The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Month: February, 2013

Return to Earth

Black Hole We remain silent for long minutes, as Gabrielle’s words continue their journey through our minds. Sarah’s holding my hand: suddenly I am aware that we have a very physical presence here: is it the power of illusion, or have we in some way “borrowed” bodies? And what do Gabrielle and Elga look like in their native forms? I decide to ignore that latter thought.

Elga speaks: “In our coven, there are some who believe you humans do not deserve to be protected, and that, at best, you should be quarantined and ignored. We cannot be sure that this view may not become a majority. So we wish to prove them wrong. It is our belief that if you do not receive any help from outside, which means from us, your civilisation’s chances of survival may be slim. Even assuming you see reason and stop destroying your planet, asteroids or other galactic incidents will finish you off, in due time. We are convinced you will need some help, and probably sooner than we thought a few centuries back. The four of you – Julian, Sarah, Jane and of course Melissa – can do a lot to strengthen our case.”

We are stunned. It is Sarah who finally replies for us: “I can say for at least three of us, and I am sure Melissa agrees, that we are willing. But what can we do?” There is another pause then Gabrielle speaks. “It is a long-haul project. Remember that we have been observing you for millennia. We rely on Melissa to explain to you – and she has started with you Sarah – how you can communicate with us more easily. We have invited you here, not to show off, but to facilitate your understanding of what we have undertaken. For us your main task will be to communicate back to your people, through your writing, your friends, whatever influence you may already have or develop in the future, and slowly begin to suggest that you are not alone. This will be difficult. It will take time. We decided to work with individuals like yourselves rather than institutions, because we do not want to panic you: our experience elsewhere has taught us to be patient. You will have to be cautious too, since a healthy skepticism will meet any affirmation that we – “beings from Andromeda” – are close to your world.  In fact we believe that this may not be the most helpful starting point. It will be up to you. Our own experience is that an appreciation of the possibility – a finite probability – of close-by intelligent life and friendly civilisations maybe the way to prime consciousness. Many of your mainstream scientists will deny the practicality of communication – the Fermi paradox. Others may be more questioning of the received wisdom.” We are now silent, reflecting, as we retrace our steps along the beach. The moons are bright in the dark sky.

Elga wishes us well and promises to be in touch. We thank her for talking to us, and assure her of our willingness to help her to help us. The little sphere is back, and Gabrielle says that she will accompany us back to the cloister. The return journey appears to take a little longer but when we stand, close to the medieval column and the statue of the saint, Jane says that we have been away only for fifteen minutes at most. We agree with Gabrielle and Melissa to meet at their house in a week time. The three of us then walk back through the sleepy streets to our car, parked near the library. Sarah and Jane are chatting amiably. I am deep in thoughts, Sarah will drive. We, the space and time travellers, will need seven hours to go back home…

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So vast is the Universe

Elga There is a bright wood fire on the beach with low seats around it. We make ourselves comfortable and listen to Elga. We can hear the sound of the waves and the crackling of the fire: I feel time moving extremely slowly and wonder once again at the science who brought us together here. Elga says:

“Let me explain first some of the things you need to know about us beyond what Gabrielle has already told you. Like you we are individuals organised in societies. Since we have been science-based – I think this is the right description –  for much longer than you have, we started contributing – perhaps the right word is influencing – our evolution a long time ago, say, back several tens of thousands of your millennia. We now live in collectives, what you would possibly call covens, although as individuals we still have autonomy. For example Gabrielle – not one but a cluster of us – is nearly on her own in your world, but all of us can follow and are aware of her actions and interactions on Earth. This way of life has led us early to take an interest in other societies and other intelligent species.” As Elga speaks I observe my companions: Sarah and Jane are listening intensely, Melissa’s looking at Sarah, smiling. Gabrielle appears deep in thought, eyes closed behind her thick glasses, and I guess she may be communicating with others in the coven.

“So it was, continues Elga, that some of us became specialised in space exploration. By this I mean not only geographical space exploration, but also the physics of space time, and the complex engineering techniques that eventually led us to what we can now achieve: near instantaneous transportation. We made many mistakes at the beginning: we lost people in ill-planned premature adventures, we got frustrated at not meeting anyone “out-there”, a feeling that some of your own scientists know well. After several millennia we understood that time was the issue: intelligent life is plentiful in the universe, but synchronicity – the wide enough overlap between two civilisations to permit communication and meaningful exchange is only a small probability. Again some Earth scientists have come to that conclusion too, but the consequences have not been drawn yet. So the project was born, and we called it the Search… We had to acquire the ability to travel through the entire space time continuum in order to meet others. At that point we influenced our biology again, and this led us to virtual immortality, although we no longer see it that way. This allowed us to colonise our own galaxy over about three millions of your years, and took us to yours, the Milky Way. Relatively recently we came to your world, to Earth. Sol and her system was noted for its relative friendliness to intelligent life. So when you finally appeared, we were not that surprised.” Elga paused, as she and Gabrielle appeared to be both somewhat absent. Minutes passed. Then Gabrielle appears to wake up. And Elga resumes her story: “The project has several aims, the most important is to support and observe – as innocuously as possible – civilisations with good prospects for lifespan. By this we mean societies that are capable of technological and scientific development with low risks, or manageable risks, of ruining their environment or sinking in warfare, and thus are probable candidates for some synchronicity. Another is the protection of our own species and our allies’ against any malevolent species that could become a danger to advanced intelligence, the “high risks” cases. There is third one, which is to prospect for past civilisations that may have perished, and research the reasons for their disappearance, what you would call cosmic archeology.” I am looking at Elga and she is looking at me, a direct gaze that signals to me that she, or “they”, is searching my mind. “I understand, I say, what you meant by “special roles”… You meant that we are to help you, maybe provide evidence, for the Search to assess whether we are in that category of potential risk to you…” There is another pause. Sarah and Jane are now looking towards me, and so is Melissa. Elga appears to be thinking, her classical face suddenly showing a range of feelings. It is Gabrielle who answers me: “Yes, Julian, you are witnesses, and also part of the evidence we need”.

I still cherish your memory… #FiveSentenceFiction

We, us For so long I did not know where you were, and then I thought you gone, forever…

Is it science, magic or sorcery that brought you back to me?

You are as beautiful, and as young, as ever, so I know now that you are not of this world, or perhaps not entirely.

Yet you once were, same as me, young, ignorant, loving, and free.

So today, I love you as you are – who could not? – but I also cherish the memory of you, before you were born again.

A view from afar

Mesmerized I know we are now far away from our world: I say “we” because I can see Sarah and Melissa standing a few steps from me, looking up at the sky. There is a structure, and I am guessing we are inside it: it is enormous, and as I try to trace its shape I am beginning to see that we must be inside the pyramid Gabrielle showed me a few weeks past, when I was at her place. Outside is the infinite blackness of space, alien stars glitter, bright and silent, I know that this is not our galaxy: it must be Andromeda, Gabrielle’s home.

I turn towards my lovers: they are so beautiful, talking in low voices and looking at me. I get closer to them, Melissa smiles at me, a hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “Gabrielle has asked we wait here for  little while. She will be with us shortly.” Her voice reaches me clear as crystal and as she speaks I realise how incredible is our presence here, if we are really here.

The apex of the pyramid must be several kilometres high above us. The immense structure appears to be stationary, at least relative to the stars we can see. The gravity is evidently identical to what we know on earth. Sarah must be reading my mind, as she says: “This station is kept as a historical relic, and also to welcome visitors such as us. The nearest planet is visible only when the station comes nearer to its orbit, but this happens only once every ten of our years”. I assume Sarah has learnt these facts from Melissa. Soon I am aware of another presence: Gabrielle has joined us and is walking towards us. “Thanks for waiting for me”, she says with a gracious smile, “Have you found the trip comfortable?” she asks mischievously. “We guessed the teleport must be close to the statue of the saint”, says Sarah, “it’s just instantaneous isn’t it?” “Not quite”, replies our teacher, “you lost a few milliseconds, partly due to the very cautious way we have engineered the teleport”. I see more mischief in Gabrielle’s eyes, and I reflect that if this is an illusion it is just perfectly designed. Gabrielle signals us to follow her and the four of us start walking in the direction of a small platform that seems to have materialised in front of us. “You are going to meet a friend of mine” Gabrielle says in a calm voice. “In your terms I would call her the head of my faculty” she adds addressing herself to Sarah. I am thinking of what Gabrielle could mean by “faculty”. Is this a reference to her historical studies? Or does she mean the faculty of galactic colonisation?

Soon the four of us stand on the platform. Gabrielle has conjured up a little crystalline sphere which hovers a few meters above us and appears to be communicating with it. After a few minutes she says: “Elga will appear to you in the shape she is most comfortable with talking to beings such as you. Her mastery of your language is not perfect, and you may have to be a little patient when she thinks between sentences…” I am aware of the little tension rising in the three of us, even Melissa. Sarah looks at me and sighs. Who’s Elga?

We are waiting silently. Gabrielle is immobile, surrounded by a pale halo around her very human silhouette. Then the light is suddenly dimmer around us, and what resembles the sound of waves can be heard, faint but vivid. I can now see a beach: the waters are dark violet with beautiful strikes of gold, the small waves licking the soft sand: the four of us are now standing on the beach, and it must be evening tide. I look up and see three moons, high above the dunes. As I turn back towards Gabrielle I see her:  a tall woman standing at the water edge, red-skinned and black hair falling in cascades over her beautiful shoulders, who is wearing a white toga. “I am Elga, and I am honoured by your visit” says the stranger in a melodious voice. “I hope Gabrielle has explained that I am not totally fluent in your language”. The three of us are stunned, me by Elga’s beauty and the strangeness of her apparition. I reflect that we must have teleported again, this time to Elga’s place. Gabrielle is nowhere to be seen. Sarah, calm and smiling, is introducing the three of us, describing who we are and how we are related, expressing our pleasure to meet Elga. I am watching, paralysed, as Elga hugs the other two and turns to me: “Gabrielle has told me about the three of you. I was eager to meet you, and tell you how important it is now for you to help my friend in her work. What Gabrielle has started, her project as you would say, is important for both our people.” Elga holds me looking straight at me: “And you Julian have a special role, you and Melissa, and of course Sarah your companion, have special roles in the project.” We start walking along the beach. The little waves are fringed with silver. Gabrielle is back with us and walking next to Elga.

Then Elga tells us about the project.

In the cloister

Crusader So we are here. The three of us travelled along the long motorway, through those flat landscapes, the infinite horizon. We arrived in the morning and walked around the old town. For me it is a unique experience, you, Sarah, my only one, and you, Melissa, my long lost love. And I cannot distinguish you. I speak to Sarah and it is Melissa who smiles back at me, and then Sarah who teases me: “Our boy is lost, just relax my darling…” I am OK, just don’t want to think too much about who’s who right now.

The old church is there, standing dark despite the morning light. We stop at the little bridge, unchanged since Melissa and me walked over it, enlaced, both of us children. The three of us look at the flowing green water, but I cannot see the kingfisher…

The town is quiet, there is little traffic, the porch of the church looks inviting but stern. Melissa’s leading us, her pace enticing, her red hair flowing in the morning light. I turn toward Sarah, and I see Melissa’s face. I blush: Sarah’s walking now in front of me, her red hair flying in the breeze.

Someone takes my hand: we are walking through the porch into the ancient church: I hear the low grunt of an organ. Candles burn bright between the tall dark columns. I am following my two women, who are walking ahead, hand in hand. The air is cool in the scent of inscense.

I know this is decisive, perhaps fatal, but cannot resist the charm: I belong to them both, and time is no longer my own. They come close to a low door cut in the medieval stone. A sign says something about lengthy restoration, thirty years of searches in the ruins of the old cloister…

I see Sarah opening the door, and, silently she and Melissa walk in. I follow: the cloister is full of sunlight, and we are alone, or so it seems… I see them walking past ancient statues, knights and saints, then stop near a column in a shady corner. As I turn round I see the saint: a tall, austere figure who looks straight at me. I can no longer hear the organ, and now I can no longer see where the women are. I am suddenly afraid: the sun appears to have gone down, but it is still early morning, or so I believe. I look back at the saint, his eyes are now fixing me, of the pitiless stare of a crusader: I feel petrified, I wish I could call for Sarah, but she’s no longer here: I am alone. Time seems to flow around me, the stones suddenly look more ancient, and the saint more alive. I force myself to look up: I see the sky, and it’s not the sky of the old town. I know I am elsewhere. I try to shout, but cannot, I feel my mind is here, but no longer my body: that has been left behind in the cloister…

Nostalgia

ND-en-Vaux 02

We know that our friend Gabrielle is in trouble but we don’t know what for, or who with. Strangely I feel that the reason must be related to her interest in the old town, my town, the place where Melissa and I lived. I don’t know why this came to my mind: the clue must be there. Why was Gabrielle interested in that small place, out of thousands of much more glamorous towns and cities? Why that spot? Was it really because of her interest in history, in that land wounded by so many battlefields? Yes, she is a historian. And I ponder: what does it mean for a being who live for millennia? What perspective does she have on our history?

The small town grew from a medieval market place to a garrison town on the eastern marches of the kingdom, and on to an industrial town in the nineteenth century. I am looking for something unusual, something that may have attracted Gabrielle’s attention. From time to time clear memories of buildings and churches reveal themselves to me: I am looking at old pictures, and an irrepressible nostalgia overcomes me. I see the small river flowing past our house, the trees reflecting in the water and the kingfisher my mother so loved… I want to talk to Melissa about all this, but she seems more interested in gossiping with my wife and sister, or am I being very unfair? Then the town was still full of older houses, some of them going back to the fifteenth century or perhaps earlier. Once – I must have been still very young –  we stayed in a very old house where the walls were thick but hollow: at night we could hear the rats running along the walls. There was a water fountain in the paved courtyard, flowing into a heavy stone basin that was very ancient.

I am looking further at the history, a famous general was born there, who made his name in North Africa, in the last century. The presumed inventor of a precursor of the helicopter was born there too…  Perhaps I have to go back further, to Roman times, to the reign of Aurelian, and the great battle that took place nearby, that sealed the fate of the Gaules? The town became christian under Constantine and the religious peace that was the hallmark of his reign. After that the town bishops became very powerful, holding their own against their rivals and even the King. The town hosted knight templars… Images and memories cross my mind, the town was on main the road to Burgundy, and on the invasion routes from the East. Gabrielle has never told me what the origin of her interest in the region was: how far back does that interest reach? I need to see Melissa, she, of all people, must know something of Gabrielle’s studies.

I am looking again at the long list of famous people who were born, lived or died in the town: artists, soldiers, writers, engineers… The town still hosts one of the top engineering schools in the country. But what about the surroundings? Farming is the main industry in the region, and, on the hills, the vineyards that gave it their name.

All this is very far from the cosmogonic perspectives that Gabrielle opened for us. And yet she was, still is, there, looking, scanning vast archives…. What is she looking for? Then I remember Melissa’s page: the pictures of the old churches, and as I open the laptop, and log on, suddenly I see it: the old cloister, the stern ascetic face of the saint – I have no recollection of Melissa’s interest in medieval art, but here is the proof. Is that a clue? Is there something hidden in those old stones?

Vue de Châlons-en-Champagne 220407

Husband, brother, lover…

Melissa

Sarah, Melissa and Jane are talking, they are talking about me. I know this because I am sitting upstairs, working on this story, the story of us, and I can hear their voices downstairs in the lounge, laughing and suddenly quieter, almost whispering.

What surprises me most is how comfortable Sarah and Jane are, holding a normal conversation with Melissa. Indeed is it Melissa? Is my long-dead friend really back with us, or is it an illusion created in our minds by Gabrielle’s sorcery? I still don’t know. Sarah and Melissa meet often, in this house or in Gabrielle’s old house, which Sarah and me have started calling the “time capsule”. I have told Sarah about Gabrielle’s tale of space-faring and teleports, and she smiled, she smiled knowingly. “I have no doubt that Gabrielle’s knows a lot about stars and galaxies” she said, “and I know also that now you believe everything she tells you”, she added with a kiss on my nose.

I fear a conspiracy: the three – or is it four? – women in my life, my wife, my sister and my old friend back from the dead, somehow conspiring to make me believe a fairy tale. The old space travellers, a civilisation of awesome power, colonising not one but several galaxies… Last night Sarah made tender love to me: the moon was shining a spectral light through our window, and I could see Melissa’s smile on my wife’s face. Am I being possessed? Is Melissa a devil? The three of them are having a good time and I feel a slight pang of jealousy, as if I were excluded form a very select club: Jane’s clear voice rises, she’s telling a story. My younger sister is so beautiful. I am surrounded with beauty, and afraid of interrupting a conversation which is about me. I asked Sarah if she thought the black holes tale made any sense. Her reply was slow to come, and she finally said: “our physics breaks down on the horizon of a singularity, we have no way of knowing what goes on inside, or even if there is an inside…” She thought a little longer, then said, “the only thing I know is that their existence is more than a lose hypothesis, they must exist for the universe as we see it to make sense…”

Later on we talked about dark matter, and about experiments designed to prove its existence beyond doubt. Sarah’s view seems to be that Gabrielle has given me a very simplified view of what really happens in space travel. But she does believe Gabrielle comes from “elsewhere”, and probably far away. Sarah’s theory seems to be that Gabrielle may come from our future. I am suddenly aware of silence downstairs, and then of Melissa’s voice, and I listen.

My friend is talking about the old town, our town, the narrow streets, the small shops and museums we used to visit. Jane is asking her about the school. The school… There is something unreal about what they say, as if they were watching a film of my youth, as if they could access any second of my past.

I hear Sarah’s steps in the stairs. “Would you like to join us?” I sigh. Melissa and Jane are talking in low voices, deep in one to one conversation. There is a hologram floating above the reading table near the fire place. It takes me some time to recognise what it is: the old church in my town, in vivid relief. Sarah says: “Melissa has a collection of those. It appears that they can reconstruct the past too…” Then I realise the hologram shows the church as it was before the war, and my mind slides back to my childhood.

There is an orchestra in the street, people are dancing, children in old-fashion clothes are playing, horse carriages ride past a small group of people standing on the pavement: but those are not my memories but someone else’s… I look at Melissa: her green eyes are fixed on me, she’s smiling, Sarah’s hand is on my shoulder.

Fermi’s Paradox

Singularity In the silence of the old house Gabrielle spoke.

I have grown very fond of you Julian, of your enthusiasms, your doubts, your aptitude to love the way you humans do, which is far superior – and how much more intriguing – to our intellectualised feelings. I wish those of my species, and we are legions, could see you, or Melissa, or Sarah, the way I see you now: creatures of infinite weakness, and yet so full of warmth and intelligence.

It was around 1950, at Los Alamos, that a group of your brightest physicists discussed the question of “us” – the “extraterrestrials”. Edward Teller, just fresh from working out the Hydrogen bomb, and Enrico Fermi, expressed the paradox in those terms: “they” should be everywhere by now – meaning intelligent space-faring civilisations – but, if so, where are they? Later Frank Drake expressed the question mathematically, the “Drake equation”.

Of course there are good reasons why space-faring is not all that simple. For a start actual distances, even merely within your galaxy, are immense. Then not all civilisations wish to colonise anyone: we were for a long time, and are still, determined not to disrupt any other intelligent life form, for their sake and ours. Yet the paradox is only a paradox for short-lived intelligent species. For us, who collectively live for millennia and are therefore near immortal, in your terms, the question is one of ethics, not physics. Of course as soon as one accepts the feasibility of inter-galactical travel the paradox itself disappears: among the billions of billions of star systems life abounds, and so does intelligence.

Once I explained all this to Melissa, who was still a child. I have shown you “pictures”, or rather, I invited you to take a glimpse, all the way to my “place”. There is no violation of physical laws, just a better formulation of them, what your most advanced scientists call quantum cosmogony. So now, I invite you to look around you. You are still on the edge of our galaxy, the one you call Andromeda, a neighbour of yours. You call yours the Milky Way, a name that puzzled us for a long time. Of course we had to see it as you do, for us to understand, at last. Your star is very much on the edge, at the periphery of your galaxy. At the centre of all spiral galaxies, the ones that are most welcoming to planets and life-spawning stars, like yours and ours, is the singularity you describe as “black-hole”.

They are the solution to the paradox. The singularities are, if you like, like teleports, just a little more difficult to “handle” than in your fiction. They are the gates to space travel, long distance. All space faring civilisations had to attain that knowledge, and the technology to use it, before considering their own solution to the “paradox”.

I see you are beginning to understand. The singularities are short cuts through the intimate structure of space-time. Mastering the mathematics necessary to exploit their properties took us hundreds of human millennia.