward Slade. He tried to interpret it, and she nodded at the Dean again.
“If you permit it, Dean, my gods, the Norse gods, have a thing for bravery. And you are the bravest of us all here today. Let me gift you.”
The Dean looked wide eyed at Slade, and then nodded acceptance. Slade reached over, and spoke in English.
“Modi, this brave bird could use some of your courage now.”
Suddenly the bird breathed out, and his stiff posture relaxed, and he almost tilted back his head to crow.
“I fear still, but now I feel a warmth in my soul that chases out the cold. Thank your gods for me, Lord of War.”
“You can speak to them yourself,” Slade said as the flying saucer distantly passed over at what he guessed was a thousand feet.
The bird looked surprised, but then spoke in Parakeet.
“Gods of the Lord of War, thank you. Help me this day, whether it be war or peace.” And then he trilled, and looked at Slade triumphantly.
Joe grunted, and Slade looked back to see him holding his ranging binoculars before his eyes. With a tone in his voice that suggested that he was glad that the ‘religious nonsense’ was over, Joe reported.
“912 feet for the last pass. I think they will go one more, and then go for landing based on their pattern.”
Everyone waited in silence, their edginess gone, for the die had been cast. As Joe predicted, the flying saucer came back around one more time at three hundred feet, but then it took a sharp curve, and sped up as it dove into a forty five degree pathway to the ground.
“That doesn’t look friendly.” Slade said, loosening his sword, and then his kinetic blaster.
“My mother would wash my mouth out with soap if I said what I’m thinking now,” Joe snapped. “No, that looks downright hostile.”
The flying saucer confirmed the wisdom of Joe’s words by a thrumming noise that shook the air, and a shiver in the air in front of it, and the dome over the administration building along with the banners atop it collapsed into the building. The Dean gasped, not in fear, but in rage.
“My office. You dirty, disgusting reptile-headed motherless featherless toads!!!”
Slade shook his head in amusement, and took a position on one knee with his kinetic blaster in both hands. Joe had taken a similar position with his M-16. Suddenly the loud chatter of a gatling gun from a sandpit to the north of the College opened up. That was where the warfare professor and Stumbler had taken up their posts. But despite the noise, there were no hits.
The flying saucer zoomed overhead, shaking the air with its passage as it went much faster than they had usually seen so close to the ground.
“98 feet overhead,” Zeke called out as a spotter, now using Joe’s ranging binoculars. Two bullets sparked off the underside of the flying saucer, doing no damage, and Joe grunted. Slade found himself surprised, and fired his pistol, a MK-12 High Energy Inertial Blaster, and hit, somewhere near one of the plates he thought. However you could not see where the impact was, which he realized was going to present a problem.
Maybe in my next world I should get a laser rangefinder to go with the pistol, he thought, and the flying saucer was past them. It went up, and looped back, and for a second everyone thought it was diving right at them. But then THOOM, THOOM, and there were several crashing noises from something over in the direction of the zoo and their houses.
As it pulled out of its vertical dive, Zeke called out, “278 feet.” It was too far for Slade’s pistol. No gatling gun fire came which suggested a jam.
“In the moment, Kondor, in the moment, like Grandpa Ty said.” Joe breathed out, and there was a single bang. The flying saucer jerked, inverted, and then wobbling went vertical as it fled skyward.
“Vengeance!” the Dean cried, and shot one rifle bullet into the sky, not coming anywhere near his target. Slade looked over in surprised respect at Joe.
“Wow,” he said quietly.
“Surprised me too,” Joe admitted with a rueful, yet pleased and slightly embarrassed smile as Zeke and the Dean began pounding his back, or slapping him with feathers, and Shella stood by clapping while beaming.
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 #482: Versers Engage. 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: