Paul opens the door and a man, about thirty, gets up swiftly from the armchair on which he was sitting.
– Beth! he says with a hint of emotion in his voice. However, he hesitates to walk up to her.
Beth stares at him intensely. She can’t believe what she is seeing. Being in this Dalygaran body for so long has allowed her to retain some abilities and apparently develop a few others. And so despite the radical change in his appearance—a human one actually, she knows perfectly well who is in front of her. It’s definitely him. It’s the Major!
– But it’s impossible…!
Paul goes into an explanation:
– When you came to us to get help two months ago, you told us about the epidemic on Dalygaran and the Major’s death. You said he spoke to you while you were sleeping, begging you to come back. He threw his last strength into this final message. You looked so overwhelmed; so we had an idea. We wanted to give him a second chance. We intercepted him before he tried to go back and we offered him a body. We told him you answered his call and that you knew how to travel in time, but he didn’t have the strength to get back to Dalygaran. We got to him as he was barely alive. In fact, he remained unconscious for some hours.
– It’s him then, it’s the Major?
– Yes, we had two months to prepare his body. We gathered our inspiration from your drawings. And we made him similar to you, too.
– Similar to me?
– Yes, you know, those abilities you’ve got. It seemed to us if he has to live in a human body, he should have them too. So he could travel as you do. The same way. It’s our little bonus gift.
– Tell me who the hell you are! How did you do that?
– Beth, you know we can’t say anything…
– Yes, I know: spoiler, as you like to say.
– Well, we’re going to leave you two alone now, he says.
– What? asks Sylvester.
– We’re going away.
And Paul pulls Sylvester by the sleeve out of the room.
Beth turns to the Major who remains still and silent.
Dark-haired, a skin far less pale than hers, the same dark-grey eyes as the Major’s Dalygaran version, a bit taller than her, quite thin. She thinks to herself, the two Smiths did a really good job.
Finally, the Major comes closer.
– Beth, I’d like to t…
His words are lost as he absorbs a monumental slap. Emotion management does not work well for Beth when it is about the Major.
– This is for having lied to me on Dalygaran and letting a bunch of bureaucrats decide to wipe out my memory. You disappointed me. Deeply!
The Major rubs his cheek:
– It seems to me your memory is excellent.
– Give me a chance to explain. Please, don’t interrupt me. When you arrived on Dalygaran, I was in charge of analyzing your memory. And I had the surprise of detecting recent deletions. And more surprisingly, I observed the start of a regeneration phase. I quickly understood that your memory couldn’t be erased. And I had seven days. Seven days to decide what I would say to the Great Council.
The Major raises his hand as Beth is about to speak.
– I’m not finished. The decision I had to make was this: to allow you to get back home or not. If the Great Council had learned of your memory, they wouldn’t have voted for your return. They would have sacrificed you. Your Earthling life, I mean. You never would have come back from Dalygaran. I evaluated you, day after day. And when we went to the Great Waterfall, I felt such an emotion in you. I just wanted to give you a moment of relaxation…
– To tell the truth, this is one of my best memories from this planet. And you were right: swimming was deeply relaxing for me. But please, go on…
– It’s not that simple for a Dalygaran to understand how such strength and such vulnerability can co-exist inside the same self. Beth, you’ve got a will of iron. Your behavior in combat is… remarkable. You learn so fast. It’s not a matter of abilities you have, but how you use them. You never give up. You went through an incredible number of binding exercises. You hungered for learning and had the desire to do it well. But this strength would have totally fallen to pieces if you were not able to get back home. You had such a trust in me. I chose not to betray this trust. My report on your memory analysis in front of the Great Council omitted any information about your memory ability. And as it seemed to me useless to expose you to another memory deletion, I pled to give you a pill instead of an injection, using as pretext that you detested this means of administration. It’s so easy to substitute one pill for another. The one I gave you wouldn’t have done anything to you. It was a pill to make the water drinkable. I didn’t know that Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe and you were plotting behind my back.
– We wouldn’t have needed to plot if you had talked to me.
– I’d have gladly talked to you, if you hadn’t run away like a little girl…
– I’m not a little g…
– Shh, I know. But sometimes you’re…
– … impossible. I know that.
– That evening, I came to tell you my plans. It was difficult to do it before. I didn’t know if I would succeed in convincing the Great Council.
– You lied to them.
– To protect me…
– To prevent an injustice. Our Big Shame mustn’t make us monsters.
– The best soldiers are those who know when not to apply the rules…
The Major raises his eyebrows, quite surprised by this assertion.
– Not applying the rules is sometimes a huge responsibility. You’re never 100% sure of your decision. And you’re alone.
Silence takes over for a moment. Beth understands that the Major had faced a difficult choice and she tries to lighten the mood.
– I’d have loved to have seen your face when you saw me dematerializing.
The Major smiles.
– So, you know about that. It’s Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe who told you that, isn’t it?
– Yes. He told me too that you were “wistful” since my departure.
– He’s talkative…
– You were dead. Well, I mean, everybody up there still thinks you’re, ummm… getting ready to be buried.
– Beth, I missed you, it’s true. Do you know you’re the only woman who didn’t find my name ridiculous?
– I was in a man’s body…
– I was in the best position to know it was only a wrapper.
-Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe told you what I thought of your name, didn’t he?
– You’re right. He is talkative.
– You see! He lectured me after I’d left the room slamming the door, that first day. He told me I could have been nicer, and that you deserved more respect, and if it would interest me, you had found my name very nice. Nobody had ever found my name “nice” before. It can sound stupid, but it touched me. Please Beth, don’t grin.
– Oh, I assure you, I didn’t grin. I find you adorable. Well, I mean…, she stammers. Now you’re grinning…
The Major smiles.
– Beth, I’m happy to have found you again.
Then he takes a deep breath.
– I’ll have to get used to this new shape now…
– You’ll see, the human psyche isn’t too bad. Your Dalygaran bearings risk being quite shaken, though all the while remaining empathist. You didn’t lose your empathy, did you?
– No, I think it’s intact.
Then his voice lowers a bit and he says in a breath:
– Beth, you recognized me.
– Yes, I know.
– I wasn’t recognizable. But you knew it was me. Do you know what that means?
– I’ve got new abilities?
– No. Well, yes. It’s Dalygaran. This is the… bond.
– What? Like with the horses?
– No, not that kind of bond.
– What kind of bond then?
– Can’t you guess?
– I feel… In fact I never stopped th…
Beth hushes and comes closer to the Major.
– We’re bound then, she whispers when she is just in front of him.
– Shush, she says, putting her index finger on his lips.
She raises herself just enough to reach his lips and softly kisses him.
– Exactly this bond, he whispers.
And he kisses her back.
– Beth, on Earth there’s no Major. I’m David now. David Crystal.
– You don’t like it?
– Well, yes I do. I just wondered why this name “David”. Did you choose it yourself?
– Yes, the two Smiths gave me a calendar. Earthlings attach names to each day. They told me to choose one. On Dalygaran, I was born three days before the rise of the Gold Ring. So I took the name that appeared three days before the end of your year. That’s it.
– David, you and I, if we were on Dalygaran, would we have purred?
The Major looks at Beth very puzzled.
– You’ve got such questions! I don’t know. Well, yes. I suppose. It’s difficult to kiss someone without purring a little bit before…
– I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have ask this question. It’s so… unexpected for a human being to see people purring. I think I’d love it. Well, not here. Up there, on Dalygaran.
– You’d fancy to go back there?
– I can’t imagine today not getting back there. Someone told me once I was not made to be stuck on Earth.
– You feel stuck here?
– In a sense. I live in a world that doesn’t know of transporters or time travel. I can share my experiences just with the two Smiths and since today with you, too. Speaking of the two Smiths, we should go and join them now. I’ve got lots of thing to tell you all. Would you like to know how I got the morning star?
– Oh, sure. But I don’t mean to be indelicate; I think this body hasn’t had any food since they gave it to me. I’m so hungry.
– I know how it is, answers Beth laughing. Let’s go and put some ‘fuel’ in this brand new body.