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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 8: Brown 58
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 7: Slade 45
Almost immediately after he was hearing sounds, he was also seeing light. This was, if possible, less distinct than the sounds; his ears could distinguish pumping, rushing, creaking, and other sounds, even the sounds of voices (but not any words), but to his eyes the world was as yet just a blur--a bright blur or a dark blur, but a blur either way. He wondered whether his eyes were covered with some sort of translucent gel as part of the healing treatments, but his arms still were not responding.
The sounds were interesting, though. What made them particularly interesting to Derek was the voices, muffled, but obviously of many different people. At times he would tune in to Theian Orlina Lelach's dream while listening to the sounds. It seemed that she could also hear the voices, and her imagination gave them meaning, and even claimed the loudest of the voices as her own. As quick as lightning, the dulled sounds were given crisp form, often, Derek thought, with some very clever constructions, and always consistent with the ongoing story of the dream. The voice that was most common after the loud one had become connected to Theian Alanda Morani, the imagined husband, which helped the story along significantly.
Finally, after much searching, he found another mind, and started to read it; but this was more confusing than the first. The same story seemed to be unfolding in this mind, but from a different angle; he had found the mind of Theian Alanda Morani. Great, he thought; my mental patient contact has multiple personalities. Still, it was interesting to be able to contact this new character, and Derek began comparing the two threads of the story. The husband character had no idea that the wife character thought she might be pregnant; and the wife character hadn't considered the possibility for some time, that he had caught. It was a fascinating study in madness; it was also a good story, even if at times it moved slowly.
He was pleased to discover after that that he could move his arms. He brought his hand up toward his face, but all he could make out was a dark patch where he thought it should be. It was very difficult controlling his limbs (he considered that all his combat training and practice was going to have to start again from scratch), but by groping about he discovered that he was connected by a tube of some sort passing into his belly to a soft, pliable wall. It was less like those glass tanks he had imagined, and more like the inside of a water balloon, or that was the best analogy he could find.
The next time he awoke, his eyes were closed; he had not closed them, as far as he could remember, since he first saw light--he generally had awakened with open eyes, and then fallen asleep from exhaustion without specifically closing them. Now they were closed. More significantly, he could not open them. He wondered if this was an ordinary part of the healing process, or again whether something had gone amiss; but there was no point worrying about it. People who could rejuvenate bodies exposed to open space for even an instant could certainly fix sealed eyelids.
Time continued to crawl forward, and he continued to read the story in the minds of the characters around him. From time to time he searched for another mind to read, but there was a part of him that was afraid of this. After all, how could he from here tell the difference between another person and another personality in the person he had already found? His body grew stronger, and he felt his stomach and digestive tract coming back into operation. It won't be long now, he thought; they'll be bringing me out of here, fully recovered.
Then he awoke to realize he was sitting on the bottom of the tank. It was soft here, too, and irregular, and tended to shape to pressure. The point was that for the first time in memory he knew which way was down.
In the midst of this, Derek realized how much he did not know about his own body. When he had felt his strength returning, he thought he was nearly mended; but then he could not see, or feel, or hear. As his senses started to return, he again thought he had recovered. It was not until he was able to move his arms that he recognized he had not been able to do so, and now that his sense of balance was returning he realized that it had been gone. He could be forgiven on that one, he thought; after all, he had attributed that disorientation to weightlessness within the saline surrounding him (and now it occurred to him that he had swallowed and inhaled a great deal of what he thought was salt water without noticing the salinity). He began to wonder what else wasn't working in his body, and how much longer it would be until everything was back to normal.
Lelach (Derek decided the end name must be the personal name, since both of the main characters in the story shared the name Theian) had decided she was pregnant. She told Morani that he was going to be a father, that she could feel the baby moving inside her. She started thinking a lot about things like baby names (on the same pattern as her own), and about preparing a place to keep the child. Yes, Derek thought, this is a good story. I'm glad I found it.
For some reason, the tank was a bit different than it had been. It was not really less comfortable; but he was more aware of the sensation of bouncing. He thought that if they were recirculating the fluid, they didn't need to shake the container also; but then, perhaps there was something vital in the water that tended to settle if not stirred. Also, it seemed the tank was shrinking. For however long it had been, he never had felt more than one wall. Now he frequently found that he had to push against two walls to stretch his legs. This seemed to rock the tank sometimes, but it always stabilized again. It also sometimes stirred up the loud voice, who would say something and sometimes get an answer, and sometimes resulted in pressure and dark patches on the outside. I'm fine, now, Derek thought. Let me out, and I can get back to work.
The tank also seemed to turn of its own accord. At first he didn't notice it. He would fall asleep sitting upright, and awaken on his side, or even upside down. Then one day he felt it abruptly roll ninety degrees one direction, and then another ninety degrees at a right angle to it, putting him on his face against the wall of the tank. He gave a kick, to try to tell whoever was moving it that he was in here, and he got the usual voices and dark patches, but they didn't fix the tank. He had to turn himself; he realized just how weak his arms and legs still were--but in the shrinking container, it was going to be difficult to find any way to exercise.
He was staying awake for longer stretches, but was not learning anything new. His eyes were working again, and he could sometimes see his hands in the dim light, but they seemed misshapen, distorted by the strange environment. He wondered whether he was also sleeping longer. He was sleeping less comfortably. The space had now shrunk to the point that the soft walls generally touched him on several sides. They also hardened from time to time; he wondered whether this was some sort of testing system trying to determine whether he was fully healed, but it was certainly uncomfortable. He couldn't say he never slept through it, but usually when he awoke it was due to this. Sometimes there seemed to be soft objects pressing on the other side of the wall, and if he kicked at these they sometimes moved. He spent most of his awake time looking for a comfortable position; after a while, he realized that he was comfortable generally if his head was down. If they need the blood to flow to my head, he thought, why don't they just tell me to lie in this position? It didn't seem to bother him to lie that way, so that's what he did.
Then everything changed. The walls pressed in on his legs harder than they ever had before, and he realized that his head was stuck in something below him. Were it not that he was still attached to the tube, he thought this would have forced all the air out of his body. The pressure stayed on him for quite some time, then relaxed. Again, he thought it must have been a malfunction in the equipment, and was glad they got it fixed so quickly–but barely had he thought this when it happened again. Clearly the machine was broken; someone had to notice and get him out of it. He flailed his arms and legs, frantically striking the soft walls. The near voice had cried out abruptly; perhaps someone had noticed, and was trying to do something. Other voices were talking, some trying to sound calming, others in rapid-paced patter. The pressure came again. Derek wanted to shout out, to tell them to fix it. He couldn't do anything.
That's it, he thought; it's all over. The machine has malfunctioned, and just as I'm fully healed it's going to kill me.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #157: Versers Restart. 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: