Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe comes back from the kitchen frankly smiling.
– It’ll be ready in less than one hund…, he starts to say, then,
– Where are the others?
– They’re outside, answers his wife.
– I don’t know.Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe comes back from the kitchen frankly smiling.
– It’ll be ready in less than one hund…, he starts to say, then,
– Where are the others?
– They’re outside, answers his wife.
– I don’t know.
– Supreme Commander?
– I don’t know either. Take a seat my boy, we’re going to wait for them.
The front door opens on Beth and the Major. The couple comes close to the table, but stay standing, as does Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe who faces them.
– So, my son, what happened?
– Something unexpected, father.
Realizing how human this answer is, the Major adds more Dalygaranly:
– A Frigellyan transporter is waiting for us. Our human bodies are inside it, and we need to get back into them as quickly as possible.
– Our Epsilon friends, those who helped me on Earth when I was seeking the morning star and who host us now, seem to be having troubles. They had to leave Earth as a matter of urgency. They were the ones who looked after our bodies while we were on our spatiotemporal travels. They couldn’t leave us there without anybody to keep an eye on our safety.
– Your Epsilon friends are Frigellyans, then? asks Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain.
Beth smiles and answers,
– I don’t know where exactly they’re from. But we’ve common friends who are Frigellyans who went to pick them and our bodies up with a transporter…
– Paul and Sylvester are here? asks Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, who by now is used to speaking with them through the communicator. I would really like to meet them for real.
– My son, there’s no danger outside, is there? Why shouldn’t we all go out to greet your friends? suggests the Supreme Commander.
Beth offers an explanation to her hosts:
– Well, it might be from a distance, but, of course, why not? Frigellyans have special transporters, whereby its shell can’t be seen. They travel in what they call a completely see-through security bubble, such that people never even sense there is a transporter at all. Come on, you’ll understand immediately.
The little group goes outside, just in front of the house. Mira is still at the edge of the bubble with the two Smiths not too far behind her.
Beth continues the explanation:
– Inside the bubble, they can breathe as they would on their own planet. Earthlings and Frigellyans breathe the same kind of air. I won’t need any spacesuit when I go there.
Sylvester and Paul, having recognized Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, come to the front and wave.
Beth takes charge of making the introductions, pointing to each person as she names him or her,
– Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain, Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, the Supreme Commander —David’s father, Mira —Frigellyan officer, and her husband Reymo—also a Frigellyan officer, and our two Epsilons, Sylvester and Paul.
Everyone greets each other with a wave and a smile.
– They’re all very pale, whispers Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain in Beth’s ear.
Beth keeps herself from bursting out laughing.
– We’ll have to go to the spatial center to take our extraction pills, announces the Major.
– That won’t be necessary, answers Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe. I wanted you to be able to stay as long as you wished. So I brought two pills with me, to eventually allow you to go from here. This isn’t very formal, but the travel bodies are safe here, and I’ll manage to get them back to the center.
– My son, as you’re about to get back into your human bodies, I’ve got a request: I’d like to see both Beth and you in your human shapes.
Reymo, who has meanwhile come to the front, answers,
– There’s no problem with that, Sir. We’re really sorry to have interrupted your dinner. David and Beth already know Frigellyan hospitality. They can stay on our planet as long as they wish, and their friends as well.
– Father, the two Smiths hadn’t had time to explain to us what all this is really about, but as soon as we know, we’ll tell you.
– The Frigellya where we’re going is far in the future, intervenes Paul. Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, as you’ve always been our contact on Dalygaran, we wish to give you a special communicator…
– An inter-temporal communicator?
Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe has difficulty hiding his jubilation as he utters these words.
– You’re going to give me an inter-temporal communicator? he repeats.
– Yes, that’s exactly right, so we can talk to each other through time, answers Paul. Reymo, can objects go through the bubble?
– We have to turn off the protection shield. Mira, you’re near the control panel.
– Wait a moment, says Sylvester, going back to rummage in a box. I got it! he suddenly shouts.
Then he comes back to the front of the bubble.
– The shield is turned off. You can throw the object.
– Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, it’s yours now.
And Sylvester throws the communicator in the air. It is Beth who catches it in a reflex movement, as the object passes her at shoulder level. Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe is just two steps behind her. She holds the object out to him. He bows in thanks and says,
– You’ve got to go back inside now. You should be lying down when your extraction pills take effect. Come, I’ll give them to you.
