keeps this site and its author alive.
Before moving on, he paused. Someone had spoken to him. Actually, it was less like being spoken to--more like--more like that telepathic contact he had learned from Whisp. Someone had projected a thought into his brain, intended as a communication. It meant hello, and was inquisitive, as in, who are you? But he saw no one, and, again drawing his gun, looked around carefully, and called out to ask who addressed him. The answer was: look up.
There, on a branch of a tree, was an owl--not an overly large owl, but one with a rather intelligent look about him. Michael asked if he was speaking, and the owl affirmed this. Then, off balance just enough to forget his basic rules, he asked the owl where this was.
The owl obliged him, as indigs generally do, by stating his position in relation to several landmarks--a human village, the edge of the world. Michael asked if the humans had any guns, but the owl didn't know what guns were, so Michael showed him his. Unfortunately, the creature seemed completely unaware of the device, and even when Michael shot off the branch on which it was sitting, the owl could not grasp that there was a device in Michael's hand which served as a weapon which had caused the branch to break. He attributed the breakage to termites which he had failed to detect.
He also informed Michael of game animals in the area when the man said he was looking for food; intriguingly, the owl could hear deer chewing five miles away, and pinpoint the location with fair accuracy. Michael recognized that this creature was quite remarkable, and worth knowing. He said he would look for the owl again, and the owl said just to call for him, and he would come.
The owl's name was Kubak.
The road ended--it came to a T, really, as another road crossed it at that point--at the base of a steep cliff at the foot of what had the height of high hills but the structure of mountains. He found this somewhat curious--a human, a dog, a horse might imagine the world ending at a mountain he could not climb; but why would a bird see it that way? Even from here, he could see the sky above the hills. But he gave it little thought, because there was something which intrigued him far more. At the end of the road, at the base of the mountain, in the face of the cliff, there appeared a large flat recessed metal surface which he surmised had to be the one thing it most appeared to be: a door.
There were no handles on the door, no buttons or buzzers or imperfections in the surface at all. To the left of the door, however, there was a small panel built into the stone face. It had some colored surfaces on it, but again, no buttons, no knobs, no apparent mechanism. He looked around some more.
Lying in the grass beside the door he saw what he first took to be a cheap plastic bracelet: it was round, large enough that you could slip your hand through it, but small enough that it would not fall off over your hand without your help. It was a relatively thin band, perhaps a quarter inch in diameter, and he would not have given it a second thought--would not even have picked it up--but that it matched one of the colored panels by the door.
Seizing upon this, he snatched up the bracelet and touched it to the panel. Immediately the great door rose upward, opening a cavity large enough that a small house could have passed through it, and Michael quickly took in all that he saw.
Behind the door was a vast garage--almost a warehouse, without any wares. To the left immediately was a ramp which led upward; far to the right, to the other side of the door, another ramp led downward. The vaulted ceiling may have been a hundred feet high, with pipes and cables and walkways crossing it in every direction. Not far inside was a screen--neither a CRT nor an LCD, but a screen none the less, and, he guessed, a computer connected to it. There was one other thing he noticed immediately: there were the skeletal remains of a human in primitive garb collapsed in a heap just inside the door. He knew now where the bracelet came from.
It was a risk, but he drove the jeep inside--being careful to keep the bracelet with him. The huge door swung closed, but his presence seemed to have been detected, and to have activated internal lighting. His interest was in the computer, and he tackled it immediately.
It didn't take long to work out that there was a panel by the computer which was similar to the one by the door. The color panel on this one was multi-colored, but it seemed that it required any one color (and not every color) to access it. Of more difficulty were adapting to its verbal interface--the microphone was an unusual design--and determining the parameters of the clearance he was granted by the bracelet he had. He was able to determine that he was in a complex of some type called the Warden; he imagined that it might be an experimental community, or possibly an underground shelter such as might be used for a bomb shelter or an escape from ecological disaster. He was eager to explore it.
He also determined that the bracelet he had identified him as a member of the ecology department. He had access to climate control, and to a collection of robots whose function seemed to be limited to tending the ecosystem, dealing with animals and plants. He was interested in exploring this further, but he also wanted to examine the human village, to see what the could tell him about this place. Using the bracelet again to open the door, he drove out. Michael being Michael, he decided to call the direction he was headed "south", at least until such time as he had a better name for it.
He decided to mention that Kubak had sent him. It wasn't strictly true, but he had no better opening line. They knew Kubak, and referred to him, with perhaps a touch of awe, as "the knowing one". They were friendly enough, but as primitive as they appeared, using bows and arrows and spears as hunting weapons. Michael realized that his answers were not here. He asked if he could drive through their village (they had built houses right on the road, seeing it as just another clearing), and with this permission continued "south".
After a moment, a wooden shutter opened slightly, and something which would most likely have been the barrel of a gun came out directly toward him. The voice of a woman inside said, "Go away."
Never one to stand on formalities, Michael dropped the barrel of the Edisonian 8-gauge repeating Street-Sweeper shotgun into the window, and replied, "No". Then they both stood there for a while.
It was clear that the stand-off wasn't going to last forever, and Michael had the will to hold his ground. It also appeared that he had the more potent weapon. After several minutes it would have been over. However, before that happened, they were interrupted. A large golden bear carrying a sizeable club called out--actually, it was that telepathic calling that Kubak had done earlier, but it was just as effective. He was standing over by the jeep, and wanted to know if the stranger was bothering the woman in the cabin. He called her "Leema".
"No, thanks, Gor, " was the reply. "I think I've got it under control." Now knowing her name, Michael addressed her rather directly: "Look, Leema. I'm new around here, and I just want a little information. Now, we can shoot each other, and you'll be dead, and I'll be gone, and that won't help either of us; or we can agree to put the guns down, and talk." With that--not without a moment's pause--he pulled back the shotgun, and set it at rest. He could certainly have raised and fired it faster than she could have pulled the trigger on hers; but it was as much a gesture of good faith as he was willing to make at gunpoint.
It was good enough. Leema lowered her gun, and said, "Well, then I guess you had better come inside," and that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship--maybe not my perfect love story, but probably just right for Michael.
She and Gor had been explorers, adventurers. However, they had seen too many of their friends killed. Sometimes a companion would merely open a drawer or cabinet, and some invisible force would attack him, poisoning him so that he would die within minutes. Michael supposed this to be radiation, and started to prefer the bomb shelter thesis. Anyway, Leema had seen enough death, and had come to this cabin (it was here before she got here) to live peacefully and alone.
But I guess she must have liked him, because this became the beginning of a series of adventures they had together, and the last I heard she was still traveling the verse with him--and Gor and Kubak along as well. But I'll get back to them later.
M. J. Young Net