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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 2: Hastings 1
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 1, Kondor 1
Even with her eyes closed, Lauren Elizabeth Meyers Hastings knew that it was dark. Last time she died, she awoke under a night sky, a strange moon and unfamiliar stars, in a completely alien world. She wondered what it would be like this time. Of course, once she opened her eyes she would be able to see what kind of sky there was--or whether there was a sky at all. She'd heard of some who versed in to caves and caverns, or the insides of buildings. Hmmm...no, the air was cool, and a bit drafty. On top of that, she began to think about her surroundings--the hard, flat surface below her, like rock; the smell in the air--a hint of car exhaust. Were she to open her eyes, she felt certain she would see a town. On the other hand, she could still feel the impact from the blast, and she preferred to lay there a moment longer nursing her head before dealing with the new world. She thought of the things she had learned from the versers she met in the other world--people who, like her, had been infected with scriff, who moved from universe to universe, verse to verse as they said, by dying and coming back to life. She should be able to sense the scriff in her belongings, although these should be as near her as they were before she died.
Her eyes opened. There was no sky, not in the usual sense. Buildings rose close together around her, fading to black as the distance grew, leaving a slit of darkness above which might have been open. Light from a street lamp shone in, the cold blue mercury vapor glow allowing her to see her things spread about her on the sidewalk. Time to get up and discover a new world. It reminded her of earth, of the twentieth century; it reminded her of the family she left behind. She wondered whether they missed their mother. But she shook it off--the one place a verser never goes is home again, or so she'd been told. She couldn't be quite so lucky.
Her home-made wagon stood a few feet away, fully packed. That would save a lot of trouble. The few things which were loose included her bow and arrows, kau sin ke, and the psionic weapons. She scooped these up and tossed them into the cart--except for the oriental whipping chain, the steel kau sin ke. She wrapped this four to five foot string of four inch bars, an ancient threshing tool adapted for combat, around her waist as a belt. If there was trouble, she could probably handle it with this. Brushing herself off, she grabbed the tongue of the wagon, and gave it a pull. From what she could see, she was in a blind alley. There was no exit from her end, so she didn't have to think too much about which way to go.
"Well, so much for my efforts to make a kau sin ke I could control by thought," she muttered. "And I thought I could get behind the blast shield if it exploded."
Coming out of the alley onto the darkened street, she nearly collided with two men. "Oh, I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, somewhat startled. The men were as surprised as she.
"Oh, no--I'm sorry," the younger of the two said. "I didn't think anyone was down there. Where did you come from?"
"Oh, well--I just got into town, and I'm a bit lost." Lauren looked at them. There was something not quite right about them; they were too pale, even for people on the night shift. Reaching out with her mind, she tried to read their thoughts. She didn't find a familiar thought pattern. Instead she struck something cold, icy, unfeeling, yet not devoid of emotion. It held hunger, gnawing ravenous emptiness; and hatred; and something she could only describe as death, but a death that was active, perhaps contagious, even consumptive.
But the friendly smile masked whatever evil was within. Lauren tried to hide her shock. "Could you point me to a decent hotel where I can get a cheap room for the night? I can straighten things out in the morning."
"As a matter of fact," the younger man said, "I know an excellent place not far from here. I might have their card here...yes, here it is. By the way, I'm Gavin; this is Jackson."
"I'm Lauren Hastings."
"What's in the cart?"
"My stuff--clothes, equipment, a couple continuing experiments."
"Experiments? Are you a scientist?"
"Well...more of a psionicist." She thought his mood changed, that he became more serious. He certainly became more helpful.
"A psionicist? An experimenter in mental powers, able to alter reality just by thought? I hope while you're in town, you'll tell me all about it, and consider us friends. Let me lend you some money. A hundred dollars should pay for the room and get you some dinner. You can pay me back once you're settled. You can usually find me at The Pit--it's a nightclub downtown.
"Of course, if you're not comfortable taking my money," he continued, "you can try getting a bed from Father Matthew James of the Saint George Mission. Are you familiar with him?"
"Uh--no, I've never heard of Father--James, did you say? Or the mission." But even as she said it, she was thinking ahead. This Father James worried Gavin, and a man's enemies often know him best. And Saint George was an odd name for a mission--it suggested spiritual warfare, not beneficent charity. It would be worth finding the Reverend Father if only to know about her strange benefactor. "Thanks for the money; I'll pay you back." She could almost feel their eyes following her as she left. It all seemed quite strange--the older man never spoke, but always looked at her with a defensive, almost threatening, stare. But she rounded the corner and left them behind, and soon arrived at the hotel.
"I'd like a room. A gentleman named Gavin recommended you."
"Yes, Ma'am." The clerk, at least, seemed normal. "Boy?"
A bellhop came over, and began looking at the cart and the strange things it contained. Lauren started toward the elevator, and called back to the desk, "Also, could you send up whichever local paper the hotel recommends for serious news--whatever is the most recent edition available."
"Yes, Ma'am," the clerk replied. "Boy, take this lady's things to 207, and then come back for the paper. Thank you, Ma'am."
It wasn't long before Lauren Hastings was settled in to her room with the paper. It told her that she was in Philadelphia on September 4th, 2005--slightly less than a decade and not too many miles from the home she once knew only months before. But it was worlds away. John Gotti was mayor of Philadelphia; Marion Barry was President of the United States; and the United Nations Secretary-General was Slobadan Milosevic. The society pages bore such headlines as "Cult of Pan Holds Annual Orgy", "Sacrifices to Ashtoreth Big Success", and "Local Covens Run Membership Drive". She could only wonder what kind of strange world she had found, and whether Father Matthew James might be able to explain it.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #18: A Novel Comic Milestone. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: