Hidden Pages – Chapter 38 – Drifting Away to Catch Up


Making your own luck is easy when you can suggests paths for the future to take. It’s significantly more challenging when someone else can do the same and wants your future to end up at the bottom of the ocean.

“Break off pursuit!” Beth’s father shouted and the captain of the ship relayed the order. In moments the ship in front of them was outside of canon range and making for the horizon.

“He’s just going to get away?” Beth asked.

“He’s caught a central thread,” her father said. “We can’t follow him any further.”

“But his ship is as damaged as ours isn’t it?” Beth asked. She’d seen smoke billowing from the rear quarters of de Rais ship and one of the sails had caught fire briefly.

“Not enough to break his hold on the story we’re weaving,” her father said. “But Beth, what are you doing here? How did you even get here? You said you came in a spaceship? That’s not possible.”

“There were some difficulties,” Beth said. “It’s current cloaked and in orbit, with most of its systems disabled.”

“But we’re inside one of my books,” her father said. “The only spaceships that ever fit into my books were the Apollo rockets.”

“You went into a history book about the space race?” Beth asked.

“I’ve gone into all of the books about the space race,” her father said. “It’s an amazing period in human history. It inspired so much of my childhood.”

He gestured towards the sky, his eyes alight with old memories and Beth felt a chuckle burst from her lips.

Then she was hugging him.

“You’re in ye olde French clothes and your talking about space history,” she said. “You’re definitely my dad.”

“You did it kid!” Starshone said, as she and Lagressa approached.

Starshine’s disguised blasters were holstered and so she looked passably believable as a traveler on an Earthly sailing vessel. Lagressa however had reverted partially to her scaled form during their time beneath the waves, and so only approximated a human, one perhaps from another world, but clearly not a native of Earth.

And yet the Unread hadn’t yanked her away.

Sirène?”, one of the crew members asked and nodded towards a heavy beam that was wedged in the deck after the powderkeg explosion.

“I’ll help with the repairs,” Lagressa said. “We will likely need mobility no matter where we go next.”

“She’s from one of your novels?” Beth’s father asked. He didn’t need to. He was the one who’d called her forth after Beth met Lagressa in Elgamire.

“Yeah, she’s stayed after you left and came along me into the Unread when we ran away from the Burners,” Beth said.

“The Burners tracked you down? What happened?” her father asked, glancing her over as if to reassure himself that she was unharmed.

Beth laid out the tale of the Burners arrival at their house, her flight into the Century Walk and then her confrontation with them in the skies above the world. By the end, her father was blinking and slack jawed in amazement.

“I am so proud of you, and so very terrified,” he said after a moment. “Being a parent,” he shook his head, “it just never stops with the surprises I guess.”

“I think we can beat them if they show up again,” Beth offered. “They seem like they’re pretty narrow thinkers.”

It was her father’s turn to laugh.

“That’s a very kind description of them,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s more complex than that though. What we saw back on Earth was the part of their work that I oppose and that I suspect you will too. What’s happening here though is something else.”

“And what would that be?” Starshine asked.

“Difficult to explain,” Beth’s father said and cast a questioning glance at Beth.

“Don’t worry about me,” Starshine said. “I get that this is some kind of psycho-plane – a place given shape by thoughts and memory. I’ve traveled in stranger circles than that.”

“You’ve met people who were only stories?” Beth’s father asked.

“No one’s only a story,” Starshine said. “And there’s a bit of story in every one of us, so, yeah, I’ve had my share of imaginary friends. Even lost a few teeth when they had to knock some sense into me.”

“How did you…?” he asked, looking at Beth and losing his train of thought as a dozen questions fought to be answered at once.

“The Measureless Stars has been going since when you were a kid. Usually one to two books a year. I thought I’d hide there because it was so vast no one would be able to find me. Turns out that didn’t work out so well, but on the upside, there are some pretty remarkable people there too.”

“Ok, that explains the spaceship then I guess,” her father said. “From your story, it sounds like you’re familiar with how we can speak to the Unread correct?”

“You can control this psychoplane?” Starshine asked.

“Not control,” Beth’s father said. “Influence maybe? Suggest?”

“Yeah, there’s some definite pushback if what I come up with doesn’t mesh with what the world wants to do,” Beth said.

“That’s inconvenient,” Starshine said. “I take it the guy in the boat we were chasing can do the same thing?”

“Yes, how did you know though?” Beth’s father asked.

“Beth bewitched the ocean and got us caught up with you, but neither of you tried to sink the boat we were following,” Starshine said.

“I blew up one of their canons,” Beth said.

“And they blew up the front half of our ship,” Starshine said.

“Yes, and as far as the Unread is concerned they could have done a lot more than that,” Beth’s father said. “There’s no protection on this ship from sinking. No tie to later events that dictate that it will be around for some future voyage or battle.”

Beth thought about how she’d argued back into the Unread against the whispers that called for ship’s destruction and felt her nerves sing. If she’d been a smidge less clever or quick, everyone on the boat would be either dead or dispelled back to their own world.

Then the more significant problem lurking behind her father’s words occurred to her.

“We don’t have a place in this history, so anything can happen to us, but that’s not true for de Rais, is it? We can’t kill him here because the narrative already spells out his fate. For all practical purposes, he’s immortal for the time being.”