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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 144: Hastings 90
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Finding herself alone with her thoughts in the apartment, Lauren decided it would be best to find better thoughts. She pulled out her well-worn Bible; it would be good if she could find a new one somewhere, but from what Derek said this universe didn't have Earth history, so it probably didn't have Bibles, either. It occurred to her that she could spend a lot of time wondering what God did in other universes to save sinners, but that wondering wasn't going to provide the answers so she should turn her attention back to studying. She picked up her reading, and spent quite a bit of time in prayer and worship.
She was interrupted by a voice from the other room, an unfamiliar voice which she was certain mentioned her name. She stopped to listen, and in a moment heard it again. "Call for Lauren Hastings from Raeph Williams." It took her a moment to realize this was the console calling, and before she had thought she leapt from her seat and dashed to the hall.
"I'm Lauren Hastings," she said. "What do I do to take this call?"
Whatever it was she was supposed to do, she had apparently done it. Raeph's image appeared on the screen. "Lauren?"
She felt her heart quicken and her face blush, and her thoughts immediately went to the old T-shirt she was wearing, and the mess her hair must look over the screen, and the probably smudged make-up she never removed the night before. "Hi, Raeph. What's up?" She remembered abruptly that not every culture used that expression. "It's good to hear from you."
"I've got an idea," he said. "Could you meet me for lunch?"
"Oh, something a little less formal, I think. Take your time, and whenever you're ready come by the computer center. I don't have anything pressing today, so can pretty much go whenever you get here. You can find it?"
"I think so. Anyway, if Derek is there, I can find him, as long as I don't confuse him with Joe."
"That's weird. Convenient, but weird. Well, I look forward to it. See you soon."
The screen blanked; Lauren blinked. Obviously Raeph just wanted to talk to her about what she could do in this world; on the other hand, he could have done that over the video feed–lunch was hardly necessary.
She quickly washed up, redid her makeup, and put on better clothes. She just wanted to look nice, she told herself; after all, she was going out in public, and she didn't know who she was likely to meet or what sort of impression she would need to make. But she knew she was really doing it for Raeph. He liked her; suddenly that mattered. Should she get there early, or late? What was the right choice?
She chided herself for asking such silly questions, and left as soon as she was ready. If she was too early, she could wait. What time was lunch in this world, anyway? She hadn't even seen a clock.
Raeph saw her enter, and smiled, raising a finger as if to say he would be there in a minute. He finished saying something to one of the girls in the department, and then came over.
"Ready for lunch?" he asked.
"I'm eager to hear what you're thinking," she said. "I don't know that I'm especially hungry yet, but whatever is convenient for you...."
Raeph pulled something from his pocket which Lauren took for a watch, and looked at it. "I guess it is a bit early for lunch. How about a cup of solga?"
"Well, I have no idea what that is, but if it's at all like a coffee break, I can do that."
"Great. Let's go." He escorted her out the door and down the hall a short distance, to what looked to be a simple coffee shop.
Picking up two cups of a dark steaming beverage and something cake-like, Raeph motioned toward a table in the corner. Lauren helped with the cups, and was soon seated across from him once more.
"So," she said, "what's your idea?"
"You've been to quite a few different worlds, worlds which we would call primitive. They aren't in this universe, but they are real places. I would bet that you could tell people all sorts of things about primitive cultures generally–what they believe, what they do, how their level of technology affects their social arrangements. If you could organize that, I could list you as a visiting cultural anthropologist, and get you scheduled for guest lectures at the university. Is that possible?"
Lauren sat for a moment. It couldn't really be said that she was thinking; she was uncertain what to think. But a picture started to form in her mind from what Raeph suggested.
"I–I think I could do that," she said. "I'd need a week, at least, to get organized. How often would I have to do them?"
"Well, I would think we could arrange for you to give the same lecture three times in a week, but each week you'd need something new. It will be a bit tricky to set up. I'd log you in as an anthropologist on sabbatical and then mention to the university that you were on the station. I don't think we'd try to explain that you traveled to different universes; rather, you would just have been dropped off on different planets. If anyone asked where, you could give the local names of the places you had been and note that not having finished writing up your research you haven't filed official names for any of them; oh, and you don't really know where they are, because you're not a navigator or anything. Does that work?"
"Yes, I think I could do that." Lauren smiled.
"Good. I'll get started on it."
"Raeph?" she said. "I really appreciate this."
"Glad to do it. How do you like the solga?"
She realized she had hardly touched it. She took a sip.
"It needs something–milk, I think."
"Milk? That's an interesting idea. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone putting milk in their solga. I'll have to try it sometime."
They sat in silence for a moment, and then Raeph pulled the watch out of his pocket again. "I'd better get back. I've enjoyed this. Can we get together again sometime?"
"I'd like that," she said, and smiled as she took another sip of the bitter beverage.
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: