The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: WPLongform

On the threshold (preamble to Book 2)

les-sources-du-nil:  Akira Satō  佐藤 明  From  Elga ~ We know we can win, overcome the objections and fears that obscure our collective judgment, and get the result we want: shape humans to our image, and save ourselves, project ourselves into a new future… But we have not shut our eyes to the dangers. Humans are a clever species, primitive, in their science, in their awareness of their wider surroundings, but clever in the way wild predators are. Many of us think that they cannot be trusted. But on the scale of our own evolution, up to where we are now, what does “trust” mean?

We have engaged with their planetary organisations, we are communicating with their leaders. They have an innate sense of where profit can be, so they are interested. Removing their weaponry under their very eyes did it, such a simple thing. Their best corporate minds are exercising themselves to think of possible applications! We know that some of their scientists are almost in the state of denial about it all: it cannot be done, it’s against the laws of physics. Others are already working, silently trying to decipher what we have given them: the first steps towards the truth.

Then there is Julian. The human being with the unique genetic make-up that may make it possible, if we chose to sacrifice him, to regenerate ourselves: a probability in a billion, if left to chance, but we have the science to improve those odds. This science has produced the woman Melissa. So much has already been achieved, and we must be patient. But we know: Melissa and Julian are a unique pair, and if we lose them, we have to restart form the beginning, and, on this world, it may then be unlikely to succeed. Our chance is here, now, and we must take it.

Sarah ~

We have now been in Berlin for four weeks, working on the tasks assigned to us by Gabrielle. We are absorbing the incomparable atmosphere of this city, my city. What a change for us after the long months of anxiety in London and New York… Julian is now deeply engaged in the group that is considering demographics, genetics and gender. He was at first very surprised to see that he was there the only non-scientist. Most of the group members are biologists, medical doctors, or mathematicians. The majority of the participants are female, and originate from outside the US and Europe. The introductory meeting did not spell out who was to head this work, but of course it is Gabrielle herself. We – Melissa, Julian himself, Jane (who has now joined us from her last fashion show in Tokyo) and me – have been discussing Julian’s role every evening in the little flat in Kreuzberg. We have not concluded anything yet. Julian is still only a nearly silent witness to the deliberations. Yet Gabrielle makes clear to him almost everyday how important – essential she says – his participation is.

Melissa and I are part of the environment work group, led by Katsumi, the Naval officer and biologist who is, in our view, someone very highly placed in the hierarchy of the Great Power to Be. This appears to be the larger group and has participants from all over the world, with perhaps a majority from Asia  and South America. However North America and Europe are well represented too.

The daily routine in the Chancellery, or at the Russian Embassy where some of the other strands meet (the military certainly meet there, we are not sure where the diplomatic group meets, it may be in one of the many government buildings in Unter den Linden) is very regular and fixed. The day starts at eight sharp in the same room of the Chancellery we started in with a brief (fifteen to twenty minutes at most) meeting of all groups recapitulating the day tasks, and stating progress made expressed as percentages of the whole work programme. The start of the conference proper is still a month away.

Early morning the four of us ride to a gym nearby and we exercise for an hour, followed by a simple breakfast on the Potsdamer Platz. Jane then leaves us to ride back and work in the flat, chiefly on the phone to her many correspondents through the world, and preparing the next show. She goes out to run for a couple of hours in Templehof most days. Melissa and me then leave Julian and we join our respective groups. The day finishes at five with a short break for lunch.

A pattern clearly appeared in the environment work group a few days after we started. The group was provided with an impressive library of films, documents, videos, interviews and other material and the first task was to draw up a list of the most pressing priorities on climatic changes or suspected changes. The next step, where we are now, is to identify the obstacles to a comprehensive world wide agreement on policy making. In other terms we are trying to plan a redo of Kyoto. This time procrastination is no option.

Katsumi, who turns out to be from a wealthy Chinese-Japanese family from Northern China, holds several PhD’s from Asian and US universities as well as a doctorate in medicine from Tokyo University. With us she wears the most sober and yet exquisite traditional Chinese clothes. Her agenda is clear: to obtain agreement from the participants on an agenda for a follow up treaty on carbon and other environmental issues. Water is also part of this picture. This will become part of the decisions of the conference.

Julian is less clear than we are on the direction taken by his group. However he knows from informal contacts with other participants that Gabrielle is looking for a proposal on demographics and the role of women in the new order. Some participants have strong views as to what this should be. Julian thinks that Gabrielle won’t reveal the  real aim of the group for some time. The UN general secretary is rumoured to be here for most the conference once it starts.

And what of our evenings? Since Jane joined us we meet at the Gendarmen Market every afternoon after work. Jane is waiting for us in a little café which has the merit of discretion and old Berlin charm, near the French Dom. There we take stock of the day and decide the programme for the evening: Jane usually comes up with good ideas – there is so much to do in this city – and often too with cinema or theatre tickets! Invariably we ride back to the apartment to change and cuddle. For we have succumbed to a wave of lust, to an irrepressible desire for each other, which has no bound. We have given up any pretence: I, Sarah, and Jane share Melissa, Melissa and me share Julian. The four of us adore each other in a way which has made me forget all our doubts. One thing intrigues me more and more though: the way Melissa has adopted my way of walking, my style, even my clothes, and, dare I say it? My way of making love. Julian is over the moon. So am I.

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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.”

Longing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Face to face

Crystal ball I have been summoned: in the night Gabrielle’s voice instructed me to be at her place in the morning, and I was told, politely but firmly, to go on my own.  I tell Sarah, and we talk briefly about what we could expect.  Sarah thinks it might have to do with the offer, that of parthenogenesis.  The Coven may have realised the human females won’t give up their males that easily (“I’ll tell them to go and clone themselves!” was Jane’s reaction, the more remarkable since my sister’s tendencies are well known).  So “they” may want to appraise me of an alternative plan says my wife.  I am skeptical, for I believe now that “they” are indeed all powerful: why should they care about what we think?  Sarah thinks that I am giving up the fight too early, the Coven wants something, and we are not sure what.  Their objective is evidently not mere destruction: they have a goal, and we need to find out what that is.

So I set off just after dawn, and an hour later I am walking the narrow street, deserted at this time.  The chill of the morning air seems sharper here and I walk faster until I reach the long wall and the small door.  The door is unlocked and as I cross the threshold it shuts closed behind me.  “Come in Julian” says Gabrielle’s voice and I slowly reach the end of the corridor.  Gabrielle and another person stand in the room I know so well, in front of the bay window.  It takes me a few seconds to recognise Elga.  Gabrielle signals me to take a seat on the sofa near the chimney.  As on the first time I came to this house a wood fire burns brightly, projecting an eery light in the room.  The two women are sitting in front of me, their backs to the window.  Elga looks now much different from the attractive creature Sarah and I met several months back.  Her long black hair is wrapped in a complicated bun, held by a deep blue metallic ring.  But her clothes… She wears a grey suit reminiscent of the spartan Mao-Tse-Tung tunique, but well cut, buttoned up to her chin, which fits her athletic body well.

I am waiting for one of them to speak, and remain silent. We observe each other for long minutes.  Then Gabrielle addresses me, in a slow voice intended to convince.

“Thank you for joining us at such short notice Julian.  We have to share with you, and through you with your friends if you judge it wise, of a decision the Coven took a few hours – that is for you a few weeks – ago.”  Gabrielle pauses and I look at Elga, who is not smiling but, rather, looking at her companion as if in deep reflection.

“The Coven has now realised the inanity of suggesting a violent solution to what we see as your predicament, and to the risks this may present to us in the future.  Equally we understand how unpractical it would be to impose a ban on your ways to reproduce yourselves…” I am waiting for what is, inevitably, going to follow, but I am wrong, have been wrong all the time.

“Elga is going to explain what we are going to do, as you know she represents the Coven here, you could say, she’s in charge of this sector of your galaxy on our behalf…”

Elga then speaks, and her voice conveys immense authority, and a slight veil of impatience.

“You know that Gabrielle and I have had some difficulties in convincing many of our own about the value of giving you and your species time to evolve further.  In part our problem is due to your use of atomics, and the continuous violence which appears to characterise the way you attempt – and fail – to resolve conflicts.”  I am aware of Elga’s eyes firmly fixed on me, of her beautiful face showing nothing but an implacable resolution.  “We have considered many ways we could intervene without destroying you.  In truth, for many of us, the survival of your beautiful planet is far more important than yours, as a species.  However we have concluded that attempting one without the other may prove costly, for you, and for us.”  Elga pauses, and I am thinking of the meteorite in the skies of Russia.  “So, we have come to this conclusion, unanimously: we have to intervene directly in your affairs, neutralising some of the fatal moves some of your governments may be tempted to make, in one word, practise what you would call a ‘humanitarian mission’ – with a difference, we have the means of obliterating any resistance.”  We are silent, I am listening to the fire, reliving our previous meetings, and Gabrielle finally speaks:

“We have 100% coverage of all of mankind’s present conflict areas and strategic sites.  As you have probably guessed we have spent the past few years developing an extensive – shall we say – spy network of a fine mesh of which your science cannot conceive.  Suffice to say that the same mesh can be used to destroy weaponry of any size and power, from long range missiles down to a single hand gun. “

Elga smiles and adds, suddenly back to a more congenial stance: “We knew you would understand Julian.  Now, what we want you to do, is to explain the situation to your friends.  Melissa has been informed and she will help you prepare the drafts.”

I am waiting, the drafts of what?  Elga resumes, now smiling broadly: “You are going to write to the ten or so top newspapers in your world, explaining the situation in your own words.  You should know now, that people are going to take what you say seriously.”

A Moon-lit Dune

Aurès I rarely think of those years, what Melissa calls my “lost years”.  Those times are immersed in a dusty landscape, tainted ochre like the small walls hiding death, a place where I missed her more than life, and my days were a long, uninterrupted, bloody nightmare.  Behind me then were the golden years of a happy childhood, her love, her hand in mine, the little town with the old library, and its staircase.  In front, around me, everywhere, was war.  Not the neat little war of cavalry charges: the dirty war of the djebel, where friends were foes, where death struck in the shape of a small child, where women were fighting, got butchered, dismembered, like the rest of us.  At night we – the leopards –  talked of girls, and homes, of all the memories we were fast losing, of our disappearing childhood.  In winter we crawled in the snow, in the sand tainted by the blood of our comrades.  We fought with knives, with rocks, with the deadly hand-grenades that sometimes “they” threw back at us, smiling of the devilish smile of the victors.

But those memories are deep buried, and I want to keep them buried.  I remember more about the “return” to civilian life, the despair, the chaos, and then the orgies.  For a while we met at our vet association, but leopards age badly. Many of us took to drink and worse.  I did not.  After a while I decided for myself that life was, after all, worth living. And I forgot her, Melissa.  In time I made money, and met you, my love.  There is no shadow anymore, just the neat certainty of a  happy life and marriage, writing, the mountains, and my sister.

But last night I dreamed of the dune.  It may have been just looking at the night sky too much the evening before.  It came back to me with invincible clarity.  It was a month or so before we left: the last operation in the Aurès.  My patrol had got separated from the main group.  The enemy was nearby, silent, deadly.  The night was clear, icy, and the moon was full.  I told my men to stop and I moved alone towards the top of the hill to take a position (no sat-nav in those days!) The hill was crowned with a sand and rocks dune, and it was lit by the moon that gave it a silver hue.  Silently I climbed to the edge, and in one fraction of second I saw her: she was lying flat against a small rock, her sniper rifle steady aimed at me. Her blond hair was bound under the small cap, reflecting the moon light.  I knew I was dead meat: I kept still, waiting for the bullet.  Nothing happened, she did not move, or at least I did not see her moving.  I closed my eyes: death could not be that easy. But then, she was gone: the blond warrior had disappeared.  I took the position with the little sextant and went back to the men.  “You took your time sergeant, we were beginning to worry”.  I smiled. I had seen Death, and She had spared me.

As I woke up this morning I could still see the lying shape, the dark green uniform, the moon light, the dark barrel of that rifle…  So long ago: where is that woman now?  Did she, like me, survived the war?  I have no idea why this came back to me now.  I did not say anything to Sarah, got up, and went to my desk.  Memories are strange constructs, with a life of their own, independent from us.  I know what they say about synapses and the complexity of the brain.  In the peace of my study, as I type these words, I am thinking of Elga, and of what Sarah told me about her: that she is a collective mind, an association of perhaps millions of individuals who pool their thoughts.  Is this our future too?  And is Melissa part of them?  Is this the message of my dream: we have been spared, but the way forward is to belong, to surrender our individual being, to mesh?  Those thoughts trouble me: is Melissa showing us the way, the abolition of death, the abandonment of homo sapiens for something else, as distant from him as he was from the Neanderthals?

I leave these thoughts to concentrate on the letter to my publisher: the first draft is nearly completed, perhaps in a couple of months I will ask my editor to proceed.  She’s very busy – and very competent – and I have to give her due notice.  And I would like Sarah to read through too.  She has read abstracts, she likes this version.  Yesterday she told me about Shikoku, Kafka, and Shimamoto, the eighty eight temples…  The shore… a moon-lit shore?

The phone rings, it’s Jane, she’s coming to dinner and she’s bringing the wine.  Sarah picks up the upstairs handset.  I leave the two of them chatting away.  As I said, I am a lucky man.  I finish my letter and mail it.  Then I pick up where I left last night in the novel: Susan is now Paul’s lover, the two of them have crossed the border…

Les leopards

A Perfect Thread

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

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

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

Voyager

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

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

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

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

Nostalgia

ND-en-Vaux 02

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

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

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

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

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

Vue de Châlons-en-Champagne 220407

Husband, brother, lover…

Melissa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fermi’s Paradox

Singularity In the silence of the old house Gabrielle spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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