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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 106: Hastings 37
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Previous chapter: Chapter 105: Kondor 35
"I'll be right there, Speckles," Lauren was saying, "just as soon as I'm dressed."
But the voice that answered wasn't Speckles. It was an unfamiliar and out of place baritone. "I beg your pardon, ma'am?" it said, in English.
She grabbed her T-shirt to her chest, and whirled around. There was a boy standing there, maybe nineteen or twenty, dressed in green army gear and carrying quite a few weapons. Tall, dark, and handsome, she thought.
"Young man," she said, "do you usually enter ladies' bedrooms unannounced when they're changing?"
"Oh--no, ma'am, I am sorry. I'll wait out here." He went back out the door.
It was obvious that this was a verser; she couldn't imagine that there were humans here somewhere, and the parakeet people didn't know it. She pulled on her shirt, and considered dabbing on a bit of make-up. First impressions, she thought--but it was a bit too late for that. Whatever first impression she was going to make, she'd made it. She stepped out to meet him.
"I'm terribly sorry, ma'am," the young man repeated.
"Oh, it's all right. You couldn't know. I'd probably have done the same thing. I'm Lauren Hastings. Welcome to the nesting ground of the parakeet people."
"Joe Kondor," he answered. "Call me Joe."
There was that sense of scriff in him, as there had been in those other versers she had met; it was very subtle, but she could feel it if she thought about it. But did he know what had happened to him? "Been versing long?" she asked; if he didn't understand, she could explain, and if he did he wouldn't be insulted.
"Versing?" he replied. "That's an interesting word for it. Short for universe hopping? Well, not counting home, this is my fourth--no, fifth--world."
"O.K., Joe. I think the reason we're here is to help these people develop the basics of civilization."
"What do you mean, the reason we're here?"
She frowned. "You don't think God has brought us into these worlds to do something, to make them a better place?"
"God?" he answered. "God? No. The army did this to me, and it isn't what they intended. It's all just a grand goof-up."
"So, you don't try to make the worlds you visit better?"
"Oh, that's an entirely different question. Of course I do. When I was in the last world, I helped the humans fight off these disgusting creatures. Before that, I brought medicine to the people of Nottinghamshire. I do what I can to help people. But it's because I value their lives. Superstitions have nothing to do with it."
Now she smiled. "So," she said, "If God did want to send someone into those worlds to make them better, He chose well."
He smiled, more of a one-upmanship "gotcha" than anything; but perhaps she deserved it. "Not if He wanted credit," he said.
He was staring at her; she realized that she was staring at him, too. This wasn't going to get them anywhere.
"Well," she said, turning away, "the people here--have you seen them yet?" He shook his head. "They're very like birds, with a colorful downy fuzz over most of their bodies. I call them the parakeet people, at least the colorful ones here in the village. The brown and black ones over in the mountains I call the sparrow people."
"So you're telling me that these people are divided by the color of their feathers."
She'd touched a nerve. "You know, I hadn't thought of it like that."
"Of course not. You're white."
It crossed through Lauren's mind that somehow Kondor thought it was prejudicial to not notice a relationship between feather colors and skin colors, but it wasn't prejudicial to suggest that her failure to notice was because of race. Already they had skirted a fight about religion, and now one about race, and she needed to get out of it gracefully.
"Well, I met the parakeet people first," she said, "and they welcomed me to stay with them, although I made them a bit nervous. The sparrow people don't seem to like me, but they don't seem to like the parakeet people much, either. Any way, I don't think it's like blacks and whites--more like maybe Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, similar in appearance but not the same species. And I don't know if that's a good example; I wasn't a science major. The two groups both speak, and they speak to each other, but I haven't heard the sparrows enough to know whether their language is different. I've been learning to speak the parakeet dialect."
"That would be that strange singing you did when I arrived."
"Yes, I thought you were Speckles, a young girl who is one of my best pupils. Everyone went out to collect some kind of special berries from bushes in a clearing far back in the forest. When I heard someone at my door, I assumed they had returned."
"Berries? Say, you know, I don't remember the last time I ate. I've been so intent on finding the source of this scriff sense, I never stopped for food. Is there something here, or should I open some rations?"
"Well, mostly everyone eats fish, and I happen to have a bit of soup left from my supper. I've learned that there are some grasses and wildflowers that are safe and quite tasty. They also eat snake and lizard when they can catch it, and that's nice for something different. I've avoided the berries and nuts. I read somewhere that birds can eat some things of that sort which are poisonous to people."
"Yeah, that's true," he said. "But I had some basic survival training, and I've got some equipment to check for that kind of thing. I'll check out some of the ones they eat, and see what's what."
"Then you'll at least have to stay until tomorrow; and you'll need a place to sleep. For the moment, you can stay with me. I promise to be a proper lady." She smiled. She wasn't completely certain how her hosts were going to respond to Joe, but she wasn't ready to ask them to build a new nest, especially since she was the only person in the village who lived alone. "I'll also teach you what I can of the language."
She looked up toward the woods to see the first splash of color on the path. "Oh, and here they come. Come on, I'll introduce you."
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: