keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 28: Hastings 10
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 27, Slade 9
As Raal pulled away from the curb he asked, "Where to, Miss Hastings?"
Lauren was already contemplating her plans for the night. But she liked the idea of having a dedicated driver to pick her up at need--it would have made a big difference the day Arnie had come after her. Reaching out with her thoughts, she found his mind, created a connection, and thought to him, "Actually, it's Mrs. Hastings; but Lauren would be fine."
Raal swerved and almost went off the road. Regaining control, he said, "Well, I guess you aren't a fraud."
It was a notion she'd not considered. Indeed, she was a fraud. She was creating an illusion, using her abilities to make her appear to be something she was not. Yet at the same time, by acting the part, she was becoming the person. Mere days ago she was just a girl who had learned a few psionic tricks and some acrobatics. Today she was a feared and respected sorceress hobnobbing with vampires and werewolves, a mysterious martial arts master, a bullet-proof superhero. She was not different; and yet she was.
"Don't say it," she projected. "Think it back to me. If we can do this, I will be able to reach you when I need you, wherever I am. I need to see Gavin tonight, to continue the charade and unnerve him further. But I'm not dressed for it, so I have to go home and change first. Oh, and come to think of it, I've been running all day--I need to get a shower."
"Whatever you say, ma'am--Lauren." Even in his thoughts, Raal was courteous and deferential.
"I've got an idea to raise the bar a bit and put Gavin more on edge. The interesting thing about magic is it's not really about what you can do; it's really about what others believe."
"How do you mean?"
She thought a moment. "In my world," she began, "we have stage magicians. They don't really have any magic powers, but they trick people into thinking so. They'll make it seem like something vanished by hiding it, or switch one thing for another very quickly."
"Oh, yeah. We have people like that," Raal said.
"The thing is, nearly all of their tricks work by making you think one thing is happening when it's really another. Real magic is a bit like that, too. Often it's not what I did, but what you thought I did."
She hadn't been attentive to where they were, and suddenly she realized they had stopped in front of her place. She spoke. "I don't remember telling you where this was."
"It wasn't that hard to find, really. But finding places is what I do. When do I take you to The Pit?"
"Give me about two hours. It won't take me that long to be ready, but I want to get some dinner, and first I want to make Gavin sweat a bit."
Raal looked at his dash. "All right, I'll pick you up around nine."
"Sounds good," she replied, and sprang up the steps to her front door.
She had read Gavin's mind often enough, she thought she could find it. She didn't need to know where he was. In a moment she connected with the vampire.
"Gavin!" she sent. "I'm glad I found you. Listen, I'm going to be stopping by The Pit later tonight, so I thought I'd make sure you were going to be there. Just think the answer back."
She could feel the nervousness in his reply. "Lauren? Lauren Hastings? Is that you?"
"Of course it's me. Who else would find you like this?"
"Sorry--it's just--surprising." His thoughts stammered. "Actually, I'm on my way there now; I'll look for you. I'm glad you're coming--someone wants to meet you."
She wasn't sure she liked that, but controlled her mind. "I look forward to it."
Usually she took the time to cook something on her nights off; but today much had happened, and there was more ahead. She grabbed a frozen pot pie and tossed it in the oven, and then took her shower. She had laundered and hung the robe, and took a look at it now to make sure it hadn't been damaged. Satisfied, she put on her armor and a layer of light clothes, and then ate before completing the ensemble with the robe, rod, drill, and chains. So clad, she felt invincible. That was dangerous, she reminded herself.
She stole a bit of time to go back over the Bible verses she had been studying, trying to commit them to memory and to turn them over in her mind until she understood them. Then she contacted Raal to find out when.
"I can be there in two minutes," he thought back.
Almost as quickly as she could reach the curb, Raal arrived. She got in the cab and rode to The Pit. Her mind raced. She had wanted to make Gavin think that she could find him, anytime, anywhere; to do that, she had implied that she particularly wanted to see him. But she needed to either ask or tell him something, and she hadn't thought of what that would be. But she wanted to keep up the ruse.
Sitting outside the club, she used her clairvoyance to check the table. It was difficult, as if something was trying to block her; but with a bit of effort, she was able to see Gavin sitting at his table. It was time to play the next card. Again she contacted his mind. "Oh, good," she thought, "you're here. I'll be there in a moment." And she hopped out of the car and walked up to the door, made sure she was seen entering the building, and asked to be shown to Gavin's table.
Sitting down, she ordered her drink. "So," she said, "who did you want me to meet?"
"He'll be along shortly," Gavin replied. "But there was, I think, something on your mind?"
"Yes, actually. I'm a bit confused about how two things fit together--or maybe they don't fit together at all?" She paused, but did not wait for a response. "I seem to recall that you said your interest in The Book of Journeys was something of a religious one; but you also said you had founded a church as a business interest. Is there a connection between the two? Or am I remembering wrong?"
Gavin chuckled. "No on both counts, actually. I'm interested in the book for my own personal spiritual journey; I believe it may contain truths which would greatly enlighten me. I suppose in that sense the two are connected--if I'm enlightened, I will be better able to direct my church. But not having read it, I can't predict how that might go."
"I see." Lauren's drink arrived, and she thanked the waiter and took a sip. "That's really all. I wondered, because if there were a connection it might help me better understand how to find it. You know, the more you know about the thing you seek, the easier it is to recognize it."
Gavin nodded, and offered to buy dinner; Lauren declined, as she had just eaten. But she sat at the table with her drink, wondering who it was that Gavin wished her to meet. She tuned in to his thoughts, but he was scattered, thinking of other things as those who were apparently his minions came and went.
Abruptly he turned his attention back in her direction, looking over her shoulder. "Ah, good, you're here. Lauren Hastings, I'd like you to meet Horta, one of my partners in this club. Horta, this is Lauren Hastings, of whom we've spoken."
Lauren rose and turned to take his hand.
"The senior partner," he said, with a hardness in his voice. He stared at her.
"It's my pleasure, I'm sure," she said. But suddenly she realized that he was doing more than staring. He was trying to read her, to know who she was. She needed to cloak her secrets. Blank mind, she thought; she'd never done it, but it seemed the best idea at the moment. She focused her mind on a single word, then cleared everything aside.
Horta still held her hand. In her mind, he seemed to go on the offensive--words and phrases which were not her own popped into her brain, as if trying to force a reaction. She held her calm, and thought nothing. He tried to get her to think about Father James, about her home, The Book of Journeys, about her family; she continued to think about nothing.
"No," he finally said; "the pleasure's mine." He released her hand, and turned to Gavin. "There are some business matters we should discuss later this evening. I'll be upstairs." And he walked away from the table.
Lauren stood for a moment, staring after him. "Don't mind him," Gavin said. "I've been telling him what a wonderful friend I think you're becoming, and he's very defensive about the friends of his partners--a bit paranoid, if you ask me. But he's very good at running the club."
For a moment, she didn't answer, didn't look at him. Then, as if startled from a daydream, she shook herself. "No, it's all right. I understand. You can't be too careful." She picked up her drink, and downed the remainder. "Well, I guess I should be going. But you'll see me again. I know how to find you." This last she spoke without any emphasis, but she said nothing more after it, hoping it would have some impact. She walked out to the street, and started toward home. Again she turned down the alley and rose to the roof, losing the tail she knew was there.
Returning to the ground again, she read her location off a street sign and called Raal. She found his mind easily enough, and he was there within two minutes.
"That was quick," she said.
"Well, I can get anywhere in the city within a quarter of an hour; but I was in the neighborhood. But you're some distance from the club. How'd you get here?"
"Annuda said you were to be my driver, so I guess I'll have to fill you in on some of what's happening. First, I'm playing a game with Jackson. He always follows me when I leave the club, but I always lose him in a way which must have him convinced that I vanished. So expect me to walk away from the club and call you from some distance, at least for now.
"Second, I have a very strange schedule. I don't know that you need to adjust to it, but you should know what it is. In the last world there was twenty hours of day followed by twenty hours of night, so over the course of the several months that I was there I adjusted to sleeping about twelve hours and staying up for almost thirty. It seemed easier and more practical for me to carry the same concept over when I came here. I sleep every other day, about thirteen hours; I'm up every night, but right now I work five nights a week to pay the bills. I try to get a lot done when I'm awake, and to avoid interruptions when I have to sleep.
"I think I'm done for today. I'd like to go home, spend a bit of time studying and thinking about what's happened today, and then get some sleep. I'm off again tomorrow night, and will have all day Sunday free except that I have to meet someone in the morning."
"Meet someone, ma'am--er, Lauren?"
"A teacher. There is much I don't know, and he knows some of it."
"Should I plan to drive you?"
"Thanks, Raal, but I don't know yet. I'm too tired right now to figure out what I'm doing tonight, so I don't know how tomorrow will go. But I know how to reach you, so I'll fill you in as soon as I know."
They reached her doorstep. "Thanks, Raal. I'll probably see you tomorrow night; get some rest."
"I will, ma'am."
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 #27: A Novel Continuation. 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: