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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 110: Hastings 38
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Joe was a nice guy and very concerned about others. Lauren was impressed with how well he was able to communicate with the parakeet people, even when he knew only a few words of their language. He had a gift for helping the sick and wounded. Lauren had not noticed the sick before; the people cared for them, and they stayed in their nests until they recovered or died, and none had died since she arrived. Speckles said they usually died after something called "the journey", although Lauren was unclear what that was.
Sharing a nest with Joe meant a bit more modesty was required. But he was a proper gentleman and always respected her privacy. The parakeet people didn't understand their ideas at all. They had noticed that Lauren "changed color" frequently, and that she had no feathers, and eventually were talking about how she washed her skin and hung it out to dry, but she had given up trying to explain why this was. Now that Joe was here, most of the locals assumed that he was her mate (although some argued that he was a different creature, like the sparrow people). Answering this was much more difficult, especially since they had no words for race, marriage, privacy, or modesty. She tried to explain that she had another family on another world, but they wanted to know why she wasn't with them if they were still alive. She tried to explain that she and Joe had just met, but the parakeets all thought that if they were the only two of their kind in this part of the world, they should have chicks. In the end she gave up; they didn't, and kept asking when they expected their eggs.
Joe did travel over to meet the sparrow people one day, intending to see if he could help them. He returned the same evening, complaining angrily about how they threw rocks at him and wouldn't allow him to approach or hear what he had to say. Lauren could only guess how frustrated he was that he was unable to help them. But over the coming days he more than made up for it, checking the health of every chick in the nesting ground.
And he was good company, someone to talk to about other places, other times. They talked about the things they had done since entering the verse, going back as far as the original accident. However, they spoke very little about earth, about home and family. For Lauren, it was still only two years ago that she lived with her husband and her children; and although Joe was single and away from his parents then and had most of a decade in the verse, she could tell that he missed them.
"You know," she said one night, "we'll see them again."
"See who?" he answered, and she realized that she was continuing her thoughts aloud as if he already knew them.
"Our families, our friends. Time has little meaning in the multiverse. I'd always heard that it was different in heaven, that time was different, but I never really understood it until now. You and I both died at about the same time, and here we are together. Neither of us have aged, although we've grown and changed and learned. But you've lived for a decade since then, and I for only a couple years. Time doesn't seem to matter when we move from world to world. And it's like that in heaven, I would guess. Time is just different. Our families were alive when we died, and might still be alive after the short time we've been away; yet we could as easily discover that they have been dead a million years, or that they haven't yet been born. So I know that Phil and the kids will be in heaven when I get there."
"There is no heaven," he responded. "I know it makes you feel good to think otherwise, but when Phil dies, he's dead, and that's the end of it. And anyway, you'll never get there. You're immortal. You can't be killed, you can never die and stay dead, so even if there is a heaven?-even if there were a heaven, which there isn't?-you will never get there, because you're going to live forever."
"And how do we know this?"
"Well, it makes sense. You've died, let's see, three times? I've died five times. We keep coming back. Why should it ever change?"
"Things do change. We don't know why we keep coming back."
"Oh, it has something to do with this scriff stuff. The army exposed me to it in an experiment that went bad."
"What, they just gave you a shot of it or something?"
"No, they were using it in some new equipment that was supposed to be faster than the stuff it replaced. But I saw the stuff, and there were a lot of rumors about it."
"Well, I've heard the scriff theory, but it's just theory, isn't it? I mean, we don't know for certain that that's the cause, or that it's permanent. Even if scriff is somehow involved, isn't it just as possible that we're using it up, and once it's gone we stay dead?"
"And if so, we'll be dead, and we won't know it."
"So you say. But clearly we're living proof that it's possible to die and then continue living. Isn't it just as likely that we'll end up in an eternal afterlife?"
And another voice came from the door, startling both of them. "Is this a private argument, or can anyone join?"
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 #64: Versers Gather. 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: