The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Andromeda

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.”

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…

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.

Stars

Misty Morning This evening, near the fire, as the storm rages again and a furious wind shakes the trees in the garden, I relive through the events of last year.

I should see myself as lucky: a beautiful and loving wife, a charming and ever so helpful sister, a handsome son. And there is Melissa: a tender ghost from my childhood, whose protector may be an alien from another galaxy. What more could a man wish? Moreover what more could a writer in quest of stories wish? In my mind I have revisited Gabrielle’s old house many times. But I have not been invited back yet: could it be that Melissa’s teacher has changed her mind?

Sarah has asked me the question, as only her could identify the most logical explanation for the charade: isn’t Gabrielle a good proxy for an older Melissa? I think not, whoever Gabrielle is, she is not Melissa, but her own “person”, from out of this world or not. We talked about this last night, Sarah’s view was that Gabrielle/Melissa explains quite a few remarkable facts about recent events: Gabrielle’s evident knowledge of the little town, of Melissa’s youth, her apparent control over Melissa’s actions, at least with regard to me, Julian. And so far I have only “really” met Gabrielle, with Melissa’s apparitions, either second hand, or as in a dream… It is true that I have only “seen” my friend through Gabrielle’s suggestions, or should I say under her influence?

So, as of last night, our conclusion is that we wait and see, as we have done so far. Sarah agrees that I should not seek to visit the house again without a clear invitation from either of them. As a matter of fact I don’t think I could even find the place again… The sky tonight is too cloudy to see Andromeda, so I am merely imagining that world, remembering the immense structure Gabrielle showed me that night: was it as old as the pyramids of Egypt? Older perhaps? I then remember what Gabrielle said about her, or her species’s presence on this world.

I did take a look at Melissa’s page though, and noticed that she and Jane, my sweet sis Jane, are now friends. There is even a picture of Jane, or rather of Jane’s avatar, in a building that looks like an art gallery. The strange thing is that I don’t think it’s on Chi: is it that Jane and Melissa have met again, elsewhere? Did Jane asked to be “added”? I will ask Jane when I next speak with her. And if I get a chance to see Gabrielle, or Melissa, I will ask them how they “edited” the screenshot Jane had taken of that beach.

As I look out of the bay window, listening to the rain falling in the night, battering the flower beds, I am thinking back of the old town, the narrow streets, the medieval houses… I am thinking of a girl waiting for me at the school gate.

A journey

The Girl from Nowhere For the first time the voice he heard, in his sleep, was not Melissa’s. The woman introduced herself as Gabrielle, Melissa’s teacher, and proceeded to explain where he would find her, in clear, geographical precision, courteous, but leaving no doubt that he was expected to attend. The message was delivered without preamble, as a matter of fact. That night Melissa did not talk to him. But she had previously said she wanted him to meet Gabrielle.

The date was three days hence, and he wanted to think about it, to discuss it with Sarah. Why meeting the teacher before the pupil, or was the pupil attending too? He was intrigued, a little excited, his mind considering all weird possibilities. If the whole story was an hoax he might discover who was at its origin. He may even get a glimpse of his friend, or someone related to her. He thought of the avatar – was there another way to describe that vision? – his sister Jane had met on Chi. What computer wizardry had created that encounter?

In the following three days he worked and trained. He was reading The Passage, a  tale of human madness and of the destruction of America. The book reminded him of The Stand, perhaps his favourite novel of the last thirty years. In The Passage, the character of Amy, the Girl from Nowhere, and ultimate saviour of mankind, was immensely attractive to Julian. As in The Stand, the primary cause of the disaster was military delusion and political ineptitude, a cocktail he recognised in his own country.

The night before the meeting, which was set in the evening at eight, Sarah and Julian talked about what they knew so far. Melissa, a friend of his school days, or pretending to be, had contacted him and continued to communicate with him, although so far never in person. Jane had seen someone claiming to be her, on a virtual world where Melissa had invited Julian. Through her Facebook page they knew – or were led to believe – that Melissa had been murdered some twenty years ago, which would make Melissa a ghost, or a pretend one. Yet Julian had been given detailed information, in his dreams, about Melissa’s studies and progress in mathematics and physics. Sarah thought that if Julian was to meet anyone, it would be whoever was behind the “tale” of Melissa. She wanted to play down the possibility of her husband meeting the actual Melissa. Julian agreed that the the most probable outcome was that a friend, or relation, of his dead friend would then explain why and perhaps how he had found himself the target of the story.

The following day he stayed at home, reading and meditating until the evening. Before leaving the house he dressed as he thought suited to the chilly walk that awaited him once he left the underground. The part of the city Gabrielle had indicated was not known to him. He got off the tube at an unknown station. The streets were crowded with late shoppers. The air was chilly and damp: he was pleased to be wearing his heavy parka and warm walking boots. He walked along the main street for half an hour, aware of the mix of ethnic shops and suburban squalor: the area may not have changed much since the last war, a home for newcomers, from far-away war-torn corners of the world. He thought of the evacuation of Cincinnati, narrated in The Passage.

As he was instructed he turned off into a quiet side street, which after two hundred yards exhibited a very different landscape of narrow town houses, evidently very old. He walked past a long brick wall with overhanging branches of yet older trees: a very strange contrast with the high street he just left. After ten or fifteen minutes the street appeared to narrow into a medieval looking lane, with a cobbled surface. The night grew darker, and the street lights were dimmer and far between. He looked for the number plate of the house. He nearly missed it, hardly visible, above the door of the thin facade of a very old house. The enamel of the plate appeared cracked and ancient. The house was in darkness. Following his brief he used the door hammer – an old brass object polished with age – and knocked twice. The sound seemed to be swallowed by the door. He then waited. There was no-one in the street, and the sky was hardly visible from the threshold of the house. After a few minutes the door opened silently on a dark corridor, and Julian walked in. As he took a few steps along the corridor he knew the door had shut silently behind him, in front of him there was a faint light.

Julian stopped, disorientated, listening to voices that appeared to be coming from inside the house, women’s voices, but not words he could understand. Suddenly he was in front of a closed door, with light filtering from underneath. The door opened: a short woman of indeterminate age was standing, inviting him through:

“Welcome Julian, I am sorry not to have met you at the front door – you must forgive an old historian, lost in her reveries…” The lady was smiling, gesturing to a comfortable-looking sofa facing a chimney. A large bay window gave a view of a garden in shadows. A bright wood-fire was burning in the chimney. “I am Gabrielle” continued his host. “I am very grateful you could come all the way to our little place, I find it more difficult to negotiate the city at this time of the year” she added with another bright smile. She sat on a chair facing the sofa and invited him to make himself comfortable. “Melissa’s making coffee” she said, “or would you rather have tea?” Julian replied in a shaky voice that coffee was fine. So, was Melissa living here?Gabrielle’s hair was a soft copper with grey streaks, she wore thick glasses that seemed to protect her clear blue eyes: the image of a mature, benevolent academic, or scientist.

“I know you are anxious to meet your friend, and I owe you some explanation. You see, I am very fond of Melissa, you could say I am her adoptive mother, if I may use these words…” Julian was trying to control his nerves: the house was silent, only Gabrielle’s voice, the crackling wood fire, and the sound of his own blood through this body. “I hope you have the time to listen to a long story, but tell me if you need a break, just stop me” she said looking at him with a gentle and protective look. “I will use some visuals to help you along the way”, but Julian felt he was falling into darkness: the room had dissolved, leaving him in infinite space, then he heard Gabrielle’s voice again: “I must first explain who I am and why I am here…”

Space was filled with a majestic view of a galaxy: Julian was trying to recall its name, when Gabrielle’s voice  resumed her narrative. The image – if it was that – was a high resolution three-dimensional view, of extraordinary clarity. The galaxy was slowly rotating, and bright spots, like explosions, appeared her and there in its midst. “This is where I come from. You call that area M31, or Andromeda. I know you may find it difficult to accept, and I will not try to convince you of anything, yet. But I have to be absolutely honest with you. My species is high on ethics – I think this is the right way to express it…” The view was changing, homing on a cluster of five stars, figures and symbols appeared around one of the stars, and Julian guessed it was some system of coordinates. The depth of the view was staggering. “This, Gabrielle said, is my home star, the equivalent for me of your sun, and as you see the planet system around it is not that different from yours, but there are have five stars, you could say, looking after my species”. Julian was now looking at a long perspective of perhaps twenty smaller bright spots of various diameters, rotating in a complex pattern around the stars: a planet system. He wondered if what he saw was a live view: he was no longer questioning Gabrielle’s words. The image changed slowly, zooming to show a silvery structure, visibly artificial, that reminded Julian of the Peï pyramid in the Louvre’s courtyard in Paris, but this was suspended in space and, probably much bigger. “Our species is also strong on engineering, but”, Gabrielle said, “for some time now, we have evolved a collective way of thinking everything. I just wanted you to see one of our early creations: this is quite old, although our sense of “old” is somewhat different from yours…” Now Julian was looking at a wide sweep of space, and another galaxy, seen from the edge, as gradually he realised that this was his galaxy: the Milky Way, seen from space, from a point possibly situated half way between it and Andromeda. “Julian: this shows you what you would see, travelling from my place to yours, as we are really neighbours, in cosmic terms. And, yes, the being you see has been visiting your world”. The view changed to one Julian recognised: the solar system, approached through the asteroid belt and Pluto. He saw the rings of Saturn, and Jupiter’s massive bulk, surrounded by the five moons. He was now aware of the extraordinary clarity of the image and wondered about the structure of the lens that had taken the photography or the film. As if reading his thoughts, Gabrielle continued: “ Those images are simplified, using filters specific for the human sight: I am showing you only a small fraction of the information held on those records”. The earth appeared, the familiar blue and white sphere, the liquid paradise he was the product of. “Now I suggest we make a pause” said Gabrielle, and you may have some questions for me.”

He was back in the room. The fire was burning. He said hesitantly: “How long have you been here, on our world, Gabrielle?” Gabrielle’s kind eyes were observing him, quietly and gently. Finally she replied: “I am a recent visitor, a mere five hundred years, but my kind has been observing and studying this world for much longer, let us say, since well before you came in”. With a sinking feeling Julian tried to gather his thoughts. “And how did you come across my friend?” Gabrielle was hesitant for some time. “Certain views I can show you, but please be patient. Shall we say we have started a journey? I am a historian, as I said to you earlier, when you came in. My job, is to gather facts and evidence on human development and evolution.”

Julian was now immersed in an aerial view, as if taken from a helicopter, of a small town. The image was again clear, as if in slow motion. He could see smoke rising from tall chimneys, a river, some old buildings. After a few minutes he realised this was his childhood town, where Melissa and him had lived all those years back. The “camera” was now zooming on familiar places, the town main square with the big lions, where the library was. The traffic was light, and Julian saw that the cars were vintage of his youth: this was a recorded film. Now the film accelerated, with sweeping views taken along narrow streets, as if whoever held the camera was riding through the air, almost touching the walls. He recognised the market place, the small park, and the canal. Tall trees were lining the canal: how well he knew this path! Small tears were running down his face. The view was now of a small lane bordered by crumbling walls and badly kept gardens. For some reason the camera showed a corner of the lane, covered with muddy grass and small stones, then froze. He was back in Gabrielle’s room. “That was where Melissa was murdered” said Gabrielle with a tender and sad tone of voice. “That is where I found her, too late to save her, but not late enough to be unable to save her… memories.”

Julian felt his heart sink into a well of ice and sorrow. “Are you saying that Melissa is really dead?” he managed to ask –  “She died, and she lives again” said Gabrielle calmly. Then Julian was aware of a presence next to him, close, on the sofa.

A gentle creature

M31Parsecs from Earth, somewhere in the Andromeda nebulae, also known to mankind as NGC 224, the creature Melissa knew as the woman Gabrielle, her Angel, was in deep computation with her coven. To say “she” was there, is however a misnomer: her mind – that second order system of connected gas synapses no human physicist or neurology expert would have recognised as a brain – was in a vortex of communication with a trillion others, such as herself.

This did not happen often, but the circumstances were exceptional. For the first time, ever, on a small world, among billions of others “they” had visited in the course of their long history of exploration, a primitive creature had developed a sense, that hitherto “they” had only observed in a handful of others, all much more advanced in the scale of evolution than her own species was.  The girl Melissa, the small, fragile  creature that Gabrielle had brought back from the dead, was beginning to listen to the vortex. Not every mind in the coven was enthusiastic about this development. Earth, a mediocre size planet of the Sol system, on the edge of the galaxy human beings call the Milky Way, and a neighbour of Andromeda, was host to a species, who for many in the coven, was the epitome of how wrong evolution can be, a cruel, primitive people, who care neither for themselves nor their world, and who, in the future, few believed would care for their galactic neighbours.

Gabrielle was arguing that even if only one such being was showing an extraordinary property, a promise of a change in the species’ evolution towards a brighter future, then it was a duty to foster such a change, nurture its success. The opposition was strong, and many posted the view that they should leave that world to its destiny, and its inhabitants to their unavoidable fate: self-destruction. They had good arguments. Recent history – that is that of a few millennia – showed no hope whatsoever of anything other than a ruthless disregard for life, and the life of the mind. Passionately Gabrielle countered such arguments citing literature, the human arts, their courageous efforts to eradicate diseases and nature catastrophes. She knew there was more at stake than Melissa’s fate: the coven could vote for a total evacuation, and, although this would take much longer, the eradication of the species.

She was questioned again and again on the lessons of her long sojourn on Earth – after all, she was one of the rare specialists to have stayed there, after Hiroshima and the Holocaust. Her immense computational power struggled to keep up with the questions. The coven would not reach a decision for some time yet. Their collective brain, that huge cluster of trillions of associations, would still take time for reflection after all the known facts had been processed.

Back in Melissa’s world, she, and a short bespectacled woman were in deep discussion too. Melissa was smiling, she knew she would meet her lover soon. All thanks to Lagrangian mathematics. Gabrielle felt very close to that human being, dangerously close.

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