Volume Three: Re-Version

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“You can’t do that to a prisoner,” Nancy insisted. “I know my rights!”
“Rights?” the policeman interrupted her. “You’re a terrorist. You have no rights!”
On an alternate Earth where fear has turned the American Dream into an American Nightmare, Joe Coyne and his friends search for the missing astronaut, Maxwell Sanders. But that search is hampered by a brutal police state that knows who they are and why they’ve come. Can they avoid the authorities long enough to rescue Sanders and restore history to normal?
“Please let me go,” Nancy begged him. “I’m not a terrorist! I’m telling you the truth!”
“Not yet,” the Interrogator replied, “but you will.”
His voice cut off as her head went under the water’s surface.

Excerpt from The Version Sequence: Re-Version
(c) 2011 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.

This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

Author’s Note: Marooned thousands of years in the future, Joe Coyne and Nancy Madison have taken refuge in an abandoned storefront brothel. Desperate to locate their friend, Pete, and recover the time machine that is their only hope of returning home again, they must first survive the deadly wildlife roaming the ruins of what was once the City of Brotherly Love…

High Town, Philadelphia
June 18.237, 4993

I hate being woken up by my computer even at the best of times. Needless to say, the times were far from the best, and ThrAss (my Threat Assessment software) acted accordingly. I was on my feet and Accelerated so fast I practically jumped through the front window before I was fully awake and in control of my muscles.

You gotta love smart-as-a-rock automation!

The first light of morning already lit the sky, but the street outside was still dim and indistinct. The filtering effect of the material covering the window made it seem darker than it really was, of course, but it was still early. I glanced behind me and saw Nancy still asleep, curled up on the floor where she had moved in the night. I don’t suppose she’d slept too deeply – not a surprise, given our circumstances – because her eyelids fluttered open.

“Something wrong?” she whispered.

“Don’t know yet,” I replied, Decelerating for a moment to talk to her. “You stay where you are, but be ready to move if I say.”

She nodded, and held up her right fist, which had a white-knuckled grip on a Neural Jammer. I wondered briefly if she had spent the night with it like that. I felt a pang of guilt at the thought, but knew better than to comment. Instead, I gave her a grin and a thumbs-up as I Accelerated once more.

Outside, shadows moved in the darkened space of doorways and alleys. That movement was quick, almost too fast to focus on – a not-insignificant feat, considering my own abilities. But I didn’t need to see them clearly to recognize them for what they were.

More of those damned dogs!

Had they followed us here, or was this merely part of their hunting ground? Either way, it left me with a dilemma. Nancy and I could hardly remain in the brothel, but to venture outside was likely to be suicide. Jammers are close-in weapons designed for self-defense in a normal urban environment. I didn’t like the thought of using them on a pack of wild animals – particularly animals as smart as these dog-things. Once more, I wished for some heavy weapons.

“What is it?” Nancy asked.

“Dogs,” I replied, and I heard her suck in a sharp breath. Yeah, me too, kid!

I instructed the ThrAss software to overlay a heads-up display on my vision. For the moment, it didn’t supply me with a whole lot of useful information, but that would change as soon as I stepped outside and the building stopped blocking my sensors.

Moving quickly to the front door, I fed the lock just enough power to release the mechanism. Stepping outside, I locked the door behind me and did a full sensor-sweep of the area.

An even dozen warm bodies, not including my own.

“Great,” I muttered to myself, and practically flew across the street to the creature crouched in the doorway of the pizza shop opposite. The moment I came near, however, a huge paw, bigger than a grown man’s fist and tipped with claws the length of my little finger, snapped out at my face. I pulled back, almost too slow to save my left cheek from being raked by those deadly black nails.

ThrAss threw a blinking red alert on my heads-up display: the claws that had just missed my face by millimeters were coated in some sort of plant sap. Preliminary analysis indicated the presence of a deadly nerve toxin.

Crap, like I didn’t have enough to worry about! These animals were proving to be too smart by half.

Lashing out with my left hand, I grabbed the offending limb in a crushing grip. The thing opened its mouth wide to let loose with an agonized howl, giving me the chance to shove my right fist in it and thumb the trigger of my Neural Jammer. I snatched that hand back quickly as the beast began to jerk and dance under the influence of the weapon. Still holding on to the thing with my left hand, I reared back with my right – the Jammer was small enough to fit nicely in my clenched fist – and punched the thing as hard as I could between the eyes, crushing its skull.

I brushed the blood off my right hand with dog’s fur before letting it go to drop to the ground.

Software suddenly took control of my body, pulling me into a low crouch there in the doorway. Something “thunked” into the door frame, and I found myself staring at the feathered end of an arrow.

ThrAss had a lengthy analysis of my new opponent, but there was no time for leisurely study. I figured it was possible that the arrows were tipped with some sort of poison, just as the dogs’ claws were, but again, the details weren’t important.

Still crouched, I turned around and saw a man standing in the middle of the street, pulling another arrow from the quiver on his back. That stopped me for a moment – a moment I could ill afford. A real, live human being! So, the invasion hadn’t wiped everyone out, after all.

In seeming slow motion, the man notched the arrow in some sort of crossbow mechanism, and began pulling back on the cocking lever. Standing up, I ran a zigzag path to his side, where I grabbed his shoulder and forcefully swung him around just as he pulled the trigger. The arrow struck the animal I’d spotted approaching the man from behind. It hit the center of the thing’s chest with enough force to knock it to the ground, dead instantly.

“You’re welcome, by the way,” I told him, taking a giant step backwards. He blinked his surprise – a slow-motion response because of my own Acceleration. I suppose he’d been aiming at the creature in the doorway when I got in the way. I had a thousand questions to ask, but to do so I’d have to Decelerate.

Icons blinked red in my vision. More of the things were coming. Too many for hand-to-hand combat, and the Neural Jammer was hardly my weapon of choice for a gang-bang. However, as I’d explained to Nancy, Basic Training involved a lot more than learning to use modern weapons.

Before the poor guy knew it, I’d snatched the crossbow from his startled hands (pocketing the pistol first), and swung him around so I could reach the quiver on his back. “Sorry about this,” I muttered under my breath, knowing I was speaking too fast for him to understand.

I fine-tuned my targeting display to show humans in green and everything else in red – didn’t want kill my new friends, after all. Then I went to work, my sensors giving me three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees of targeting.

Four green icons, not including myself. The rest were blood red.

Two beasts attacked at the same time, from opposite directions. Was such co-ordination instinct or intelligence? It didn’t matter. Like I said, they were fast and powerful, and I barely had time to nail one with an arrow through the left eye before his companion was on us, claws out and sticky with plant sap. I managed to dodge those sharp claws, but the thing managed to hit my right arm with a vicious blow, and the crossbow went flying.

“Now that was just plain careless!” I chided myself. I shoved my hapless ally out of the way and began taking stock of the creature in front of me. With a start, I realized that it was doing the same with me. It eyes flickered to the doorway of the erstwhile pizza shop, and I could almost see the wheels turning in its head. I’d gone one-on-one with one of its fellows, and came out of top. That was significant, as these things were close to my speed and strength.

A fleeting thought said the humans in these parts were pretty damned good to have survived against these things.

Then the dog lunged forward, and I had no time for trivia.

It swung at me with a huge right paw, and I blocked it with my left arm. The claws raked across the sleeve of my jumpsuit, and for a moment I was sure it would turn to confetti. But the material held, and the nails didn’t penetrate. I replied with a right fist to the ribs, and was gratified to hear the snapping of bone and the thing’s roar of pain.

It swung its right arm at me again, but this time, I did more than block it. Our forearms collided with all the force I could muster, and again the sound of bone breaking echoed in the early morning air. The beast became frantic now, flailing away with its one remaining good arm while I dodged and ducked out of the way. I figure it had to tire soon. Between its strength and speed, I was using far too many calories to keep up with the thing for long. If I could only get a breather, I could shoot the thing with the Neural Jammer. However, the beast was giving me no time to blink, never mind fumble around in my pockets for a gun.

It swung at me with its left arm this time, and I noticed the thing was moving significantly slower than before. I blocked the blow easily, and opened my mouth in a fierce, toothy grin. Animal it might be, but the thing was smart enough to know when it was being mocked. It roared again, and came at me, ignoring what little reason it had telling it to back off. I replied by putting all my weight on my left foot, then gave it one of those spin-kicks that are so effective, yet so risky when timed wrong. My opponent was dog tired (sorry) and unprepared for the move. My shoe struck the thing hard on the side of the snout, and its head snapped to one side. The body spun a little as it collapsed to the ground. Whether it was still alive, I don’t know, but I pulled my knife from another pocket, and plunged it up to the hilt in the creature’s right eye, just to be sure. I gave the knife a firm twist before pulling it free. I cleaned it briskly on the thing’s beige-and-white pelt before putting it away again.

We weren’t done yet. Three red and two green icons blinked for attention on my display. I looked over to my left to see the archer staring at the three dead animals in disbelief. I don’t believe he’d gotten a good look at me yet. So, taking a chance, I ran his appearance through a couple of computer subroutines. While made from basic animal skins, his clothing showed a measure of style and color. I quickly designed something that looked pretty similar and reprogrammed my blue jumpsuit. He didn’t seem to notice the change.

I Decelerated.

“Come on,” I told him in my friendliest voice. “We’re not done yet.”

He looked away from the dead bodies and up into my face. He seemed to puzzle over my words for a moment before replying.

In gibberish.

What the bloody hell? It might be the future, but wasn’t this still the United States of America? Shouldn’t he be speaking English – mutated and distorted, maybe, but still English? My own puzzlement must have been clear on my face, because he repeated the words – and a few more besides.

Gibberish, all of it.

I saved a recording of it to analyze later. If there was a later, that is!

I shook my head in a negative, and motioned for him to grab his crossbow and follow me. The last thing I wanted was his buddies to see a stranger approach them carrying a deadly weapon. According to my sensors, one of the men was down, as was one of the beasts, leaving the remaining men outnumbered by three of the creatures. I was too far away to get a clear health status on the pair, but I didn’t have much hope for their survival. Not without help, anyway.

We came skidding around a corner and slid to a stop. The archer was out of breath, while I was breathing deeply, but not yet in any stress. But we were both startled at the sight about a block away. The dead man was on the ground, with one of the beasts standing over him, claws held to his throat. Across the street, the surviving men stood with their bows drawn and ready. But they had no idea that their companion was dead, and the creature was merely threatening a corpse.

Meanwhile, the other two dogs were using separate alleys behind the men to sneak up on them. Dammit, the solitary animal was sacrificing itself so that its friends could attack! What the hell were we dealing with here? Just how smart were these things, anyway?

The two men moved a tiny bit, and the beast reacted with a roar, holding the sharp poisoned claws even closer to the pale human neck. The archers froze. Behind them, the two dogs were almost close enough to attack.

“Psst,” I whispered in my companion’s ear to get his attention. I held up two fingers, and pointed to the alleys behind the two men, and finished my pantomime by holding both hands over my head, with the fingers hooked into claws. The man glanced where I was pointing, then back at me. He indicated his crossbow, then held up an index finger. Good, he understood. He didn’t know how I knew there were two dogs creeping up on his friends, but I guess he trusted a fellow human. And, perhaps he knew there were two more of the creatures around here somewhere. I pointed to the near alleyway, and indicated his weapon. I pointed to myself and then to the far alley. He replied with a wrinkled brow and a puzzled expression. I gave him a grin.

Accelerating once more, I turned and took off down the cross street. Like I said before, I grew up in this neighborhood and, despite the fact that thousands of years had gone by between then and now, the architecture had remained unchanged. I knew this street, and those alleys. I figured I had a decent shot at getting behind those two beasts before they struck.

All I had to do was run like the devil himself was in pursuit. And as I ran, I thought back to that little bedtime story I gave Nancy before she dropped off to sleep. Yeah, sometimes you just can’t depend on technology. Here I was facing a bunch of animals that were as fast and as strong as I was, probably just as smart! Most of my high-tech modifications meant nothing under the circumstances. So, what was my game plan? Well, for starters, with the odds three to one against, playing fair really wasn’t in the cards.

That meant I had to cheat. But how?

As I ran, I thought of the differences between me and the mutated mutts. They were strong, fast, smart, they …

They had no hands!

No matter how intelligent they were, they couldn’t use tools. Not like I could, anyway. I smiled as I saw what was up ahead on the right: a solid wooden fence (ok, so it wasn’t real wood, it was more of that engineered paper stuff. So sue me) only a few centimeters taller than I was. On the other side was a string of back yards – half of them with a history of being neighborhood dumping grounds for trash people were unable to get rid of and/or recycle. I gave my computer a small search-and-identify program for the kind of thing I was looking for. Now, computers aren’t very good with the sort of fuzzy search parameters I needed, but I figured it’d be good enough. I wasn’t about to be picky.

I cut over to the right, and leapt to the top of the fence without slowing, depending on my computer software for balance. The fence divided the back yards on this block into a grid, with a single straight-line of wood (yeah, yeah, stop it, alight?) extending straight ahead. I stopped several times to take a closer look at back yard debris, but didn’t find anything useful until I’d gotten half way down the block.

I jumped down into a yard, and reached into a pile of junk to pull out a heavy red handle. It was a tool of some kind, a heavy piece of metal alloy as long as my forearm. A chunk had broken off from one end, probably taking with it whatever mechanism the thing had had. But its original purpose was irrelevant right now. I hefted the thing in my hand, and gave it a couple of test swings.

Good Enough!

Adjusting my balance for the weight of the tool in my right hand, I jumped back to the top of the fence, and began running again. When I reached the first alleyway, it was narrow enough for me to jump all the way across to where the fence continued. In mid-air, I stole a quick glance down the alley to see where the animal was. Luckily for me it was moving slowly, trying to sneak up on the two distracted archers. I landed on the other side, and pressed on, hoping the other one was following the same plan.

This second stretch of yards was shorter than the first, and I quickly came to the second alley. I dropped to the ground as quietly as I could, and turned to my right. At the end of the alley, the creature was getting ready to attack. I didn’t have a lot of time. So, I shifted my grip on the tool, and started running as fast as I could. Now, I’ve already mentioned that I try to wear shoes with a relatively quiet sole, but the way I was running – I was breathing hard now and starting to tire after all this exertion (hey, I’m only superhuman, you know) – I couldn’t help make some noise as I approached the thing. I was just about on him, the tool raised to strike, when he heard me and started to turn.

Not in time, however. I hit the back of his head with all the force I could put into it. There was a wet crunching sound as the tool sank into flesh, the force of the blow sending the dead animal careening into the street. At the same moment, the other beast emerged from its alley, and the sight of its dead companion brought it to a sudden stop. The two archers didn’t notice it all at first, so focused were they on the third beast threatening their (dead) friend. Before anyone could move, however, an arrow appeared like magic in the throat of the alley dog. It pawed helplessly at the protruding object for a moment, the wound making gurgling sounds. Then the poison on the arrow head took hold, and the animal collapsed. I waved to my former companion, who had used the intervening moments to creep closer to the action.

The two archers were still standing there, too stunned to react.

As for me, I’d hardly slowed after killing the first animal. Swinging the tool over my head, I let loose with a blood-thirsty cry as I attacked the remaining dog. Responding with its own howl of anger, the beast abandoned its dead “victim” and met me half way, both paws reaching out for the kill.

I waited until the last second, and dodged to the left, letting the thing pass by. I swung my metal club at the thing’s forearms as it went by. The sound of bones breaking echoed off the neighboring buildings. The blow threw the thing off balance, so I followed through with the tool and smacked the thing in the back of its head, just like I’d done to his buddy back there in the alley. There was another wet crunch, and the animal flew forward, skidding along the ground for a couple of meters before coming to a stop.

And, just like that, it was all over! Which was just as well, because I was completely wasted. Dropping the now-bloody tool handle (it made a dull metallic “clang” as it hit the ground), I bent over double, placed hands on my knees, and Decelerated. Hell, I hadn’t had a workout like that in years! I concentrated on taking big deep breaths to bring my body chemistry back to some semblance of normalcy.

More than that, I needed to eat something, but that last bit would have to wait.

When I felt a little better, I stood up, and found myself the center of attention. The three surviving archers had surrounded me while my attention was diverted. And they were pointing their arrows. At me this time! I stuck my hands in the air slowly, having no desire to be a human pincushion.

One of the archers said something I didn’t understand. He was more than a little scared of me, understandably enough. I replied with a shake of my head. Then the archer I’d befriended – well, we weren’t friends, exactly, but I did save his life, so that should count for something, right? Anyway, the guy spat his own string of harsh-sounding gibberish, pointing at me and then his bow. Hopefully, he was explaining how helpful and friendly I was.

Suddenly, the language analysis program I’d been running in the back of my head wanted attention. It had a match. Not a translation, mind you, but at least it could identify what these guys were speaking: a peculiar mash-up of Japanese and Chinese that was used in only one place: the Martian Colony.

A bit of history would be appropriate here, I think. You see, before one of the big Pharmaceutical houses took it over, Mars had been colonized by the Sino Japanese Confederation. Particularly in those days, the Confederation was sort of a shotgun wedding, forced upon the two countries by the rest of the world. With the European Union and the Americas joining together in a loose economic/marketing agreement, and the unification of Africa in a single government, there was a real danger of China and Japan being marginalized in both world economics and politics. Well, trust me that there was more to it than that, but in the end they found it better to join forces than remain apart. When the rest of the world agreed to use Esper (a descendant of Esperanto) as a universal second language, the Confederation objected because, like everything else the rest of the world did, Esper was Western-centric. Their answer to this was the Confederation Trade Language, an amalgam of Chinese and Japanese that they hoped would allow them to unite the business dealings across their vast holdings – holdings that at the time included the fledgling Martian Colony. In the end, the experiment failed miserably. There were just too many cultural barriers to allow widespread adaptation.

Except on Mars!

Separated by millions of miles of space, and a communications delay of several minutes, the Colonists were trapped in the same bottle, isolated and pretty much on their own. There, the language was accepted. There it took hold. While in the Confederation, people began to grudgingly use Esper, on Mars, the Trade Language quickly became dominant.

The question was: what were humans doing on Earth, speaking Martian, of all things? Did survivors of the alien invasion colonize Earth in a curious turn-about of history? It was the only thing that made sense, but somehow I felt the truth would turn out to be more … complicated!

Interesting as all this was, it wasn’t much practical use. I didn’t carry a database in my head of every language on Earth. Back when I was in the Army, they’d give me what I’d need just before each mission. That info was wiped when it was all over. So knowing what language these guys were speaking wasn’t going to help me communicate with them.

Well, English hadn’t worked, so that left one thing.

“Take me to your leader,” I said in Esper. I was rewarded with blank stares. I decided to try again. “Any of you fellows understand me? Anybody?” The archers exchanged startled glances, and I could tell they recognized something in what I said — not understanding, just recognition.

“May the Lord be with you and bestow on you her blessing,” one of the men said in a sing-song voice. It sounded like part of a ritual – almost like …

Religion! Like Latin in an earlier age, Esper had been adopted to serve the Priests, and whatever deity these people worshiped.

Just great! One wrong move and I’d be burned at the stake. Or worse. I remember some of the tortures they used back in medieval times. Not something I wanted to get stuck with today, thank you.

So, we stood there for about a minute, just looking at one another. I took advantage of the impasse to wrack my brain for some memory of my childhood that might help me communicate with this crowd. You would think that, after having religion literally beaten into me by both parents, I would remember something useful. But I’d spent a lifetime forgetting those lessons, and that religion, and now the memories were hazy and fragmented.

Still, I did my best to recall the proper words. With any luck, I’d stumble upon something they’d understand.

“I’m a friend,” I said in Esper. Their ears perked up, but their expressions remained blank. I tried a couple more inane phrases with the same effect. Then, from a vague memory I pulled out “Peace be with you.” By that point, I was trying anything and everything. But this time, the men smiled.

“And with you,” one of the fellows sing-songed. Another response from the same liturgy as before. Was it possible? Was the religion of these men a descendant of the same one I grew up with? Wishing now that I’d paid more attention during my parent’s beatings, I forced a smile to my lips as I tried to remember more.

Well, there was always the obvious.

“Joe,” I said clearly, placing my right hand on my chest. I repeated it several times before the others got the idea.

“Gerda,” the man on the left said, copying my gesture.

“Beyull,” the guy on the right said.

“Sarram,” my friend in the back said.

Nobody was smiling. Not a good sign. But at least they weren’t pointing arrows (or anything else) at me. That was promising, at least! Well, in for a penny…

“Come,” I said, mentally crossing my fingers. “Follow me.”

Three pairs of eyes went wide, and three mouths pressed into a thin line and three hands tightened on their bows.

Oh oh!

“Sorry,” I blurted, holding both hands up, palms facing my accusers. “Wrong choice of words? Look, I’m just trying to pick words you understand.” I looked from man to man. None of them moved, and I decided to take hold of the proverbial bull and make a move.

I didn’t want to hurt these fellows, not after fighting beside them, but I was beginning to fear I’d be forced to do just that. Keeping my hands up, I backed away from the three men, and slowly began to circle around them. I was headed back to the brothel to link up with Nancy. If they let me go, then fine. If they followed me, perhaps the presence of a woman would change their minds about me. I didn’t slow down or look back, but I kept my sensors on them and was ready to Accelerate and do battle at a moment’s notice. They turned and looked at one another, whispering short clipped syllables as I walked away.

If they left me alone, I intended to follow them back to their camp. If they followed, I’d try to befriend them so they’d take me back there willingly. Either way, I had to discover what passed for civilization in this world. It was my only hope of finding Pete and getting the hell home.

Although where these bow-and-arrow-primitives fit in to the scheme of things when I was looking for modern aircraft, I couldn’t say. I’d put about a city block between myself and the three when they apparently came to a decision and began to follow me. But they kept their weapons at their side, and their pace was unhurried.

So far, so good!

It seemed to take forever to reach the brothel, given the slow pace I’d set, but the three archers kept their distance – not to mention their patience – the whole while. My plan was looking better by the minute.

Of course, you know how well my plans usually turn out!

Reaching the front door of the brothel without incident, I set my palm on the locking plate, and fed the unit just enough power to trigger the mechanism. The door swung open easily, and I adjusted my eyesight for the dark interior.

“Nancy,” I said softly, “you okay?”

The girl was crouched behind one of the chairs, her Jammer held ready.

“Oh, thank God it’s you, Boss,” she said, standing up and pocketing the weapon. “You were gone so long, I was afraid something happened. I saw something outside, but the glass was too dark. Couldn’t tell what I was looking at.”

“No worries, kid. Just an animal control problem is all.”

“‘Animal control’ … huh?”

“Neighbors needed a dog catcher.”

“Oh!” she didn’t like the thought of those dogs running around. Not that I was tickled about it, either.

“Get our things,” I told her. “We’re leaving.”

“Already packed,” she replied, and tossed me one of the two backpacks. “Listen, after you left, I saw this guy hanging around outside. He was there for quite a while.”

“One of your old boyfriends, perhaps?” I teased.

“Look, I’m serious. I didn’t like the looks of him. Kind of creepy, let me tell you. He wasn’t armed or anything – not that I could see, anyway, but he must’ve been wearing one of those high-tech camouflage getups hunters wear.”

“I thought the windows were too dark for you to see anything clearly.”

“Yeah, they were, but he did something to his wrist – you know, like the controls on these jumpsuits – anyway, he just up and vanished. I figured it was a really, really good illusion, you know?”

I didn’t know what to think of that. It didn’t sound like any camo tech I’d ever heard of! But speaking of the jumpsuits ….

“Hold on a sec,” I said, and reached out to touch her sleeve. It didn’t show in the dark, of course, but I activated her jumpsuit’s hologram generator and gave her an outfit similar to my own.

“Let’s go,” I told her, and stepped outside.

“Cool!” she said, looking down at her new appearance. At first, she didn’t see the three archers standing in the middle of the street directly in front of the building. But then she looked up from her disguised jumpsuit and saw them. “Boss …?” she muttered, tugging on my arm.

“It’s alright,” I told her. “Leave the gun in your pocket, but be ready to grab it if I give you the word.”

“You trust them?”

“Nope. I don’t imagine you speak Martian, do you?”

“Martian? No, why?”

“That’s what they speak. They understand a little Esper, but I think that’s because they use it in religious ceremonies. But because we can’t talk to one another, there’s no way to understand and trust one another!” I nudged her with my elbow. “Introduce yourself to our new friends, kid.”

She did as she was told, and the three archers followed suit.

“One big happy family,” I muttered. For some reason, she thought that was funny, and giggled nervously. The three archers saw this and exchanged puzzled glances. Gerda made what must’ve been an insulting comment, because the others laughed in response. “Of course,” I told her with a lopsided grin, “I never did get along with family.”

I walked up to the three, Nancy trailing a step and a half behind me. I motioned for them to lead the way. It took a couple of tries for them to get the idea, and then they stood there discussing it for a couple of minutes.

“Oh, come on, guys, give me a break already,” I complained. Then I turned to the girl. “Hey, there any more meal bars in my pack?”

“Yeah, think so. Hold still.” I turned my back on her, and she dug around in the backpack. Pulling out two of the bars, she handed them to me.

“Thanks.” I said, tearing into both bars. They were finished in no time flat, taking a bit of the edge off my growing hunger. It wasn’t nearly enough with all the energy I’d expended fighting the dogs, but it would have to do.

“Ah, you sure this is a good idea, Boss?” Nancy whispered as we stood there waiting for the three archers to take us back to their village (or settlement, or whatever). I shrugged in response. It wasn’t the answer she was hoping for, but it was the only one I had at the moment. Yeah, it was a big risk, but I didn’t know how much time Pete had. I couldn’t afford to delay by being careful.

Besides, rash and impulsive is what I do best.

After a few minutes, the three archers finished their discussion, and turned away from us. A few steps along, Sarram turned briefly and looked back. Taking that as an invitation, Nancy and I started following them home.

Continue the adventure in The Version Sequence, a six-volume science fiction series by Thomas F. Brown, now available from Amazon in the US, UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany for the Kindle family of eBook readers.

Click here to purchase Re-Version from Amazon for the Kindle

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