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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 5: Brown 57
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 4: Slade 44
The hunger seemed to grow over a very long stretch of time; but then, Derek couldn't tell whether it actually was a long time or only seemed long, as he kept falling asleep and waking up again. Clearly he had no way of knowing how long he was asleep, but now he also realized that he could not tell for how long he was awake, either. Generally he remembered awakening; but he did not remember falling asleep. This, he recognized, was quite the normal way of things; but it did complicate matters.
There was a change in the feeling. He was still floating; it was still safe and warm. But now sometimes he felt like he was bouncing slightly, as if the vat was being gently shaken or stirred. It was shortly after this that he began to feel his strength returning, ever so slowly. It wasn't that he could feel the strength returning to his arms or his legs or anything as specific as that, but rather that he was no longer using up his energy but now was replenishing it. Obviously, whatever the problem had been with the feeding apparatus, it had been repaired; or perhaps the problem had only been that his body was healing so fast that it had outstripped its ability to absorb nutrients. Whatever the case, he was beginning to feel stronger. He encouraged himself that this was a step in the right direction, and that it would not be long before he was back on his feet.
He still tuned in the thoughts of whoever it was who was close. They were too incredible to be believed; either they were the delusions of a mental patient or an extended dream in the mind of someone with fewer moments of clarity than he. She was–or thought she was–a young woman, married to someone whose name seemed to be Theian Alanda Morani, and she liked to think the whole name. She sometimes would remind herself, as of a happy thought, that her name was now Theian Orlina Lelach. Derek didn't know what kind of names these were, but he hadn't been in the habitat long enough really to become familiar with any of the cultural variations which must exist in a society that spanned the galaxy. This fantasy character lived in a village in the woods, hunting mice and moles, salamanders and newts, as major sources of meat, and foraging for berries and seeds to round out meals.
At one point he wondered why he kept coming back to this madness, but there were several answers to this. The first, and most obvious, was that this was the only human contact he had; he still could not find any of the minds familiar to him. The second was that there was nothing else to do–he couldn't talk, couldn't read, couldn't watch television or play video games, go for a walk or ride his bicycle or anything. He was floating in healing vats on a space station. Reading minds was the only thing he could do, and this the only mind he could find. But the third answer was in some ways most telling. He found the story interesting. It was like a grand soap opera, unfolding in the life of one character. He enjoyed finding out what would happen next.
He was drawn deeper into the story when Theian Orlina Lelach started to wonder whether she was pregnant. A baby, he thought, would really add some interest to the tale; but don't rush it–it was far more interesting to watch her discover it herself. In fact, the excitement made his heart beat quickly–or, he thought it was quickly. He was still having trouble with the flow of time, and still drifted to sleep frequently. He noticed that it was beating in his chest, although not pounding hard enough for his ears to hear it.
Now the story seemed to have slowed some. It was filled with what passed for the mundane in its world, hunting, gathering, spending time with others. Thean Orlina Lelach rarely thought about her possible pregnancy. Derek wondered if there was any way he could influence the dream, push it in the direction he wanted it to go, or at least get it to answer the questions he wanted to ask. Lauren, of course, could do all kinds of things with other people's minds. She could talk to them, thought to thought; she could tie in to their language so she could speak with them in their own words. She could make people ignore her, and at least once had made a room full of people forget she had ever been there. She probably would have taught him to do some of these things, had they stayed together longer. Their time had been cut short, and all he had learned was to pick up the thoughts of others. Since then, he had taught himself to hunt for a thinking mind. He wondered whether he could teach himself to do more with it.
It occurred to him, however, that if this was the imaginings of a mental patient, he might be tampering with something very dangerous. After all, a sane person who suddenly hears thoughts from someone else in his head has trouble dealing with it, even if he has been told to expect it. Someone who is over the edge, or worse, very near it, could be severely affected by such contact. Derek decided it would be better to find another mind somewhere. There must be others around; he just had to get to know them.
Then on one of his awakenings something happened which both gave him hope and caused him great fear. He realized that he could hear the machinery of the life support system, a great, slow pump circulating fluids, liquid gushing through pipes around him, creaks and groans and other noises, and, once in a great while, the muffled sounds of something which followed the pattern of voices. His hearing had returned; he was healing, but had been far worse off than he had imagined.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #157: Versers Restart. 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: