The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Universe

A Probabilistic Analysis of the Fermi Paradox

Just a thought… 1500 years later…

I thought it appropriate to post this paper here, among the pages of an incomplete dream…

physics4me

Evan Solomonides, Lisa Kaltenegger, Yervant Terzian
The fermi paradox uses an appeal to the mediocrity principle to make it seem counter-intuitive that humanity has not been contacted by extraterrestrial intelligence. A numerical, statistical analysis was conducted to determine whether this apparent loneliness is, in fact, unexpected.
An inequality was derived to relate the frequency of life arising and developing technology on a suitable planet in the galaxy, the average length of time since the first broadcast of such a civilization, and a constant term. An analysis of the sphere reached thus far by human communication was also conducted, considering our local neighborhood and planets of particular interest. We clearly show that human communication has not reached a number of stars and planets adequate to expect an answer.
These analyses both conclude that the Fermi paradox is not, in fact, unexpected. By the mediocrity principle and numerical modeling, it is actually…

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Searching

~ Julian

Otto Steinert Looking back at the past year I have to ask myself: where have I been, and who am I, in reality? On this word, reality, hinges the whole question. As I look out of the window at the January rain falling on the already water-saturated garden, I try to make sense of my failing memories. What comes back to me, in small clouds of sights and sounds, is that what my reality was?

Sarah says “yes, and no”, and I am tempted to call my wife a sophist. But I don’t. I know she’s right, as some of those remembered instants were once real for me, for her husband, the man called Julian. Julian walked on Regent Street, he had a phone call, he visited her page on Facebook… He went to Brooklyn, to Paris, to Berlin. He saw  the missiles on the compound, in the dark pine forest, he saw the blond guards on duty at the new Chancellery. He ran with his wife and his sister around the Tempelhof airfield. All that happened, but other fragments may have only existed in his mind – or did they? How do I tell the difference between what happened, and what could have happened? For me, now, I cannot tell.

So, the question who am I? – That question is legitimate. If part of my life is an imaginary story, am I the writer, or, am I the story? And who writes that story? Am I a character in someone else’s book? And what’s her name? What is the writer’s name?

There is another question haunting me: was the writer, if that was the way it was, was she human? As she wrote those episodes in Julian’s life, was she looking on his past, or her future? Was she anticipating a life not yet in his, her – reality?

Sarah listens to me, from time to time asking me to retell a scene, a dialogue, as if she was analysing this work: “her” novel. But it is all disjointed, my memories are not contiguous, there are gaps, and many, many inconsistencies. Some characters appear in distorted roles, not their “real” functions, or professions. Take Helga, for example. In my memory she’s “Elga” – and she is not from this world, she’s from a far away galaxy. But Helga is our doctor, she is real, she exists not merely in my reality, but Sarah’s, and our friend Gabrielle’s too.

“It will all make sense, finally,” says Sarah, with the smile of patience itself.

“Yes, but even if it does not, does it matter?” I ask in reply. We hug.

Image: Otto Steinert, via Inner Optics

In the Chancellery

The Chancellery, Berlin We are at the entrance of the long steel and glass building that adorns the long perspective in front of the Bundestag. Sarah and Melissa are standing, superb in their sober grey suits and white silk shirts: they have adopted the same hair style, and today they are both dark red, and wear sharp black high heels. They also wear black lipstick. There is today an unforgiving coldness to their beauty. We walk slowly to the gate, welcome by a platoon of  dark-blue clad officers. I notice their badges which I do not recognise, I notice the blond hair tightly held under the strict berets: the Chancellery is guarded by women warriors.

We walk in as part of a small group of  about twelve guests. Classical music – is it Schubert? – floats through the endless glass corridors. Late afternoon light filters through the large windows. We are all assigned specific seats through specific doors. We are shepherded by the silent guards to one of the larger conference rooms in the building. As we enter the room one guard invites Sarah and Melissa to follow her, while another guides me to my seat. My wife and lover disappear through a side door.

I sit back and look at the audience which slowly fills in the large auditorium. Guards in uniform stand at all corners. Large flags of the United Nations and the Federal Republic, as well as the Union’s, ornate the wide stage. The auditorium is large enough for three or four thousand people. Schubert plays on. Sarah’s and Melissa’s seats remain empty for another half an hour. I then remember that we were given portable audio guides as we entered the building. I connect mine. There is a live broadcast, and on the little screen one can observe the speaker. It is a man, in USAF uniform, and I immediately recognise the officer who was our host in Brooklyn. He’s introducing the programme for the conference and explains the purpose of this pre-conference meeting.

I stand up to let a group of journalists access their seats a little further on the same row. They are all women. I notice an insignia on their jackets. Soon Sarah and Melissa join me, smiling, stunning in their suits and shiny makeup. Sarah kisses me lightly on the cheek and insists for me to sit between her and Melissa. Melissa briefly touches my knee. As I turn toward her I see she wears the same insignia as the journalists. So does Sarah. Then it comes to my mind that this is a smaller, more discreet version, than the one worn by the Chancellery guards. It’s an eagle seizing a small sphere. In the middle of the sphere is a heart.

On the stage now stand four people. One of them is Gabrielle. I also recognise the Chancellor herself, the same US officer, and a tall woman in a Chinese military uniform, perhaps a navy officer. As the four of them stand to attention, Schubert stops and the audience stands up for the German national anthem. The three of us know the words and the melody well. It is a moving moment. As the audience sits back a film appears in the background of the stage, silent. But the Chancellor stands up and speaks. She introduces the conference, states its main purpose, which is to launch a universal movement for peace and the end of all wars. The film shows the horrors of recent conflicts, then switches to views of recent meetings and diplomatic events. The Chancellor introduces Gabrielle – I hold my breath – as “our friend from the East”. No mention of the Coven or of Andromeda… The eagle and the sphere emblem appear on the screen. As the Chancellor concludes her introduction Gabrielle stands up. Her voice is high and clear, without accent. Her German is perfect, the online translation equally so. The portable audio device gives us fifteen language options. Gabrielle’s words reach my consciousness as Sarah takes hold of my hand. There will be four strands of work for the conference: diplomacy, military disarmament, environment and, demographics and “gender”.

I feel dizzy. Gabrielle explains the purpose of each strand, and expands on the diplomatic work undertaken by the UN, the Great Power and her competitors since the last crisis. Then the USAF general talks about the military side of the conference. Fluently he describes the work done so far, since the “disappearance” of the missiles in East Asia. He mentions the recent crisis in the Middle-East and how this is being resolved “to the best interest of mankind”.

The lady in Navy uniform then introduces the environment part of the programme. She’s evidently an expert. The screen displays a series of views describing threats to the planet, as seen from space. The speaker describes the mathematics of carbon reduction. I wonder how many in the audience follow her exposé. Suddenly Gabrielle is back to the fore. I must have missed the last minutes of the environment presentation, lost in a dream. At first I do not understand what Gabrielle is saying. The screen is again full of equations, this time about demographics. Sarah holds my hand tighter. Melissa says something, very low, in my ear. I shiver. Gabrielle is talking about her people. She talks about their ancient history, how they overcome the threats to their survival, how they conquered Space. She says that it is now mankind’s turn to make the choice: survival or self-destruction through dark ages. The audience is totally silent. No one moves. The film is now showing old newsreels. Soon Gabrielle concludes that one of the objectives of the conference is to achieve agreement on population control, a condition of peace. As she sits down, smiling, the Chancellor rises, wishes the audience a positive experience during the conference, and explains that we will be individually called in, in small groups, for the follow-up debriefing.

As I am called in my companions stand up with me and escort me holding my arms along the corridors. I cannot believe what I heard, what is happening. Sarah and Melissa guide me through another corridor and a flight of steps. Melissa knocks at a door and walks in, followed by Sarah who ushers me in. We follow another short corridor and stand by another door. Gabrielle opens the door. She smiles at my companions and shakes my hand.

“You are a lucky man, Julian”, she says in her softest voice, “thanks to your friends your conference will be only hard and interesting work.” At those words Melissa hugs me. There is a new strength in her taking hold of me. I am invited to sit down in one of four comfortable leather chairs that face a wide bay window opening toward the Bundestag. I feel my destiny is no longer mine to control. Gabrielle was not threatening me, but merely stating a fact.

“Julian, you may not have followed all of the presentations this afternoon, there was a lot to absorb. You have been attached to the demographics strand of the conference. You should know that you are one of a very small number, a minority, of non-expert male participants, invited to join us for this project.”

What Melissa said to my ear a few minutes back was: “Trust us.”

Longing

Longing She misses him: since coming back from New-York Melissa is longing for Julian, more so than ever – and she’s been longing for him for ever. She’s no longer sure of his thoughts, of how he sees her now, of his feelings towards her. In Brooklyn she must have appeared to him as part of the gigantic plot that he now knows involves the Pentagon and the Coven, and probably others. She read the terror in his eyes, she saw him gripping Sarah’s hands as they both understood the implications of what the general was saying. Has she lost him?

She ought to call Sarah, cool and loving Sarah, but she dares not. What would happen to her if Sarah rejected her? For Melissa knows that Sarah’s her friend, maybe more than just a friend, for as long as she does not see Melissa as part of the threat. Being a threat to Julian: that would turn Sarah into a formidable enemy. And Melissa knows that, for the Coven, Sarah’s role is essential: she is the key to Julian, and Julian is the path. On that Melissa knows the truth: she was chosen because of Julian, her ancient friendship with Julian. Gabrielle seized the opportunity, and so Melissa survived, did better than survive.

Gabrielle and Elga are now in deep consultation with the collective. The Coven is preparing the Berlin conference, one thread among millions, in a whirl of deliberations and mathematical – Melissa wonders: mathic? – computations that even her could not follow. Elga… How strange that she – but she’s no “she” of course, but a conglomerate of particles that long left their living anima, always asexual, far behind – that “she” tried her charm on Julian, after all that Melissa had explained.

“They” have their own blind corners, things they don’t appear to really understand. They have their weaknesses, otherwise they would not need that association with the Great Power, and the Power to Be, perhaps other darker powers that Melissa does not know about. They need the path to conquer this world, Melissa’s world, and for now, the path is one individual in the entire universe: her college sweetheart, Julian. Melissa relaxes a little. She sees several futures, in one of them, Sarah, Julian and herself overcomes the fear, and clear the way for the Coven to exit from their lives, without pain. But there are others, other futures. She knows, and shudders a little. She thinks of Tosca, of the mock execution at dawn, which turns out to be real. She thinks of  Berlin…

Melissa brushes the sinister vision away. At heart she is a positive person, at heart she is not afraid of demons. But Julian may be, always was, even at school, he had that irrational fear of the hidden fiends, of ancient secrets, of bewitched objects… Oh… how protective she felt towards him then, him: her young street fighter, he with the clinched fists… Melissa’s in a dream, she’s moved back in time, to the small town where they both lived, where it all started. She stands in front of the gate, she’s waiting for him, she sees him, joking with other boys – he sees her, waves to his friends and walks towards her, that triumphant smile on the thin lips – a young god… He always knew how to kiss her, and of course she wanted more…

The phone rings and pulls Melissa out of her dream. It’s Sarah. They chat politely, then Sarah says: “My husband is away for a few days and said he will join you in Paris, and please let him know when you want to meet, that’s the message he asked me to give you…” Melissa tries to think quickly, Julian’s away? “Sarah, could you come too?” She could almost hear Sarah smiles: “Mel, the two of you deserve a bit of intimacy, you have to give Julian time with you, just the two of you. I trust you both, and you can understand why I would be a bit of an obstacle – he needs to find you again…” Sarah’s voice trails off. “When he’s back please come to us as soon as you can: then we’ll have a party, I’ll invite Jane too.”

So it is, Sarah has given her the go-ahead, in the city where Julian was born, his city. A thought hits Melissa, a twist she had not thought of before this instant: has Sarah been “recruited”?  Has the Coven enrolled beautiful Sarah? She scans her memory of the meeting in Brooklyn, Gabrielle and Elga, and herself, and then Sarah and Julian, Sarah looking as if she is sheltering her husband. But she also sees Elga and Sarah exchanging a smile, more than once. But why should Sarah be tempted? What does she have to gain? Security for her husband and herself? And if this happened where does that leave her, Melissa, the go-between?

Soon she shrugs off that thought. Sarah’s has one mission: protecting her husband. Melissa knows she would not stop at anything for Julian’s sake, but there is no value in enlisting now, when she knows too little. Later perhaps, after Berlin, when they know. For now Sarah thinks Melissa’s good for Julian, it is simple.

Alone in the little house in East London Melissa’s planning the Paris meeting. She wants to chose the location of their meeting carefully: a public place but not one where Julian would feel crowded. Maybe the old arena, the roman amphitheater? Then they can walk rive gauche, perhaps aim for the Luxembourg? Of course he knows the city inside out, he lived there, and met Sarah there first. Melissa’s troubled by another thought: they did not stay, they moved to London almost immediately, indeed, they got married in London. Was there a reason for Julian to leave the city he loved, so soon after meeting the woman about to become his wife?

She’s soon distracted by the familiar tremor of air and sounds in the house: one of them, may be both – or more – have arrived. Soon she’s faced with a smiling Gabrielle who is still adjusting her human appearance. The fluid contours materialise, the face still indistinct… It takes no more than twenty seconds. “So, Gabrielle says calmly, you and Julian are going to meet one to one?” Melissa smiles, she knows “they” know everything, they hear everything, and her teacher, wise Gabrielle, is a master at sieving through all that their sensors capture, particularly if it involves Julian or his wife.

The two of them update each other, silently. Soon Melissa’s appraised of the Coven’s current state of play for Berlin. She also learns that Elga is in Moscow. The wheels are turning.

Sunset

Clair de TerreThe meeting in the Brooklyn safe house lasts for hours. The aerial view of the city is wiped out from the wall, replaced by a zoomed high-resolution picture of where we are, the vast warehouse, outside in the street first, then a roaming view across the corridor we had followed on our arrival, and, finally the room where we sit. Sarah and I look at each other, she later said I was as pale as a ghost. The general explains that these views are taken, live, by a drone above us at an altitude of twelve hundred meters. There is a silent pause. Then I say: “I do not know of any sensor capable of that level of precision across solid walls.” Everyone is quiet, then Elga breaks the silence. “You are right Julian. We have used” – I notice the “we” – “a US Airforce drone, but also a little cloud of Coven-technology sensors, controlled through it…” I look straight into Elga’s blue on blue eyes, then at Melissa, I see them both smiling, and behind those smiles I cannot avoid thinking of alien minds, calculating, unassailable to any human being. At that moment I am convinced that my friend is there, but she no longer is the woman I had known, but someone – I hate the thought of thinking “something” – completely different. I also sense that both of them, certainly Melissa, are determined to convince me that it is not the case, and I saw in Melissa’s face the beginning of seduction, as if saying “Look at my soul, Julian, can you challenge my humanity?”.

The general resumes his exposé. The Great Power, her competitor in the East and the Coven are cooperating for the benefit of peace. The GP needs some of the Coven’s technology to achieve her goals. So, important and complex negotiations are taking place. There is a need for discretion, even secrecy, but also carefully tailored information to be presented to the public – a worldwide public – other than through the ordinary channels of commercial TV, radio and newspapers. They will be involved, but the new Alliance – the general actually uses the phrase “the new Alliance” – is creating its own channel. And this is where we come in, the three of us, Sarah, Mel and me…

There is danger, the general continues. Some countries and interests have deep suspicions about what the GP is about. There are jealousies and fear. Incidents may be misrepresented. False news may frighten the public. The conference in Berlin will be the locus for an official launch of the New Alliance. The general pauses, as if to let us reflect.

In a soft voice Gabrielle speaks for the first time. “Melissa and I are moving to Paris in order to prepare for this. You two are invited to join us next month. We have much to discuss to get you up to speed. For the time being the small town is off limits.” I am tempted to ask what is off limits and why, but a look from Sarah convinces me to hold back. The general concludes his account by asking us if we have any question. To her credit Sarah realises that I am in no emotional state to reply. “We are grateful, she says soberly, for your trust and, smiling in the direction of Gabrielle and Elga,  that of our friends here. As you all know, in turn, Julian and I have entrusted Melissa to give us support as we endeavour to serve the cause of peace.” Everybody is smiling and Elga, yes, Elga comes to me and hugs me. Soon, after saying good bye to the general, we are walking down the corridor to the lift. Our guard is waiting. This time both Melissa and Gabrielle are with us. As Melissa drives us out of the warehouse, we are on our way back to Long Island for the evening. A grey van is following us, its windows reflecting the sunset light.

A Perfect Thread

Destiny So their destiny, thread by thread, unravels: the studious alien, the old flame reborn young, the passionate sister, the beautiful wife, and the writer, bounded by the century of his birth, submerged in his memories.  Of all of them only Jane, Julian’s “lil sis”, has suspicions, not of her friends, not of her brother, but of herself.  Has she contributed to her brother’s buying Melissa’s story stock and barrel?  Yet she, Jane, and Sarah, are living the perfect adventure, and, yes, Melissa, old-style, statuesque, her big eyes fixed on the future, her full lips half-open, adds something indispensable to their love.  So the five of them live in three magic triangles, an alchemy of illusions, and perhaps, still, appearances: Julian – Sarah – Jane, husband and wife, and two lovers, Sarah – Jane – Melissa, three lovers, Gabrielle – Melissa – Jane, a fragile alliance.  Jane knows that Elga – the ultimate mistress of their destinies – observes, her collective awareness surrounding every second of their lives, and more in-between.  For Jane knows that the Coven exists, despite doubting that it exists anywhere but on Earth: she has her own interpretation, which she has so far not shared with anyone other than Sarah.  Sarah does not want to disrupt Julian’s dream, events, she thinks, will do that in due time, there is no need to precipitate a crisis.

So, Julian writes his book, meets his editor, writes to his publisher.  He plans to finish in the autumn and then go on a long holiday, with his wife.  He wakes before dawn and starts working.  Despite the atrocious weather that Spring, he is getting fitter.  Sarah looks at her man with pride and some gentle irony.  Being Jane’s lover has made her closer to him: she now sees his true nature, through Jane’s absolute femaleness she sees her husband machismo as through a prism: two beautiful souls she is lucky to love and be loved by in return.  Besides, Jane is totally devoted to her brother, for her, loving his wife is a way to give herself to him… Sarah’s business is thriving, her gift for subtle mathematics, in this age of markets dislocation, has placed her top of the pack – and she knows how to take advantage of the incompetence of the “specialists”.  She agrees with Julian about the holiday. Once the book is out there they will go away.  The only question in her mind is about Jane.  The logistics of the three of them going away together is of course problematic…  As for the destination, she has already decided: they will visit Japan, and specifically Shikoku, the island of the 88 temples.  There, in Tokushima, they will pay their respect to Kafka, and walk, hand in hand, on the shore.  Sarah would like to have Jane with them then: South of the Border, West of the Sun.

Sarah has no secret for Melissa, who reads her friend as an open book.  Melissa knows of Sarah’s and Jane’s love, and shares their most intimate moments.  Her only goal is to protect Julian, to ensure he is not hurt, and, in that, she and Sarah are allies.  At present she is waiting from Gabrielle a sign that she can meet Elga.  Elga, the collective mind who appeared as the beautiful red-skin, dark-haired woman to Sarah and Julian, appreciates Melissa’s attention to detail, seriousness and timeliness.  Melissa has worked hard, under Gabrielle’s supervision, to learn and understand the Coven’s rules of engagement.  Later she is expected to teach the same to her friends, a task she is uniquely qualified to undertake.  Melissa knows the meteorite that fell in the lake in the Urals was no accident: the myriads of small probes released by the explosion, have by now collected a mass of information on Gaia’s atmosphere, her evolving weather patterns, her changing temperature, as well as an astonishing archive of telecommunication across the small world.  As a consequence Elga is well armed, and the Coven’s decision, when it comes, will be founded on scientific evidence.  In the little old house where her body rests in its human form, Melissa sleeps, dreams, and converses with her own kind, under the benevolent protection of her teacher, Gabrielle.

Voyager

Voyager 1: message I am reconciled: what Melissa told me is the plain truth, and those facts I cannot comprehend will be, one day, clarified.  Sarah is very apt at clarifying the mysteries of life for me, and so is my beloved sister, Jane.  So it is that I won’t go back to the little town soon, unless Sarah insists, rather we will wait for beautiful Elga to contact us.  As she said herself, Melissa is our “mediator”, the one who knows how to communicate with them, and the coven.

There is another change, and I am aware of being happier about it: Sarah appears to be less “into” the other two women in my life, and closer again to me.  Not that she went away, far from it.  Simply I notice Jane’s scent a little less often in our house, and, well, my wife is now friendlier than ever.  It’s not that I don’t like my sister’s visits: I never have enough of Jane… I hear you smile: but this is true, I felt for a while neglected, or at least not loved as I deserved!   Sarah said it was all in my mind, there had been no change, and Jane and her have always been close.  I accept that.  So last Saturday we went to Coven Garden and watched Tosca.  We both love Puccini, and for me he is the absolute artist, the essence of Italian opera, the successor of Verdi.  For a few hours we forgot about the stars and doomed mankind, and worried only for Tosca.

Since I met Melissa at Foyles I have been busy, going back to my writing, more engaged now with my publisher who was about to despair. The book is doing well, and I hope to have a first draft for my editor next month.  Sarah has commented positively, in marked difference from her view a year ago when she said she disliked both the plot and the way I had set the characters.  Jane has promised to comment too. I have also returned to my routine, gym and running, that was interrupted that day when I walked in the Apple store.  Only six months have gone, but what events!

The three of us have agreed to wait until we can talk with Elga again before taking any initiative.  Nonetheless we know what our roles may be: Jane has access to the fashion channels and some of the magazines in her business with influence here and the US, but also Japan, Russia, India and China.  Sarah has the market contacts to push some articles in the financial press.  As a reasonably successful writer, I will probably be in a position to talk to the “intelligent” press and TV.  Today we heard the news of Voyager 1 leaving the edge of the solar system.  We were moved by the news: the small spacecraft may never get much further, but it is a historical moment.

An enchanted circle

Bene Tleilax My sister’s letter precipitated events. Through Sarah – evidently my only way to her – I contacted Melissa. Finally we met, not in the old house, not in a dream, not on Andromeda: more practically at the coffee shop at Foyle’s bookshop on Charing Cross Road.

Jane is right: my friend is perfect, not a blemish, all sober clothes and a smile which is still troubling, and incredibly seductive. What a beautiful woman Melissa is. Jane’s confession has left me in a state of jealousy: the women in my life are all good buddies, and more, and I feel bypassed. I told Melissa how I felt. We drank delicious coffee, looked at each other, and I remembered our first contact, her page, her meeting with Jane: was this reality? Nothing could be more real than us, talking, looking at the passersby in the street, here in London. She smiled and suddenly I wondered, and I asked her, since I could no longer hide my doubts. “Are you real? Or are you an artefact they – whoever they are – have created to confuse us?”

There was a pause. She was observing me, then took my hand: hers was warm, and I felt the contact of her hand as it was before, in the little town: a strong woman’s hand, the hand of a lover. “No, she said,” her smile now a sad reflection of what it had been a minute ago, “there is no artefact, I have just been lucky to meet Gabrielle”. And she added: “and I thought you were too…” I felt ashamed, and took her other hand, and replied: “Please pardon me, it has all been a lot to absorb. Since we met Elga I have felt overwhelmed. Then Jane told me about the two of you, and I felt encircled. The three of you, Sarah, Jane and you, Melissa, get on well, and I should be happy to have you as my friend.” Slowly Melissa came closer and kissed me, a light kiss on the forehead. “I know Julian. You should stop worrying. I am not here to intrude on your family. And I am no alien object. I am of flesh and blood. Your sister and me are very close, and we both adore you.” I thought of this enchanted circle: the beautiful wife, the loving sister, and the long-lost friend. The subject of a love story. I smiled to Melissa: “Thank you: I used to be a troubled young man, and now I am a just as troubled old one!” We laughed – the green eyes were probing me. Through Melissa’s gaze I felt many eyes were on me. I remembered the story – in Dune – of the Tleilaxu magicians who replaced Duncan Idaho’s lost eyes.

Then Melissa asked: “Did Jane tell you that Elga would be visiting us soon?” I replied she had. And I was wondering if Elga would appear to us as she did when we met on her planet. “Yes, said Melissa, Elga is as you met her: a beautiful woman, and an academic.”

I could hear the sound of waves rolling on the thin grey sand under a violet sky and three moons.

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…

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”.

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