Beth and the Major are in their room at the Frigellyan Royal Palace. They wear bathrobes after having taken a shower. Beth had never seen such a shower before. It was as though water came from every direction, in a lukewarm spray. She stepped out of it with a certain feeling of well-being and wondered if any relaxation products were mixed into the Palace’s shower water. As she heads to the wardrobe where the clean clothes are stored for her and the Major, she suddenly asks,
– Do you think we conceived our daughter here?
– Er, we just …
– I can remember it quite well.
The Major bursts out laughing.
– Beth, when and where, it doesn’t matter. We’re not going to ask ourselves this question each time just because we know.
– We know her age more or less, too. Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe said he hadn’t suspected anything for sixteen gold rings. I don’t know how many Earthling years that makes…
– Nineteen. Believe me, I mentally calculated as soon as he told us. At the very most, our child could be eighteen years old. And she “borrowed” a travel body. Undisciplined, like her mother, he taunts her.
– Oh, I can’t believe what I’m hearing, she answers, pretending to be outraged. That deserves revenge, Monsieur.
Beth already has a pillow at hand when someone knocks at the door.
– Who is it? asks the Major.
– It’s me, Sylvester.
– As soon as we begin to mess around, someone wants to see us, whispers Beth, smiling.
– We’re just getting dressed, answers the Major.
– I can come back later, if you wish.
– We won’t be long, shouts Beth.
Actually, they have already started to rummage in the wardrobe while speaking, and they are dressing at top speed.
– We’re almost finished, Sylvester, Beth informs him, as they go on to frantically put on their new clothes. Beth takes a look at the Major and cannot refrain a whistle.
– You… you look very smart.
– You’re looking pretty good yourself, he answers. Let’s open the door.
– Paul shouldn’t be long, he says as he comes in. He’s taking part in a training session with Nori. We’re supposed to meet here. I think I’m a little bit early.
– Let’s take a seat, says the Major.
Everyone takes a place; Beth and the Major together on a sofa and Sylvester facing them in an armchair.
– I… starts Sylvester, before interrupting himself.
He rubs his eyes, sighs and starts again,
– You understand who we are now, I guess? Almost-humans. Incomplete people. And we’re deprived of what is maybe the most wonderful thing in the world: love.
– Sylvester, Paul and you have feelings, you’ve shown it to us many times, points out Beth.
– We’re not able to procreate. We don’t even have any desire to. It’s what they removed from us. We’re not able to go further than brotherly affection. It can certainly be intense. But look at you two; we’re obviously missing something priceless.
– I understand, whispers Beth, suddenly very aware of her friend’s peculiar life.
– I was given Paul as a partner for my first spatiotemporal mission. I was just coming out of the Personal Development Center, and I was very enthusiastic at the idea of time traveling. We’re well conditioned.
– The Personal Development Center? What is that, a sort of school?
– Beth, we’re born adults. Our mind is a copy of another mind, cleaned of its personal memories. The day we open our eyes for the first time, we know how to speak, to read, to write, without ever having taken any courses. But we don’t know a thing about life. Over the span of five years, we learn to be humans. Well, almost-humans. But this, we understand this only after having left the Center. To get back to Paul, he had just lost his partner, who escaped at the end of their mission. It happens frequently. Many almost-humans end up going underground. Paul and I were sent on a one-year mission at a turning point in Earth’s history: the start of time travel.
– I would like to see this too, says Beth.
– I’m not surprised, answers Sylvester with a sad smile. Then he goes on,
– You should have noticed: Paul and I are very different. He wasn’t very pleased to be assigned a partner who’d just graduated from the Personal Development Center. We had difficult times at the beginning. But we finally learned to use our complementarity and trust each other.
At this very moment, someone knocks at the door.
– It might be him, says the Major. I’ll get the door.
It is indeed Paul. He is radiant.
– Good evening, everybody. I’m exhausted, but I really love these training sessions with Nori.
– Nori is a fencing master I appreciate very much, even if we’ve got rather different techniques.
– I’ll be pleased if you’d show me this one day, David.
– I’ll take note of it.
– I was telling them about our beginning together, intervenes Sylvester.
Paul takes a seat in the other armchair that’s facing the sofa, and the Major goes back to his place near Beth.
– Oh, did he tell you, I wasn’t very pleased to have to cope with a five-year-old “kid”, even if well-conditioned at the Personal Development Center?
– He didn’t say it that way, but I think we more or less understood the situation, answers the Major.
– By the way David, didn’t you tell me that, normally, the Earthling time-travelers were people of op…
Beth brutally interrupts herself, as she can feel a big stress emanating from Paul. She stares at him a moment and he discreetly shakes a “no” with his head.
– “…, er sorry, of the same age? she goes on still staring at Paul to see if she did it well.
Paul doesn’t leave any time for the Major to answer,
– It’s rarely the case for the first mission. But, afterward, it’s true; people of the same generation are sent together. When Sylvester and I met, it was his first mission. It lasted only one year. I had much to do during this time. It had been tense between us two. I am a scientist, not a nanny.
– How many times did I hear that! complains Sylvester.
– But finally, we’re doing a good job together. Did he tell you that after our first mission together I went underground in my turn?
Beth and the Major shake a “no” with their head.
– When we got back, my former partner contacted me. She convinced me to join her network. The almost-humans try to get together with all the others. We seek out those hidden in other eras. We still don’t know how many we are exactly. At most we’re some thousands. We’re really a minority compared to the other humans on Earth.
– Since the beginning of time-travel, generations upon generations of almost-humans have been created, one after the other. Every generation has been rebellious, and each time we fought, we won additional rights. But this last right, the one to be complete and full humans had never been granted to us: the request had been rejected out of hand, and remains unexamined even to this today.
– And there are many almost-humans that want this to be changed. It’s what I discovered being underground.
– A short time after Paul disappeared, I received an anonymous message.
Sylvester and Paul say it in chorus: “The person who will give your full humanity is an anomaly of the 25th century. Find this person and give her or him protection.”
– He did all he could to find me and propose I go with him to the 25th century, adds Paul. And finally I accepted. Beth, we first thought it was you…
– And it’s not me?
– No, it’s him, answers Sylvester, pointing at the Major with a finger. We understood this when our group did research with the jurists from Frigellya and Dalygaran. We’re old minds transferred to new bodies. And this is where the problem lies: there is a lack of knowledge regarding the offspring born to people like us, namely, how will they react to their parentage? Even if we turned the problem over in every direction, it was unresolvable…
Paul takes advantage of a pause from Sylvester to speak again,
– When we had the idea to offer you a body, David, our obsession was to do for you what was refused to us. Your body wasn’t created in our home in two months—this is technically impossible. It was made on our orders by our underground network, in our era. It took them about a year. But, for our part, we received it just a few days after our demand, and we had two months to finish the job, before your mind arrived on Earth.
– All right. My mind found a new body. But how is this supposed to bring you back your humanity?
– By the future of your progeny, which will set a precedent and fill in the legal loophole, answers Sylvester. Our request to be complete humans can be examined now.
– Our progeny? You see. Aren’t you supposed to avoid giving us allusions to our future? asks Beth in a teasing tone.
– We know the identity of the person who gave the alarm, when you were in our world, states Paul.
– Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, I guess, says the Major.
– He needed to tell someone.
– Beth, there is something these two don’t know, the Major announces maliciously. You know, about our… near future?
– That my father was going to say to our two Dalygaran friends…
– Oh…, that?
– Yes, that.
– Are we going to invite them?
– We’ll have to think about this.
– Is this going to take a long time, this suspense? says Paul a little irritated.
– Paul, Sylvester, David and I… decided finally to get married.
– Would you honor us by being present at the celebration?
– Oh, I can’t believe this. You little sneaks. Paul, I don’t know about you, but I’ll be there.
– Of course, I’m coming too. When is it going to be?
– We don’t know yet. It’s a very new development. Certainly long after your trial. Oh, speaking of which, can you explain to us what it is about? asks Beth.
– Let’s just say that having secretly taken refuge on Earth in its alpha version, and having there used epsilon technologies, we violated quite a lot of rules, clarifies Sylvester.
– We’ll talk about this later. We don’t risk too much anyway, announces Paul.
– Why is everyone saying there is little risk here? asks Beth
– In this case, believe it!
– Ok, ok, answers Beth. If need be, we’ll grill Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe.
– You’re not very charitable with him, grumbles Sylvester.
– It was just a joke, replies Beth, a little bit offended. I wasn’t serious at all.
Feeling Sylvester’s distress, Beth gets over herself immediately.
– It doesn’t matter, Sylvester. It can happen we don’t understand each other. It doesn’t matter, she repeats.
– Well, why don’t we all go to the Great Terrace? It is about to be sunset. It might be magnificent up there, proposes the Major to lighten the mood. Hey, guys, what do you think?
– Thank you, but I need a little rest. Training sessions with Nori are intensive and I’m no longer that young, answers Paul.
– As for me, I have a painting to finish.
– So, just the two of us? asks the Major to Beth.
– It seems so, she retorts.
– Don’t forget we’re expected at the Queen and King’s table tonight. We’ll meet there in a little more than an hour? proposes Sylvester, getting up from his armchair.
The four friends greet, the two Smiths congratulating the two future spouses before going.
– Sylvester is not well, says Beth as soon as they are alone.
– Yes, I felt it too. He did all he could to hide it, but there is such a sadness in his heart.
– I’ll go talk to him, as soon as I can.
– As for me, I’ll go see Paul. I’ve some questions to ask him…
– Oh, that need to know more, is that Dalygaran or human?
– Ok, answers Beth smiling. Well, let’s go to the Terrace now.
– Would you take my arm, Madame?
– With great pleasure, dear. With great pleasure.