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Stories from the Verse
Re Verse All
Chapter 115: Hastings 221
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Beam 99
They had walked perhaps a couple hundred yards when they came to another similar door, and Lauren wondered whether it was the same vast green space or another alongside it. As she continued past it it occurred to her that it could be a connected space, multiple greenhouse areas with different climate controlled conditions. She was not surprised to pass another similar door at about the same distance again.
Meanwhile, there had been no doors to her left, and it concerned her that they might be in an area cut off from the normal human use. When a corridor opened to the left, she took it, hopefully leaving the greenhouses behind.
This took her into an area something like a mall, with what appeared to be stores in which one could browse and presumably purchase, or acquire by whatever means was used in this world, merchandise from clothing to groceries to hardware to furnishings. She spotted what appeared to be a restaurant, but what interested her was the reasonably comfortable-looking chairs, so she turned in, left her cart in the space near the door, and slid into a padded booth.
“Ready for another break?” she asked Tommy, who only smiled and sat across from her in the booth.
“I wonder whether there will be some kind of waitress,” Lauren continued, “and what I say when she arrives?” It occurred to her that if she had to pay, she had the divine gold card, and there might be enough magic in this world to use it.
“I don’t think so,” Tommy answered. “Touch the table in front of you with one finger.” As Lauren did, a menu lit up, as if the table were a computer screen. “It’s touch screen control, select what you want. I mean, I don’t know if the kitchen is working, but the food we’ve ordered before had to be made somewhere, so why not places like this?”
Lauren tilted her head slightly and raised her eyebrows in response, and perused the menu. It seemed to be very like a hamburger and barbecue stand, the sort of place you’d find along the road out in the country. Lauren ordered pulled pork on a roll; she was tempted by the ribs, but ribs were messy and filling, and it was the wrong time of day for something like that. She did order potato salad with it. The food wasn’t exactly fast, but the sodas were delivered quickly. Eventually a robot delivered her sandwich, and what looked like a rather messy half a chicken barbecued for Tommy.
As they ate, abruptly part of the menu lit up, and a light came from across the room. Lauren turned toward the light first, but wasn’t sure exactly what she was seeing in a recessed nook along the far wall. Tommy gave her the clue.
“It says the ice cream is ready.”
Soft ice cream service, maybe half a dozen flavors in dispensers not too much different from those she knew. She took another bite of her sandwich, but was already wondering what kinds of toppings they might have.
“Very strange world,” Lauren said as she and Tommy were building sundaes for themselves. “I don’t really understand it.”
“Oh,” Tommy said. “Well, I was reading about it last night.”
Lauren turned her attention to her young companion. “And?”
“I don’t know how long ago it was,” Tommy said, “or how long after the world we knew, but you know that already in our time the world was getting crowded enough that there wasn’t enough room for all the people and all the animals, and a lot of animals were dying out because of it.”
Lauren nodded. Environmental concerns had not been top of her list, what with three kids to raise and educate and a home to manage, but she knew that there were a lot of people concerned about the environment.
“What ultimately was decided was that these underground habitats would be built for people, and the surface of the planet would be surrendered to wilderness and agriculture, all managed by machines. A huge supercomputer runs it all, and it uses a lot of geothermal energy and a lot of solar and such. Air and water underground are recycled to the surface. Machines do everything, and produce everything people need, so everything is free.”
Lauren nodded. That made a kind of sense, but there was still a problem. “So, where is everybody?”
“I don’t know,” Tommy answered. “It could be that the underground world was built so big that we simply haven’t found anyone yet.”
“Or it could be that something has happened to them which the computer didn’t anticipate.”
Again she nodded. That was Tommy’s way of saying they were all dead. Of course, not all of them--there was Luthus, and Luthus had mentioned occasionally encountering others. Luthus lived in something like a country house, or maybe a suburban home, unlike the more urban apartments they had previously discovered, so maybe they had moved away from a population center into--into what? The underground version of the country? Well, the greenhouse wasn’t exactly farmland, but then, they didn’t explore it thoroughly so maybe it was. Yet there was no sign of people at the apartments, so there were apparently a lot fewer people here than the designers expected.
Yet in the early years there should be. A species with no predators and ample provision should be expected to grow exponentially, and the planners would have known that and designed something that could keep ahead of the population growth. So that brought back the question, where is everybody?
Lost in thought, Lauren realized she was off vector for the verser. She had turned to move away from the greenhouse, wandered into that retail-like area, and kept going the same direction. She felt for him, and took the next right to correct. She might have to double back a bit, but at present what intrigued her was that he seemed to be below them. That wasn’t conclusive, of course, as she didn’t know how far ahead he was or whether the level they were on was more curved than she thought--if it went under a lake or something, it might dip to pass beneath it--but the best theory was that there were levels to this dungeon complex, and his was below theirs.
“We need a place to camp,” she said. “Care to try a door?”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #397: Verser Challenges. 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: