The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Andromeda

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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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.”

Dear, so dear brother… (sisterly #love)

Jane I am ever so pleased to see you Julian: you look well, you have left behind the worried eyebrows you wore for some time. I know Melissa and you are reconciled. I can tell from your look and hers. And I know what you think: she’s perfect isn’t she? She’s no ghost from the past that young woman, but someone who cares for you, who admires your work, who follows your progress. She reads what you write, she’s made comments on her page: have you visited her page Julian? She’d follow you everywhere if you were alone. I’m smiling as I say this. She cannot and would not compete with Sarah: they also love each other very much… But I know you know that too.

I now think that the past matters very little. Yes of course you have your memories: but you live in the present, don’t you? At best those images – for that is what they are – are a mere backdrop, perhaps material for your writing, an inspiration for some short story, or maybe even your next novel… Your life is now. Sarah says what you learnt from Gabrielle and Elga has made you think again. I am glad. Hopefully this will find its way in your writing too: not a remembrance of things past, but our futures, our future, yours, Sarah’s, Melissa’s and mine. I feel that we are now inseparable. You know that Melissa and I are lovers. Looking back at our first meeting on Chi, it was inevitable. She cannot love you as she no doubt wanted, so there is me, your sister (I sense your puzzlement). This way she won’t trouble you. And I must say, I don’t regret anything: she’s a wonderful companion, she loves Sarah, and, yes, she still think of you as the unattainable young man she, or whoever preceded her, knew long ago.

But let’s not stir the nostalgia: we enjoy our relationship, Melissa and me, and we love you deeply, brother. Melissa says that Elga was impressed by Sarah and you, the way you listened. I understand that she – Melissa – and Elga are often corresponding. She also said that to understand the science the coven has at their disposal, you need to think of nanotechnology, the art of molecule-level engineering. They are working at the pico level, a millionth time smaller in scale, making engines from particles, building new assemblies with those electrons and pions our physicists are still struggling with. You know the recent asteroid, the one that crashed in the Urals breaking a lot of glass? Melissa said that, while she could not be sure, she thought the coven uses asteroids to spread planets with small “observers”, tiny recording devices that feed back all sorts of measurements, not only in the visible light spectrum, to their labs… Amazing isn’t it? I can see that Melissa admires them, with reason. By the way, Elga will pay a visit here soon. Mel will let us know when and where. I love you.

Your sister, Jane.

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…

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.

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.

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.

The Library

Old library staircase This seventeenth century writer interested him, and he was eagerly reading the selected excepts of poems in the thin blue-covered “essential read” booklet, already covered with his notes, paragraphs and sentences underlined, although his essay was not due for another week. He was sitting at his usual place, at the long library table of dark oak with the dark green leather strip in the middle, in the long reading room. The atmosphere was quiet and studious, the sounds of discrete footsteps absorbed by the thick walls and ancient wooden floor, and the heavy window curtains, the light projected by the individual lamps was soft and friendly: it was his favourite building in the whole town, civilised, not threatening, a place of study and reflection, where he felt himself. He lifted his gaze, and there, in front of him, she was looking at him, the beautiful green eyes resting on his face: she smiled, the beautiful smile of love, and how he loved those lips… – for a fraction of a second he no longer knew where he was, Melissa was there, perhaps for the first time, they usually met only outside, or in one of the little cafés: but he remembered, was he still in the old house where Gabrielle had been showing him her world, sitting on the sofa near the fire, or, here, seemingly, in the ancient reading room, and as he looked at his hands, he saw the young skin, the unblemished look of a pupil’s hands, of a fifteen year-old boy. Time was suspended: he looked up again, and Melissa was gone, the long table and his book, the seventeenth century poet – all gone.

He was standing in the little street, alone, everything was so dark. He looked for the old door: it was not there, anywhere to be seen, there was just a long wall. The sky was black, starless, and a light icy rain was beginning to fall.

He walked back, trying to retrace his steps: the narrow street and the houses looked different, even darker than what he remembered. But how long had he stayed in Gabrielle’s house? He looked at his watch: he couldn’t have been inside more than one hour, perhaps even less… He thought after walking for half an hour he’d taken the wrong direction, and nearly turned back. Then he heard his phone: it was Sarah, she was waiting for him at the tube station and had located him on her phone. His relief was immense… It took him another hour to get there and find his wife, who seemed to enjoy a look around the ethnic shops. She kissed him and took him home. He felt utterly exhausted. It was Christmas Eve.

At home they sat near the tree, silent. Julian had told his wife the whole story, the medieval street, the house, the “film” of Gabrielle’s world, Andromeda, the town, the library. Sarah had listened quietly, and had asked only few questions. They were both eager to leave answers, or more questions, till later. He suddenly felt more cheerful, opened a bottle of Loire wine, and they talked about the next day.

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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