Beth and the Major, each on a sofa in the living room take their pill and lie down. Their minds, as soon as they’re freed, go back to their human bodies.
In the Frigellyan security bubble, they open their eyes. They don’t waste time and get up to go to the front, hand in hand.
– Here we are, father.
– You’re… You’re… surprising. I think I recognize your look my son, and you, young lady, you’re accurate to the picture of yourself I saw once. We have to let you go now. Take care of yourselves and stay in touch.
Everybody waves goodbye.
– Everybody take a seat, says Mira, who has the navigation tablet in her hand. Here we go!
As they rematerialize, a great surprise awaits Beth and the Major.
– But, who are you?
The question comes from a small man buttoned up in a dark suit decorated with a golden badge on the right shoulder. He is facing them as two giants stand beside them, one on Beth’s left and the other on the Major’s right.
On the walls around them are lots of buttons and flashing lights , and though they can’t directly see them, they can hear what sounds like men and women sitting at desks, tapping away on their screens.
– These are not the almost-humans. Who entered the interception request?
– Me, Sir: I asked to intercept the two genetically-near human characters in the Frigellyan transporter, answers a woman’s voice.
– Are you sure?
– The request is still on the screen, Sir. You can come and have a look.
The small man quickly goes behind Beth and the Major, who follow him with their heads. One of the two giants says immediately, “Don’t move! Look straight ahead.” And so they do.
Beth now knows what she has to do in such situations. The Major and she, after dinner at the Palace on Frigellya the previous evening, had a sort of debriefing on the code of conduct to be followed during missions, in cases of danger. Beth expressed her wish not to be left on the sidelines anymore. The Major, in his turn, laid out his rules. He knew she would learn most in actual situations, and that she hungered for learning. They contracted a mutual trust pact. She didn’t think then it would be so quickly put to the test.
On a mission, the general rule was to come across as inoffensive as possible. Their Dalygaran empathy and the abilities they had each developed were their secret weapon.
“I have to concentrate,” says Beth to herself, as her mind wandered through the memory of that evening. “He trusts me, so I’ll observe, I’ll notice and I’ll stay impassive.”
The small man return to face them.
– Once again: who are you?
Feeling no immediate danger, the Major reckons there is no need to answer.
– All right. I came for an arrest, but not knowing who you are, and feeling you’re not about to tell me, I’m going to take you to a reception area. There, you’ll be our guests. You must not leave this area or your status will change. You will be found at fault toward us.
I know you perfectly understand what I’m saying. We’re in an Epsilon world here. Every language is psychically translated, even those in their most archaic forms. So this is what is going to happen: I am going to take you to the reception area. This will be your apartment while waiting for your questioning in the truth room. As its name indicates, only the truth can be spoken in this place. Refusing to answer in this room will change your status.
– We understand, says the Major.
– You know how to speak. That’s great news, answers the small man, dryly. Are the two guards needed? he goes on.
– No, answers the Major.
– Would you attempt anything on our way…
– It would change our status, completes Beth.
– Oh, the young lady can speak too. Perfect. Follow me.
Beth and the Major follow the small man through a maze of rather cold corridors. He stops in front of a door not different from any of the others they have seen, except for the displayed number: “106”. The man just pushes the door to get inside.
– Your apartments, he says pompously. You’re free to go into any room you can open. The only door you must not go through is this one. It is easy to recognize: it’s the only one with a number above it. Push this door, and you change your status.
– We won’t push this door, says the Major.
– We’ll see, answers the small man. You’re our guests here. Food and drinks are at your disposal in the rooms. Last thing: while I am out, this area has to register two distinct vital signs. Have a nice day.
And the small man goes away.
– What do you think? asks the Major as soon as they are alone.
– We annoyed him, but I think he’s telling the truth.
– I think so, too. The only monitoring system here might be the vital signs presence. It seems we’re in a very formal world where the status of a person is something very important and not to be taken lightly.
– He’s afraid of who we might be.
– Yes, I felt that too.
– Did you hear what he said: “They are not the two almost-humans.” Do you think he was talking about the two Smiths?
– Yes. I think so.
– Do you know what “almost-humans” are?
– I do. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of them.
– It’s something in the future, isn’t it? The two Smiths come from the future…
– They told me they come from a very far future.
– When was that?
– The day they offered us a place on their floor. I told them I did some research about them and found nothing. They asked me not to do it anymore and informed me they were from a very far future, and that is why I found nothing. I should have known something was off at that moment.
– What do you mean?
– I just thought they weren’t human. I misinterpreted what I saw.
Beth raises her eyebrows, inviting the Major to go on with his explanation.
– Humans that live as a couple are usually lovers, am I right?
– You can live with a relative, or with a very close friend.
– These two, although they have the same name, are not relatives—they told me that the first day. And I quickly had the feeling that they just tolerated each other. They’ve lived together for a long time. They know each other by heart. But I didn’t feel any love between them. Or maybe Sylvester… Never mind. They’re just complementary. I concluded they can’t be humans. But I didn’t think they were almost-humans, because usually, when they travel in pairs, it is a man and a woman. What did you think they were? Did you have any idea?
– It’s true that at the beginning I thought they were just a couple of men. But I rather quickly realized it was something else. These two were special; I mean everybody hated them at the space travel center. They were perceived as haughty and disdainful. I didn’t know who they were exactly, but I knew what they had in common: their difference. And it was long before I learned they were Epsilons. Can you explain “almost-human”?
– Beth, almost-humans are incomplete bodies constructed to host a copy of a mind inside them, a mind cleared of all its personal memories. No one in the Universe has succeeded in creating these minds, as far as I know. But some found a way to copy them.
– That’s sounds so shabby. What do you mean by “incomplete”?
– Like our Dalygaran bodies. You know, we can have feelings, but we can’t be lovers. If we would just have those bodies, we couldn’t be bound. We’d have to be satisfied with the affection we have for each other.
– The bound is not needed to purr?
– It’s not necessary. There are many kinds of purring… but, can we speak of this another day?
– Yes, I think there’s no urgency about this. You didn’t finish your explanation on the almost-humans. Why are incomplete people created?
– Humans are very jealous of their past. They created fleets of time-travellers that were to be sent away for long periods. Being incomplete was supposed to make them concentrate more on their missions and to avoid paradoxes, like becoming the father or the mother of one of your ancestors.
– These are humans doing this to other humans?
– To almost-humans…
– How long have you known this?
– I am the time continuum keeper of my planet, remember? To get informed on the future of our neighbors is part of my job.
– Dalygarans consider Earthlings as neighbors?
– We’re just separated by a portal…
– Yes, I’ve heard that story of a portal…
– Every civilization tends to evolve toward higher levels, as you know. A day will come on Earth when the technology for a transporter will be discovered, and it will become a beta planet. Eventually, it will reach the gamma level with time travel. Many civilizations choose to stop there. The delta level is reached when you lose the ability to travel with your mind and have to use a compass instead. Such is the case with our Frigellyan friends. The epsilon level is the one in which they know how to build artificial beings. Not machines. Real beings. A civilization can go straight from a gamma level to an epsilon one, or it can go through the delta level. That’s how it is in all the universe. The Epsilons in general are very formal people, protecting their world with lots of rules. Have you heard of the Epsilon Justice?
– These people are at the cutting-edge of technology. They control everything, even life itself, which they can re-create. Their rules are vital for them. They are very inventive. The Justice of the Epsilons is famous, because it is indisputable.
– Mira and Reymo seemed very afraid of it.
– I don’t doubt that, but we’ll talk about that some other time. Frigellyans, with their ability to remember anything, are a special case in the Universe. If I had to guess, I’d say there are only about a dozen planets like theirs. And they regularly clash with Epsilons.
– And now we’re on an Epsilon planet.
– That was what the small man said.
– And he wanted to arrest the almost-humans…
– It’s what he said.
– We’re on Earth?
– That’s what I think.
– In a very far future.
– Yes, most probably…
– Do you know what’s in store for us?
– I know as much as you do.
– All right. And the present strategy is to avoid changing our status.
– Yes. If you don’t know the rules of a world, don’t play with them. We really don’t know what could happen if we change our status. So we won’t do anything to cause it. We’re going to be very wise.
– Can we have a look over the place then? It’s allowed…
– Let’s go.
The least one can say is that this reception area is huge. Beth and the Major have counted no fewer than a dozen bedrooms, each with a private bathroom. They find a big space with lots of chairs, maybe a conference room, and an immense library with books like in the old times, meaning they’re made of paper.
Beth can’t refrain from taking one in her hand. She’s always been fascinated with paper.
– You see, she tells the Major, waving the book in front of her, paper has almost disappeared on Earth in my era, I mean in our era. And I would have to beg for access to this type of place. But today, right now, I just don’t care. I’d give anything to see a familiar face.
Feeling a presence, Beth and the Major turn around suddenly. Beth can’t refrain a scream of surprise. There in front of them is the travel body she was inside not so long ago.
– David, do you feel the same thing I do?
– Oh yes.
– What does that mean?
– It’s the bond.
– The bond?
– This is our child.
– Beth, you don’t know the Dalygaran parent-children bond. I do. It’s the first time I feel it as a father, but I’m sure of what it is, you can believe me.
– Dad, mom, you’re so… young.
– Our child? We’ve got a child?
– You say nothing of our future, ok? says the Major pointing at the travel-body.
– Dad, mom, you never stop telling me this. The future must never be told. Today I understand why you insisted so.
– We’ve got a daughter, whispers Beth.
– I didn’t say I’m a girl.
– You’re not a girl?
– Well, yes… Mommy! I wasn’t supposed to say it. I’ve never been able to lie to you, ever…
– We’ve got a daughter, repeats Beth.
– And she’s in a Dalygaran travel body.
– Mine. Well the one I use now.
– We’ve got a daughter, whispers the Major.
– And she’s right in front of you.
– So, she’s like me. She can’t stand people talking about her in front of her like she isn’t there.
A sort of stampede can be heard in the adjoining rooms. “Vital signs in the library,” they hear being shouted.
– Hide yourself, orders the Major to his daughter. Don’t argue.
– But I…
As the paces near, Beth can’t afford to shout. She steps closer to her daughter to be able to whisper her command,
– Young lady, do as your father tells you, now.
Her daughter finally obeys. There aren’t many places to hide here. She has just enough time to duck behind an imposing sofa, in the middle of the room, when the door opens to reveal three men.
– We’ve got three vital signs on our screen. The third’s appeared suddenly. We must search the room.
– We’re the only ones here, and we’re two. It must be a false alarm. Maybe it’s problem with your equipment. Go back to the control room and take your time, says the Major using his suggestion ability.
The three men turn around and leave the room, quietly.
– Ooh, that was a close call! But I could have done…
Beth and the Major’s daughter puts her hand on her mouth.
– I’m so stupid. I’m not supposed to let you know…
– You have the suggestion ability?
– Yes, dad. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure of where I was.
– Never mind. We’ll talk about that later. But now, hurry. You’ve got to disappear from their screen before they’re back at the control room. As you’re in the travel body, you’ll go back to your era and inform Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe. Tell him we were abducted, the day the two Smiths were evacuated to Frigellya.
– I have no time to repeat. You’ve now obliged us to hide this from you until this day returns. So now you listen without interrupting me, and answer my questions. I suppose you’re an outstanding pilot like your mother.
– I really don’t know how to pilot this… thing. To tell the truth, it’s my first time.
– What? And you landed here? Do you know where we are?
– On Earth, at the edge of time, I guess.
– At the edge of time?
– Yes, that’s where I always wanted to go: where the future hasn’t been written yet.
– For a first leap, I doubt it’s possible, says the Major.
Beth and he look at each other and say in chorus:
– The regulator!
In answer to his daughter’s questioning look, the Major says,
– Search your overalls’ pockets, right leg first.
– Nothing here.
– Left leg now.
– Oh, yes, I feel something under my fingers. Here it is.
– That’s it, that’s the regulator. Perfect. Nothing in the other pockets?
– No… Nothing.
– Well, you’re going to use the return function of the regulator. This device is never off. It brought you here, it’ll take you back, says Beth.
– Go and see Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, and tell him everything, adds the Major.
– He’s going to be upset. I… er… let’s say, “borrowed” this body…
The Major is annoyed, but he has got no time to talk more with his daughter. He has to get to the point.
– It’s your concern to make him listen to you. He’s an empathist, he can feel what you feel. And when in the future—ours—we’ll all three meet again, you’ll tell us how this happened today. I think we’ll understand. We’ll decide what we’ll do with you, young lady, says the Major.
– Get away now, hurry up. Just think, “return plus one minute.” Ok?
– Ok, Mom. Abducted the day the two Smiths were evacuated on Frigellya.
– You got it.
The travel-body with Beth and the Major’s daughter inside disappear.
– I hope she left before they got back to their screen and that she arrived without incident, says Beth.
– Somehow or other, we’ll end up knowing it.
– We had no time to hug her. Hey, do you think it’ll always be like this in our life? I mean, always having everything in disorder? We just met our daughter as an adult. Do you think I’m pregnant?
– You’re not pregnant. I’d feel it.
– Well, I would if I still had on Earth the main parts of my Dalygaran abilities, which I think I mostly do. A Dalygaran father is able to feel his child very quickly in its mother’s womb, even if the mother’s perception is blurred because all this happens in her own body. It takes a little more than one moon for her to be able to tell the difference between her body and the one growing inside her.
– So, you’ll know before me?
– It’s quite possible.
– As soon as you feel it, tell me.
– Be sure I will.
– How many children do you think we’ll have?
– I don’t know, he answers laughing.
Silence sets for a moment, then Beth announces:
– I’m hungry. Let’s find the food.
– I noticed some sorts of symbols evoking food in every bedroom.
– I saw them too.
Beth and the Major enter the first bedroom on their way. Near a beautifully decorated table on one side of the bed, there are indeed symbols drawn on the wall.
“Tactile machine?” thinks Beth, as she pushes on the drawing.
Immediately a voice can be heard,
– Good afternoon, we’re going to take your order. Make your choice from the menu.
A part of the wall lights up and a list of dishes appears as well a list of drinks.
– Choose for me. I’m still not very comfortable with Earthling food, says the Major.
– It seems that spaghetti’s reached the edge of time, she says, tapping with a finger on the corresponding line. And here, I can see “chicken”, and look, this can be interesting, fruit salad. I’ll choose a drink. Water’s perfect. I think I’ve got to push on this green button here to confirm the command.
– Is your command finished? asks the voice. If yes, push the green button a second time. If not, choose another item from the menu.
Beth pushes the green button again.
A panel opens in the wall and a little conveyor belt extends to the table. Beth and the Major can see two plates coming, each with cutlery, and a bowl filled with the fruit salad with only one spoon. One symbol on the wall is flashing now.
– It seems to be a glass.
Beth pushes on the symbol and a voice asks,
– How many glasses?
– Two, she answers.
As the bottle of water appears on the belt, another panel in the wall opens on two glasses. The Major takes them and puts them on the table. The panel closes immediately after.
– So, spaghetti. What sort of sauce? asks the Major.
– Tomato, I think, at least by the color. Let me taste… Hmm, yes, and a hint of basil, it’s an aromatic herb.
– Hmm, not so bad. And there, that’s chicken? I know chicken.
– I think it looks strange…
– Let’s taste.
– Ok. Oh oh, it seems to be in coconut milk sauce. It was listed as “tropical chicken”.
– I find it very good. Let’s share all this.
Beth and the Major start their meal and finish off with the fruit salad, a disappointing one according to Beth.
– David, I don’t think we’ll hold out until they come to get us. I’m asleep on my feet, and you seem so too.
– We’ve been up for a long time. Even if we rest in our travel bodies during our spatiotemporal travels, our real bodies constantly demand to maintain the bond with our minds, and that’s exhausting. . Wait a minute; I saw a symbol that looked like a pillow. It was on the far wall.
The Major walks around the bed, pushes on the symbol, and another panel slides up on the wall. As soon as the Major takes the pillow, the panel closes. The Major lies down on the bed, puts the pillow under his head, and stretches his arm in Beth’s direction. She comes to snuggle up against him and soon she falls asleep. The Major loves to hear her breathing relax. It is in these moments that he is able to sleep in his turn.
Beth and the Major are awoken by small knocks on the door. The same small man, the one who brought them here, comes in without waiting for an invitation.
– You’ve been identified. We would have lost less time if you had talked to us. We apologize for this regrettable incident. You’re expected. Please, follow me.
The small man turns on his heels. Beth and the Major jump off the bed and follow him silently. They pass the room through which they came the first time. “Number 36” noticed Beth as they go through the door. Now they push a door labelled “Number 1”. Here they discover those who came to their rescue: the Queen, the King, and Christopher.