The old man had a travois attached to his shoulders and maneuvered it clumsily over a brass lantern sticking out of the ground, the way so narrowed by two brick buildings forming the passageway that there was no way around. It didn’t get caught, though, and Karl was relieved: now he wouldn’t have to help the old man drag the travois off it.
He shifted the halberd to his other shoulder and adjusted the furs, trying to cut the ice wind trying to cut him in half. The snow was angled halfway up the sides of the wall so that the passageway resembled a white oval, but it was packed down by previous traffic and the going wasn’t that bad. That is, if the old man would move.
He glanced back. The rest of the squad was still with him, hunched against the cold, their halberds skewed and, in a couple of cases, dragging. Karl frowned. “Look alive,” he snarled and then half-ran to the travois. “Where are you going?” he asked the old man.
The old man did not answer, simply pointed up the passageway. “Is there food?” Karl asked. The old man nodded and smiled. “All right, we’re going with you, then,” and he waved the squad forward.
It took about an hour to reach a spot where the buildings thinned enough they could spread out. There were wider alleys between the next sets of buildings, but they looked distinctly uninventing, especially when Karl caught furtive movements down them.. Great. This was the last place he wanted to get into a battle. “How much further?” he asked the old man.
In answer, the old man swerved into a non-descript building and flung off the travois, beckoning Karl to follow him through a doorway hung with skins. He did. The room inside was dark and smoky, a big iron pot boiling in the middle from which the aroma of a good stew wafted. Karl couldn’t help drooling. A couple of women and children dressed in undone furs sat around it, watching Karl with blank faces. Whether they needed to be afraid of him or not had yet to be determined. Karl nodded at them and went back outside.
It didn’t look like a museum. “It looks like a warehouse,” Chris said, frowning at the industrial cement walls looming over them.
“What do you think a museum is?” Karl said and pushed through the giant iron-clad doors that even he had to admit were akin more to a steel factory entrance than a gallery. But, once inside…
“Holy moly,” Chris said, wonder in his eyes as he spun from one exhibit to the other.
“Tolja.” Karl couldn’t help sounding smug.
Chris ran to an alcove where a box-like piece of equipment, well over six feet tall, stood “What is all this stuff?”
“It’s old weather equipment. A lot of it I used back when I was in the Weather Service.” He patted the box affectionately. “This is an FPS-77.”
“A radar. One of the first ones that painted an image on the tube.” He tapped the blank screen in the middle of the console. “It replaced the CPS-9, which was a continuous sweep radar. You know, like the ones you see in old movies with blips showing up every time the arm goes around?” Karl looked about. “I’ll bet there’s one around here somewhere.”
Chris put an admiring hand on the shelf below the scope. “Which was better?”
“Depended on what you wanted to do.” Karl pulled the chair out and sat down. He caressed the knobs and then switched the radar on, listening with satisfaction as the tubes warmed up. “If you wanted to keep a weather eye out” ―he chuckled― “then the CP-9 was better. But, if you wanted a record…” with a flourish, Karl turned the toggle switch over and held it for about thirty seconds as the screen brightened and painted the images.
“What’s that?” Chris pointed at a blur on the upper left of the Plan Position Indicator.
“Looks like a thunderstorm forming about ten clicks out.” He waited thirty seconds. “Now watch this.” And he painted the screen again.
The blur had shifted in their direction and was now more definite. He glanced at the Range Height Indicator. Up to 50,000 feet. “Yep, a thunderstorm.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Chris said.
“It is.” Karl pushed back from the scope and stood up. “I wonder if they have an RBC here.” He leaned back and peered down one of the hallways.
“A Rotating Beam Ceilometer. It measures cloud heights. Let’s go see.” Karl headed to the left, Chris in tow.
Karl wasn’t sure what to do. He could stay on old 522 and end up at Port Republic via Interstate 64, or cut over to 340 and go the country route. “Flip a coin,” he told himself and did so mentally and 340 won. He cut the wheel hard and was on the exit, which spun around a small hill…
…and right into a traffic jam.
“Great,” Karl muttered and stared at the sea of brake lights and tail fins in front of him. Now he was going to be late, arriving at the hotel the same time as everyone else, which meant it would take him about four or five hours to set up. Goodbye good night’s sleep.
Fuming, Karl glanced to the right and saw a factory complex behind a steel fence. They probably have good coffee in there. So, Karl slipped out of traffic and through the open gate and into a parking spot near a side door. He went in.
There was a large open floor with big machinery parts stacked all over the place. Teams were here and there assembling even bigger machines out of the big parts. A very pretty black woman with a nice ‘fro was bolting together two large steel frames. “What’s that for?” Karl asked her.
She turned a set of the most beautiful blue eyes on him, and Karl was in love. She grinned. “Photon torpedo bank,” she said.
Yep, definitely in love. He grinned back. “Captain Kirk or Picard?”
“Picard.” Said with no hesitation.
“Ah.” Karl snapped disappointed fingers. “I’m a Captain Kirk guy, myself.”
She nodded, appraising him with those cool blue eyes. “Must be a generational thing.” And she grinned again.
Karl laughed. “Oh, that’s good. Real good.” And he returned the appraising look. “What’s your name?”
“Seven of nine.”
“Oh, stop it!” he laughed and the two of them doubled over with mirth and she offered him some of the industrial coffee and Karl decided to stay and help with the assembly. Couldn’t get through the traffic, anyway.
Karl was in bed with two naked Japanese women and they kept brushing him with their breasts and legs―inadvertently, as best as he could tell―which was annoying because it was distracting, and Karl wanted to concentrate on the noises outside. The girls were talking to each other about some upcoming show or event they were going to, but Karl was too intent on the noises to understand what they were saying. What was going on out there?
It sounded like a few people were installing something big and heavy and metallic right outside his door, like a central heating system or something. Lots of metal screeches against the wood floor, lots of grunts as men pushed the metal causing the screeches, bangings of wrenches and men shouting directions and coordinations to each other: “To the right! More to the right!” “Yo, need to fit this, right now!” “Who’s got the back?”
What the hell?
Karl was worried that whatever was going on in the hallway would end up blocking the door. Not that being trapped in a room with two naked Japanese women was a bad prospect, it’s just that there were other things Karl wanted to do today. Like, visit the National Palace, get some actual honest-to-God sushi, maybe take an aimless ride on the subway giggling at how the Japanese crammed the cars. Maybe even go with the girls to wherever they were going tonight.
The one on his left side shifted, and her breast caressed his shoulder, and Karl forgot about the noises for a moment. “I think I’m going to wear the black dress,” she was saying to the girl on his right.
“The sheer one?”
Left girl nodded vigorously, sending breasts into exquisite jiggles on his forearm and shifted a leg across his legs and oh, my, my. “Then I’ll wear the silver one!” Right girl squealed and dropped an arm across Karl’s stomach.
Why the girls were speaking English, Karl couldn’t figure. The conversation did not include him, and they could chirp happily along in Japanese about any detail they wished, even ones concerning him, without him knowing because this time, he didn’t speak Japanese. Perhaps it was politeness. The Japanese were a very polite people.
“Did you know,” he said to them, “that it’s considered very rude to use the pronoun ‘I’ in the Japanese language?”
They both blinked at him. “So what time should we leave?” Left Girl said, picking up the conversation right where Karl had interrupted.
“That’d be best.”
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