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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 59: Hastings 21
Table of Contents
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Sunday was to be a busy day for Lauren Hastings.
She started by visiting the Church of True Knowledge in Cherry Hill. There were, she understood, several other congregations in the Philadelphia area, but this was the mother church, the center of the organization. A blow here would shake the whole structure. She asked Raal to come with her.
At first, she just sat and listened. Before she took any action against this, she wanted to understand it. But it was just some sort of humanist-Gnostic cross, a feel-good religion in which man was the ultimate product of evolution, master by right of superiority over all the universe, which just happened to be there. God, in this teaching, was another name for man; any other interpretation was superstition.
The congregation sang songs and joined in responsive readings, and in many ways the ritual seemed just like church. Ritual seemed to be borrowed from Baptists and Catholics, but also extensively from modern Judaism and possibly from Islam. But the message had nothing to do with God. It was about man.
Slowly Lauren grasped the insidious nature of Gavin's plan. He wasn't trying to prepare these people for servitude to a supernatural order of vampires. All he was doing was building up their faith in their selves, and stripping them of any belief in God or supernatural powers. That way when the vampires stepped forth from their years of hiding, humans would have no power to use against them. Even with Gavin gone, this sort of faith in nothing was preparing humanity for conquest.
It was time to throw a few spanners in the works.
She stretched her mind forward and found the preacher's. He was unaware of her presence on the edges of his mind. A mental hiccup, she thought; just something to interrupt him. And with a bit of a jolt from her, he stopped talking.
"I'm sorry," he said, "for a moment I lost my train of thought."
All right, thought Lauren, let's give you another. She scanned his thoughts to better understand, and pushed a new idea forward in his head while he was searching for words.
"I really don't know why I'm telling you all this. It's never been any help to me."
Good, thought Lauren; now something else. Gavin built this church, and wanted it to grow. He would have built in an incentive that he understood. Still searching the preacher's mind, she found it: greed. Tell the truth, now, she projected, and he did.
"The only thing I get from this church is a fat paycheck. It's a very good business arrangement. You're welcome to sign up--convince others to convert, and you get a percentage on all the books and pamphlets they buy."
Most of the congregants were suitably aghast.
"Why am I telling you this?" he suddenly asked, and Lauren gave another push. "I guess because it's true, and I'm tired of standing up here lying every week, telling you things which I know don't mean anything just so that I can convince you to give me your money."
That was too much. Abruptly the songleader arose. "Let's turn in our song sheets to song number seven, 'We Shall Overcome'." And without waiting for the piano player to find the key, he began singing. Another preacher appeared from the back of the dais, and led the first out. The man looked quite confused and upset.
But the meeting was collapsing. Several families were already out the door, and others were leaving. Lauren and Raal rose, and walked past everyone to the front of the church, and through the hidden door behind the platform. There were several church leaders standing in the hall talking with the preacher.
"I don't know what happened," he was saying. "Suddenly I was compelled to say things I had only thought before."
"Pardon me," Lauren interrupted. "I'm Lauren Hastings, and I'm looking for Gavin? Your church founder?" The others stared blankly at her. "I know he won't be up and around at this time of day, being a vampire and all, but I thought maybe he kept his coffin here, and I could leave him a message."
Still they stood, staring at her. She had worn the robes and brought the force field rod for effect. "No? Well, give him a message from me." Glancing into an office, she lifted a pen and pad of paper, and floated them across the room to her waiting hands. Then she started writing. "Tell him that his sorceress friend was looking for him to find out if he got the pages of that ancient book he so desperately wanted, the one that was written by Cain before the flood, that contains the secrets about how vampires can defeat humanity and rule the world." She jotted a few words on the pad, as illegibly as she could manage, and handed it to one of them. For effect, she floated the pen first out to her left, then up over her head and through the door on her right, back into the pencil stand on the desk.
"Oh, and tell him that I'm fascinated by the way he's crippled the faith of so many people, getting them to believe that there is no magic, no God, and no enemy." She smiled, and walked from the building with Raal beside her.
She could hardly contain her laughter as they strode across the crowded parking lot. People would be talking about the events of today for a long time to come, and she would be very surprised if the church survived--especially since the service was broadcast live on a local cable channel, and taped for later rebroadcast. This might make the news. Even if it didn't, she had struck a blow against their anti-supernaturalist creed. Those preachers, at least, would have to make room in their reality for something greater than man, something beyond science. She didn't imagine they would all turn to God, but at least it would not be so easy denying Him.
But her levity was brought into check quite quickly as she and Raal turned toward the sound of several dogs barking. A pack of nasty-looking guard dogs was charging toward them, followed by several men she took for ruffians.
"Ghouls," Raal said, "and zombie dogs. And the cab's in the lot, trapped by traffic. Time to go between." And he grabbed the shoulders of her robe, and stepped sideways, pulling her with him. The world faded to shadows before her eyes.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #39: Character Futures. 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: