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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 82: Hastings 120
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Previous chapter: Chapter 81: Brown 79
There was not more to see on the tube bus than there had been on the Speedline. However, that in itself was worth noting. At no point was there an open window. No sun shone through, no skies were visible, there were no panoramic views of the countryside, nothing to hint as to whether this was farmland or industrial complex. What Bethany had suggested was placed in stark relief here. The vampires had managed to manipulate a human desire for progress and reaching the future to completely banish the sun from all places humans walked, save for the scraps of rural farmland necessary to feed their cattle and perhaps bits of wilderness that could not easily be contained.
That was stretching the evidence, certainly. Even in her day, urban sprawl had consumed so much of New Jersey that the joke regarding how to solve the traffic congestion was that they were going to pave the rest of the state and let everyone drive wherever they wanted–a joke that had more than once come back to her when she had managed to drive several miles up the wrong side of a highway by passing from one parking lot to the next to get to the store she wanted. The word megalopolis had already entered the language, and the east coast of the United States had been identified as being, or at least becoming, such a supercity, as New York spread northward through the cities of Connecticut to become one with Boston, southwest through New Jersey's northern cities to merge with Philadelphia, which in turn stretched down the Delaware to include Wilmington and on through Baltimore and Washington to somewhere in Georgia, probably Atlanta, all comprised of superhighways, industrial compounds, high rise offices and apartments, shopping centers, and sports complexes. That it had become so contained told nothing of the open areas of the Midwest and South, or places beyond which had been uninhabited. That Cowtown still had pastures open to the sky, trapped between Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and Wilmington as it was, suggested that there was hope for places beyond. It was a horrible thing for those in the cities; but there were areas that were not city even now.
Cut off from the outside, and with her luggage in the storage compartment, there was nothing to notice on the tube bus besides the barrage of televised advertising that pretended to be entertainment and news, and her fellow passengers. These were notable for their ordinariness. The man in the corner pouring over the video screen wore a slightly different version of the business suit concept, but his hand-held communications and computing system was not different in function from a cell phone and briefcase. The two elderly women in the middle gossiped endlessly about people they knew, who was getting married, getting divorced, having affairs, as well as what all the children were doing. A man in rugged work clothes stared at the overhead system, almost glassy-eyed, like some futuristic couch potato. The most striking, to Lauren, was a woman traveling with three young children. There was nothing extraordinary about this person. She was in her late twenties, and it happened that she had a girl and two boys. What struck her was that she had once, or more than once but long ago, ridden a bus with her three, when she and they were about that age. This could be her, trying to live a normal life amidst the carnage the vampires wrought. In a sense, these people were like cattle. In Camelot, in Wandborough, even in Philadelphia they had been like deer, living free, fleeing from the predators, the strongest taking a stand to fight against them. Now they were contained in their pastures, raising their calves and producing the product that sustained their masters, their own bodies for food, because they could do nothing else. Lauren had met herself once in this world, a self whose life had turned away from family and children, and had told that self that in this world she would not have raised a family. People did raise families in this world. As Merlin had shown her, this world could have been her world. She could have been that mother, either unaware of the danger or unwilling to let it stop her from trying to have a life.
It was for these people she had come back. Her focus had been wrong. She wasn't here to kill Tubrok; she was here to save people. Killing Tubrok was not more than the path that would take her there.
The bus arrived at her stop, and she collected her cart as she left it. Entering the farmers market, she decided both that it was not as modern as the places she had already been and that it had advanced significantly from the string of barns her friends had described. It still had much of the feel of a bazaar, with rows of tables in the center and stall-like shops along the walls. Apart from a few places such as food shops with heavy equipment, most of the sellers looked as if they could pack their entire store into the back of a van within half an hour. She suspected that many did. That was how it worked years before, and even though it was now open constantly there was still the feeling that shops came and went and returned, such as a music shop with a sign out front stating it would be there every Sunday and Thursday, or the dry goods dealer who was closed on weekends.
That meant today was Thursday, Lauren suddenly realized. It didn't matter, but that she had not realized how disoriented she was to this world. Do you know who you are, where you are, when this is? She was not certain she could answer those questions satisfactorily. She was Lauren Elizabeth Myers Hastings, wife of Phil Hastings of another universe, Laurelyn Spellsbreath of Camelot, Laurelyn of Wandborough, Mystic of the Western Woods, and so many others. She was born in nineteen sixty-five, lived for hundreds of years before that, and was now several hundred years in the future. She had come to think of this world as her second home, for all the time and times she had been here. It was not home, and she was not at home here.
She steeled herself, remembering that she was not supposed to be at home here. She was supposed to be an avenging angel, a messenger from God sent to put things right, a destroyer of spiritual wickedness in high places (a phrase that took new meaning as she thought it). She was here to organize her forces.
She found the back door, then the stable, and finally stepped outside into fresh air, air laced with the smells of rural countryside, mown hay, horse sweat, cow dung. It was a wonderfully welcome smell. Hot sunlight struck her, warming her body through the armor. It was like emerging from a tomb into new life, she thought.
Bethany, she called. I'm out.
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: