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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 65: Hastings 65
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 64: Kondor 63
Lunch was the first order of business, and Lauren was hungry. She wasn't sure she was so hungry as to eat what her new companions prepared from canned, dried, and otherwise preserved food from another century. Still, it became obvious that they considered it a feast, a fortunate discovery of the finest cuisine the world had to offer, so it wouldn't be at all polite or sensible to turn up her nose at it. It was food.
After lunch, the others became very involved in a room-by-room search of the compound. They checked drawers and closets and cabinets, and collected or at least catalogued everything in the place. Chicker made long lists, even helping himself to several pads of paper when a stationary closet was discovered, so that he could save his precious notebook. Derek seemed to be really interested in this, and eagerly followed and often led to new unexplored areas. Lauren made only a half-interested effort to keep track of them, and returned to the control room long before they had finished.
The others were still looking when she decided it was suppertime, so she went to the galley and discovered some steaks wrapped and frozen and apparently preserved by some method by which they still appeared more than edible after so long. The gadgets in the kitchen were a bit confusing, but she found a simple electric range, a couple of large frying pans, and some utensils, and went to work. She decided to use her pyrogenesis to thaw the meat; although she found something she thought might be a microwave oven, she had enough reasons to doubt that conclusion that she figured it gave her an excuse to practice what she knew and test the bias. It worked more easily than she had anticipated, and soon she was pan frying a half dozen large slabs of beef.
Her motherly instincts began to assert themselves, and she began hunting through pantries and freezers for vegetables and something else, a starch of some sort, to serve with the steak. Potato flakes which were at least freeze dried and vacuum packed were the first thing she recognized, and eventually she found a supply of frozen green beans. These she organized and prepared; there was even butter and milk in preserved form in one of the freezers, and although there wasn't much in the way of spices, she found plenty of salt and a bit of pepper. Perhaps, she thought, I should have bought a spice rack when I had the chance.
When all was ready, it still took her a few minutes to find everyone and get them to the table. Only Derek seemed to have any comprehension of eating with silverware at a table, but the others were somewhat daunted by the mashed potatoes, and so quickly perceived the value of a fork, or perhaps a spoon, in handling this strange yet flavorful material. They still used hands for the steak and fingers for the beans, however.
After dinner, Lauren collared Derek and said they should talk about their experiences. She told him some of the things which had happened to her, describing places she'd been, and telling some of what she had learned. She also questioned him about his adventures. He seemed to have traveled from one horror movie setting to another; even this might yet degenerate into such a thing, she thought. After all, there were mutants here, and some were said to be dangerous, so she couldn't be at all certain they weren't in for trouble of a science fiction horror film sort.
"Why," Derek asked, "do I keep living through all these horror films?"
"What do you know about horror films?" she asked.
"Oh, I've seen them all, or almost all of them, anyway."
"Really? Didn't they scare you? Why did you want to see something so frightening?"
Derek didn't answer; he seemed to be thinking.
"Look," Lauren said, "I believe that God has sent us into these worlds to do something. That sometimes means fighting evil, rescuing the weak. Other times it means learning things we needed to know, or we will need to know in the future. Still other times it's so we can get something that will be useful. I think in most cases I've learned something, done something, and sometimes gotten something. So, what have you learned and done and gotten?"
"Well, in that first world, I just sat there through the long night, and then the sun came up, and then this bush killed me. I didn't get anything or do anything or learn anything."
"But I think you could have learned something from that," Lauren suggested. "Maybe you did learn it, you just haven't realized it."
"What did I learn?"
"Well, first I'd say that you should have learned that you were no longer home. That world was completely different from anything that could be on earth."
"O.K.; but I don't know that I thought that. I think I thought that it wasn't really happening, that I was dreaming or something."
"I suppose it might be a dream, but you can't live through it like it's a dream. You have to do something."
"Yeah, I figured that out eventually."
"And so perhaps what you learned in that first world was that doing nothing is no guarantee of safety."
Derek appeared to be thinking about this; it was a while before he answered.
"And in the second world, I met Carlos, and I was afraid of him; but he turned out to be all right. Still, there was evil there, and the Montressa guy killed him, and tried to kill meľoh, I guess he did kill me, but I killed him, too."
"So you learned that you can find friends in these worlds, and you brought justice to a man who might have gotten away with murder."
"Yeah, and I got this butcher knife, which I've used a couple times. Then I was in a haunted house, and the ghost tried to kill me. Eventually it did kill me. I got a blanket and a frying pan there."
"And what did you learn?"
"I learned that there might be things like ghosts, things I don't understand and wouldn't believe but which are real anyway."
"And after that?"
"Let's see. Oh, that was the swamp, and the castle. I think I got some exercise there, dragging my stuff through the muck. But I didn't give up, and I got to the castle and actually got washed up. I guess I learned that it's important to keep some kind of guard up, although I'm not sure what I could have done differentlyľI was going to have to sleep sometime. I didn't get anything thereľno, I got a robe. And then I landed in that summer camp that turned into a slasher movie. I got my tire fixed, and I saved one kid and stopped the killer, although I wish I'd figured it out sooner because a lot of neat guys got killed. And I got my backpack there, with the sleeping bag and the tent. It belonged to one of the guys who was killed, but after he was dead I was going to use it to pack my things and run. Oh, and I got some practice using the knife and the frying pan to fight, and also this chain."
"And what else have you learned?"
"I've learned that I really should be in better shape, because there's a lot of hard work involved in living. Oh, and I learned that I knew more about computers and electronic stuff when I started poking around inside these consoles. And I learned that I could tell which direction my stuff is if I can't see it; I don't think I could ever do that before."
"No," Lauren said. "That seems to have to do with the scriff that moves us around."
Lauren began to tell Derek what she knew and what she thought about the multiverse, the way they traveled between worlds, the way things were biasedľall things she had explained to Bob Slade years before. Derek listened to everything, and asked some questions, but seemed to grasp a lot more of it than she'd expected he would.
"I think I know why," Derek said.
"Why what? Why you're in the verse?"
"No," he said. "Why I watched all those horror films. I use to tell myself that it was because I wasn't afraid of anything, and I could prove it by watching scary movies. But I don't think that was the real reason."
"What was the real reason?"
"The truth is I was afraid of everything, but I knew that movies were just pretend, so I could feel safe while I was watching them and pretend I was brave."
"Maybe that was something you had to learn," Lauren said. "But when the bush killed you, what happened?"
"It hurt a lot."
"And then I woke up on a fine autumn day just a bit sore, and I was fine."
"And when Montressa tried to kill you?"
"I took three bullets, and they hurt like...well, they hurt more than anything I could remember. But I stabbed him anyway, and I think we both died. But then I was alive again, and fine."
"And when the ghost killed me, I was terrified, and it was painful, but again it was over in a moment and I was fine. And by the time Michael tried to kill Ralph, I didn't think twice about it. I jumped in the middle and took the knife. It hurt terribly, but then it was over and I was here."
"So, of what were you afraid?"
"I don't know. Maybe I was afraid of dying; maybe I was afraid of pain. I'm not so afraid anymore."
"Then maybe you've learned something very important." Lauren looked at him, remembering that he was as young as one of her own children, and was still as young as he looked. One day he might be old, ancient, older even than Merlin; and yet he might still look as young, and in a sense be as young, learning and understanding but never aging or growing. He still had the body and mind of a youth, but already he was becoming wise. "But you had better get some rest. I think we're among friends tonight, and anyway you've got control of the door locks so we're quite safe."
"Mrs. Hastings?" Derek said.
"Call me Lauren," she answered. "That will be easier for both of us."
"Thanks for telling me all this, Lauren. It's starting to make sense."
She smiled. Beds had been found on the third floor, and she had selected one for herself. She'd been up for a long time, and it was time to sleep.
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 #100: Novel Settling. 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: