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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 14: Hastings 5
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 13, Kondor 5
Realizing that Jackson was following her, Lauren's heart began to quicken. She couldn't return home with him behind, because that would reveal more than just her location--her connection to Father James could be learned from the address. She couldn't outrun him--even if she could run faster than he, which was doubtful given the constraints of the armor and the robe, it would look like fear, and her ruse could not allow the appearance of fear. She would likely lose a fight, but more importantly the destruction of Jackson would cast suspicion on her, as Gavin at least knew where his shadow was headed. She needed a plan that would lose him and confuse him.
Jackson was holding back. He was doing his best to remain unseen. That gave her some distance, and therefore a bit of time. When she thought he was fairly far behind her, she turned down an alley. It appeared to be a blind alley, but that was ideal. As soon as the building shielded her from the road, she focused her mind on lifting herself. Levitating as quickly as she could to the top of the building, she reached out and pulled herself onto the roof. She would not wait to see what became of Jackson. She had to assume that his senses were quite keen, as Gavin could have given the task of following her to any of several lackeys but chose the most important. She would not be where she could be seen or heard; for all she knew, he might be able to smell her upwind. She crossed several roofs, thanking God that buildings in this neighborhood were so close to each other. Not wanting to risk a fall, she used a fire escape to reach the ground on the other side of the block.
Safely back in her apartment, she remembered that she wanted to develop some new psionic tricks. She had so many ideas for what she wanted to do that it was difficult to keep them all straight. She had read once of someone creating heat by exciting the molecules in a target object, and thought that a little pyrokinesis could prove useful. She had never attempted to move a molecule (no, that wasn't true--she had attempted to realign molecular structures when she was making that kau sin ke; but the explosion that sent her here was clear witness that she had never succeeded). She had worked with powder, so it was worth a try. But how to do it?
She placed a bowl of tap water in the middle of the stove, and pulled over a chair so she could sit, leaning on the chair back, and stare at it. Concentrating her mind through her stare, she tried to create turbulence, but a low, tightly focused turbulence that would not move the water itself. She kept this up for several minutes, and then stopped, tired by the exercise. Flopping forward on the chair, she closed her eyes and wondered whether there was another way to do it. She rested here for a few minutes. Then she decided to forget it, and picked up the bowl.
The water was warm. It splashed on her hand, and almost scalded her.
"Patience," she said, "was never your strongest virtue, Lauren Meyers. Oh, Mom," she continued a remembered conversation, "it's Hastings now. I'm married, remember?"
Adding a little more water to the bowl, she restored her focus. In a few minutes the water was boiling. It was not a trick that would be a useful weapon against creatures--the time it would take to do any damage was too great. But with practice, she could get faster, and better; and there were other ways to use it besides trying to boil someone's brain.
She grabbed a small pot from the cabinet, and crumpled several tissues into it. Setting this on the stove, she focused her attention on the paper, and in a few minutes it burst into flames.
It set off the smoke detector before she got it out. "I should have thought to turn on the exhaust fan," she chided herself as she tried to air out the room. "But it works. Hey, I've got an idea."
She put a cast iron frying pan on the stove, glad that Father James had such things, and rubbed a bit of margarine into it, then cracked a couple eggs on top of that. Sitting back in her chair, she focused this time on the bottom of the pan. Slowly she could see the margarine melting, and then the clear eggs beginning to whiten around the edges. She realized that once the pan was hot, it would act as ballast, holding the heat long enough for her to take a bit of a break. On one of these breaks, she dropped a couple slices of bread in the toaster. By applying her mind to the pan in cycles, she was able to fry up the eggs. It would have been quicker to turn on the burner; but that wasn't the point, as breakfast was only the bonus.
By the time she finished eating, sunlight was streaming through the eastern windows. Lauren realized that the house had many large eastern windows, and wondered whether Father James had selected the property in part for them--no vampire who somehow managed to enter at night could find a dark corner in the morning. But daylight reminded her of another errand she intended.
It was time to change her appearance. The illusion of wizardry was necessary for Gavin's sake, and it gave her a strange feeling of power to dress that way. But today she had to look much more ordinary. Setting the robe aside, she also removed the more visible portion of her armor--the ringed cowl which protected her head and neck would look out of place even in this strange world. Fortunately, it was September, and she could wear loose long sleeves and pants over the plastic chain without looking too strange. She would also take the psionic drill on her belt; the strange green-glass would look like a fancy bit of cheap jewelry, a dangle from her waist. And of course the steel kau sin ke she brought from home, and the hard plastic and green glass ones she made back in NagaWorld--they were in a sense part of today's mission, so they would all go with her. The steel one she wore as a belt, and the other two she draped over her shoulders. Now she felt more like a soldier than a mage; thus attired, she hit the street.
She was beginning to get the feel of Philly. There was an Oriental section a few miles from where she was staying. She could have taken a cab, but she wanted exercise and the walk would do her good. Soon she was looking at the familiar but unintelligible letters of another culture, trying to find a dojo.
Passing a side street, she heard a noise, something which didn't sound right. Half a block away there was a fight, a very one-sided fight. Four or five of the local residents, at least one of them a woman, were being terrorized by two men who were not Asian, but who held on a leash a beast of such ferocity that it appeared it could rip a man in half. It stood upright, very like a man, but was covered by fur, and its features were dominated by teeth and claws. Lauren didn't know and couldn't guess what it was, but thought the sides needed a bit of evening. Grabbing the handles of the weapons on her shoulders, she rushed in and swung them at the two men.
One hit connected, and the leash was dropped. But the beast turned toward Lauren, and she could see bloodlust in its eyes. She hit it with a kau sin ke, but it grabbed the weapon and yanked it from her hand, and prepared to spring.
Reaching to her belt, she grabbed the psionic drill and focused her thoughts into it. It flashed in her hand, and its invisible force struck the beast's shoulder. It felt that, so Lauren repeated it. The beast sprang, but not for her--it leapt onto a drain pipe, and from there to a fire escape, and in seconds it had scaled a building to the third-story roof. Its keepers, meanwhile, fled down the street.
Lauren didn't like the idea of the beast running loose in the city; but reaching that roof quickly enough to do something about it would not be easy, especially with people watching. But she'd seen a few martial arts movies in her day, and had an idea that just might seem if not normal at least not entirely incredible to these people. Coiling for a jump, she forced herself upward--her jumps were pretty good, although she couldn't reach even a first floor roof. But she could catch herself with the levitation and use the momentum of the jump for extra speed. It worked, and she soon stepped onto the roof.
But the creature had already fled several blocks across the rooftops, and although Lauren believed she could jump between the buildings, or even fly if needed, she would not be fast enough to catch it. She levitated back to the ground, quickly, again making it look like a jump, and picked up her fallen weapon. The people bowed respectfully, speaking words she took for gratitude but could not decipher. She could only guess what they were thinking, or what kind of rumor would be spreading in the days ahead--gaijin woman martial arts master strikes too fast to be seen and leaps to roof of building. But there was nothing to connect her to the rumor, even if somehow Gavin were to hear it.
Returning their bows, she spoke one word that she thought they would understand: "Dojo?" They repeated it a few times, and then pointed her down the main road with a vague notion of how far she had to go. Bowing again, she thanked them in English, but thought they got the idea.
The dojo was more of a gym than a school. Even with her meager background in such combat techniques, Lauren could tell that students and teachers were practicing quite diverse styles. Fortunately, most of the patrons were at least conversant in English, and several were quite fluent. She explained that she was seeking someone who could teach her to defend herself, and to use the kau sin ke which had been a gift from a friend. This they discussed among themselves for a moment, but quickly all agreed on one name: Raiden. He was the teacher she should see. He was not here at the moment, but she could probably find him feeding the ducks at the park a few blocks over.
At the park, she saw a young man feeding the ducks, and he was Asian. But he was young, younger than she by at least five years, and looked more like a schoolteacher than a martial arts master. But there was no one else.
She was not sure how to approach a master of martial arts; she was less sure how to approach someone who might or might not be so august a person. But courtesy was required, and she would use such courtesy as she knew.
"Pardon me," she began, "are you Raiden?"
"I have used that name."
"Hi. My name is Lauren Hastings, and I was told you could teach me how to use one of these." She held out the steel kau sin ke. "I'd like to learn."
He eyed her up and down very seriously. Then he spoke. "You will come tomorrow, and we will see."
"Oh, I can't come tomorrow; my schedule...." She let the thought hang, not wanting to explain further. "Can it be Monday?"
"It will be Monday. You will wear a gi, and none of that constrictive plating you hide beneath your clothes."
"Do I meet you at the gym--er, the dojo?"
"I will be here."
"I will be here."
She guessed that was all she was going to learn. So she started to turn, then stopped and bowed. This brought the glimmer of a smile to his eyes.
Lauren returned to the gym, where she paid too much for a plain white gi and belt. But she had accomplished her mission for the day, and returned home to spend the remainder of the afternoon reading her Bible and noting passages she wished to remember.
As evening fell, she thought to visit Gavin, and changed back into the robe and protective armor, this time taking the telekinetic rod. She found him at the club, and this time she was seated immediately, as if Gavin had left instructions that she was to be shown to his table whenever she came. Ordering her own glass of chilled spumanti, she explained that she had some free time and wished for the company. She sat with him for several hours, mostly listening to his conversations with others, being introduced to a wealth of people (again, she was never certain about the use of that word), and suggesting that she dabbled in strange experiments which she insisted were of little interest to anyone else.
But she also attempted again to read his thoughts, and this time she succeeded. He was not human, but he was not too far removed from human, either. She learned very little from the exercise, but was more interested in becoming familiar with his mind than with obtaining any specific information. Still, between the mind reading and the conversation she picked up several bits of information. Gavin several times mentioned his church. Lauren took an interest in this, feigning that it was mere curiosity that a person of his intellect would take an interest in religion. He explained that he was the founder of the church, and indeed that it was more of a business interest than a religious one. A great deal of money could be made peddling religion, and he believed in money. Besides, he said, it was a very enlightened faith his preachers taught, with none of the trappings of ancient mythologies.
Lauren stayed well past midnight, but only had the one drink. Departing for home, she again noticed Jackson behind her. Again she chose an alley when he was too far behind to catch up quickly. This time she used the telekinetic rod to latch on to the top of the building and pull herself up; she believed that diversity in skills was very important, and the more ways she could find to do something, the more certain she was that she would find a way to do it if it really mattered.
The house was chilly when she got home. She reached for the thermostat, but then checked herself. This was another opportunity to practice. Settling on the couch with her eyes closed, she focused mental energy into the room. Slowly the air warmed to a comfortable level. Then she decided a cup of hot tea would be very relaxing, and remembered that she had left water in the teapot. So she tried to extend her focus into the teapot in the other room.
She botched it. It happened sometimes, and was the great danger of experimenting. She knew it went wrong even before the cold draft swept across the living room floor. Leaping from the sofa, she dashed into the kitchen. There was a thin film of frost over everything, and the bananas and oranges on the counter were ruined. She had flash-frozen the kitchen, and was quite glad that she was not in the room at the time.
But she was not one to quit. Taking a steak from the refrigerator, she set it on a ceramic plate on the stove, and went back out into the living room. Using the sight within her mind and extending the force of her will once more, she proceeded to heat the steak. As she had done with the fry pan, she used focused surges of thought, and let the energy dissipate through the meat while she rested. It actually took her less time to cook the steak than the eggs, but whether that was because she was getting better at it or because it was quicker to cook food by heating the food than the pan she couldn't guess. The steak was rare and unseasoned, but she enjoyed it as much for the flavor as for the feeling of accomplishment.
In the pre-dawn light, she went to bed. She would be back to work tonight, and off to meet Raiden tomorrow.
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 #22: Getting Into Characters. 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: