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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 142: Hastings 89
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Previous chapter: Chapter 141: Brown 48
Lauren did not really take it seriously; Derek thought that Raeph found her attractive, but Derek didn't really know much about such things. Still, she found herself doing a lot of things she had not done in years. She took another shower, and put her hair up. Finding her old makeup (she had to use a bit of magic to rejuvenate it) she did her eyes, her lips, her cheeks. She told herself that she was doing all of this to look good in public.
Clothes were a bit of a problem. She had never owned much in the way of fancy clothes, and none of what she did have came with her but one simple outfit she had worn to church–and had not, to her recollection, worn in two centuries. She cleaned it up a bit and put it on, and with a bit of sprucing up made it look nice. She realized that today she probably would not buy anything so–so conservative, but in this world, just about anything she wore would be out of place, and whether it would look daring or silly was anyone's guess. This was the best she had, so she would have to make due.
Shoes were also a problem. Her dress shoes had not been part of what she brought, so she wound up wearing sneakers. On earth, sneakers below a dress would have looked foolish–something school girls wore when there was a dress code. Here, though, she could have worn her boots without anyone knowing what they were–except of course that the boots were still muddy from camping by the stream.
She managed to be ready by the time Raeph arrived. His surprise at meeting her again told her that her efforts had been successful–she looked good.
"I'd ask where we're going," she said, "but it wouldn't help me at all–if it's not your office or Derek's apartment, I've probably never been there."
He laughed; she smiled. "There is a nice restaurant on the next level; I hope you like it."
"It has been a long time since I've been to anything like a nice restaurant; I'm sure I'd be overwhelmed even by McDonald's."
"Oh–a cheap place to eat back home. What we called fast food, because they gave it to you within minutes of your order."
"Is that bad?"
"It was there. I suppose that you could get good food fast if you had the right way to cook it, but they just had everything pre-cooked and wrapped to go." Raeph opened the door to one of their elevators, and signaled for her to step inside. He followed and instructed it as to where to take them.
"I'm going to have to trust you to order for me," she said, "as I doubt I'll recognize anything on the menu–but I haven't had beef for quite a while. Do people still eat beef?"
"I'm sure I can find something you'll like. Obviously, beef is imported–we don't raise cattle in the habitat. But this place will have it. In fact," the elevator doors opened as he spoke, "here it is."
It was a rather elegant looking place; even with the cultural differences, Lauren could tell it was very upscale. She felt quite a bit out of place in her clothes, but the restaurant staff were very good at pretending not to notice. Some of the other customers stared at her, but quickly averted their eyes when they saw Raeph–apparently he was recognizable, and no one wanted to offend one of his guests.
Raeph ordered immediately, including drinks of some sort, and helped her into her chair before sitting across the table. They were in a rather private corner.
"So," he said, "tell me about yourself. I mean"–he looked a bit embarrassed for just a moment–"we need to find a place for you here, a job and such."
Lauren smiled. "I'm afraid that I've done very little that would make much sense in this world. I've killed a lot of vampires; I was an apprentice to a famous wizard, Merlin, for a long while, and helped him manage the succession of power to a new king. I founded a school, and taught reading and basic skills to adults who had never known such things were possible. Let's see–what else have I done? I taught some very primitive tribal people how to make clay pots, and helped them start developing their own written language. I killed a giant flying reptile that was attacking a couple of my friends. You see, none of that has any place in a world like this. I've never been in such a world. The only time I was in the future, it was a world that had lost its way, forgotten its past and reverted to something rather primitive. I tend to work in primitive worlds most often. This is a new experience for me."
"I hope you're enjoying it."
"It's early yet, but I think I will enjoy it. I have two friends here already, with whom I've spent a lot of time in the past. And this world holds a lot of promise."
"Tell me about fighting vampires."
"What do you want to know?"
"Oh, I don't know. We have myths about such creatures, but I didn't think they ever really existed. To meet someone who has actually faced one and is still alive–it's a bit like dreaming, I suppose."
"It is a bit like dreaming. There weren't any vampires in my world, either, or at least, I'm pretty sure there weren't. It's hard to be positive about anything like that–saying that something never was is a bit difficult. But when I first discovered that there were vampires in one of the worlds I'd entered, and realized what they were about, fighting them seemed the only logical thing to do. It's also why I became a wizard. I needed the tools to fight them, and I needed to put them off balance, to make them think I was more dangerous than they were."
"I think you might be."
"Oh, it's really an image. I've told my students this many times: being a wizard is a lot more about what people think you can do than about what you actually can do. If they believe you're powerful, they give you space. The trick is to take whatever you are able to do, and make it seem as if that's just the tip of the iceberg."
"I can see that. I think a lot of times in fixing computers, if people knew how easy it really was I'd be out of a job."
"Oh, there will always be people who don't understand what you do. There's no danger there."
The conversation moved on like this as the food came; it was very good, and was indeed beef. Somewhere along the way Lauren realized that very little of what Raeph asked or said had anything to do with finding her a job. He wanted to know things about her that couldn't possibly matter to anything–and he told her many things about himself that couldn't matter to anyone but a friend, or a love.
During dessert–something she had never had before, sweet and fluffy and yet hearty–she realized that Derek was right. Raeph seemed to like her, and she was enjoying the attention. It had been a very long time since anyone thought of her as a woman. She had been a warrior, a mother, a schoolteacher, a sorceress, a mentor, an apprentice–but not, for ages, a lover, not since she died and lost Phil.
As Raeph walked her back to Derek's place, her mind drifted back to Phil. It had been, for her, two hundred years since she saw him. He must think her dead by now–but she wasn't dead, and time in one world had nothing to do with time in another. No, she thought, for practical purposes, you are dead. No one ever gets home; the elder versers taught you that. But could they be wrong? After all, if you did get home, wouldn't you be very careful to stay there after that? Had any verser ever found his way back to family and friends? Certainly anyone who had would never tell his story; he would be thought mad. Even now, Bob Slade could be home, and she might never know it. How could they know? And perhaps this moment was a test for her, a test of her fidelity. After two hundred years, with no hope of getting home, would she give up her marriage vows and love another? It was a severe test, but she could not know that she wouldn't awaken in her own bed tomorrow morning, and what would she feel then?
She thanked Raeph for the wonderful dinner; he asked if they could do it again sometime. "I'd like that," she said, then added, "let me know if you come up with anything I can do around here." He did not try to kiss her, but then she had not encouraged that. Her mind was remembering her family, lost to her now for longer than she had ever dreamed she would live.
Joe gave her his bed for the night; he said it would be more comfortable. She thanked him, somewhat absently, and lay down on it in her clothes. It was surprisingly comfortable.
She cried herself to sleep.
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 #134: Versers in Space. 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: