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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 15: Hastings 100
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 14: Brown 60
It had been a stiff climb which had brought Lauren to her goal; but it was a disappointing goal. She stood on bare rock, her scriff sense pointing down toward her feet. Her things were buried in the mountain.
She did not despair. She had the psionic drill, and if it worked in this world (she had not yet tried it) she could probably cut through even the side of the mountain, given time. At the moment, though, something else caught her attention. Not more than a few dozen yards away there was the sound of water splashing and the incongruous appearance of steam rising. She could easily come back to this spot; for now, she wanted to investigate that one.
Moving toward it, she soon found a cool stream of fresh water pouring down the slope. It spilled over a drop into a pool below. The pool was in the opening of what appeared, from above, to be a cave. Steam came not from the pool but from the cave.
She found a way down to the pool. The water crashed into it, and then seemed to drain back into the cave. How far it went she could not guess; but at some point in its depths it must collide with the heat of the magma and so return through the cave as steam. Much of this seemed to collect on the walls and ceiling, and drip back into the pool and stream to pour back into the cave; but much also poured into the sky from the open cave. There was also a trickle of water pouring down the mountain, which she could see had been greater at some time, probably during and after the rain of two nights before. She wondered at the discovery, first at the amazing way it worked, and then at the practical use it could be to her, as shower, bath, and sauna.
She also realized that the sense which led toward her missing equipment led in the same direction as the cave. There was a chance that her things were not buried after all, but merely inside.
The cave was dark. She did not relish the idea of groping around in the darkness. She had in the past called light in the darkness, and in her pocket she held a small cat's eye marble which enabled her to see in the dark; but these were magical things, and she was not yet ready to test how much magic worked in this world. Perhaps it was time to do so--but she realized that the cave faced west, and it was still a bit before noon. Were she to wait until late this afternoon, the sun would be shining directly into the cave. She knew how far she had to go--maybe a couple dozen yards--and if the sun shone directly on the entrance, it might well provide sufficient illumination for safe spelunking.
She decided to wait.
Waiting for the sun to cross the sky was not a very interesting activity. Lauren had little patience for tasks which involved sitting around doing nothing. She sat for a bit. Then she paced back and forth. She sat again, and stood up, looking out over the ocean.
As she stared into the distance, it occurred to her that she could, if she dared, use her clairvoyance to search the ocean. She had used it to find this rod she held when she and it were floating in space. Exploring the seas might well be as simple as closing her eyes and letting her mind wander them. She would not try it yet; it was not yet time to experiment with what worked in this world. She would, however, remember to try it.
She had left her Bible in the wagon; that was one of the things she wanted now. If she could sit here and read, she could spend the time easily enough. She had nothing to read.
You never rest, do you? The thought came to her almost as if it were not her own; yet she knew it was from within herself. She was eager to do something. She hated sitting still, waiting. She wanted to do something here. It seemed there was nothing to do.
One thing she could do. She tasted the water pouring off the rock. It tasted fresh and clean. She knew that was no guarantee. It could contain some poison which had no color, smell, or taste (although whether such a poison existed she could not guess). There could be disease organisms in it which would now infect her (would she throw these off when she versed out?). Eventually she was going to have to test the water, and she had no better way to test it than to drink it, so eventually whatever it was going to do to her it would do. That it tasted clean was an encouragement, and she drank a bit more to slake her thirst.
Not being sick several hours later as the sun lowered itself toward the western horizon and sent its rays deep into the cave, she began her exploration.
She entered a tunnel bright with steam and dripping with warm water. It quickly saturated her clothes and wet her hair. The heat brought sweat out of her body, and she walked nearly as blind through the fog as she would have been had it been dark. Gradually she moved out of the brilliance into the duller gray of a foggy day, and from there to an evening mist. The floor was slick, running with water and smooth as glass, and her sneakers were soaked through but gripping. The direction seemed right; the distance was difficult to gauge. She moved slowly and carefully, realizing that the ground might at any moment pitch steeply downward and pour her into whatever cauldron boiled this soup.
It did not do so. She reached her cart, sitting upright in the stream, and checked the area around it for any loose objects. She had packed it well. It took a bit of effort to get it turned the right direction in the narrow cave, but before long she was pulling it toward the entrance.
At the entrance, she splashed into the pool. She could not, she thought, get any wetter than she was; but she could wash off the sweat and cool her skin. It was refreshing, not quite so cold as the water of the stream thanks to the dripping condensation from the ceiling, but bracing after the heat of the cave.
Coming out into the light, she realized that there was not more than a few hours of daylight left. Nothing here would be dry, and she would soon have to make some sort of camp for the night. Returning to the rock on which she had been standing, she pulled out some of her warmer clothes from the wagon and spread them between the dropping sun and the warm stone. Two nights ago she had been soaked by warm rain and not been uncomfortable; tonight, higher up and more exposed, it could be cooler. She did not wish to take risks. Warm dry clothes were a necessary tool to survival, and she intended to have them.As the light faded from the sky, she dressed in the new outfit and settled into a soft hollow not far from the stream. Tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, her quest should end when she returned to her starting point, her gear gathered.
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 #164: Versers Proceed. 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: