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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 11: Hastings 4
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 10, Kondor 4
Friday was payday on the construction site, and the night workers were paid at the end of shift; but Lauren was awake Thursday and had to sleep Friday. So it was Friday evening before she cashed her check, and she began shopping.
Groceries were the first priority. She had eaten enough canned food for the month, and wanted some fresh meat and vegetables. It took a couple hours, but soon she had packed the larder.
In her travels, she had noticed a shop that carried what she would have written off as "new age trash" in her home world. It had given her a bit of an idea, so she stopped to take a look around. There was a clothing section in which she found the perfect prop: richly colored robes. At first she was quite taken by a deep purple one, but quickly thought otherwise. This was to impress Gavin, and whatever he was now, he was once a man. Scarlet was the color she wanted, and she found such a robe her size with gold braid trim and a cowl. This would be perfect, and she took it home to change.
It was already late, but she had one errand which she was sure she could do any time before the sun rose. She wanted to be as safe as possible. So she changed into the full set of plastic armor she had stashed in her cart, put light clothing over that, and hid all under her new robe. She also hid the psionic drill and blaster on her belt, and selected one of the three rods to carry--more for effect than for use, but she considered which one she would have the greatest chance to use. The disintegrator was very powerful, but if it came to that she would be in trouble anyway; the simple telekinetic rod might have some use, but she could do the telekinesis without the rod pretty reliably. She decided on the force field generator, what she thought must have been intended as a capture device, since it would enclose the target in a force wall and allow her to move it. The thin black six-foot spear-like glass rod with the green trapezoidal gem below the tip would complete the ensemble to good effect.
Thus attired, she hailed a cab. As she expected, the cabby did not avoid her for her outfit; there were many stranger garments worn on the streets every day. The cabby knew where The Pit was, and had her there promptly.
Lauren did not know what she expected, but this was not it. As she stepped inside the unimportant-looking building, it gave an eerie impression of otherworldliness. The dining room on the main floor was illuminated with a shifting red glow. The floor was a mix of flagstone and thick Plexiglas, and the lower level appeared to be some kind of maze; a reddish glow coming from below lit the dining area. Red spotlights reflected off the walls in a shifting pattern causing an almost flame-like flicker throughout the room. There was a high balcony around the outside of the room, high enough to have been the original fourth floor of the building, but Lauren didn't see any indication of public access to it despite the fact that there were people--using the word loosely--up there. But there were no lights visible there. The room was also smoky, not so much from tobacco as from the charred flesh of flame-broiled beef, pork, and chicken.
There was something a bit ghoulish about the patrons, as well. Lauren suspected that there were at least a few vampires hiding in the crowd, and possibly some of their less than human minions. But there were many present who were decidedly quite human and went out of their way to appear less so. Dark red and black lipstick was the norm, and was worn even by some of the men. Many wore foundation so pale it was almost white, and stark eyeliners and eye shadows enhanced the appearance of living death. She wondered which ones truly were dead, and whether they found it amusing to disguise themselves as what they really were; how many were aware that the dead lived here, and either served them or flirted with decay for the feel of danger; and how many had embraced a fad, a meaningful fad which said that we who are alive are dead already, but nonetheless were unaware of the reality of living death around them.
As the host came to her, she said, "Lauren Hastings to see Gavin, if he's available." The host vanished into the crowd, and returned a moment later to escort her to a table near the center of the floor.
"Lauren Hastings! It is good of you to come visit. You left the hotel, and I worried whether you had settled somewhere." Gavin rose from the table, greeting her warmly. Jackson stood behind him, somewhat menacing in his demeanor.
"Thank you, Gavin. I have found a place that suits me." Lauren chose her words carefully; she wanted them to have a bit of mystery to them, yet still sound open and cordial. "I have come to repay you what you loaned me, and a fair return for your kindness." She held out six twenty-dollar bills.
"Oh, my dear--your money means far less to me than your friendship."
"Then take the money," Lauren said, "that it may not be an impediment to our friendship."
"But I can't accept interest on a loan between friends."
"Then take it as a gift from a friend, a thank you for your kindness."
Hesitating for a moment, Gavin reached out and grasped the bills; but he did not pull them from her fingers until he spoke again. "Then you must at least allow me to buy you a drink while you are here."
"That you may do. I prefer a sweet sparkling white wine such as a Spumanti, chilled but without ice." Lauren sat in the offered chair. "So, what do you do, Gavin?"
"Oh, I have several business interests. I own a piece of this club, as well as other investments here in Philadelphia and also back in New York. And what of you? You indicated that you were some sort of experimenter."
Wizard, Lauren thought, is the word you want. But she thought it better that she not say it. Between her offhand psionicist comment and her outfit he should already have thought it. "Yes. I do research on a freelance basis, mostly. Right now I'm pursuing some interests on my own, about the nature of reality." Lauren sipped her drink slowly. A little wine might be good for her stomach, but she needed her head clear if she was going to need any of her mind tricks. "But I've always got my eye open for new projects."
"That's interesting. You know, I've got a bit of a problem, and you might be able to help me with it. I'd certainly be willing to hire you, if you think you can do it."
"What's that?" Lauren asked.
"There's an ancient text known as The Book of Journeys; it's supposed to be one of the oldest texts written." Jackson suddenly appeared uncomfortable, but Gavin seemed unaware of this. "My own investigation indicates that there was supposed to be a copy still extant in the fourteenth century, but no one knows what became of it or whether there are any other copies today. I have a personal interest--call it a religious interest in it. Is that something you might be able to discover?"
"Of course, determining that something doesn't exist is a near impossible task. But I could certainly see if I can locate a copy. To whom is it attributed?"
"It's said to be written by someone named Cain, somewhere in the Middle East at the dawn of civilization."
"Well, it may be pseudepigraphal, using a recognized name from an earlier time to give it credibility. But I'll see what I can discover. Give me a few days to poke around, and then we can talk about what I'm likely to find and at what price." Lauren finished her drink, and rose. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've much to do still tonight."
Gavin also rose, and bid her a good night.
But as she left the club, she became aware that Jackson was following her.
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 #20: Becoming Novel. 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: