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Dylan had run over an extension cord in the yard with the lawnmower. The jolt was potent, and he quite suddenly found himself waking up within sight of the truck. I had built my house already, but had only just started working on the city walls, so they were only about six inches high where they existed, and did not go completely around the compound. It's a good thing he had the lawnmower, because he also had his television set and his bicycle, and had he not been able to lash his television to the top of the lawnmower, he would have had to have left something behind. The television proved useful to us almost immediately--we were able to pick up Dar Koni broadcasts on it early on, and later tuned in audio transmissions which we believe may have been Kreelak; we also used it as a monitor for the small computer I had brought with me. But that's another story.
Dylan built his house next to mine (they are very small houses, ten feet square, one open doorway, and a crawl space beneath to store gear--we don't get much weather in NagaWorld). He was helping me with my experiments, and with the construction of the walls of the city.
Then Michael showed up. He drove that vehicle which he always calls a "Jeep" up to the compound and parked it, got out and stretched out on the hood, under the barrel of the fifty caliber mounted machine gun. It's not really a Jeep; it's a Japanese body, and he stripped out the engine and had it replaced with an Edisonian Electric motor driven by a Mr. Fusion power plant--and hasn't a clue how it works. I saw him lying there, but it wasn't my place to disturb him--this was Paul and Annie's home, and I still considered myself a guest, even with my own house around the back. Besides, I was busy.
It was also true that I was unsure what to make of our visitor. His right arm was obviously mechanical (I'm told he lost the original to a creature which had the body, size, and strength of a bear, the eyesight and beak of an owl (only much larger), and the temperment of a viper). There was enough hardware on his head that I couldn't be sure whether he still had real eyes--in fact, I could not have at that moment sworn that he was himself human, and not some type of android or cyborg or other humanoid robot. I would wait to see what he did.
Dylan was not so reticent. He walked up to the stranger and said hello. The barrel of a shotgun was instantly aimed at his head; but the eye that opened was inquisitive, and the face was puzzled. The question came back, who are you? Dylan answered.
Well, once he got over his disbelief--I gather that Dylan was the only child he had ever encountered in NagaWorld; he and his friends had believed that since only adults had become versers, only adults could--he told us he was Michael.
I can't say he actually accepted us--we were never friends. However, he did find out how we built our houses, and built his own (and a garage for the Jeep), and when the others started to arrive, he introduced us to them.
One of the substances I had created from the native products (and I won't say which one--I've got some in my chemical supplies, and wouldn't want anyone to take it for their own use) had some peculiar properties. As with everything, I ran it through every test I could conceive. The best test I have for chemistry, once reactions with other chemicals are checked, is frequently taste, and dietary variety is one of the goals of my work, so I ate a tiny scrap. It quite quickly enhanced my mental powers--not my thought processes, but my psionic abilities. Whisp had shown us how to use our minds telepathically, and I had been experimenting with other mental tricks. Quite suddenly, I could see how to do almost anything I could imagine--and I successfully did quite a few things in that brief time. (I would not do it again, except in an emergency--the chemical from which I derived this is very dangerous, and I would prefer not to be the guinea pig to find the long-term effects.) Although all of that quickly faded, I could remember a little of what it was like to be able to do it, and began to reconstruct some of those techniques.
Dylan almost immediately asked if he could try some. Foolishly thinking that I knew the effects, I said he could, but that he should consume even less than I had--which he did. I do not know whether he experienced any of the mind-expanding effects I had. I do know that he suddenly began to age and grow, right in front of me! Within five minutes, he had aged two years, growing about six inches--his clothes looked tight and silly, despite the fact that he didn't gain an ounce. It seems he consumed all of his body fat in the rapid growth spurt. Anyway, he was extremely hungry, even more exhausted, and aching all over from the pain of the sudden change. He's more like a twelve year old now (and he's eating well, so he's putting some weight back), and he'll be better off most places because of that.
It was also interesting to hear what these people thought had happened--not because it was particularly enlightening (although Pete's ideas were helpful), but because I was somewhat relieved to realize that none of them were any more informed about things than I. Pete thought it was all a big army accident (they had all been in the military when they were killed), that the army had messed up in a big way, and had less of an idea of what had happened to them than they did. He theorized that there was some material he had named scriff, which fit the description of the gold metallic liquid Dylan had found, which is some kind of universal element or sub-atomic substance. Once it gets into your system, you can't die, but get knocked around from universe to universe.
Dan was a lot less scientific about the whole thing. He thought that we were now part of the stories--we had entered the realm of human fantasy, like that children's movie some years back--and that all the worlds men ever imagined were here for us to explore. He and Dog just wandered around watching the stories unfold. (Dog is Dan's best friend, kind of humanoid but still very canine, can pass for a large normal dog, or stands erect about five feet tall. He's very intelligent, and can fix all kinds of things, but thinks that theories on the verse are the sort of useless information for humans to ponder.)
Mary's best guess was that we were all dead, and that this is what being dead was like; I think she thought that all the people in all the worlds were also dead, but that our deaths were different, that we had more control of ourselves after death--but that they could learn how to move from one afterlife to another just as we did.
Michael knew that he had died--in fact, that's another story.
I was talking to Michael, and Dan was there. Funny thing--I'd met Dan O'Malley through a friend of mine, Phil White. They came over to my house for a Dungeons and Dragons game once. I was talking to them about how I had met Dan, but that was after the date that he had entered the verse, and he was quite sure he had never met me. In the process, I mentioned my friend Phil. Dan responded, not to me, but to Michael: "Didn't you tell him?" It took me a moment, but I realized with some shock that the battle-scarred technologically-rebuilt barely human being with whom I had been conversing more over the last few days was Phillip Michael White. "Phil?" I ventured. He told me, "Phillip White is dead. I'm Michael." And that was how he saw it.
In fact, he took it much farther than that. He perceived himself--and each of us--as one of Odin's chosen warriors, preparing ourselves through countless battles for the ultimate stand at Ragnorak, when the evil giants will defeat the good gods in the end, and destroy all that is, but the gods have some hope that they will destroy many of the evil giants. C. S. Lewis once called the Nordic mythos the most noble of all: "the giants will beat the gods in the end, but I am on the side of the gods". That was how he saw things.
I didn't meet Bob Thomas; he never appeared. However, Pete told me that Bob had become a terror to many worlds. Bob came to believe that none of this was real. The army was conducting an experiment--they still had control of it--and all of this was a shared hallucination. Although I assumed he meant drugs, the way Pete explained it, it could have been anything--sophisticated virtual reality, mind control, anything. Bob decided that they would let him out of the experiment if he got really crazy and threatened to upset the results; so every time he reached a new world, he started killing everything that moved, until somebody killed him. He wasn't always like that, but that's how it had been lately. He never killed versers--you can feel that versers are different--because he thought we might be real people. The others never mattered to him. They weren't real.
I use to tell people that if they wanted to know Whisp's thoughts on the verse, should check his own stories. I realized early on that it would be useless to ask him about such things; and then Mother was reported to have arrived on the world, and he was out of there. But Mother is another story; we'll get to her later. Meanwhile, his journals seem to have been misplaced. That's a loss, certainly; but ultimately, he just thinks of the verse as a great place to pick up women. That hasn't always worked out so well for him, I hear.
They all built stuff--houses, mostly. When I got blown out of there by one of my experiments, Michael was building a pool table, and Whisp had started work on a bowling alley which he intended to finish when he managed to elude Mother. Some of them helped me finish the walls of the city, and I put up signs about each of them, telling of their contributions to survival on NagaWorld. I'll see them again--with versers, you always see them again.
M. J. Young Net