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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 1: Hastings 44
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Lauren sat shivering on the edge of the little nest-like hut, still wrapped in her parka, trying to decide whether it would be better to stay by the low fire out here or retreat into the blanket-like interior. She thought maybe she should stoke the fire, but she and Bob could little afford the firewood, not knowing how long it would be until spring in this alien earth. She told herself she'd been through worse; she just hadn't been through this. Indeed she had seen worse. Lauren Elizabeth Meyers Hastings was a verser. She once had a normal life, raising three kids in a suburban home outside Philadelphia. Then one day, when she was thirty-five, the microwave blew up, and this strange substance called scriff infected her body. She died; she didn't stay dead. She came to life in another world, a strange world with orange grass, where she learned to harness the power of her own mind in such strange forms as telepathy, mind reading, telekinesis, levitation, and even flying. From that world she took several strange glass objects which would release and refocus her mind, her psionic power as she had come to call it, in other forms. Then, when she was trying to find a way to make a weapon which would combine physical and psionic force, there was an explosion, and she died again, and woke up in Philadelphia.
She might have thought she had awakened from a dream, some kind of comatose nightmare; this, however, was not her Philadelphia. It was filled with vampires and ghouls and werewolves–and the werewolves were among the good guys. They fought with her alongside a handful of humans against the undead threat, as she learned to unleash the power of her faith in miracles and magic, until she destroyed a vampire mage so potent that the explosion of flame which engulfed him took her with it. Then she awoke here.
Here, at that time, had been an idyllic forest in spring with the company of people who were somewhere between children and parakeets. It had crept into a long, slow summer. But with the end of summer had come the end of paradise, as she and her two verser companions, Joe Kondor and Bob Slade, had to rescue one of her new friends who had been taken to be sacrificed by another tribe, maybe another species, of bird-creatures across the lake. She had battled a huge flying reptile in single combat so her friends could continue; Joe had apparently been killed, sent to another world, while holding back a small army of those birdmen. Bob had saved the girl, fighting a wizard and a giant serpent to do it.
Then, as autumn crept over the world, the local people (they weren't human, but she thought of them as people nonetheless) packed up their belongings and walked south along the river.
Now, stuck in the snows and the cold of a winter which promised to be every bit as drawn out as the lazy double-length summer they had enjoyed, Lauren thought maybe they should have tried to catch up with the others. They hadn't, and in this climate it was far too late to start.
Robert Elvis Slade was her companion. She had met him in midsummer; he had been an auto mechanic (and, at twenty-two, thirteen years her junior). He was different from her in so many ways–blonde hair and blue eyes to her brown, eight inches taller than her five foot six, a pagan with very little knowledge of his own Norse beliefs contrasted with her year of study at a Bible college crowning a Baptist upbringing. Yet they shared a common origin, memories of earth at the close of the second millennium, and a common experience. He had also gone from home to the world with the orange grass, but he hadn't spent more than a few hours there before being killed again. Since then he'd been a medieval lord dabbling in wizardry and a pirate rebel in an interstellar civil war. It was the strange verser lifestyle that they shared, never aging, always dying and coming back to life in a new world, learning new skills and becoming expert in old ones.
They shared something else: an eagerness to help people, to oppose evil and do good so the worlds they visited would be better. Bob did it because he believed he was being prepared for Ragnorak; Lauren believed that God had called her to a special mission to help people and spread the gospel in each world. The outcome was often the same, and they each trained and honed their skills to be the best they could be at whatever they did.
Right now they also shared the cold of this incredible winter, and the meager shelter and fire which protected them against it.
Today had been Lauren's turn to hunt. Originally Bob did all the hunting, and Lauren all the cooking, but hunting was a cold job for which she was better equipped. She had revolvers and over two hundred bullets, plus a fine bow and a hundred hunting arrows (and target arrows on top of that). Bob had a kinetic blaster–a ray gun, he tended to call it–and his sword, dagger, and mace. He was a good stalker, and improving, but killing things with swords and daggers was not the chosen technique for a hunter. He had used up quite a lot of the batteries for his gun, and no one could know when he would be able to recharge them. She'd been getting a lot of practice in with the bow–arrows were often recoverable, especially if they missed–taking her turn at finding meat to nourish them and supplement the nuts and dried fruits and berries they had stockpiled. There wasn't much out there. Apparently mammals never developed in this world, and the reptiles had mostly vanished with the cold. There were a few birds that tried to weather the winter, similar to turkey and pheasant, that made for excellent feasts (and leftovers kept cold enough buried in the snow). A couple times they had gotten fish from the lake, but now the ice was so thick there was no hope of piercing it; anyway, they had been spear fishing in the late autumn, and had no hooks for ice fishing.
Bob's voice pulled her back from her thoughts. "Better get into dry clothes," he said. "I'll clean the bird and start cooking it."
"Thanks," she said, numb from the cold. "It's a good thing Joe built this shell over the fire. I think it really does reflect the heat into the nest."
"Yeah," Bob said. "I wonder where he is now."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #74: Another Novel. 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: