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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 103: Hastings 127
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Previous chapter: Chapter 102: Brown 86
"That makes thirteen, by my count," Bethany said. "That's pretty good for six months' work."
Lauren brought herself back from the foggy morning wandering of her mind. Outside the cave winter had closed on them, but they were still able to make their raids, slowly picking off key vampires in the political structure.
"I thought I recognized this one," she said. "I've never heard of anyone named Fang Hartman, but he looked familiar."
"Someone who got away years ago?"
"No, I don't think so. More like someone I'd seen when they were human, still around as a vampire. It's just the name that throws me."
"Oh. Well, that could be. A lot of them change their names when they become vampires."
Lauren reflected a moment on this. "Why do they do that?" she asked.
"I always wonder about the ones who don't," Bethany answered; but Lauren waited, and she continued. "Some obviously do it for effect. I've known about six vampires who took a name like Dracula. There was Arcula, and Drackle Abennis, and there was one rather blatant Dracula of Orkney, all trying to make themselves sound important. This guy Fang Hartman obviously was going for some image, but I don't know that he got there. For others, it's like a rite of passage, from being mortal to being immortal, and they think they need a new name. That one Gavin you killed a couple hundred years back, I think he was looking for a sort of dual immortality, by taking a name from a character in one of the books he wrote when he was human, so that people would remember him maybe in both lives. Most, though, want to hide their identities. They suspect that if people could find out who they use to be, they'd be vulnerable–we could track down coffins and gravesites, figure out their old haunts from when they were alive to work out where they might be hiding, stuff like that. Within the first twenty years or so, they're probably right; after that it doesn't matter, but by then they usually have got whatever name they chose. So they do it for a lot of reasons."
It made sense. Lauren wasn't entirely used to Bethany making sense.
"You've grown," she said.
"Not really. Maybe you're remembering wrong, 'cause you knew me when I was sixteen, but I'm not any taller than I was in Philadelphia."
"No, I mean, you've matured. You've mellowed, and learned a lot, stuff like that."
"Oh." Bethany blushed a bit. "Well, I was a bit flighty, I guess, for a long time. Having the vampires conquer the world sobered me up some, I think. It's difficult to be really cocky when you're up against such odds. But it's good to have you back."
Lauren smiled. "Well, we'll keep working on evening those odds. Hey, you know what we should do?"
Lauren thought a moment exactly how to say what she meant. "We've got to find out more about these domes, how they work, how we can control them. We should do a raid on some place where they've got that information, and get something about them to help. Where would we go for that?"
"I'm not sure." Bethany appeared to be thinking. "You know, after you left last time–last time for me, when you destroyed The Pit–I stayed in Philadelphia a long time. I came to Wandborough once in a while, but Father James and Mother Annuda and Raal and Raiden were all working on cleaning up the remaining vampire scum there, and I enjoyed being part of that, even when they were gone. Anyway, I was there when they started building the dome, and watched it go up for quite a while. So I've got a pretty good idea where the foundation points were, and I think I know where the primary mechanical control station is. I'd bet there are still offices there, and maybe some technical manuals on how the things work. That would be where I would look, at least."
"That sounds right. We'll have to hit that. Let's see what we can learn. Can you point me to it? I'll try to have a clairvoyant look around."
As soon as breakfast was finished, they spent the remainder of the day using their various magics to learn as much as they could about the mechanical station a quarter of the way around the world in Philadelphia. They watched the movement of the people, whatever sort of people they were, who worked there, found cabinets which appeared to contain files and books, traced entries and exits and floor plans, until they had a solid idea of what they wanted to do. It would still take a few days to plan it, and to review the plan, but this could be the step toward something else. Also, they determined to kill the vampire in charge of the facility, someone with the unlikely name of Sparks Fiksit (had to be a vampire with a name like that, Bethany said), so that it would look like any of their other raids, an attack on the vampire with incidental destruction of the property, and not like they were specifically looking for the tech manuals.
They were ready in six days. That was quick turnaround time for them, but there was less security here than there had been at many of the offices they'd hit, and they always tried to avoid any sort of pattern that might be used to predict their next attack. Reaching the Philadelphia station was going to be a bit difficult, as neither of them knew any good landmarks close enough to use for a launching point, and the interior of the station had little to distinguish it from a thousand other domes in the world. Lauren well remembered the moment she had tried to reach Camelot and ended up completely lost. Bethany had her own memories of what she called delivery to the wrong address. They were going to have to find some very distinctive spot in the city which they could target as their arrival point, make their way across town to the station, and get inside. Such landmarks were few and far between in a city in which most of the old had been torn down and rebuilt, in layers that climbed tier upon tier to new skyscraping heights. The place they chose was not close to their destination. It was not the sort of place where they could easily explain their appearance. It had only one advantage: it was unique.
As they stepped out of the mist to face the Liberty Bell, Lauren paused to gaze on it. Here it sat, in the closed and collapsing structure that had been Independence Hall, now officially condemned and slated for demolition. "Once this meant something to these people," she said. Bethany answered.
"Maybe we can give them its meaning again," she said. "Let's go."
Bethany still had some idea of how to get around the city; Lauren still had the magic gold card. They quickly caught an automated elevated tube train headed toward the river. Changing to a southbound route just before hitting the waterfront, they passed the sports complex (now somewhat suggestively called The Arena), and disembarked near the southeastern edge of the dome. Staying high, they took what Bethany called a hiwalk and Lauren thought more of a glorified catwalk to reach an old concrete and steel building built into the outer wall of the city. This would be the place.
There was a window near the top, apparently placed there to permit those inside the building to watch the dome as it moved. It was heavily shuttered in addition to having thick glass, but Lauren had brought the disintegrator rod and easily replaced this with a hole. Dropping through to the top floor, they began walking toward the lower levels. As workers came into view, Lauren turned both her inner power and the power of God against them, pushing outward with her thoughts and erasing their presence from their minds while reciting Isaiah's words, "You have not heard, you have not known, even from long ago your ear has not been open, because I knew that you would deal treacherously." None of these would see them, know they were here, or remember them. They passed with impunity into the lower levels.
Down here there would be ghouls. These would not be so easy to block mentally, as their minds were not quite human. Lauren shifted the disintegrator to her left hand and balanced the laser rifle in her right. Using the laser would allow her to use her psionics at the same time, destroying any adversaries quickly and silently, preventing any alarm from being raised. It was the most dangerous part of the mission, as this area combined open space like a large warehouse with great hulking forms of equipment, including motors, gears, pipes, cables, supports, and structures whose functions were opaque to her, behind any of which someone could be hidden, either to ambush them or to sound an alarm. It couldn't be helped.
Something came at them from the shadows. The laser hit it solidly, twice, as it charged, and two cuts appeared on its body from Bethany's invisible blade. With the wrenching mental yank with which she had long picked fruit from trees, Lauren pulled its head back, tearing it from its body, and it fell to the ground. They paused only a moment, trying to determine whether they had been observed, then telekinetically dumped the body in a dark corner under a pipe as they continued.
The next dropped from a walkway above them, and might have caught them had the metal not squeaked as he left it. With only an upward glance, Lauren instinctively raised the shell which had protected her, with Derek and Joe, a century ago on that spaceship. Like the leaping lizard of that other world, the ghoul splatted against the top of her dome. Again her laser found it before it could recover, and this time Bethany ran a pair of invisible spikes through its neck and chest before it slid to the floor. Again they brushed their handiwork out of sight, and continued. They were moving into the heart of the control systems, within the machinery, beneath the structure. It felt like entering the belly of the beast.
As they rounded a corner, there were three before them, standing around as if they were maintenance men on a coffee break. They hesitated. Lauren lowered the disintegrator rod and pushed her thought through it, and one of them turned to dust. The other two started running in opposite directions, one toward them, one away. "I've got this one," she said; "you get the other." Her mind was still recovering from the focus on the disintegrator, but she targeted the laser and struck it directly in the face, then missed as it dropped into a rolling dive. The power cell was empty on it, and she was not yet ready to use her mind attacks again, so she dove forward, placing her weapons on the ground and coming up out of a handspring to meet it coming at her.
She miscalculated. She was still reaching for the kau sin ke on her waist when it crashed into her chest, knocking her back, and driving the wind from her lungs. She rolled with the blow, and snatched the other two whipping chains that had dropped from her shoulders when she dove, bringing them with her as she returned to her feet.
The creature clearly recognized that she was dangerous. He turned his head, as if he were about to call for help. She wrapped the glass weapon around his neck, and yanked him toward her, kicking him away as he stumbled, and striking with the plastic weapon in her left hand. He fell, broken, to the ground.
Glancing ahead, she saw the other, the fleeing carcass, stop struggling under an invisible crushing weight. She took a deep breath. "So far, so good," she said, and scooped up her dropped gear.
"Just like the old days," Bethany replied, perhaps somewhat more grimly than she'd said it in Bookbinders centuries before.
"Do we know where we are?" Lauren asked.
"I think so," Bethany ventured. "The office should be behind that power station on the left."
"I forgot this rod took so much out of me. I've never used it at the beginning of a fight before; it sort of limited my options more than I anticipated."
"Well, better to have learned that now than when you were fighting Tubrok."
Lauren smiled, somewhat sardonically. "Indeed. We've almost arrived; but let's move the bodies anyway, so we don't attract attention. We don't wish to be interrupted in our work." Bethany swept them away this time, and as they moved forward Lauren changed power packs in her laser. "I've got to recharge these," she said, "but we'll figure that out later."
In a moment, they reached the door of a free-standing office, the sort of room that one sometimes saw in warehouses and factories, built of four walls and a ceiling like a small house within the room, including windows. The blinds were closed. "This is it," Bethany said, almost under her breath, and Lauren opened the door and walked in.
The man at the desk didn't look up. Lauren had him in her sights, as he sat writing paperwork as if he were any ordinary businessman. His color was wrong, of course; he had that look of death that she was beginning to recognize when she was close to the older ones. He was probably a couple hundred years old, she'd guess. But there was something familiar about him. "What is it?" he said, in the sort of voice a superior uses when a subordinate enters his office unannounced. Lauren just stared, shocked. She knew him. He looked up.
"Phil?" she asked. "Phil Hastings?"
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 #202: Verser Confrontations. 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: