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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 160: Brown 54
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Previous chapter: Chapter 159: Hastings 95
The scream was completely unexpected. Derek whirled to look at her face.
He didn't know where Joe had looked, but he heard the gun fire a burst of bullets, aimed at the floor. Looking down he saw the shredded remains of one of the smaller beasts, its jaw still hanging from Lauren's leg.
"Sorry about that," Joe said. "It must have come in through the floor vents. We were so busy looking up we forgot to look down."
Lauren hobbled over to the nearest chair and sat. "It's O.K., Joe. We all dropped our guard when we thought we were done. I don't know if I can get this off; it seems locked in place."
"Let me see it," Joe said, and in a moment he had his medical kit opened, and a small laser of some sort was cutting through the jaw. The remains of the head fell away. "It might be broken. If we can get back, we'll have to get it checked. But this armor of yours stopped it from breaking the skin, so there's little chance of poison or infection, if it has anything like that."
"People, we've got two minutes," Derek said. "Less."
"I hope I can do this," Lauren said. "The thing is, for the magic to work, I have to walk into the mist and walk out again. It might be that I could open the mist for you, but I don't know how you would ever get out if I don't go with you to open the other end."
She stood up, and started her words—but she faltered as her leg gave beneath her. Catching herself on her good leg, she started again. A bit of mist appeared, and she tried to walk into it, but it vanished before she could reach it. Again she tried, and again the mist dispersed when she tried to step into it.
"Fifteen seconds," Derek said. "It's a good thing I hate long good-byes, because we're only going to have a short one."
Lauren said something completely unintelligible, and waved her arms in the air; at the same moment, the deck rocked, the gravity failed, and the room started to split in half.
"Grab on to me," she said, and without thinking Derek took hold of her arm. In the back of his mind he wondered why he was doing this; they were all going to die in a moment anyway, as the atmosphere rushed out and away from them.
But they didn't. Holding on to each other, they remained afloat, adrift in space as the pieces of the ship moved away from them.
"What do you know?" Lauren said. "It worked!"
"What is it?" Joe asked.
"It's my silly comfort bubble. It's a bit of magic I made for camping; it's supposed to keep the environment inside comfortable for the campers. I hardly expected it would work in conditions like this."
"So, we're all right?" Derek asked.
"Well, probably not. It's a bit erratic on how long it lasts; I've never had it go less than an hour, and it's gone as long as maybe eight or nine hours, but in this world I'd expect shorter rather than longer–the outer powers have not worked as well here as I'd have liked."
"Outer powers?" Derek asked.
"What I'd call real magic, power from beyond the universe, as opposed to what I'd call psionics, the inner powers that come from your mind or soul or spirit directly. The inner powers have worked well here, but the outer powers have been difficult."
"Let's not waste time on nonsense about supernatural definitions," Joe injected. "In short, we've got enough time to say good bye, maybe enough time to crash into the side of the habitat, but at some point we're going to lose this bubble, and then we die."
"We could be rescued," Derek suggested.
"Who even knows we're out here? Who would believe it?"
"Raeph knows," Lauren said, and everyone fell still.
It was again Lauren who spoke next. "So, what kind of world would you like to visit next? Joe, you first."
He smiled at this. "I'd like another high tech world. I like learning, and while there are many wonderful things to learn in low tech worlds, there's so much more to learn where science has advanced to great heights. I'd like to get back to a space ship, maybe, now that I know so much, and sharpen my engineering skills. For all that, I'd like to take some courses in engineering, maybe architecture and civil engineering and such, and learn how to build cities and power stations and all the comforts of home."
He turned toward Derek. "What about you, kid?"
It was a question he had never considered. There was a degree to which he saw no point in considering it, as it didn't seem to matter what he wanted in a world–he got what he got. But the idea of saying what you wanted was interesting. After all, you never knew what it was you were getting until you were there, and it was easy to see all the problems with a place and none of the good things if that's how you looked at it. If you'd already said what things were worth having in a world, you would realize when you found them that you were lucky to be wherever you were.
"Well?" Joe asked again.
"Sorry; I was thinking." He paused another moment to reflect. Around them he saw the largest chunks of debris being deflected and disintegrated by the defenses around the habitat. "This was good," he said. "It was good to be part of the world, but it was even better to be able to save the world. I'd like to be the hero somewhere again, the kid who saved everyone. It doesn't particularly matter whether they know, or whether they ever have the chance to thank me. Just knowing that we saved a world, and that I was a part of that, is good. I'd like to save more people.
"I'd also like to get somewhere where I can learn magic–both the outer powers and the inner powers. I'd like to see for myself whether they're really the same or really different, and I think you can't know that unless you've learned them. Maybe that's a step toward something greater. I'd like to know whether one of you, or maybe Bob, or maybe someone else, is ultimately right about what's happening to us. I'd like to know if God really does exist, and what He, or it, or whatever, is really like. If I'm going to be traveling the multiverse for a while yet, it would help to know, or at least to think I know, whether it's all haphazard coincidences and accidents or if there's a divine intelligence putting me where I need to be. I don't know that yet. I'd like to."
They both looked at Lauren. Her eyes were closed; obviously her leg hurt far more than she was admitting.
"Lauren?" Joe said.
She started and opened her eyes. "My turn?" They nodded.
"Well, it's funny. For all the fighting I've done of late, you'd think I was ready for a rest. I'm not. I want to move on and do more; I feel like there is so much I have left undone.
"I've been to the same world three times, near as I can tell, but I want to go back. I've got unfinished business there. I never freed Merlin from the dryad, and I never saw the death of the vampire Tubrok. I'd like to go back, and at least get another shot at those things.
"Something inside me says I should slow down, rest a bit. I don't want to slow down. I am young, and will always be young, healthy with little fear that sickness will be more than an inconvenience, alive when I should be dead more times than I can count. Life is precious. How many of the people we have saved will live a few more years and then leave the physical universes forever? How many will squander what little time they have left in the body? We have been given ageless bodies, existence extended beyond reckoning. One day, perhaps, God will call us to His judgment seat, and we will have to give account of how we used this–this fantastic gift we've been given. I want to hear Him say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.' I want to have used as much of my time making the worlds better as I can. That, I think, is what I want. Anyway, that's what I'm going to try to do.
"But I suppose it would be nice to do it in a cleaner, more comfortable world than some I've visited." She smiled. "If you'll excuse me," she said, "I'm going to try to find my rod and get it headed this direction. Maybe if I can get it moving fast enough toward me, it won't be so far away when I reach the next world."
"Oh, wow," Derek said. "Do you think you could get my darts, too?"
"I can try, if there's time."
Joe was staring at the habitat, now so near that it loomed like a skyscraper, yet so far that they continued to hurtle toward it with little expectation of colliding for several hours. Beyond that, Derek still saw the defenses dealing with the incoming debris.
"Do you think one of those will get us?" Derek said.
"Hard to say," Joe answered. "We're not too big, but together we might be big enough. And I don't know if the defenses will pick up the bubble. Also, we're too soft to be a real threat to the ship, but I don't know if they can tell that, either. I didn't really anticipate floating back toward the ship in a magic bubble."
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 #148: Characters Succeed. 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: