The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Shore

His presence

Les Allers, Les Retours by Antonio Palmerini

She’s never seen him in their apartment, nor during her walks alone in the city. He’s never visited her in her dreams, asleep or awake. Once she went to her old apartment over the Gendarmenmarkt, now an empty place she intends to let. Rents in Berlin would have gone through the roof, as in so many other cities in Europe, if it had not been for the municipality slapping tenant protection regulation to stop the greedy landlords in their track. At the time she thought Julian would have been delighted with that decision.

There was nothing in the apartment: not the shadow of their rare visits there, no trace of Julian’s puzzlement at the picture in her room, the one of Melissa and her, playful. Along the Landwehr canal, on her morning jogs, she looks at runners and passers-by, half hoping to catch a glimpse of his face. Does she miss him? It is worse, or better, than that: she’s convinced he’s around her, all the time, in the morning when she showers, brews coffee, in the evening when she works, in the room that had been his study. She knows, in a conviction that defies her usual realism, that when she’s alone in bed he’s there, calm, observing her, at peace with himself and their destiny. Only when Jane, or another occasional visitor, is there with her, is he absent, perhaps retiring to another room, or in one of those places where fallen angels disappear.

She’s worked through his correspondence, through the unfinished manuscripts, or, rather, the gigabytes of notes and work in progress of his archives. There is material enough for three more books, and his publisher is pushing her to give her the go-ahead. But Sarah’s holding back. What she wants is to discuss it with Julian… Sometimes she pauses, reflecting on how absurd her feelings are, beyond “normal” grieving. Helga, who writes to her long letters, sometime coded, from her retreat somewhere in Scandinavia, suggested she took a holiday, away from Berlin and Julian’s memories, and invites her to her house on the shores of the North Sea.

She hesitates. Jane wants her to go, and have a change of life. Sarah does not want a change of life. Is she happy with this strange expectation, this fantasy that, suddenly, out of nowhere, Julian may reappear? But would it be out of nowhere? Or would it be out of that interstice of space where she thinks he spent most of his alive time with her? Would it be off the shores of Chi, where Jane had first met a hooded Melissa?

One evening, before autumn set in the city, she had visitors from the BND. Helga had warned her, the year before, when they last met in London, that it would happen. Two blond women and a man, the three of them charming, quiet, unassuming. They wanted to talk about her husband, his work, his relations in the East, and also her own travel, with a friend, in the war-torn eastern province. She answered her questions, smiling and calm. They asked if Julian still had living relatives, and then they asked about a woman, who may be known to her as “Melissa”, and showed her a picture. It was not the Melissa Sarah had once known, her and Julian’s playmate. She told them. Then they thanked her, asking her not to leave Berlin without noticing them, and gave her a phone number to call. Sarah, from her balcony, watched their black Audi turn the corner of her street. That evening the apartment stayed empty of Julian’s presence.

Image: Les Allers, Les Retours by Antonio Palmerini

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Mirror on the Wall

Lilya CorneliAs they walk through the entrance of the apartment, the wide mirror on the left of the doorway reflects their image: Julian and his elegant wife Sarah, coming home from a late evening in town. On the opposite side he recognises the Toulouse Lautrec, as Sarah walks in and drops her cape on the back of a leather chair. He touches a switch and the side lighting comes to life, so soft it reveals the features of the apartment only slowly, as if reluctantly.

Everything is so familiar, shrouded in the comfort of an intimate space: their space. A thought filters through his mind: he knows this place, he knows where everything is, the furniture they chose, the art they collected, and yet it is not their home. He walks to the bar, next to the long balcony, and mixes two martinis. Sarah is at the concert piano, facing the large bay window, and has started playing. To his left he sees their bedroom door, and he knows what the room looks like, the queen-size bed, the portrait above it.

He walks to the piano and sets Sarah’s glass on a low table next to her seat. She offers a radiant smile back at him: she’s never been so striking, and he so much in love. A melody of Schubert fills the air. Now, he opens the balcony double door: it is late and the city’s sounds reach him, muffled. The Berlin night is cool and full of the promises of youth. But he, Julian, feels ancient, as ancient as the steps to the Dom. There are few revellers left on the square but the lights are still on. The Deutscher Dom seems to shine in the moonlight, as a reminder of past glories. Clouds briefly mask the moon. But can it be be right: the geometry is improbable, the Dom is at the other end of Gendarmenmarkt…

He walks out to the balcony: mementoes of their lives are everywhere, photographs, paintings they bought all over the world. “They”? Julian feels now deeply troubled, as if he had intruded into someone’s life, someone he may have known, perhaps intimately, in another time. There is a photo of two women, one, older, wearing a pair of old-fashion spectacles, a teacher sort of character, with a benevolent look on her peaceful face. He should remember their names, the names of the two women on the picture. The younger woman is red-haired with sensual lips, and she seems to be looking straight at him. Her sight feels painful to Julian. Julian looks down to the street: Jägerstraße runs past the Französicher Dom, and across Friedrichstraße. He knows the geography of the city so well.

Through the bay window, he sees his wife playing, her face now partly hidden by a statue that stands in front of the piano: a replica of the wounded gladiator. Slowly, he walks along the balcony to the other end. On a low table stand more pictures, and a vase full of fresh carnations. He sees a photo of two women dancing: here on this balcony, where he stands. This time he recognises them: Sarah and his sister Jane. A younger Jane, perhaps even before she became a fashion star.

His unease grows, and as he turns round to walk back to the lounge, he senses a figure standing near the door: a tall hooded shape. He can no longer hear Schubert, but instead, the low murmur of small waves running ashore.  The shape fades into nothingness, he walks back through the door. Although he cannot hear the notes, his wife is still playing. The lights in the lounge appear dimmer. Sarah turns round towards him: she’s not Sarah. Julian sees a woman face with features he thinks he recognises: the jet-black hair, the blue on blue pupils. Helga is looking at him, unsmiling, perhaps even a little threatening.

Julian feels a small tremor. The image dissolves.

Melissa is sitting on the floor of the studio, looking at old pictures. The notes of Schubert float through the calm air of the Eylauer straße. He is lying on the couch, and must have fallen asleep. Melissa looks at him, and blows a kiss. “Now you’re awake, I’ll start cooking,” she says with a teasing smile.

Helga

LostThe shore is as I remember it, when Sarah and I came here, the first time, at Gabrielle’s invitation. Unlike that day, Helga is now wearing her best London suit, business-like and sober. Then, she had worn the toga loved of high members of the Coven.

“It’s nice to see you relaxed and happy, Julian…” Helga looking at me with her enigmatic smile. I think that she is right, relaxed I am, having left behind those dark memories, and my little ghost.

“But how about you, Helga, what is new in your trade?”

Helga stops, turns towards me: “And what trade is that, Julian?” Her dark eyes are reflecting only the deep blue light of the sky. “The art of disseminating peace in the Universe,” I reply calmly, adding: “As a doctor, this is your ultimate role, isn’t it?”

We resume our walk on the water edge. “Oh, my medical ambitions are more modest.” There is no trace of irony in Helga’s voice. Nonetheless we are here, and I sense she’s waiting for me to ask, how and why. But I won’t be trapped in a game of cat and mouse, with this beautiful, very beautiful, woman, who I suspect to be more than human…

“We are overwhelmed by the stress in your society,” starts Helga, then correcting herself, “I mean our society…” No, you did not mean that, I think, but I won’t take you on for this. “Every period of change has its human cost.” I remark, philosophically. “And now this is mental health, your domain, dear Elga.”

I omitted the “H”, but she does not give any sign of noticing.

“Yes, in previous ages, it was self-flagelling, and all sorts of religious hysteria, now it’s drugs and other abuses…” She adds matter-of-fact: “And we, doctors, can no longer cope.”

I am about to ask if this is a question of economics, or simply sheer numbers. Helga’s mind is racing ahead of me. “It is about demographics. You have long realised yourself that the present inequalities are self-destructive. Extreme wealth corrodes the body of society, and the fact that ninety percent of the world population lives, or rather survives, on one percent of the revenue of the top ten is an engine of destruction. We can do very little about it… from strictly a medical standpoint.”

Now I want to ask: “But peace…” Helga is prompt to cut me off: “The state of war is merely one way to extend military imperialism beyond its shelf date, whatever chaos and misery result from it. The Cold War is over, but there had to be something to take its place, anything. The corporate lords cannot live in peace for very long. They need war and destruction: it is part of their system,” After a pause, she continues:

“For most of us, the resulting stress converts into either extreme poverty, or extreme distress, or both, depending on where we live.”

“If you believe this, then what is our destiny?” I ask, suddenly worried at Helga’s gloomy outlook. “I think there has to be a big change, another great transformation. But we may have to wait for that. In the meantime, people like myself, or Gabrielle, in our respective capacities, are struggling along…”

Those words leave me silent. Helga takes my arm: “But you know also that there is nothing new. Over history, societies have aged, gone sick, then somehow managed to transform themselves, or had to disappear, be absorbed in something bigger, sometime better. There is always a choice…”

We have come to the end of the walk, and I recognise now where we are. “I’ll give you a lift home,” Helga says. “And if I may, I’ll pop in to say hello to Sarah…” We laugh.

Lost, without you

Jacqueline Devreux Melissa ~ It is my turn now, to roam those streets, to visit Viktoria Park in the cold mornings, alone. Petrified, cold, ugly, I stand in the street where Sarah and you stayed. You made me beautiful, and without your presence, without your patient love, I am just that: an old woman, a witch without broom, a useless ghost.

How beautiful, how warm was that summer, how gracious and handsome you both were, you, in love with Sarah, and in love with me, the one who could not exist without you, other than as a wreck. This is what I am now, a wreck, haunting the streets you walked along, before your mind lost its way, or, perhaps, before reality set in. How can I know? If I am an illusion of your memories, if my existence is in your mind, a little mirage of those synapses, then I cannot judge if the same mind rejects me, decides that, after all, I do not exist.

This is Sarah’s silent revenge, the triumph of virtue against the lewd creature from your past. She, the wife, the loyal companion who had to endure what she calls your illness. Your illness was me, intrusive reflection of a doubtful past, of your lost youth.

So, facing my fate, I am receding into darkness. I have erased my page, those photos I collected, of the fugitive moments of this life, the life that once was. A few snapshots survived from last summer: Sarah in the Tiergarten, a triumphant smile on her lips, radiant; you, near the Airlift Memorial, your bike and rucksack lying on the grass, the Bundestag… There is no photo of me, or at least of the person who was at your side then. The being who may have taken those pictures.

Your sister Jane has already forgotten me. Our encounter was a sort of dream, at a time when I was struggling to reach you. And now, I will never again attempt to approach your life. Never again will I stand near the shore at Chi, waiting for you, and meeting Jane.

The mirage is fading, so fast I soon will be unable to summon my own image, the tall red-haired girl who walked at your arm, the parted lips, ready for a kiss. Soon those fleeting instants will be forgotten. Yet, what will endure, will be the need for me to roam those streets, for I will stay in Berlin. Not that I entertain any hope to see you again, merely to exist, as a wraith, in the city you love so much. A passing mist, in the anonymous crowd, ignored by all.

And I’ll wait for the night, when entropy finally reclaims me, a wretched remnant of a lost soul. And if the Coven takes pity of me, they may give me another chance, far away,  on another world…

Once Upon A Time

Erasmus Melissa ~ I have succeeded to an extent I could have never dreamed of. I, the girl who was left for dead, live again, have a handsome lover; soon, I will morph into Sarah, the gorgeous wife, I will become her, and will have him for ever. At what price? Yes, I know, the boy I loved, is soon to become a bestseller, a famous writer, and with that he will change. But he is so much enthralled with the adventure…

Gabrielle, my Teacher, can be proud of me. I have followed my destiny, and yet, sometime, I think I am just in one of Julian’s dreams, perhaps in one of his novels. As I write, the conference is only a few days away. I cannot believe how quickly those weeks have past, the long evenings with Sarah, Jane and Julian, Helga’s visits, our rides around Berlin, the long hours of work… This is coming to an end. Julian has agreed to the experiment, he and I will soon be attached by more than our feelings – our genes will mesh, and something extraordinary will happen, I will then bear in my blood the blueprint of a new being, the renewal the Coven wants so much. You see, my success will be also their future, their salvation. What a fate for a girl from a small village, lost in time…

Sarah has been a marvellous companion, her mind open to new ideas, however challenging, or even provocative. Of course, emotionally, she is so much more for me: she’s opened the gate to a love I never thought I could attain, another miracle. She’s the sister I never had, and she’s his wife. She knows now what the experiment is about, she understood everything. At first she was worried for him, and that reawakened my fears. Then she changed, perhaps under Helga’s influence: I suspect those two share a lot, in ways I cannot yet fathom. But later, when I have become her, her double, her true twin, then I will know…

The city is colder, we are now wearing warm jackets and hats. Jane looks lovelier than ever, and her eyes on me tell me the story of a young woman who too understood everything; it was so soon, after our first meeting on the shore of Chi. Jane knows the truth about me, about her brother, about us. She’s the only human who could stop the wheel turning. Maybe she will.

Jane ~ Yes, I know you know, Melissa, dear Melissa, the one who claims to be who you are not, not quite, almost; that part of you that is missing is that I would truly believe in. But you are wrong about Julian: he won’t change, not in the sense you mean. He will continue to love you, the person you are still in his mind. But, you will see, I hope, he is much stronger than they think, those who think they are now in control. And you too will realise that mankind cannot be so easily trumped. I know, the Great Power is here, their president will attend the final day, and so will his counterpart from the Great Power To Be… So will many others among the rich and powerful of this world. But me, I will hit the catwalk in Moscow, as this happens, and before the three of you fly back to London. Unless Sarah and my brother decide to stay – and keep you – in Berlin for a while. After all it is their city…

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.

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”.

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.

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