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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 4: Hastings 45
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Lauren awoke, and thought something was different. It was still cold; she and Bob had long ago given up the propriety of sleeping on the edges of the nest and moved to the center to help keep each other warm through the night. But perhaps it wasn't as cold as she expected. Also, there was a sound outside, familiar as from a forgotten dream. She opened the covering over the doorway and looked outside.
It was raining.
Spring had arrived.
She woke Bob. He was always a late sleeper. "It's raining!" she said.
"Yeah? So we should stay indoors and get some sleep."
"Don't you get it? Spring is here."
Bob sat up, looking a bit. "You mean, winter is over?"
"Well, I guess I'm jumping to conclusions, but we've got rain coming down, and it's not freezing, so it's probably going to start washing away the snow."
Bob frowned. "How hard is it raining?"
"I don't know. Pretty hard, I'd say."
He nearly sprang from his bed. "Pack everything. Everything has to be moved."
"What are you talking about?"
He stopped and looked at her. "We are camped in a meadow next to a lake at the bottom of a hill on one side and a mountain on the other, and the snows are melting."
Lauren didn't get it. She met his stare, and blinked several times. Then she got it. The lake was bound to rise, probably several feet at least. Melting snows from high ground would pour down in flash floods. There was a reason why there were few trees in the meadow. They were sleeping on a flood plain.
She didn't bother to change out of the sweat suit in which she slept, or roll up her sleeping bag. She grabbed her gear, and rushed out to the adjacent nest where they had been storing things they didn't need. She dragged out her wagon, into the mud beside the drowned fireplace. Into it she tossed everything loose. She even grabbed the shell from the fireplace, and some of the best rocks. "There's room in my cart," she said. "Throw your stuff in here, and we'll only have the one thing to carry."
Bob came out of the nest wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and his leather boots, and threw everything else into the cart. They could sort it out later. She tucked the plastic sheet over it; it was a bit foolish, as she was quite certain everything she owned was as drenched as she was, but if not it might keep their clothes from soaking up too much rain, and so keep the weight of the cart from getting too great. Already her feet were immersed in rushing, swirling, freezing water as she grabbed the tongue of the cart and tried to find whatever remained of the road up the hill.
"Where should we go?" Bob asked. "Do you want to try getting to that mountain cave?"
She looked at the mountains; there probably were good camping places there. She didn't know where these would be; and they weren't on good terms with the sparrow people who lived there. "No," she said. "Probably that cave is flooded–the flood almost certainly pours in through the roof and out the mouth, which is why it's there at all. Besides, we'd never ford the stream in this weather."
"Probably right," he shouted over the rising storm. "I guess it's the hills and the woods then." Just then a flash of lighting struck somewhere in that direction, with the thunder a mere few seconds behind it.
"Well, it wouldn't be my first choice, but it does seem to be all that's left." She turned the wagon up the slope and started pulling.
They were soon out of the standing water, but the road itself was a streambed as the flow tumbled over the hard rocky ground. Bob wasn't unkind, and took the cart the first time Lauren slipped. She wondered if his soft leather boots would give him more traction than her wet sneakers, but he put his weight into it, and he had more weight than she did. They were out of the water now, and away from the nests.
She hadn't used the capture rod at all since she arrived last spring, but now seemed a good time to find out whether it worked here. Yanking it out of the cart and focusing her thoughts into it, she pointed the gemmed tip of the six-foot spear-like pole at the cart, and tried to lift it.
It worked; it worked well. She had the cart, all that was in it, and Bob contained in the force field bubble. Lifting them, she pushed the bubble out ahead as she walked carefully behind. She set them down quite a distance up the hill and turned it off, and then tried to catch up.
She saw Bob look back at her; maybe he smiled. He then turned and continued dragging the wagon toward the trees. Long before she caught up, he had vanished into the woods.
She found him a short distance off the road atop a knoll. The snows were still visible in many places up here, but the mulch of leaves and needles which blanketed the forest floor was uncovered at the top of his hill. Water ran around it, making it more an island than anything else. "This looks like as good a spot as any," he called.
"It works for me," she shouted back.
"We're not going to be able to do much in terms of a fire here," he said, "but it will probably freeze again tonight, so we'd better at least have some kind of shelter to try to keep warm. I'm thinking if we empty the cart and prop it against something, we can close in the other sides with whatever gear we've got. I don't think sleep is on the schedule for a while, though."
She considered it, and agreed. It took perhaps half an hour to get it the way they wanted it, but soon they were inside a snug shelter with a plastic sheet overhead which, if not dry, was at least not getting any wetter. The rain crashed noisily against the hard plastic inverted wagon and the thin sheet roof, but did not come through. Light filtered through the sheet, dimly illuminating the interior.
"So, why did we bring these fireplace stones inside?" Bob asked.
"Well, I've got an idea," she said. It had been a while since she'd used her pyrogenesis; she had taught herself to start fires with sparks from rocks, and they hadn't let theirs go out since before the first snowfall. But she had gotten pretty good at this a long year ago (probably nearer two years, going by days, she thought). She had used it to fry eggs, cook steak, boil water, warm a room, and even blow up tanks of gasoline and heating oil–all in another world, of course. This should be easy. She only needed to heat a few rocks. Reaching into one with her mind, she began creating turbulence at the molecular level, forcing warmth into it. It wasn't long before she could feel the heat radiating back from it.
Apparently Bob could feel it, too. "Hey, that's a good trick. You'll have to show me how it's done sometime."
"Yeah, I'll have to do that. But it's not easy; you'll probably want to start with a few easier things, like telepathy and telekinesis."
"It's funny; we've had the whole winter together, and we probably could have taught each other a lot of things, but I never thought of it."
"Well, we kept rather busy just keeping warm and finding food. And you did learn a bit of the local language."
"That's true. So, you seem to know a lot about this multiversing thing."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you and Joe use to talk about scriff and stuff like that. All I knew was I died one day and didn't stay dead. How did you learn all this stuff?"
Lauren hadn't realized how easy it was to assume that everyone who shared your experience knew what you knew about it. "Like I said, I met some other versers in NagaWorld, and they told me what they knew, and what they thought."
"So," he asked, "what did you learn?"
Where should she begin? There was so much to tell; and while they probably still had months to talk about it, it wasn't an easy set of ideas to explain.
"Well, obviously there's more than one universe. You and I have been to several each by now. People who have been at this longer than we have argue about whether there's actually an infinite number of universes or merely an incomprehensibly large finite number; but whatever the answer, they call all the universes everywhere the multiverse. Sometimes they just call it the verse; but they use that word for a lot of things, like any particular world is a verse, and moving between universes is called versing, and you can verse out of one and verse into another. They also call that scriffing, sometimes, because of the scriff. And people who move from verse to verse within the verse are called versers.
"I guess it's important to say that there's a lot of disagreement among versers. There may be quite a lot of us by now, but even those who have been traveling the verse for centuries–measured by time spent in worlds, not when they left earth–don't agree about everything. There's one guy who says we don't really exist anymore at all, but have just become part of all the stories. Another guy believes that he's still on earth, but caught in some kind of drug-and-machine virtual reality system the army is using to test reactions. There's a girl who is convinced that she's dying, and that none of this exists but is just the landscape in her own mind. But most of us agree that there really are other universes, and we really are alive in them, dying and coming back."
She paused. "Got anything to eat?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah–sorry. We've still got some dried fruit, and some nuts. I grabbed the pheasant that was stashed in the snow, but it's thawing and I'm not sure how to cook it."
"I'll cook it later," she said. "Let it thaw, and pass me some of that fruit, please."
He obliged, and she took a few bites before continuing.
"Scriff is part of the story. It's this gold-colored stuff that looks and acts a lot like mercury, but people who have experimented with it say it isn't really matter at all, and not energy either, maybe something sub-particle. But it gets into your system, and if anyone has ever managed to get it out they haven't told anyone. Once it's there, you don't stay dead, but when you die you get thrown into the scriff between the universes, and pop back into another one alive. Some people call this scriffing out or scriffing in, but it's just another word for versing.
"The scriff is also credited with keeping us from aging. It seems it remembers our form, and restores it. That's why if you get cut in half and die you come back in one piece without any scars. But it's not perfect–Joe lost an eye once, and the indigs saved his life, so now he has some kind of cybernetic eye."
"Indigs?" Bob inquired.
"Indig is kind of short for indigenous people, or indigenous life form; it means the people or creatures who live in a world. You can even meet yourself sometimes. I did once.
"And the worlds are all different. They say that worlds are biased. Some are biased to favor technology, others to favor magic or psionics. A world can be biased toward or against any of those things. No one knows how it works, but they've noticed that sometimes machines work more easily and sometimes they don't work at all, and the same with just about anything. So they call it the bias of a world, and some say you should try to figure out what that is, because it can work for you or against you."
"That's a lot to remember," Bob said.
"I guess maybe it is. But really that's about all of it. There are a lot of other theories about everything, but those are the main ones. And that's to be expected. After all, you say that Odin called us to prepare for Ragnorak, I say God is sending us to do His work in many worlds, and Joe says it's all just a big accident. There are probably as many theories of how and why we're out here as there are people in the verse."
Their discussion wandered from that into stories of other worlds, recounting the lives they'd lived and the people they'd met, as well as stories they'd heard from Joe and from other versers. Lauren heated the rocks several times as the hours passed.
"Well," Bob said, "I cleaned this bird, and it's about thawed, so I guess it's time to do a little roasting. Or would you rather make soup? I can probably fill a pan with fresh rainwater in a few minutes, although I'd rather stay dry."
"Actually, I've got my water jugs tucked into the wall. But if you can find my large pan, I'll try to roast it in its own juices."
"Yeah, go easy on the water jugs–the lake water is likely to be a bit gritty for a while with all the runoff."
Bob had put together a good part of the hut, and had little trouble producing the fry pan. It was large enough to catch the drippings, and so over the next couple of hours Lauren worked at roasting the bird, heating the inside with her thoughts and letting the heat spread through the meat, until they had a fine dinner. There was more than the two of them could eat, but they agreed that the leftovers would be excellent chum to attract fish if they could get to the lake the next day. The temperature did drop overnight, but the rain stopped as well, and they were able to keep each other warm with the aid of Bob's shelter, Lauren's rocks, and a hot meal in their bellies.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #74: Another Novel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: