After enjoying the sunset from the Great Terrace, Beth and the Major head to the fencing room where Nori and a young woman they’d never met face off against each other.
– Abeena, you don’t empty your mind enough. You’re thinking too much, says Nori.
– I can sense it, Nori. But it’s difficult for me to control this… I…
Abeena interrupts herself as she sees Beth and the Major come in.
– Abeena, this is Beth and David. They’re the Queen and the King’s guests.
– Pleased to meet you, says Beth.
– Good evening, says the Major. We were just passing by, I mean, the fencing room is on our way, he specifies.– Since we’re here, Nori, can you tell us where Sylvester and Paul’s rooms are? Beth asks.
Nori gladly explains where they can find their friends.
– Will you be all right? he asks them when he’s done.
– Yes, it’s absolutely clear, answers the Major. We’ll find them easily. See you soon.
Beth and the Major go on their way.
– This is Sylvester’s door I guess, says Beth. You really don’t want to come with me?
– No, I’d like to speak with Paul, and I’m certain Sylvester will be more trusting with you alone than with the both of us…
– It’s quite possible. See you later then.
She knocks on the door.
– Come in, answers Sylvester.
As he sees her come through the door, a big smile spreads on Sylvester’s face.
– I’m so happy you’ve come to see me. I haven’t succeeded at all with my drawing since I came back to my room…
– Sylvester, you know I came back from Dalygaran with some abilities… and among them is one of being able to feel what the people around me feel… Your heart is racked with sorrow.
Sylvester hangs his head low and stays silent for a moment. Then in a slow voice, hardly audible, he confesses,
– Paul and I, we’ve been living together for more than 25 years. And he’s the only one with whom I have ever lived, actually. And this is all about to end.
– We went to the past to find someone and we found him. Our mission is over, in a way. Haven’t you noticed it? He’s already moved on. He’s training with Nori. He’s starting a new life.
– Well, now that you don’t have to look for someone anymore, you’re both going to start a new life. It doesn’t necessarily mean one without the other…
– I’ve always been a burden to him. I never really understood why he ultimately accepted to join me. For me, it was simple: he was the only one on Earth I really knew. I didn’t know anyone else to ask. I never had any friends at the Personal Development Center. There, I was always… apart, and terribly lonely. Today, I’m afraid this life is awaiting me again.
– Did you talk about your fears with Paul?
– To make him laugh at me?
– Why should he laugh at you?
– He never loved me…
– Listen, Sylvester, you just told me he stayed at your side for 25 years…
– Because he wanted to find the one who will give us our humanity back. Not for me.
– But he never planned on doing it without you.
– What do you mean?
– He chose to stay with you, you silly goose. Paul is rough, I know that. But I know, too, that he could never stay 25 years with someone he didn’t think highly of. He’s not a man of compromise. If he’s still here after 25 years, it’s because you’re important to him. And no more than just a short time ago, I could feel it.
– Yes, I’m sure you matter very much to him. I think you two should speak…
Meanwhile, as this conversation is taking place, another is underway between Paul and the Major.
– Paul, I would like to know why you were appointed to travel in time with Sylvester. The Earthling time travelers are usually paired with the opposite gender, am I right?
– This rule is so stupid! It is supposed to be the best way for two people to go unnoticed. But look at us. We lived together in this era for 25 years and nobody paid us any attention.
– I completely agree, Paul. But you didn’t answer my question.
– Oh, always getting to the point, hey Major?
– Ok, David, though I have the feeling this is really the serviceman I have in front of me.
– I can’t do anything about that. That’s who I am. But I’m your friend, too.
– Yes, and I know what friendship means to someone like you…
– Someone like me?
– Upright and without any fuss.
– Oh? Is that how you see me?
– It’s how you are.
– I came to talk about you, not about me.
– You see, straight to the point.
– I appreciate you as you are, David. I am going to answer your question. Listen. I’m fifty. I’ve reached the age where my growth is in sync with humans of the same age. I’m going to age as fast as them now. When I met Sylvester, I was twenty-four. Twenty-four years of almost-human life. We age very slowly in the first years of our existence. We owe this to a small genetic trick. Sylvester and I hadn’t been sent on a mission. There was nothing more to know about the turning point of time-travels’ beginnings anyway. It was an evaluation. And every evaluation is based on a short period. That’s why they don’t care about the rule of opposite genders. Usually, no time travel mission lasts for less than 5 years. And we left only for one.
When I was ten they judged that my abilities were appropriate to be an evaluator. I was good at analyzing things and deciphering what I saw. But I never loved this job. You’re given young recruits, and you’re to state if they’re ready for time-travel or not. After a few years I asked for a change of assignment and to go on a real mission. I was granted this. And I went away, with Nelly, for ten years. It was the first time I really settled down with someone. I quickly became attached to her. In my own way, I fell in love with her. But Nelly and I, we were only able to love each other like two children. It couldn’t have gone further than that. Nelly finally couldn’t stand it anymore. After nine years, she began to reject me. Things got worse and worse between us, and a year later, she literally ran away to ask for another partner. I was so hurt. I came back to our world. And as I hadn’t a partner of my own age anymore, I was asked to be an evaluator again. I took out my anger and frustration on Sylvester. But he didn’t react much. This puzzled me. Sylvester had become accustomed to being rejected. He was different. I quickly realized he suffered from the slowdown syndrome. There is a very small percentage of almost-humans whose psychic development slows down at the same time as their physical growth. Yet, Sylvester succeeded in doing with this slowness something amazing. He takes his time to analyze things to their minutest detail. He’s of an incredible meticulousness. But at this time, I knew one thing: in the truth room where I would have to offer my evaluation, I couldn’t hide the syndrome he suffered from. He was going to be reformed.
– What do you mean by “reformed”?
– He would have been declared unfit to go on time-travel missions, David; they would have put him in an asylum. Almost-humans are made to be time-travelers. If they are declared unfit, they have no place in human society other than being locked up for the rest of their lives in a Disabled Center. They’re considered useless. Sylvester would never have traveled in time again. It would have killed him. And I can assure you, David, this is the most gifted person I’ve ever met. Time-travel was so important to him…
– And that’s why you ran away in your turn, not to have to do the evaluation.
– Yes. It wasn’t Nelly who convinced me to join the underground. I wanted to find a solution for Sylvester. With my disappearance, he was just on borrowed time. They would have given him another evaluator. So when I learnt he was searching for me to go to the past, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get him out of this era where his talents would never be recognized. Then I went away with him. I had been so rough with him during the year before that we stayed distant from each other. I didn’t care. I wasn’t ready to become too attached to anybody anyway. The distance between us suited me very much. My satisfaction was only to see his inventiveness grow. This guy is an absolute artist. And I’m not speaking of his canvasses –I appreciate that talent too, by the way. He was able to create so many cutting-edge tools, with 25th-century materials. Working with him was such a pleasure.
Paul pauses. The Major takes advantage to state,
– Sylvester seems to be extremely sad at this time. Do you know why?
– I noticed it too. I suppose he thinks that now that we’ve found the one we were searching for, everything is going to change. He’s always been very anxious. I think I should speak to him. I never knew how to tell him how much I care about him. But I don’t want him to learn anything about the evaluation. I don’t want him to know his world would have definitely rejected him.
– I promise, he’ll never learn it from me.
– I know I can count on you, Major.
– Yes, David, repeats Paul smiling.
Later, after Beth had taken her leave of Sylvester, it is Paul who knocks at his door.
– Come in, says Sylvester.
It is with some surprise that Sylvester discovers who is behind the door.
– We’ve got to talk, Paul says.
– I don’t know if…
– Sylvester, you’re going to listen to me. What I have to say is important. You and I, we’ve lived together many years.
– I’m aware of that… he answers dryly.
– Damn, Sylvester! Don’t make things harder than they already are.
– What’s so hard? You want to move on with your own life? So long!
– Sylvester, we’re both going to move on. I don’t know what my future holds. But what I’m sure of is this: you’ll always be a part of it. You’re not going to disappear from my life. Are you?
– What are you saying?
– I’m saying, nothing is going to change between us. Why should it?
– I don’t understand.
– Do you really believe I could have stayed by your side for 25 years without appreciating you?
– You never showed anything.
– I thought it wasn’t necessary.
– It was.
– I understand that now. I’m sorry. Our life had been flowing along quietly. You’ve developed extraordinary inventive abilities. From my point of view, it was all that counted. You throve in the 25th century, Sylvester. You became quite a character.
– You finally have affection for me?
– Naturally, you silly goose.
– That’s the second time someone’s called me that today.
– Let me guess: Beth?
– You knew she came here?
– No, that’s just her way of speaking too.
Sylvester smiles at last.
– I… I feel so stupid.
– Please, don’t. I’ve never been very loving with you. But you know, today, I’m ready to go very far to give you proof of how much I care…
Sylvester raises his eyebrows as if to say really?
Paul comes closer to him, puts a hand on his cheek, and kisses him softly. Then he steps back. Sylvester stares at him, two fingers on his lips, his eyes deep inside Paul’s. Then the two men burst out laughing.
– I never expected this, says Sylvester beaming.
– First time and last, I promise, chuckles Paul. Sylvester, I really care about you, but let’s say like a little brother, if you don’t mind.
– That suits me. You can go on being unbearable.
– I wasn’t unbearable.
– You were.
– Remind me why I came here?
– You wanted to speak with me.
– Yes, that’s right.
– But you kissed me.
– How about we forget all this?
– This is unforgettable.
– I won’t tell anyone, not even Beth.
– You promise?
– I promise, brother.
And Sylvester raises his right hand as if he was at Court.
– We’ve got to go now. We’re late for dinner, says Paul, giving Sylvester a little slap to the back of his head.
– Hey, brother, you really think you can do that?
– You gave me permission to be unbearable.
– I shouldn’t have said that.
– That’s clear, and don’t call me brother.
And the two men go out of the room laughing.