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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 56: Hastings 111
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Lauren sat braiding her long dark hair; it had been a long time since she had cut it, but she liked the look of it, and keeping it braided kept it out of her way when she worked. Several times she had been tempted to cut it; but she remembered that Phil, her husband, always liked it long, and she kept it long for the memory of him.
Today was the day that she would fix the broken disintegrator rod. She had put it off long enough, long enough that she could not say how long. There was little here to mark the passage of time. Day followed night and night day, and sometimes it rained, often for days on end, but there was no marked change in seasons beyond that the path of the shadows shifted slightly north and south over time. However long it had been, she had put it off for too long. Today she was determined to fix it.
Yet she delayed. She knew that she was delaying, that she did not want to face this test, that she could yet put it off for another day, another year, another hundred years. Eventually she had to do it; it was standing in her way, and she would not be satisfied with herself until she tried.
She just didn't have to do it this moment.
She strolled around her paradise; this was home now, as much as the cave near Wandborough had been when she taught Bethany, as much as the nest by the lake had been when she and Bob and Joe lived with the parakeet people, as much--almost as much--as had been Franklin Township, with Phil and their three children, Trevor, Tiffany, and Tyler. She knew that she risked losing this, being again torn from another home and thrown into the dangers of the multiverse. Perhaps she had become complacent. Perhaps it was time to get back into action. It was odd; moments before she had come here, she had told her companions that she hoped she would still be involved in action somewhere, that she liked being involved; and now she had spent years in the quiet place, and didn't want to leave it.
"Sometimes there's just no satisfying you, Lauren," she said aloud to the wind. "You always want to keep what you have; God always wants to give you something new." Yes, it was time. She climbed the slope to where she kept the wagon, and once again dug out the pieces of her disintegrator rod. There was a clear spot, the bare rock above the waterfall, which she thought the best place to try it; but then she thought better of this--if she versed out, her things would be below her, and might wind up buried. Better to find a spot more nearly level, maybe a bit below, her home. Most of her equipment could suffer a short fall undamaged. Picking instead a quiet grove, she sat and leaned against a tree, and stared at the two pieces of the rod.
It occurred to her again that she did not know what she was trying to do. She was trying to fix it as if it were a broomstick or something, by gluing the pieces together. It was as if you could fix a broken clock with tape. It wasn't enough merely to stick it together; she had to understand how it was supposed to work. With it broken, it didn't work; so what was she trying to do?
There was another resource she could tap. Almost leaping from her seat, she bounded back to her camp and drew out all of the other psionic devices she had. Once, long ago, she had determined how to feel magic in magical objects; but she had never tried to work out what made psionic devices psionic, even though she had more of these and had had them longer. There were two other rods, the lifter and the trapper, plus what she called the blaster and the drill, and the psionic computer she had used but never mastered, and the glass sphere that transported the mind to another world. This would be tricky, in a way. She was going to have to use her mind to look into each of them, to see how they were made in some fundamental way as one might microscopically examine computer chips to see the substance and design and etchings within them. But in doing so, she did not want to operate them--devices usually operated by mental contact. There was something she needed to learn from them. She did not know what it was, but it must be there.
She began with the sphere. It was in some ways the least dangerous, as it did nothing outside itself. Without making contact, she began to examine its structure, forcing her internal vision into the very substance, in a tighter and tighter focus, seeing less and less more and more clearly. She wanted to see the molecules of this, to find out what it was about psionically active glass that made it different from windows. (She didn't have a window; but there were fragments of volcanic glass about which might be useful in that regard.) She examined it closely; but there was nothing here that particularly caught her attention.
So she turned her attention to the computer, and again got into its molecular structure. It was essentially similar. The weapons also had what she took to be glass molecules. Each of the rods in turn showed much the same. What was it about these that made them different, that made them work, when the disintegrator did not?
She picked up a fragment of the smooth cool volcanic glass, and focused on it. These were not the same molecules. That which she had called glass because of its appearance was not made of the same material as that which bore the name in other worlds. She wasn't going to learn anything from this, or at least if she was she hadn't learned it yet.
What else was there? She had not found the secret. Somehow there must be something about psionic glass that made it psionic, but she wasn't finding it.
She picked up the back end of the shaft of the broken rod. What was different about this? Her mind went to it, focusing in once again on the molecular structure. These were the same molecules she had seen in the other devices. But wait; there was something different--something that had been the same about all the other devices, but was different here. Something in fact made this piece of glass more like the ordinary volcanic glass than like the other pieces of the same chemical structure. Again picking up one of the other rods, she looked into it, and then back to the broken one. Yes, that was it. It was like magnetism. The molecules were the same, but in the functional devices they were lined up in a pattern, arranged in phase with each other in some way that she couldn't explain chemically or scientifically but could see in her mind. Breaking the device had meant that whatever it was that held those molecules in place had snapped, and they were all disarrayed. She needed to realign them as she put the whole together, and then she would have her rod.
Picking up both halves, she focused her thought into them, trying to get all the molecules to arrange themselves appropriately, and touched the broken ends together. If she did this right, her rod should mend itself, and she would again have the powerful weapon which had won the day against Jackson so long ago.
She rested her mind. The two pieces of the rod came apart; nothing happened. She had failed.
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 #183: Verser Transitions. 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: