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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 67: Hastings 115
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 66: Brown 74
Stepping into the darkness, she found that it was daylight; but it was the dingy daylight of a city. She was standing on something not unlike concrete beside blacktop, surrounded by tall buildings of many materials, with a network of bridges and overpasses and more above her. She could not see the sky; if it were not for the fact that this at the bottom looked so like a sidewalk and street, she might have thought she was inside a building. There were certainly many lights on the undersides of the overpasses.
There was also plenty of sound, as if traffic of some sort was moving somewhere, above and below. Yet oddly the street itself was empty. Where she stood, she saw no movement; without the sounds and the lights, she'd have taken it for a deserted city--in fact, she wondered whether it might yet be deserted, maintaining itself on some zero-maintenance power grid and operating automated mass transit systems long after all life had ceased to use them. It seemed so forsaken a place, more lonely than her deserted island. The place seemed to demand people; she wished for an instant that she saw one.
That instant was interrupted. She was knocked forward by something slamming into her back. Caught off guard, she barely had her senses in place to tuck her head and catch herself on her hands, dropping the gifts Peter had given her as she fell. She continued rolling over onto her back, her weight coming down on top of whatever creature it was that clung to her, and kept going. She must have surprised it, as it lost its grip, and she continued until she was on her feet, from which she kicked herself into a handspring for distance and spun around to see whatever it was.
It looked human; perhaps it looked almost human. It appeared so diseased and decrepit that she could not be certain it was not some other species that merely mocked human visage. Its hair was matted and in places seemingly torn from its head. Its skin was discolored in patches. It was scarred, with broken teeth, misshapen nose, and one eye only partly open. It wore clothes, but little more than tattered rags of some material that looked to be part plastic. Whether it was male or female was beyond what Lauren could guess; but its slight stature and frail form made her wonder at the impact of its initial blow. Even now it was on its feet, and seemed to be preparing for another jump.
"What do you want?" Lauren asked. "I haven't got any money, if that's what this is about."
It smiled, a vicious, hungry smile, and Lauren could see that its teeth looked as if they had been sharpened at some point. Or was it something else?
It leapt again; Lauren focused her mind into her force wall, and it collided with the invisible shield. It made a noise, somewhere between a growl and a hiss, as it clawed at the solid air in front of it.
"I don't want to hurt you," Lauren said; "but I warn you, I am quite capable of doing so if you insist."
It was feeling its way along the wall. Lauren knew that eventually it would find its way around it; this was not even the bubble she had built when she, Derek, and Joe were on the spaceship--it was just a small wall in front of her. She could keep it up for quite some time; but then, she didn't know for how long this beast could keep pressing on it.
At that moment, it came around the edge, in a rush. Lauren shifted her mind to the invisible blade, and sliced a gash across the creature's chest. This caused it to back up a step; but then it leapt forward again. Lauren cartwheeled out of the way, thinking to get back to her wagon by maneuvering around it. It leapt again, almost as if it had anticipated her escape, and she swung the blade across its face. It did not even slow down. The gash that opened went deep, but did not bleed.
Lauren ducked, then forced herself up again as the creature overshot her back. This threw it off balance; its head struck the cement solidly. It did not stop even yet. Lauren flipped forward into the air and brought her sneaker-clad feet down on its back as it rose. It did not fall under her weight, but continued rising, and she was forced to spring again from there to avoid falling over. It was certainly not human, she decided; if it were, it would now be dead. She aimed her blade again, and passed it through the monster's throat. The head rolled off, and the body dropped to the ground.
As Lauren watched, the remains rapidly decayed, not to dust, but to a significantly rotted corpse. This had been a vampire. It was not the sort, perhaps, with which she had dealt in the past. It lacked intelligence, for one thing. It seemed almost a joke, as if some vampire had made a vampire out of a disabled and dying child, and left it to starve once it was immortal. Killing it seemed a mercy.
It struck her that this thing had attacked her in what she took to be daylight. It could be that the artificial light of this place was so brilliant that she had been fooled; or it could be that vampires had overcome the limitation of being creatures of darkness in this world.
Facing it proved that this was a dangerous place, and she needed to be ready for anything. The street still appeared abandoned; she was not going to find a better place quickly enough. The long disused plastic chain armor, leggings, shirt, plates, and coif, came out of the cart and onto her body, and she changed the worn-out sneakers to work boots. She donned her choice weapons--the three kau sin kes, steel around her waist, plastic and glass draped over her neck; the pair of fifty caliber revolvers in low holsters; the psionic blaster and drill in her belt; the bow and quiver of arrows on her shoulders; and the laser rifle in her hands. Everything was fully charged, fully loaded, fully ready.
She suddenly remembered that she had dropped the gifts from Heaven, and didn't even know what they were. She went to them, checking to see if they were all right. She had not yet even looked at them, really, and now took the time to do so.
The first to catch her eye gleamed in the light. It was a golden rectangle which looked in shape as much like a credit card as anything else; there were words written on it, in what she immediately recognized as Greek. She had studied Greek in school, now centuries ago. It was the common language of Rome, and of the apostles, in which the New Testament had been written. Her recollection at this point only gave her the ability to pronounce what she saw and recognize a few key words. Ho de theos mou pleyrosei pasan chreian humon kata to ploutos autou en doxei en Cristo Ieysou, something about my God, all, glory, in Christ Jesus, but she would have to find a book to work out the rest. She put it in her pocket, and picked up the next.
This seemed a strange sort of contraption, really. In shape it was something like a pot, or a spoon with a deep bowl, except that the handle appeared to screw into it farther as you turned it. It, too, bore an inscription; this one was a shorter: Hey aleytheia eleutherosei humas. Aleytheia was truth, she knew, and humas was you, but she didn't recognize the verb. Still, if The Truth was the subject, she thought she could work out this one. It was a bit too big to fit comfortably in her pocket; she levitated it to the wagon, and placed it within.
The third object was a small silver cross on a thin silver chain. She would wear this, as that seemed its design; but with the coif already on over her clothes, she could not easily don it at this moment. This, too, she stuck in her pocket, making a mental note to try not to damage it.
She had the laser rifle in her hands; and she couldn't easily shoulder both it and the bow. So as she started walking, she used her telekinesis to draw the cart behind her. She needed to find someone who could tell her what was happening here. Perhaps a church would be a good place to start. It was a city; there certainly must be a church in it somewhere. As yet she did not know what any building around her was; but there had to be a way of finding things here, and she would figure that out soon enough.
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 #186: Worlds Change. 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: