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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 105: Kondor 35
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Trees again, Kondor thought even before he opened his eyes. The ground was soft and mulched with leaves, the air had that summer woods smell with which he was so familiar only a few days ago but worlds away. He wondered if he had come back to Sherwood; now, that would truly make for a legend. But given the variety of worlds that must be out there, the odds of being in the same place twice seemed significantly worse than rolling snake eyes seven times in a row. More like drawing the two of spades from a pinochle deck, he mused. But he opened his eyes and sat up. The patch covered his real eye; he removed it, and tried to tune the cybereye to match, but only quickly and roughly.
It was woods, but more open and airy than Sherwood had been, at least in the parts he had seen. His first instinct was to look at the trees immediately around him. They were certainly earth-like, but the bark, leaves, and seeds didn't match anything he knew. That didn't mean it wasn't earth, he thought; it just wasn't England.
It was time to gather his gear. He cleared his mind and relaxed, sensing the scriff that connected him to his gear, to the verse, to life. After collecting what he had carried to the battlefield, he made his way toward the things that had been in his room. They were intact, although he had to fish a few of them out of a creek. He pulled the tuning glasses from the medical kit, and with some difficulty fine tuned the artificial eye. The mace, the only souvenir he had of his quest for the Vorgo, he slung over his left shoulder. He stood up, and asked himself, is there anything else?
There was something else, some sense of scriff, downstream somewhere. But it was different. It was like his equipment, but not the same. It was like--like picking up interference from an adjacent station on the radio. His best guess as to why his equipment came with him was that it, too, contained scriff, and that the scriff in it was somehow attuned to the scriff in him. That would also explain why he could tell where it was. But he had all of his equipment now, and this sense was a bit different.
It was possible that there was something like scriff, unknown to him but found in this world, that he was sensing. He hadn't heard of scriff until shortly before it infected him; but this seemed unlikely. Scriff detects scriff, according to the army technicians working on that experiment years ago, so there must be more of it here somewhere.
Perhaps there was a source of scriff, a fountain or reservoir. From what he knew, the stuff was very rare back on earth, a byproduct of research in subatomic physics. It could be abundant in another world. But then, it reportedly had a tendency to soak into natural materials, and had to be contained in special bottles. So a concentrated natural source seemed unlikely.
Which meant this was either scriff in someone else's equipment, or scriff in someone else. Either way, there was someone else here, another verser.
He had no idea who it was. It might be someone from his unit, killed in that same crazy experiment which had ended life as he knew it. How likely was that? He couldn't begin to guess. He had no idea how many army experiments had been run. He didn't know if there was another way to end up loose in the multiverse. In fact, he didn't even know whether all versers came from earth or were all human. But he had to go somewhere, and the sense of the presence of another verser was as good a clue for direction as he had.
The ground was soft underfoot, and the day warm and bright somewhere above the thin canopy. It was a pleasant walk, and Kondor took his time. He was aching from the battle; responding to a twinge of pain, he checked his side, but the gash was healed, more than healed, gone as if it had never been. This scriff was remarkable stuff. No wonder the army wanted to use it on soldiers. Too bad it took you out of your own universe, otherwise it might actually be useful.
He shuddered to think what humanity would do with immortal unaging rapid-healing armies.
The day meandered forward, and the sun was westering by the time Kondor cleared the edge of the wood. He looked down over a meadow, and a small primitive village beside a lake, and mountains beyond. It was a good bet that his verser was in that village, judging from the direction--unless he was in some underground cave deep below the mountains. But even if not, a village might be a place to get some food, rest, and some idea of where he was. There was a road through the grasses, not far to his right, and so he skirted the fields to reach it so as to avoid any snakes or other creatures in the grass.
The huts were surprisingly small--he could look over the tops of them without difficulty--but for one near the edge of the village. It was from this one that the scriff sense came. He walked to the doorway and peered inside.
He was so surprised that for a moment he was speechless; he stood stupidly in the doorway, trying to think what to do or say. There was a woman inside, older, not so old as his mother but at least as old as Aunt Zakiya, mid thirties, white, long brown hair, and not unattractive. She had her back to him, and was just pulling on a pair of blue jean cutoffs over her underwear.
Without turning, she made some noise. It sounded a bit like singing without words, but was broken up by a very strange set of consonants, including a lot of see-aitch sounds, a trilled ar, and that strange tooth-and-tongue sound that was usually written "tsk" in stories.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am?" he said.
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 #61: World Transitions. 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: