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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 32: Hastings 145
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Previous chapter: Chapter 31: Beam 8
Breakfast was another egg sandwich; the meat on it was different, probably ham or maybe Canadian bacon, Lauren wasn’t too clear on the difference between them. Lunch was a chicken sandwich, with the ever-present French fries (although it seemed the staff called them “deep fried potato sticks”). There were bathroom trips before and after breakfast, and after lunch, and in the early afternoon Doctor Conway returned, bringing the chair from the hall.
“I gather,” she said, “that the chair is considered too dangerous an object to leave in the room with me.”
Doctor Conway smiled. “Well, it’s more that it’s policy not to leave anything in patient rooms not being used for patient care.”
Lauren shrugged. “I guess. I can probably think of a lot of creative uses for a chair, but not having the opportunity to study them closely I can’t really guess how plausible any of them are.”
“Uses? Care to share these?”
She smiled. “Well, just as it is, it might make an adequate ram to smash through a window; and if the legs or back are strong enough, they could be used as levers to bend the bars I see shadowed on the other side. It might be possible to disassemble or even break the chair to use the parts as tools or weapons. Even as is, it would work as something of a ladder, which could help me examine the ceiling, the tops of the windows and door, and other areas that are not so accessible to someone my height.”
He raised his eyebrows as he nodded.
“You think a lot about weapons. We noticed that you had several among your things. Why this obsession?”
“I think ‘obsession’ is too strong a word. I’ve been in a lot of violent places, places where my life was in danger, and I needed to defend myself.”
“But they are such odd weapons--a toy ray gun, a couple of bows with different kinds of arrows, heavy chains made of three different materials, and the only really practical weapon among them a pair of very large caliber pistols. Why do you carry all of that? I would have thought just one of those pistols would have been enough to stop any attacker.”
Lauren noted that she must have spent the last shot in the laser blaster before versing out; in the nineteen sixties an electronic gun of that sort that didn’t work would be thought to be a very expensive toy. She also noted that they did not recognize the weapon capabilities of the several psionic weapons she had, but since most of her psionic skills were not working, those probably wouldn’t work either, even if they had any notion of what they were or how to operate them.
“The pistols are certainly effective, but I’d rather not kill someone unnecessarily. And I have been ambushed by multiple attackers, some of whom have not been easily discouraged.”
He made some notes on his pad.
“So, let me ask again, when were you born?”
“Today is the ninth, right? Three days ago.”
Doctor Conway laughed. “You mean three days and thirty-some years ago, right?”
Lauren just smiled. “I’m sure that’s what I meant.”
“And where was this again?”
“Kennedy Hospital in Stratford? Grew up in Somerdale? Went to Sterling High School, Philadelphia College of the Bible, got married and moved to Franklinville? Any of this sound at all familiar, Doctor? Or should we be concerned about your memory problems?”
The doctor apparently saw the joke in that, and smiled. “Well, it’s not exactly that I don’t remember. It’s that none of these places seem to exist--or at least, my staff has been unable to find any of them.”
“I can’t help that. I’m not having memory problems.”
“No, it seems not. You’re certainly consistent in your account of yourself.”
“You just don’t believe it.”
“Well, it’s difficult to believe when there have been no details we could confirm. It all reads like a well-prepared cover story, except that checking it winds up finding nothing.”
Lauren thought a moment, and decided to try a different approach.
“Imagine with me for a moment that this isn’t the only universe.”
“Ah, a fantasy adventure. We’re about to follow Mary down the gopher hole.”
That was interesting--apparently they didn’t have Alice in Wonderland, but they had something like it.
“Imagine that at least some of these universes are very like this one, with people just like us living in societies similar to this, but with different names and places and events in their histories.”
“Now suppose that every once in a while someone gets moved from one universe to another--slips through the cracks, as it were, and comes out in another time and place entirely.”
His head tipped to her left in a bent shrug, and his eyebrows rose again. “O.K.,” he said.
“Such a person could have fallen out of another universe and landed in the lobby of your hospital, completely disoriented and knowing nothing about your world. You would naturally conclude such a person was crazy. Yet it is not impossible that the person is perfectly sane, and simply has had an experience completely outside anything you know.”
“I don’t know. I would think that a person who underwent an experience like that would be crazy, either because it never happened and he imagined it, or because being displaced like that would be severely disturbing mentally.”
It was Lauren’s turn to raise her eyebrows in a bent shrug with a nod. “It would certainly be difficult for the traveler. Nothing he could tell you would fit anything you know. And if it had happened to him before, he would probably recognize that, and do his best not to tell you anything.”
“Are you trying to claim that you come from a different universe, and fell into our world just three days ago?”
“Oh, I would never say such a thing. You would think that I was crazy.”
“Uh-huh. So I’m supposed to entertain the possibility that this fantasy might explain who you are, without thinking that you’ve claimed it to be true?”
“I just wanted you to consider that I might be giving you a true account of myself even though you can’t confirm any of the details.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Lauren, do you know what ‘reasonable doubt’ is?”
She nodded. “I recognize it as a legal term. Someone is innocent of a crime unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“That’s correct. It means that as long as there’s a credible alternative explanation for what happened, the law is not permitted to decide that this person is guilty. But it’s that aspect of the doubt being ‘reasonable’ that is important here. It has to be a credible alternative, something believable. We don’t generally let people go because a Martian might have come down in a flying saucer and committed the crime, and left without having been seen by anyone else, or because goblins came out of the woods and disguised themselves as the defendants to do it. We have to believe that the alternative really could happen.”
“And you don’t believe that someone could fall through the cracks from another universe?”
“The word ‘universe’ itself says that there’s only one. You might as well claim to have come from heaven or hell or some other fictional place.”
Lauren sighed. “Somewhere I heard a quote, I’ve never gotten it quite right, but it was something like ‘There are more things in heaven and hell than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.’ I think the world may hold a few surprises for you still.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it, but I don’t think they’ll come from heaven or hell, or from another universe.”
Lauren smiled sadly. She could see a possible task forming in front of her, but she was not certain whether it was a challenge she could meet.
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 #280: Versers Reveal. 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: