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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 48: Brown 256
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Kondor 232
Derek considered asking the little green men what the devices were he had retrieved from them, but he decided it would be best if he asked that question from a position of knowledge. “Get our alien prisoners some food.” He said to Vashti. She gave him a significant glance. He explained his thoughts on how he should try to discover the purpose of the alien devices before revealing weakness to their owners.
“Can you figure them out?”
Inside their house, he handed vegetables to his wife as he studied the nine devices. The pilot had five, and the other alien, the navigator/gunner, had four. Putting the one that was not duplicated aside, he looked at the black metal cone that was three inches long and half an inch in width. Then he examined the metal square that was a tenth of an inch thick, and an inch on all sides. After that, he picked up the black metal box with a deep divot in one side and a hinged door on the opposing side. Out of the pairs of equipage identical for pilot and navgunner, he picked up the last. It was slim, and much longer than wide, and had little curved valleys on one side.
“Wonder where the blade is?” Vashti said, looking over his shoulder. He grinned.
“Good question.” And messing with a dial on the thin side of the ‘hilt’, he found that if he pressed it hard, suddenly a shimmering wire sprang from the end. And it began to hum, and to move so that he could not clearly see the wire. The noise made a sort of ache in his teeth.
“Repulsor emitter. Possibly more primitive because it's smaller, and they needed a wire to use the technology at first. Or possibly a wire is more precise. Hand me a blackfruit, Vashti.”
Wide eyed she looked at him as he sat at their kitchen counter. She handed him the requested fruit, and he took it and put it down carefully. Then he guided the repulsor knife into the large bulbous starchy blackfruit. With barely any resistance, the vegetable fell into two parts, and he put a nick into their kitchen counter as well.
“Careful,” she admonished quietly.
“Yes, I think you could slice off a finger pretty easily. Hmmm.” He released his grip, and the thrum went, and the wire retracted in a flicker. Then he positioned the cut side of one half of the blackfruit in front of the cutting side, and gripped it hard again. The knife beeped softly, but no wire came out.
“Safety locks. I bet if I put a finger in front of it, this thing would not turn on.”
“You’re not going to--”
“No, of course not.” He put the repulsor knife down, and Vashti went back to finely slicing the vegetables. She would make a gelatinous mass of vegetables and very finely sliced meat. It would be a warm jello casserole which according to the robot had once been a preferred meal among the visitors.
Pushing the two knives to the side, he began to peel apart the small square. Ascertaining that it had very little energy in it, he felt certain it was not a bomb, so he hit the button and then used the dial. Small metal arms, almost insectile, extended from each corner, the length of three inches. There were four of them, and in between them began to appear holographic videos of aliens doing things, or just standing there. Many of them seemed similar, and deciding to check, he went to the other device, and activated it as well. This showed different individuals, but the themes were similar. These were, he concluded, collections of short videos of friends and family. Letting them run, he found that the larger catalog in one had about five hundred seconds of videos. The other had three hundred seventy. As he looked at them, he began to smell cooking vegetables and boiling meat. Thinking he had gotten everything he could from the pictures of home, he resolved to give them back to the aliens. If he were in a prison, he’d appreciate a picture of Vashti to keep him company. Looking over at her, busy at the stove, he was glad that it was not him in a prison, separated from his love.
The next item was the cone. He found that you could twist it apart, and inside one half was a water filter. The other half carried pills of some kind. He thought this might be food, or special nutrients, combat drugs, or medicines for wounds, but he leaned toward chlorine or iodine pills for water purification since the other half was a water filter.
The box with a divot he took apart. Actually, he destroyed one because once it was apart, it was clear it was not going back together. Inside, he saw a small but potent capacitor labeled in the alien language. Examining it further, he decided it was a small, but quite potent one use emergency beacon. Open the door, aim the divot in the direction you wanted to send a message, record your short message, and hit the button. It might get rapidly hot, and you might have to drop it, he noted, but by then the message would have been sent.
The last device, of which there was only the one, was a small rosebud-shaped object of black metal slightly smaller than a golf ball. He began poking at it, and found a crevice near what he thought was the top since there was a circular base, heavier on the far side. And prying it open, he heard a CLICK.
“Vashti, du--” There was a whining thrum, and he and all the other devices shot up and he slammed into the roof. Ow. The reverse gravity effect cut off, and he fell, landing half on the kitchen counter half on the floor. Thankful it was done and nothing was broken, he began mentally to check his wounds. Another thrum, and he smashed into the ceiling again. This time he fell, and he had no time to think before smashing into the counter once more, and then again the ceiling. He was going to die in his own kitchen.
He saw Vashti take a ladle full of boiling gelatinous liquid and throw it at the half flowered rosebud antigravity grenade. When the liquid hit, there was a spark, and he fell hard, but to his wincing surprise he did not fly back up.
Vashti came over to him, and asked if he was okay.
“Let me get to the floor.” he said, and she eased him off the counter, so that he could lay face up on the floor.
“Are you okay?” she repeated. Her beautiful eyes were worried. Ow. His shirt was wet in a small spot from the soup. His back felt as if it had been hammered repeatedly, but he sensed nothing too outré.
“I’m fine,” he groaned. “Get Joe.”
She nodded fervently, and ran above him for the front door even as the soup continued to boil. A few minutes later, Joe came in, and moved the soup off the heater. Then he turned to Derek.
“Can you move your toes?” Derek obliged. Joe checked his eyes with a flashlight, then gently helped him out of the lower part of his size-changing outfit and checked the leg wound. It had reopened, but only slightly. After that he checked his back.
“You need rest, and pain pills, and to stop getting yourself hurt. No broken ribs. I assume because you hit the roof flat, and your bruised forearms hit the counter. You’re lucky you didn’t break your arms or elbows or worse your clavicle in your shoulder. That can really hurt.”
“I just feel like Slade used me for a punching dummy for half an hour.”
Joe laughed. “I’ll tell Slade you said that. We can begin using Slade as units of damage. You just took one half a Slade.”
“Is he all right?”
Joe looked up from where he was kneeling next to Derek in the kitchen to a hovering Vashti.
“Yes, ma’am. He’ll be fine.” He gave a reassuring smile. “Now what were you messing with that got you bouncing up and down before Vashti stopped it with a quick thinking bit of soup?”
Derek looked about, and saw a wet half opened rosebud on the kitchen floor. He pointed to it. Joe scooped it up. He examined it closely, and then he quickly said “Excuse me”. He rushed to the front door, and threw it out. Derek heard a loud boom, and then heard a pattering of stones and something on his roof. Joe came back, and used a forearm to forearm elbow grip to lift Derek to his feet. After getting him into a chair, Joe turned to the two.
“That was an antigravity grenade, and,” he gestured out toward the front door. “You now have a three foot deep crater in your front yard. I assume because you activated it by messing with it that it did not work properly.” He did not add the final bit, but Derek could put together the picture. If he had activated it right, he would have gone right through the roof of the house, or gone splat against the roof--maybe Vashti as well.
Slade piled into the room demanding to know what had happened. Zeke came next, then Shella, then several birds. Wincing, Derek asked Vashti to explain, and she did. Slade and the others examined the repulsor knives, and paid close attention to the description of the rosebud grenade. Finally, Slade said something that Derek did not expect.
“You did good, Derek. Getting useful information about the enemy is often dangerous.” Zeke nodded, as did Shella. Vashti kissed him gently on the cheek, and took the rest of the soup to the prisoners. He sat in his chair, and ached. Joe left after the rest just giving him a disapproving glance in parting. Derek summoned a feeble smile in response.
An hour later, he slowly made his way to the visitors in the cages. They were guarded by some of the warfare professor’s swordbirds. He gave the metal squares to the prisoners, and found that he had misgiven them. After switching them, both expressed their thanks. They were indeed recordings of friends and family.
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: