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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 79: Hastings 119
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The Speedline had been upgraded since Lauren had last ridden it. Now it was enclosed. Lauren was not certain whether that was to prevent accidents or to reduce wind resistance, but it had the effect of hiding the countryside. She guessed that they were crossing the river a moment after she had boarded because the train, which was subterranean in Philadelphia but elevated in New Jersey, tilted upward and then down again. The fact that it did this over mere seconds suggested that they were moving much faster than she had ever crossed the river before, save perhaps when Raal skipped it entirely by driving his cab through hyperspace.
Getting this far had taught her much. Dimitri had brought her to the subway entrance, where ramps installed for handicapped access made it easy to bring her cart with her. Once inside, she had to negotiate the automated payment system. This took her a moment. She inserted her card, and at first nothing happened. It then occurred to her that the words written on it might not be there merely to explain it to her. She remembered the translation, and spoke to the card while it was in the reader: "And my God will provide all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Once the words were spoken, the system read the card just as if it were a credit card, apparently debiting some divine account to pay for her fare.
There were local trains and express trains; both stopped at this station. Her first inclination was to wait for an express train; then she thought better of it, that God might want her in the first train that arrived. This was a local, and she boarded it. Her cart easily fit through the door, and the passenger load was light (she guessed it was because of the time of day, but she had not yet worked out what time it actually was) so there was ample room for it in the car.
As she traveled out away from the city, she took note of the stops, all places whose names she knew from another world--Camden, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold. She was tempted to get out at the Echelon Mall to see what they had, but prudence reminded her that she was already being hunted, probably, and needed to escape her pursuers swiftly. She ceased watching the stops after Berlin; the simple map on the wall indicated that the line ran to Atlantic and ended, so she had no fear of missing her station. The stops came swiftly, rarely more than a minute between them, but the acceleration and deceleration was smooth and silent. The technology was remarkable, almost magical. Lauren worried how much of it would have to be destroyed to free humanity from the stranglehold of its predators.
They reached Atlantic in something over an hour; but they had spent more time stopped in stations than they had in transit. Express trains probably saved a lot more time in this world than they had in hers, given that they made far fewer stops and so also stayed at top speed more. She had seen a very few people board and disembark during the journey, and none gave her more than a puzzled glance.
As the train reached the end of the line, she remembered Atlantic City.
Atlantic City had once been a real seaside resort. It was the place you meant if you said you were going to the boardwalk; its boardwalk had been immortalized in Monopoly. People use to flock to the beaches, enjoy the amusements, eat the junk food--Lauren was just old enough to remember coming to AC as a little girl, when those were the attractions. The convention center was best known to her generation as the place the teachers went for their annual union meeting, an event every New Jersey school child knew well, as it meant a four-day weekend in early November every year. That had changed, while she was still young. In an effort to save the flagging tourist industry, they had opened casinos on the boardwalk, and Las Vegas style gambling swept in to dominate the city in what seemed mere months. In her own world she had been skeptical of the value of casinos to the city; if they ever provided housing or jobs for the local poor, she didn't see it. In this world, the sudden appearance of neon signs inviting people to gamble away their souls made her shudder, as in this world that was something you could easily lose and think you had won.
It was not a fun place to be; it was also extremely well designed to keep people there. She could easily find directions to hundreds of places, places to eat, places to drink, places to sleep, places to gamble, places to be entertained; once she was hundred steps away from the Speedline, she could not see signs pointing back to it. Come to Atlantic City, she thought, and we'll do our best to keep you here.
God had wanted her to come this way, though. There must be a reason, even if she didn't know what it was. Somehow she was going to have to find the Route Forty Tube Bus and head southwest. It was not going to be easy. The fact that she had her wagon in tow did not make it easier.
The wagon meant there was another problem. She had covered the contents with a plastic sheet, but it was still an open wagon. As she walked, she pulled it behind her, so she couldn't easily watch it. Anyone could remove something from it. She could, of course, find any of her things anywhere in the world; that wasn't the point. The problem was that she had to pay attention to that scriff sense to sense it, and it was easy to forget it while doing other things. If something was taken, she might not know it for quite a while; and she might not know what it was until she recovered it (a disadvantage, she realized, of the sheer volume of luggage she brought with her). She was going to have to watch it. She could think of two ways to do that. One was to levitate it out in front of her as she walked, so that she would see it while she moved; the other was to use her clairvoyance to keep a psychic eye on it while she dragged it, trying to remember to look where she'd been and where she was going at the same time. Neither of these seemed particularly good choices, but she opted for watching clairvoyantly, as it was less apparent.
Her anticipations were rewarded. As she paused a moment on one concourse looking at the signs for some direction, she saw a young man reaching into her cart.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," she said. "I wouldn't want to have to hurt you."
The hand hesitated.
"That's right, I mean you, reaching into my cart. Roughly five foot nine, brown eyes, blond hair, beard but no mustache, black shirt and blue pants, I know you're there, and if you touch my things you'll regret it."
The hand pulled away from the cart.
"Thank you. I don't suppose you could tell me how to find a Route Forty Tube Bus, could you?" But by then her would-be thief had moved back into the crowd, apparently seeking an easier pocket to pick. "No, I guess you couldn't," she said more softly. "That would mean helping someone else instead of yourself." She moved on.
Eventually she did find the tube terminal. It was not far from the Speedline terminal, but she had started out in the wrong direction. Again she used her card in an automated ticket system to pay for passage. This time she checked her cart as luggage to travel in a separate compartment, specifying that she was going to Cowtown.
Still she wondered what she was supposed to do or see by going this way.
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 #191: Versers Travel. 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: