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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 5: Hastings 2
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 4, Kondor 2
Maybe the newspaper just had her curious. Maybe it unnerved her. This was earth, and only a few years in the future from what she knew. But there was a characteristic present here which although not entirely absent from home was not so pervasive there either. The word Lauren would have used was "depraved".
She hoped perhaps Father James could help her get a better grip on this world, and on the two strangers, Gavin and Jackson, who had greeted her upon her arrival. So leaving most of her property at the hotel, she struck out for the St. George Mission armed with the address from a phone book and her memory of the same Philadelphia in another universe. Under her light jacket she wore a couple pieces of the protective plastic armor she had made in another world, and her kau sin ke wrapped around her waist very like a heavy decorative belt.
Arriving at the mission, she introduced herself and asked for Father Matthew James.
"He's not here, but you're welcome to come inside," said the girl at the door, whose job seemed to be welcoming indigents into the mission.
"I do need to get in touch with him," Lauren continued. "I need to know about someone named 'Gavin'."
"He doesn't see people very often."
"Well--tell him that whoever is not against us is for us."
The girl agreed to convey the message, and left Lauren by an uncomfortable-looking wooden chair in the hall.
Lauren stood for quite a while before realizing that Father James was truly not in the building. When she sat, the chair proved as uninviting as it looked. But she made the best of it. Her mind wandered back to her family. She wondered if Phil thought her dead, if he was still mourning--or if it was 2005 in her world also, had he started dating again, or even remarried? It hurt to think that here she was, alive and well, and someone else was home taking her place in the lives of her family; but they could not know she was alive, and it would be better for them to move on with their lives. That meant someone had to fill the void she left. She hoped everything was well.
"Excuse me, miss?" The voice startled Lauren, who had begun to drift into that isolated daydream realm of might-have-beens. "I called Father Matt, and he said he will see you. He'd like you to meet him at this address." The address and a few directions were scrawled on a piece of paper; Lauren took it and headed out the door, tossing off a distracted thank you.
She had only a couple blocks to travel, but the neighborhood was not the best part of Philadelphia, and probably not the best Philadelphia. Turning down a side street, she was blocked by two boys--they'd have called themselves men, but had neither the age nor the sense for Lauren to apply that word. One held a knife.
"This is a mistake," she said. "You don't want to do this, I think."
"Hey, I don't want to hurt you," replied the one with the knife. "But I do want your money and stuff."
"I don't think so." With that, she sprang into the air, throwing her feet above her head in a high flip which carried her over and between them. Glad to land on her feet, she released the kau sin ke from her waist and in one motion swung it wide as she spun towards them. It struck the boy with the knife, and the knife dropped. Before it hit the ground, both were running toward the main road. Lauren leapt into a long low flip, using the inertia to hurl the tip of her weapon forward to strike the other attacker, who yelped as he felt the force against his back.
"That's gonna leave a mark," she said. Straightening her clothes and putting the strange oriental whipping chain back around her waist, she mused on the hours she had spent in tumbling and acrobatics to be able to do those moves. It occurred to her that in this world there might be someone who could teach her how people really used this weapon, which for her was originally just a decorative prop her kids had bought for a game she played with them. But that was not today's errand.
Father James' house was not far, and soon he answered her knock. "Father James?"
The priest looked at her, not unkindly but with a mark of keen perception. "Lauren Hastings? All who love Christ are welcome in this house." She followed him as he retreated from the doorway, realizing that she had not been invited directly but was expected to enter.
The walls of the entry were done in mirror tiles from floor to ceiling. She could see multiple reflections of herself here. She paused; there were no mirrors in the last world she visited, and her appearance was unexpected. She was still the same height, roughly five and a half feet, and had kept her figure. Her skin was tanned, and her brown hair, maybe a little longer down her back, was a shade lighter than her eyes. But what surprised her was how well muscled she was, not grotesquely so, but visibly.
"Will you take the Sacrament with me, child?" The priest stood by a small table on which was a chalice and a plate of wafers.
"I would, Father, but I'm not Catholic--I'm Baptist; and unless things have changed a great deal, you cannot permit me."
"Perhaps then you will allow me to pray for you, and to bless you?"
She bowed her head as he prayed, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...." She felt the cool drops of holy water strike her face, neck, and hands.
"You're here to ask about someone calling himself 'Gavin'. What do you know about him, and why ask me?"
"Well, I came to you because he mentioned you; and although he tried to make it seem casual, there was something about it. I think he's afraid of you.
"As to what I know, that would be very little. But I sense that behind that likable smile there's something very wrong, something evil. I'm tempted to use words like inhuman, or even demonic. But as I say, all I really know is that he presents himself as a nice guy."
She eyed her host carefully. "So I feel like you're trying to decide something about me. What am I missing?"
"I cannot be too careful," Father James began as he led through the hall to his dining room. "I've got an incredible story to tell you."
"No more incredible than mine, I am sure," she replied. "But you go first."
"Please, have a seat." Father James sat down as he waved to the other chairs in his dining room, and paused for a moment as if debating within himself how, or even whether, to begin.
"You must understand, child--the world is not as you've been taught. Many of the creatures of evil which we've been told are myths and legends walk abroad in the world around us. Chief among these are vampires.
"When I was a parish priest in New York, one of my parishioners told me about the evil undead preying on humanity. I was skeptical; but it wasn't long before I was deep in battle against these Vampires. Another parishioner, and now good friend, Jake Williams fought with me.
"Gavin has been a particularly troublesome enemy. Most vampires believe that we hunters will die before we can make a difference; but Gavin decided to kill us. He made several attempts to kill us, killed some of my congregation, and turned others into vampires and ghouls to send against us.
"When the parishioner who had showed me the truth died, he left a large trust fund with me as trustee to use to 'fight evil in all forms, and to meet the needs and expenses of those who continue to do so.' The Cardinal had already seen the problem we faced, and gave his blessing to the special mission under my direction.
"A few years ago, Jake and I fled New York to escape Gavin. With some of the trust fund money, I established the St. George Mission, from which I continue to fight vampires here in Philadelphia.
"I told you it was incredible; I doubt you believe me."
It was now Lauren's turn to pause, to deliberate. She bit her lip pensively.
"Father, I do believe you. When I met Gavin, I knew he wasn't human. But I believe incredible things--my own life is incredible.
"I was born in another universe. Although it seems a lot like this on the surface, it's very different. An accident which should have killed me instead tossed me into another universe, nothing like this one. I learned some unusual abilities while I was there. And then I died again, and woke up here.
"I know this doesn't fit with your theology. It doesn't fit mine, either--'appointed to men once to die,' and all that. I think it's like CPR. Sometimes when we would say someone died, we can still save them. So I don't know whether--but that's not the point. It seems I'm one of a very few people who doesn't stay dead. I met a few others. I heard a lot of theories about something called scriff that keeps us alive, and was told to expect it to happen again. And here I am.
"I've done a lot of soul searching, asking why this happened to me, why it happens to anyone. I didn't expect to die so young; but then, I thought I would wake up in heaven, not in some alien world. I decided God must have some mission for me, some reason to keep me alive. I'm convinced He has chosen me to do His will in many worlds. In this world, there seems to be a lot of evil. My best guess is that I'm here to fight it. And you're the most likely ally I've seen to help me do that. Let me help you stop these vampires."
Well, the priest wasn't laughing, wasn't angry, didn't look puzzled or bemused. Lauren leaned forward, her elbows on the table, and used her down-to-business voice. "Gavin thinks I'm a wizard, or at least he reacted when I said I was a psionicist. I guess you must have some of those around, too."
"Yes, I've heard so, although I haven't met any; and I'm told some of them are as bad as the vampires."
"Well, that can work for us, so I won't let him know I'm his enemy yet.
"Father, one of the things I've learned is telepathy. With your permission, I'd like to reach your mind. If I've done it once close up, I'm more able to do it again from a distance, and that could also be useful."
Now the priest looked skeptical. "Is this safe?" he asked.
"As safe as anything else."
"Then I guess so. But there are a few things we should do for you."
As the priest talked, Lauren reached out with her thoughts, seeking his. She wondered why it was as it was. If she could see someone and stare at them, in a moment she could usually connect, thought to thought, directly. After that, it was like knowing someone's phone number. If she could remember how it felt to contact them, she could do it again.
"I've got several safehouses, dedicated as holy ground so that vampires can't enter. We'll have to move you into one of these. And Jake will get you a job at the site."
"I'd like to work the night shift," Lauren suggested, now sending her thoughts to his mind. It appeared to startle him, but she continued. "That way I don't have to be sleeping when the vampires are active."
Father James continued to speak. "Jake's on a high-rise right now--that won't be a problem, will it?"
"I taught myself tightrope stunts in the last world; I should be fine."
They talked about other details, and gradually Father James seemed to adjust to her odd thought-to-thought communication. Lauren remarked that in NagaWorld she slept thirteen hours out of every forty, so her body should be able to handle sleeping every other day and working five nights. That would give her two nights a week and every alternate day to do what needed to be done.
That night she was out of the hotel and into a comfortable row home similar in many ways to a small church with an attached rectory. She thought the chapel would be a fine place to read her Bible, pray, and meditate. But first she had to settle in.
The next night she was on the construction site. She wasn't familiar with the power tools, but Jake had showed her the ropes, she was comfortable high in the iron, and thanks to her exercise program she was strong enough to handle the gear. After a brief orientation, she was introduced to the crew chief who would be her immediate supervisor on the job, a man they called "Big Bill".
"How are you with a riveter?" Bill asked.
"Well, I don't have a lot of experience, but I think I can handle it."
"Follow me, then," he said, as he headed out along the catwalks. "I've got some work over here you can do, and then I'll have a better idea of where to use you next." He led the way to an area some distance from the rest of the crew. To Lauren, it seemed that it had been set up specifically to test her skill. "I'll be over there with the crew if you need anything, and I'll check on you in a bit."
Lauren set to work with the still unfamiliar gear. But Jake's instruction had been sufficient, and soon she had things well in hand.
Suddenly she heard a scream. Turning, she saw that Bill, coming back toward her, had slipped, and was holding to the girder by one arm. She was closest to him; she set down the gear and rushed back, but by then he was hanging by his gloved hand. She dropped onto the girder and grabbed his arm even as his fingers slid loose. "I've got you, Bill! Hang on!"
He wasn't called Big Bill for nothing. He was close to six and a half feet tall, and easily over three hundred fifty pounds. Lauren had a firm grip on the arm under his sleeve, but she didn't have the leverage to pull him back up. The others were making their way over, but this was happening too fast. "I'm slipping!" he shouted.
"Hang on! I'm trying to pull you up!" But his weight was slowly pulling her, sliding her farther off the narrow beam. She would fall herself before help arrived. "If I can...." The words faltered as she strained against the pull of the earth below.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #18: A Novel Comic Milestone. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: