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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 116: Brown 40
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Previous chapter: Chapter 115: Hastings 80
It seemed hours before anyone else entered the room. Several times Derek stood up and walked around, but there was nothing here to see so he wound up back in his chair. Finally another man entered.
"Derek," he said. "That is your name, correct?"
"Yes," Derek said. He wasn't sure what to make of this man.
"I'd like to ask you a few questions, if I may."
"Yeah. Go ahead."
"How old are you?"
Tough one right off the bat, Derek thought. "It depends on how you count. I've been alive about twenty-five years, but haven't aged since I was twelve—and I don't know if it means anything in this universe, but I was born in nineteen eighty-eight, which I suspect is several hundred years ago if this is the same world."
"Uh-huh." The man made some notes on what Derek realized was the electronic equivalent of a notepad. "Where do you live?"
"Right now I'm homeless. I've spent the past ten years living at a school we founded in an old abandoned satellite control center, and before that I lived with my mom in a town called Mahwah."
"Good, good. Why did you leave home?"
"It was an accident. I was thrown out of the universe, and couldn't get back."
"Very good. Derek, do you think that God has some special mission for you?"
"Special mission? Actually, I don't know. I know that Lauren would have said so; she thought we were all chosen by God to do what we could in different worlds. And it seemed very like that when we were working on the school. But I don't know whether I believe it or whether I just don't have a better explanation."
"Yes or no?"
Suddenly Derek realized who this man was. He was the local equivalent of the school psychologist. This was a psyche evaluation.
"No, I'm not some sort of divine secret agent, if that's what you mean. If God has a plan for me here, I don't know what it is."
"You mentioned Lauren. Who is that?"
"Lauren is a woman I met on my travels. She helped me understand a bit about what happened to me."
"Where did you meet her?"
"We met at the school; actually, that was before there was a school–we both came to the same building, and it was her idea to start a school."
"So Lauren told you that you needed to start a school, and you started it?"
"No, not at all. I didn't like the idea at first, but she wanted to start a school, and she started it. She just wanted my help."
"You were to teach the classes and run the school?"
"Not at first. I did tutor some of the students. Lauren taught the classes and ran the school, but when she versed out–when she left–another guy we knew took over running the school."
"So, you were one of the students?"
"Yes, and one of the teachers. The school was sort of built that way–those who learned were encouraged to teach others."
"And who were the other students?"
"Just people. All different people, whoever Lauren could find to bring there."
"Ah." The psychologist stared at his notes for a moment.
"Is Lauren like your mother in some ways?"
"Well, yeah, I guess so. She's about the same age as my mom, and she's human, and she takes care of me–but she takes care of everyone, sort of. And she's very different from my mom in a lot of ways, too. She can do things I didn't think anyone could do."
"Oh, lots of things." Derek suddenly realized that he didn't know what was possible in this world, and what he was about to say might sound like fantasy; he chose his words carefully. "I've never seen anyone fight like her. For that, I've seen very few gymnasts who can do what she can do, and she's got skills like you'd see in a Kung Fu movie or something. She can also use guns as well as just about anyone I've seen–well, I knew a couple of people who were better, but not many. And she thinks about things, and explains them so that people can understand. She also knows how to bring people together, and to get people to open up about themselves and become involved in what others are doing, like when Grarg wasn't interested in anything we were doing at the school so she talked to him and found out why, and worked with him until eventually he was the history teacher."
"These are all things which you can't do very well, I gather."
"I couldn't do any of them, really, when I met her. But I got to be a pretty good shot with the laser, and I'm in a lot better shape now than I was before she started working with me in the gym she set up for herself."
"So, this Lauren encouraged you to become more like her, to improve yourself in the ways in which she was better?"
A thought just occurred to Derek. "You don't believe she's real, do you?"
"I believe that you believe she's real."
"That's not the same thing. You think that I imagined her, that I imagined everyone and everything in my story."
"I never said that."
"You didn't deny it."
"This is not about what I think; it is about what you think. If you say they are real, I accept that. In your experience, they are very real."
"Right." The cynicism in his voice surprised even himself. "What's the next question?"
The questions continued for a very long time; Derek did his best to answer them, although he doubted he could avoid giving the impression that he was crazy. Then he had another thought.
"Look," he said, "I said that I came from another universe, and that I spent years studying since then. Check me and test me. You must have something at least as advanced as a fingerprint database, maybe even a genetic scanner or something. Find out if I match some missing child somewhere in your universe. Go through my gear. Figure out who made my laptop, who made my laser rifle, who made my video games. Do you think that I made these things? Can you find the manufacturers somewhere in this universe? Test me. I have a lot of training in math; I can do trig functions and calculus equations easily enough. I understand a lot of astrophysics, such as Doppler spectroscopy and orbital geometry. I know electronics and computers–well, although I've only just started studying yours, it's my best field, and I'd wager I could have hacked into your systems and created an identity for myself quite easily if I hadn't overlooked an alarm on the door when I broke in. I've offered an explanation of myself. You don't like it, but you don't have an explanation that fits better. In fact, you don't have any explanation for me at all. Am I a spy? Who could have trained someone my apparent age to be a spy? Am I a lost child, or a runaway? Who lost me, and how did I get here? Where did I get these alien objects? Come up with an explanation. I'd love to hear it."
"Derek, you seem very certain of these things. I appreciate your candor. Thank you for talking with me."
With that, the shrink left the room, and Derek was again alone.
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 #119: Character Projects. 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: