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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 50: Slade 226
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Previous chapter: Beam 173
They had gathered that evening in Derek’s meeting room--the six versers, the Dean, and the professors of combat, antiquities, and engineering, plus a few other birds. The versers had all grabbed a link to someone’s speech center so that the meeting could be conducted in parakeet, and Slade hoped the links would all hold without trouble.
The Dean opened.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “our university short wave system was in the administration building, and the antenna, which was on the dome, was destroyed, the rest of the system damaged.”
The engineering professor interrupted. “We have students making repairs even now that it is dark. Hopefully it will be operational tomorrow.”
The Dean nodded and continued as if he had not been interrupted. “Fortunately, the city government system was unscathed. Whether the aliens missed it or they weren’t targeting short wave setups is a guess. In any case, I was able to talk to a few people around the world.”
There was a long enough pause that Slade wanted to say, And?, but he resisted the urge.
“Of the sixty-four sites identified as targets, ten were not known to have radios, and twenty have not responded since the attack. Whether that means massive destruction or merely an attack on the antenna tower is unknown, of course. The other thirty-three sites were all hit, sustaining various amounts of damage, but managed to keep their radios safe, some by luck and some by planning. Most of them had prepared a defense, as we had; reports are that three alien ships, in addition to the one here, were brought down. Details are sketchy, of course. Crew were either killed or detained, and there are questions concerning what to do with them.”
“Treat them humanely,” Derek said. “Our best chance out of this war is to demonstrate that we are a decent, intelligent, and moral race.”
“Derek is right,” Joe said. “During the American Civil War, at least one confederate general wrote that if blacks could act courageously and morally as soldiers in battle, it would prove they were human. We should do that. But there’s something else.”
Slade and the others waited while Joe seemed to collect his thoughts.
“I took a look at the captured spaceship, and it appears that we damaged one of its lift engines, which is why Derek could force it to the ground. I don’t think I can repair it--but if we can get any of the other ships transported here, I might be able to effect repairs to give us another operational spaceship, maybe more than one. Anyway, see what can be done--but it has to be done quickly.”
The Dean stood, and then sat again.
“We should request they bring the other ships to us as quickly as possible. I will speak to the others, but Choe perhaps you can as well.”
“Um, okay, but why?” Joe looked skeptical of what he could contribute even as Slade saw a way to poke at his sometimes stiff friend. He suddenly stood up and bowed deeply to Joe even as the other man scowled at him increasingly as he held the bow.
“Permission for me to explain, your divinity?”
“Oh, shut it,” he snapped, and Slade sat down again, his face flushed with amusement.
“Yes your godhood,” Slade said with Derek laughing along.
Joe turned to glare at Derek. “I think you banged your head on the roof too hard. And if you keep this up, I’ll give you a full Slade of damage.”
“Truly, your divine wrath is to be feared,” Slade taunted Joe again. He buried his face in his hands even as Shella patted him on his right shoulder. It would have been more comforting, but that she was snickering.
Joe raised his head, and nodded to the Dean in acceptance.
Slade and Zeke and Derek went off to the flying saucers while Joe followed the Dean to the nearby city. An hour later, as he told the rest upon his return, he was situated with the town mayor, two technicians, the Dean, and the shortwave radio in a small room inside the town hall. The town mayor had introduced himself, and explained what they had been doing on the shortwave. Then the Dean spoke. More politics, Joe grumbled to himself. Finally, it was his turn to speak--and he did, stressing the need for cooperation in intelligence sharing of weaknesses, and even current intelligence as to movements of the enemy ships.
“We’re trying to put together some air power of our own. And we need those who shot down flying saucers to send them to the University as fast as you can. We have the ability to make some repairs and get a few of these operational, but it depends on being able to strip parts from some ships to replace them in others.”
This brought some discussion as one of them had been shot down on the other side of a range of mountains on the far side of the continent. It would take two weeks to get to the University. They thought it better for them to keep it, and Joe agreed. But that left two others, with one a day away, and the other two days away. Perhaps it would be better if they had a flier for them to fetch the damaged flying saucer themselves?
Joe was not sure that was possible, but he said he would be back on the shortwave in two hours with an answer. That done, he parted from the Dean, and took the car back by himself. Slade took a break from removing a manifold to lift himself out of the interior of the new flying saucer. Derek had flown the crashed enemy saucer into the hangar with enough wobbles and sudden bobbles to make Slade ready to dive out of the way. Joe smiled as he saw it now had two flying saucers in it. Walking up to Derek and Slade, he filled them in on his shortwave mission.
“Just in time. I had to undo several software locks. We’re trying to figure out how to pull a heavy cylinder out of a circular hole with tolerances that claim to be one millionth of an inch,” Derek said to Joe as the man walked up to him in the hangar.
“Is this the lift engine near the front, the one you shot, Joe?” Slade called loudly as he moved briskly toward a toolbox that to his surprise was properly put up.
“Good.” Slade pulled out a heavy hammer. “Give me ten minutes.”
“This is delicate,” Joe protested as Slade advanced toward the flying saucer. Derek’s mouth just hung open.
“Sometimes you need the delicate touch. Do it just right. Sometimes you just need to bang on it real hard. Knowing the difference is the trick, Joe. Now, you said it's wrecked, so now it's just a piece of junk in our way, right?”
Joe looked uncomfortable, but then he shook his head.
“I would have trouble creating the kinds of circuits necessary for kinetic engines and artificial gravity in our home world,” he said. “I don’t know how much damage has been done to that engine, but I’m sure that it contains irreplaceable circuitry, and it’s likely that we’ll have several engines that are partly damaged. Right now I’m only hoping to be able to replace that engine with one that works; but I can foresee trying to put pieces of several broken engines together to make one good one.”
Slade frowned. It was not the answer he wanted.
“Besides,” Joe added, “if you do it that way, you might well damage the mounting brackets, and I don’t yet know whether those are replaceable.”
Slade returned the hammer to his toolbox.
“The other parakeets say that it will take a minimum of one day to get one of the other saucers here. They wondered if we could fly your saucer, Derek, and pick it up.”
Derek frowned. “I’m not sure how we would do that. I don’t have a tractor beam, or any kind of hooks on the outside for cables. Besides, if we fly it any distance we’re likely to attract anti-aircraft attacks from the parakeets--we don’t have any way to let them know that we’re a friendly.”
Kondor nodded. Of course that was right--they had taught the parakeets to attack the spaceships, and it was only here near the university that anyone expected to see a friendly spaceship. The best they could do would be to send one of their primitive biplanes, but he doubted whether even three of them flying together could carry a spaceship, and realized that they wouldn’t have the range and there wasn’t yet any place out there for them to refuel. The fastest way was to use the railroads, which could do forty to fifty miles per hour using steam engines if lightly loaded, and while that would still take a couple days, it was really the best they could do.
“Could we just take the part we want and let them have the rest?” Slade suggested.
“No,” Joe answered. “We want all the parts. This is a war. If we sustain significant damage to Derek’s ship, we need a used spaceship parts lot to make repairs. Send the whole ship, express rail.”
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 #484: Characters Maneuver. 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: