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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 9: Hastings 98
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 8: Brown 58
Left or right?
It was morning, and having had a bit of breakfast Lauren was now dressed to travel. She wanted to bring back her equipment wherever it was. Both of the directional feelings she had were still where they were the night before, but although they were both inland, they were otherwise in opposite directions. She could not know which point was which; nor could she know how far either was. She had to choose one.
It occurred to her that there was probably a way to work out how far away these things were, something to do with triangles and hypotenuses; but then, that wouldn't tell her which was which, and if they were any distance at all, she would have to go quite a way in the wrong direction to get that information. Still, if while she was walking in the direction of one of the sources she periodically checked the direction to the other, she would at least have an idea of how far it was.
She couldn't see any reason to pick one direction over the other. Go right, she thought, because I have to pick one and stick to it, at least until there's reason to think otherwise.
So dressed in jeans and wearing her plastic mail shirt over a T-shirt, with both revolvers and both psionic weapons holstered, she started up the slope through the trees toward one of the two senses. She noted the direction to the other, but it did not shift much yet.
As she made a path through the woods, she realized that her objectives, had she considered them in detail, were somewhat at cross purposes. Her stated quest was the retrieval of her lost equipment, and to this end it made the most sense to travel reasonably straight, but finding the easier path where this was available. She also had decided to use that scriff sense that told her where her possessions were to triangulate roughly the location of the other target, and that suggested a considerably straighter course. At the same time, this was her first trip to the interior, and it would be a much more practical trip were she to explore as she went–but that meant to a certain degree a meandering course, following streams, climbing rises to see the lay of the land, looking for paths, all of which would carry her away from the straight line she would need to triangulate and the quickest route to her missing gear. It was, however, a necessary compromise, she thought. She wasn't seriously attempting to measure any distances; and if her things moved, the sense that told her where they were would also move, so she would find them eventually. Meandering made more sense overall.
So she meandered through the trees. It was surprisingly easy travel; there was little ground cover, and less in the way of low branches. Most of what was here seemed to be in the canopy. The mulch and humus underfoot was soft and untrammeled. Again, she heard and sometimes saw birds, but of land animals there were no signs.
She had not realized how very far she had been from her things when adrift in space. Now as she considered it, she saw that the space habitat certainly had to be larger than any building of her time, more like a small city than a large building. In open space, she could easily have seen it and recognized it from hundreds of miles distant. With nothing about it but the other orbiting colonies–each of which was itself the size of a small town–it was difficult to truly appreciate its size, and thus its distance from her. The other sense would be the telekinetic capture rod she had dropped on the spaceship. After the destruction of the ship which left them adrift, she had tracked that clairvoyantly, and telekinetically pushed it in the right direction, but she had no idea how far it had been thrown nor how fast it was moving.
She took lunch on the way, glad she had packed a bit of food and water (a lesson she had learned from another quest). She was still climbing when she realized the light was changing; even were she to abandon her mission immediately, she could not return to camp before dark. Thus she prepared a bit of a bed in a sheltered hollow, and got some rest.
The next morning she noted that she was not quite on the straight line between her starting point and her destination, and that the angle to the missing objects had shifted significantly. She tried to gauge some idea of what that meant to the distances, but it was only a vague impression amounting to farther than she had yet walked, although perhaps not much farther. She continued her ascent, which grew considerably steeper now.
About mid morning she emerged from the trees to a rocky summit. She climbed the rough, black surface. This was not the peak but rather a shoulder of the larger mountain, but from here she could survey quite a bit of the land. Ahead and to her right water surrounded the land; behind her again, all was ocean as far as she could see. To her left the ground rose yet higher, to a peak; a trace of smoke from the peak demanded that it was volcanic. The vision of unending seas framed the peak to either side; if there was any other land, it could only be a long, narrow strip beyond the peak itself. It appeared she was on a tropical volcanic island, not unlike an undiscovered Hawaii without people or even animals.
She was alone.
As she began the descent, continuing toward that scriff sense which was her possessions, she reminded herself that she was not alone. Perhaps in a sense she was never less alone than when there were no people about, no one to distract her from the One who was always there. Her mind and heart turned toward Him now, grateful for the time of quiet meditation. Likely she would have sung, but that already the climb had been tiring and she had no way of knowing how far there was to go. Besides, going down was in some ways more difficult than going up. When you were coming up, it was a matter of overcoming gravity, pushing yourself against the pull of the earth. Going down meant resisting gravity, controlling the descent lest it drag you too fast. The difference between going the opposite direction from the pull and going the same direction while holding back against the pull was greater than it sounded. The body was built more for the one than for the other.
She broke for lunch late in the afternoon. Having discovered that the world had edges, that her land would not go on more than miles, she eagerly hoped to know whether her lost belongings were within that part of the world she could reach or somewhere beyond it. It occurred to her that had she thought about it then, she could have determined how far her things were by triangulating from the peak; but then, as the angled sides of the island probably sloped at much the same pitch beyond the edge of the water, this would likely not have been so helpful. But wait, she thought. That was not the only information she had. When she was on the far shore, behind her, she had focused on the direction sense sufficiently to know which way to go. At the time she was thinking two-dimensionally–whether to go left or right. But there was another component to the direction, if she could remember it aright. The left-hand direction, as she recalled it, seemed to be slightly above her, perhaps; the course she followed had seemed more level. Of course, this could not be much of an angle either way. After all, it was miles of travel over land, and could only be thousands of feet to the top of the mountain, so any angular difference would be ever so slight. If the object she sought was level with her when she stood on the other shore, it must be near the shore, or at least on low ground not too far inland.
Unless, she realized, it was buried; if it was level with her original position, and not as far from her as the far shore, it might well have materialized underground. Without any tools, that would make this a fool's errand. It could easily be hundreds of feet beneath the surface, detected but unreachable in the hardened basalt of the mountain.
No, she thought, that is not all the information she had. Even now, as she descended, the angle to her gear was upward, away from the ground–not above her head, but not below her feet. If she looked directly toward it, she was looking not at the mountain but the distant shoreline of the island. That bode well. Whatever it was she sensed could not be in the air, as it would have fallen, and thus it must be on the ground or in it. If it was as far out as the beach and level with her starting point, it must be lying on the beach.
Her thoughts so encouraged, she thanked God for the encouragement, and resumed her travel at a quicker pace.
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: