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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 40: Hastings 107
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 39: Slade 58
Lauren's attention had turned to exploring the island. She began spiraling out from her campsite, trying to create a map in her head of what was about.
She decided it was also time to start trying things. The first idea she had was to try to read the minds of everything she encountered. She had never tried to read the mind of a tree or a rock, but she guessed that they didn't have minds and that therefore her efforts should confirm that they weren't thinking. It would be more convincing if she could find something that did have a mind; but then, she couldn't recall ever reading the mind of a bird or fish, so she didn't know whether that was something she could do. Still, if she could get anything like a mind from a bird or fish, and nothing from the trees, that would suggest that the trees were not the sort of creatures who thought. Beyond that, she might be able to deduce from contacting the minds of birds and fish whether they were at all intelligent. It was problematic, to be sure; even people had a tendency to think in their own languages, and that made reading their minds more difficult. Still, if she found a mind, she could try to find a way to talk to that mind. She had learned to contact the speech centers of other people, and so speak their languages. If she could reach the mind of another creature, she should be able to work out what it was thinking somehow.
In her explorations she must have tried to read the thoughts of several hundred trees and plants, from the ferns and vines to the seedlings to the great trees. Not one of them had anything like a mind she could read. In that regard, they were not different from the several rocks she attempted unsuccessfully to contact. Attempting to read the thoughts of rocks made her feel quite silly, and she did not do too many of these. By the end of the day, she had reached the conclusion that either the plants were not thinking in any way she would understand the word, or she couldn't read minds in this world.
It took longer for the next step. Mostly when she saw birds, they were some distance from her, and she could not make them out clearly. She thought she should be able to read their minds if she could see them; but she wasn't certain at times whether she actually saw birds, or whether she saw a pattern of specks in the distant sky which appeared to be birds. It was some time before she got close enough to see one bird, and try to read what it was thinking without startling it.
It happened that she did startle it; but this was because it startled her. It didn't intend to do so, nor did it do anything in the ordinary sense of that word. What startled her was that in trying to read its mind she found something. She would not have called it thought, exactly. It was image and emotion, a connected web of things which were alternately desirable and dangerous. It was devoid of words; more than that, it was devoid of ideas. The bird didn't seem to think; it seemed to react to the world around it.
From this, she concluded that the trees were mindless; this is what she believed about trees otherwise (although in Camelot it was difficult to distinguish between the trees and the dryads who were their spirits) but had refused to accept without some proof. She also accepted that birds, although they had something like thought that could be read, were not sentient thinking creatures of the sort she would consider peers. If she could catch one, she could eat it.
She could also eat eggs. It had not occurred to her before that shore birds must have nests somewhere on the shores. It was likely that particular trees were preferred for one reason or another, and that the nests were in those trees. Perhaps she had not noticed them because it was not nesting season. She had no idea either what season it actually was or when shorebirds might nest, but she didn't expect they laid eggs year round. On reflection, that was a very odd thing for a bird to do, and she wondered why domestic chickens did it. She wasn't going to find the answer to that question any time soon. She was going to keep an eye on the birds and see what they did over time.
She decided to try another type of fruit before moving on to poultry. To this end, she decided to attempt to do something with her telekinesis. If she could bring the fruit down without climbing the tree, that would make her life easier. Her efforts met mixed success. She could move the fruit in all sorts of ways; but she couldn't seem to exert enough force on it mentally to break it loose. She considered trying to cut it loose with her invisible blade, but realized that from the ground she couldn’t see the stems which connected the fruit to the tree, and swinging blindly she might do more damage than good. In the end, she decided she would have to pluck it herself. This she discovered was easily accomplished once she lifted her body to the fruit, although hanging in the air above the uneven and often rocky ground made her feel a bit less than safe.
Finally she decided it was time to start cooking. She gathered rocks and built as nice a hearth as she could manage. Piling dried leaves and a bit of dead wood on it, she focused her thought into it, and began to agitate.
In a moment, she had flame. This world was going to be even more comfortable than she had expected.
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 #174: Versers Achieve. 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: