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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 5: Brown 98
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Even as his consciousness waned, Derek continued to fight, to kick and twist and struggle against the hold on his legs. Then for a moment he thought he was free; but as his consciousness waxed once more he found ropes about his ankles, and the more he kicked, the tighter they wound. Then he crashed headlong into a wall.
A wall? The thought confused him. He was nowhere near a wall. He stopped, and as he calmed himself he realized no one was fighting but him. He was not really awake, although neither was he entirely asleep. This was a dream.
The pain in his head was not a dream; nor, he realized, were the ropes on his feet. But as he forced himself to wakefulness, he found himself lying on dirt between the roots of a large tree, dim moonlight filtering through a high canopy, his feet tangled in some sort of vine-like undergrowth. This was clearly a different world.
His things should all be close at hand; since he never knew what he was going to need, he generally carried his backpack with him, along with his laptop, his weapons, his clothes, the bicycle--there wasn't really that much altogether, so taking what he owned wasn't such a problem. He would gather it soon enough. The first step was to figure out what sort of place this was, and what dangers were likely.
Rubbing his head, he realized that the pain in his back was gone. That was expected. At the same time it reminded him to wonder about his wings--would he still be able to change forms, become Ferris and Morach at will? That was certainly something to check; he should also see whether his mind powers worked, boot up his computer and try to work out how limited technology might be--there were a lot of things he should check, but then, Lauren would say to take it slowly, one thing at a time, don't push it. There was wisdom in that. The last thing he wanted to do was give himself brain burn trying to push the limits on psionics, when he needed his wits about him to survive.
To survive--that was the priority at this point. He was probably here for a reason--Lauren always said so, and certainly his experience seemed to bear that out. Joe would have argued that he was here by chance, and any reason he found for being here was merely him giving such reason to himself; but it really did seem as if his arrival in that last world was the answer to Lauren's prayers, so that was a point in favor of the theory of the reason. If he had any hope of finding that reason, he was going to have to survive long enough to learn about this place. He thought about survival. He was going to need air, water, food, fire, shelter, and dry clothes, probably in that order. The air seemed good; if it wasn't, at least it wasn't instantly fatal, and he couldn't do anything about it anyway. There was probably water here; an earth-like environment, particularly the humus that formed the ground, seemed to demand a water-based ecology. He didn't recognize these plants, but it was pretty dark and botany was not one of his fields anyway. There were noises around that sounded like animals. Food, too, could wait for daylight.
Daylight. Would there be daylight? That was something he had not considered. He had been on one world where the night was very long. Was there any reason to believe that day would ever come here? He considered it. The vines at his feet appeared to have leaves, and the branches above him formed what appeared in the gloom to be a leafy canopy. Leaves, on earth, were natural solar panels, collecting solar radiation to fix sugars for energy and growth. Could they have a different function? They could certainly collect rainwater; but they weren't well designed for that, and anyway wasn't rain dependent on solar energy as well? These plants had leaves, so they probably performed something like photosynthesis, and that meant there was some sort of daylight at some time. Also, they were dark in color; that suggested two things to Derek's mind as he considered it. One was that this was not autumn, or winter--there would be daylight soon, and enough daylight to make it worthwhile for the plant to maintain chlorophyll in the leaves for the period of darkness. The other took a bit more thought, but the fact that the leaves were dark strongly suggested that they were designed to absorb visible light. There would be no particular reason for them to be dark if they were intended to absorb radio frequencies or ultraviolet or infrared. Of course, they might incidentally be dark in that case, but there was reason to think that dark leaves meant daylight.
It suddenly struck him that this was not the way he had entered worlds in the past. He was thinking a lot more about his surroundings, trying to draw conclusions about the world from what he knew. He was becoming more like Joe in this. That was cool. He liked Joe, and there was a lot he could learn from the cool-headed doctor. He was also aware that Lauren had had some impact on his thinking. In a sense, he had learned how to think from the two of them, how to reason his way from what he knew to what he needed to know.
At the same time, it seemed less like him, even to him. The first worlds he had entered he didn't really think about at all. Of course, then he had wondered if it was all a nightmare--indeed, he had hoped he would wake up, more than once. By now he was resolved that this was really happening to him, he really was dying, passing through the scriff between the universes, and coming to life, just as he was, in a new world. There might be other explanations for his experience, but this was the only one that let him take charge of it.
This was some sort of forest, or maybe jungle. It occurred to him that for all he had learned, he didn't actually know the difference between a forest and a jungle, or even how to tell one from the other. He did remember that he didn't like either very much--he would rather be inside, and although he had a tent and a sleeping bag (souvenirs of his journeys, but from a chapter that made him shudder to remember) he had rarely used the tent. It occurred to him that the whole world might be like this, and he might have to learn a few camping skills to get by; it occurred to him that this did not bother him as much as it once would have done. Perhaps it was because although when he grew up as a boy he always stayed inside, when he grew up as a sprite inside was the hollow of a tree, and was never seen in the summer. That entire life had been about camping. A few days, even a few years, in the woods shouldn't be a problem.
However, it would be best to wait for morning before hunting down his gear. Sure, the scriff sense would take him right to it, but it wouldn't warn him of roots or holes in the ground, spider webs or thorn bushes. It was a fine night, a bit warm perhaps, a bit muggy certainly, but comfortable enough to get a few hours of sleep.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. 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: