Beth is staring at the canvas she is about to complete with satisfaction. As for the Major, he got it into his head to do the cooking. She can hear him struggling with the kitchenware. He told her a little earlier he wanted to give her a surprise and that she was not allowed to come see what he was doing. It was the same day they came back to Earth, after the two Smiths’ trial.
Someone knocks on the door.
– I’ll get it, Beth shouts through the apartment.
She discovers Sylvester and a young lady with burning red eyes standing there, she gripping a tablet tightly and nervously in her arms.
– I found her lying prostrate on the landing, says Sylvester. I just succeeded in understanding she was searching for you and David.
– Come in Sylvester, and you too Miss…
– Sylvester? You’re Sylvester?
– Yes, young lady. Do you know me?
– Just by name.
– I… I can’t say anything.
– Ah! chuckles Beth, there’s some justice in this world. Usually, it’s he who says that to me.
– I’d like to talk with you and David.
– Sylvester would you mind going to the kitchen to see if Monsieur is available? Tell him the situation. I’ll take this young lady to the living room.
– Beth, I’d like to use the interphone near the communications door. I’ve left Paul with his… past, I guess, a little time ago, and I wonder if I can go back now.
– Oh, really? You’re at home here, Sylvester. Sure you can.
Sylvester goes through the kitchen to inform the Major, who seems rather upset to have to interrupt himself, then heads to the interphone near the communications door.
– Paul, it’s Sylvester. I’m at our neighbors’ and I’d like to know if I can come back to our place now.
Sylvester waits for a moment. As he doesn’t get an answer, he is about to repeat his question when Paul’s voice is finally heard.
– Sylvester? Why don’t you just knock on our door?
– Are we going to discuss what I should have done, or are you going to open this door without further delay?
– I’ve already unlocked the door, you silly goose.
– I’d be really happy if you stopped calling me that.
– Sorry. I’m supposed to be unbearable. I’ve got a reputation to uphold, “brother”.
Paul switches the interphone off. Sylvester goes through the door sighing.
Meanwhile, in the living room, the Major has joined the two young women. They had taken seats facing each other and, as he usually does, the Major sits beside Beth.
– Would you please tell us who you are, now that we’re both here? says Beth.
– Where’s Sylvester?
– Most probably home, answers the Major.
– Oh. Er…, David, Beth, it’s so weird to see you so… young. I’m Lucia.
– Lucia? repeats Beth puzzled.
– Christopher’s daughter.
– Christopher’s daughter, repeats Beth in a whisper.
– I… I ran away.
– What?! Beth and the Major say in chorus.
– I don’t want to live on Frigellya anymore. I don’t feel at home there. I want to come back to Earth… I don’t want to be transformed.
– What do you mean?
– I’ll soon be forty…
– You’re kidding… interrupts Beth.
– Forty Frigellyan years. Compared to the Frigellyan lifespan, I’ve already passed a fourth of my life expectancy there. Here, I would be physiologically about 20 to 25.
– Sorry, I’m having difficulty understanding this, apologizes Beth.
– If I stop my treatments, I would have the life expectancy of a 20- to 25-year-old person on Earth.
– I… I had an argument with Father. On my 40th birthday I will have to make a decision, and I am the only one who can. The Frigellyan High Court assessed that this was the age I should reach in order to be able to make the decision with full awareness. By my fortieth, I will have had to choose if I want to be transformed definitively. That way, I… could have children. Frigellyan children. I wouldn’t have anything human in me anymore. And I don’t want this. I had… till today, a golden life at the Palace. I received so much love….
She takes a deep breath and goes on,
– Grandma cried when I confessed to her that I didn’t want to be transformed and I planned to go back to Earth. I had to promise her I would go to live by your side, in your era, just to calm her down. She trusts you so much. If she knew I was with you, she could pass on in peace. Grandpa passed away two years ago. Since then her health has been getting worse and worse.
– And you want to live here, in this era?
– Yes, Beth. I’m actually your age here. It was what Grandma wanted.
– Lucia, you should inform your father where you are now. He’s probably worried sick if he’s realized your disappearance.
– Oh, David, I was sure you would say that. I’m relying on you two. I know you’ve got an inter-temporal communicator. I’m ready to talk with Father, but from here.
– We don’t have it here. It’s next door. Well, at least I hope the two Smiths have one. There was one left on Dalygaran, but I don’t think they took it back, clarifies Beth. By the way, what were you doing on the landing earlier?
– I… I borrowed the tablet from Mira to be able to come here with a transporter. Nobody can see it on the landing, but it’s there. I tapped on the line matching your home. I didn’t think I would land in the corridors. I didn’t know which door was yours. I was sad and lost, until … Sylvester arrived. He was very nice to me.
– We’re going to have to pass through the kitchen, says Beth to the Major’s attention. For the communicator, she specifies to Lucia’s attention this time.
– I’ve hardly even begun. I’ll put all the cooking stuff away quickly. The surprise will be for another time.
– Did I interrupt something?
– One of our Dalygaran’s first culinary adventures on Earth, answers Beth with a sarcastic tone.
– It would have been very good, answers the Major falsely offended.
– He succeeded in messing up pasta…
– I didn’t get the relevant information…
– Now I can recognize you two, says Lucia laughing.
– Really? asks Beth.
– Yes, the way you both tease each other all the time. Frigellyans are much less funny…
– Really? asks the Major.
– Believe me. I know all of you pretty well.
– Ok. Let’s go to the interphone to ask if we can get a communicator.
The group goes through the kitchen and heads to the communications door. Beth switches on the interphone.
– Hello, is anybody there? she asks with a joyful tone.
As usual, the answer is a little slow in coming. After a moment, Paul’s voice is heard.
– We’re here.
– We need an inter-temporal communicator. Did you get yours back?
– There’s one here, in one of the boxes. If you need one, you should come and rummage among them yourselves.
– We’re three. Shall we come in?
– We’re three too. We’re waiting for you.
On the other side of the door Paul says to Nelly,
– You’re going to see them. Don’t forget time-travel rules. No allusion to Moira and Raymond Twolords.
– Who do you take me for? answers Nelly lightly upset.
– He’s always like that, underlines Sylvester.
Paul has no time to retort when the trio of Beth, Lucia and the Major crosses the door.
– Hey, my charming stranger looks much better now, chimes Sylvester.
– This is Lucia, Christopher’s daughter.
– Christopher? The one from…
– That one, yes, interrupts the Major.
– You can talk in front of her, says Paul. This is Nelly. She’s an almost-human like us. Well no longer exactly like us.
– They found a means to transform us into real humans, explains Sylvester, with a certain enthusiasm.
– Oh, interesting. We may talk about this a little later, if you don’t mind. Lucia’s got a family dispute to settle and counts on the communicator to help her. She is asking us to intervene on her behalf, clarifies Beth.
– You’re not supposed to take sides for anyone, points out Paul.
– We won’t take any side, specifies the Major.
– We’ll only make a promise. Lucia, your father and you can’t part ways while angry at each other. You’ve got to speak to him, face to face first. Do you agree?
– I… I don’t know…
– Lucia, you should follow Beth’s advice, adds Sylvester. Recently, I learned that the best way to clear up misunderstandings is to accept to listen to others. If you do this for him, he will do it for you, too. Your father loves you. Everybody here who knows him can testify to that.
– You don’t even know what this is about!
– Obviously, it’s about love, he answers softly.
– I… You’re right. It’s about love. I… I’ll speak with him first.
– We’ve got to find the communicator first, Sylvester reminds them. Everybody, go and have a drink. I’m going to find it. I think I remember which box it has been put into. Don’t just stand there. Go in the living room. Go! I’ll soon be with you.
– You really don’t want a hand? asks Beth after everybody had already left.
– No, he answers smiling. I assure you, I won’t be long. Go and join the others.
Paul has barely enough time to pour a glass for anybody when Sylvester reappears.
– I got it, he says triumphantly. Do you have the coordinates to make the call?
– Yes, and I know how to use this. Someone in this room showed it to me, but it was not today, she specifies.
– Oh, I see. I’ll give you the device then. Come, I’ll lead you to a quiet place so that you can speak freely.
Sylvester leads her through the apartment.
– My room, he announces as he opens the door. You won’t be disturbed here. Join us as soon as you’re finished.
– I’ll come bring Beth and David here momentarily.
– We’ll be waiting for you, he says as he closes the door behind him.
Sylvester is not back in the living room for more than five minutes when Lucia reappears and says with much emotion in her voice:
– He’s coming. He’s coming to Earth. Father, I mean. I hope I didn’t make a mistake in the date and time. I gave them according to a little luminous calendar on the bedroom wall.
– It’s the exact time and date, reassures her Sylvester.
He has barely pronounced these words when knocks can be heard at the door.
Paul goes to open it.
– Christopher, you arrived on the landing?
– Yes, Reymo explained to me which door I had to knock on.
Paul thinks to himself that Mira might want to take that hint as well, so that she and Reymo might one day come to meet them by knocking on the door… like everybody else.
Lucia runs into her father’s open arms.
– It has been a long time since you’ve called me that, says Christopher, hugging his daughter and with a hint of emotion in his voice.
Then Christopher looks at the people around him.
– You’re all so young…
– Christopher, maybe you don’t know Nelly…? begins Paul.
– The future won’t crash if I tell you I know her well. But I won’t tell more…
– I understand you two have to talk, says Sylvester. Go with your father where I led you earlier, Lucia. It’ll be quiet.
Lucia goes through the apartment with her father.
– Well, what a story, exclaims Beth. We’re going to have a very complicated life. We’ll have to hide all this from Christopher and Lucia for forty Frigellyan years now. This is past our own life expectancy, isn’t it?
– I don’t know. Most probably. I’m not comfortable with Frigellyan years, answers the Major. But Beth, we’re time-travelers. This is the way we’re living. All in disorder. We’ll manage this, he answers smiling.
– There is no doubt about it, it’s him, whispers Nelly in Paul’s ear.
– So you found a way to transform almost-humans into real ones, asks Beth point-blank to Nelly.
– Yes, and I proposed to Sylvester and Paul to come and undergo the operation, but they told me they couldn’t agree to a change of time to come back to our world. They wish to respect the sentence of having to stay in the 25th century on Earth.
– If they want to be operated on, we’ll find a means, says Beth self-assuredly.
– Beth, it’s kind of you to say that, but we can’t transfer a full medical unit from the future to here, an alpha world, answers Sylvester.
– But it’s just a juridical thing, you know. We have to find a space being both Earthling and in the 25th century, and one that can receive a medical unit from the future. Have you ever heard of the United Nations here? It’s international territory on Earth belonging to many countries. We just need to know if there is any law forbidding an Earthling territory from being elsewhere other than on Earth… Ask the jurists. They will find a trick for the story of time too.
– You’ve got nothing to lose if you just try, says Nelly.
– It’s an idea, mutters Paul, pensive.
– Beth, you’re brilliant, adds Sylvester.
The evening goes on around a relaxed conversation among the group. When Christopher and Lucia come back, everybody smiles, and so do the father and daughter.
– David, Beth, I entrust my daughter to you. She’s reminded me where I came from and how I suffered not being in my place – even if at that time I wasn’t aware of it. I know that Lucia belongs to this world and that she won’t be alone if I leave her here. I have only one request: allow her to use your inter-temporal communicator from time to time. My daughter has chosen to live a very short life in relation to the one she could have had on Frigellya. And I want to be there every time it will be needed. Even from far away….
– Maybe we should find one communicator for you too, proposes Nelly.
– I would be grateful.
– I’ll manage to get you one, she answers.
– Christopher, says Paul, we’ll need your jurist’s light for…
– Oh, pardon me if I interrupt you there. I know what you’re going to ask me. All this has already happened from my point of view you know. We’ve found a solution for the wedding that will suit the case of your operations as well.
– Wow, hisses Beth.
– Who’s going to get married? You two? asks Nelly to Beth and the Major
– Yes, answers Beth.
– If I may interrupt, I’m interested in what Christopher has to tell us about the juridical trick… says Paul.
– You’re not unaware that the Queen wanted, er wants— you’re not married yet—the wedding to take place in the Palace. It is obvious this won’t happen without Sylvester and Paul. So Frigellya is prepared to give to Earth and Dalygaran a part of its territory, inside the Palace. The territory will belong to both Planets, but most importantly the time that prevails on this place is the time of the owners. Frigellya owes a lot to Dalygaran as its own citizens poisoned the planet’s water, as well as to you Beth, for having found me. So the territory is given to representatives of your era. Beth, you’re the only gamma person we can negotiate with, and your High Council, David, was the one we’ve discussed these things with. I think that according to today’s date we are– the Earthling one I mean—well, you’ll learn this from me soon. I know that I shouldn’t have told you all this, but I know too how important it is to Sylvester and Paul to become real humans, so this is the last thing I will tell you guys about your future: you will, he says, staring directly at the two Smiths.
– Wow, hisses Beth again.
– That’s excellent news, says Nelly.
Paul and Sylvester remain silent as if they were knocked out.
– By the way, goes on Christopher, turning his gaze to Beth and the Major: I admire your ability to hide your knowledge. I never suspected that the day I would tell you all this you would already be aware of it. You’ve got such self-composure.
– According to the age you’ve reached Christopher, I suppose there are so many things you know about us and we don’t even suspect, retorts the Major. This kind of situation can’t be easy for anybody. You’re pulling through very well.
– As time’s gone on, I’ve learned to live with these temporal mishmashes, answers Christopher.
– I… I feel sick, says Sylvester, and he runs out of the room, a hand on his mouth.
Beth follows him.
– I’m not feeling well either, says Paul.
– I just announced a big change in your lives. I wasn’t very cautious with you two. It must be a real shock, I’m sorry. It seemed to me important that you know it without delay…
– It’s all right, Christopher. You made the good choice. It’s just… It’s just so…
– … unexpected, hey? says Nelly.
– And terribly tremendous. The dream of a whole life. Can you just imagine what this is for us?
– A relief? asks Lucia.
– A new birth, answers Nelly. After this operation, you’re going to be someone else, Paul. That’s worth it.
– I know.
Sylvester comes back to the living room with Beth.
– I’m better.
– Take a seat, says Beth.
Everyone looks at Sylvester. He sits down and raises his head and speaks:
– Paul, when you told me this morning that our lives were going to change, I was far from imagining this. I’m so… happy. And I’m terrified, too. Overnight, we’ll have feelings we never had before…
– I didn’t think I’d live through to this day. I got used to the idea of being an almost-human all my life. I hope that most of our people could have this operation and that things will change in our world. I’m… I’m as terrified as you are Sylvester. For the first time in my life, I’m actually dying of fright.
– Paul, Sylvester, being human is not that easy, that’s true, but from that time on, you’ll be free to love or not. This will be your choice. It’s priceless, says Beth.
– Believe me, we know that, answers Paul. Yet, it remains a huge step into the unknown for us.
– We’ll be there to support you.
– I’ve no doubt about this, Beth. Not even a single doubt, replies Paul.
A silence spreads through the room for a moment. The two future ex-almost-humans’ emotions are palpable. Christopher breaks the silence by saying,
– I have to go now. Lucia, you contact me as much as you want, ok?
– Yes, papa.
– So long my friends.
Everyone greets Christopher in their own manner and he goes away.
– Well, Sylvester, Paul, we’ve got to create a past for this young lady, an identity to live by in our century.
– We’ll manage that, Beth. But let her get settled a little bit first.
– Listen, I’ve got to go too, says Nelly. I’ll be back soon, Paul. We’ll stay in touch. I promise I won’t vanish this time. I left my transporter in the basement. It’s under an invisibility shield but it’s been there long enough now.
Nelly kisses Paul quickly on the cheek, greets all the others and goes away.
– So, I think we’ll go back to our place now, says the Major.
– Lucia, if you want, I can offer you my room, proposes Sylvester. I’ve a sofa in my painting studio. It so happens I’ve already slept there, so it won’t be a big change for me. If nobody objects, my room is yours. I know that Christopher entrusted you with his daughter, he explains to Beth and the Major, but we will leave the communication door opened, so she can just come here to sleep. The corridor leads directly to the room. She won’t disturb anyone here. What do you say, Paul?
– Yes, that’s true. From your place to Sylvester’s room there’s only a corridor.
– I planned to give her our living room sofa, but if Sylvester wishes to give his room… announces Beth. Do you agree, David?
– Sure, she’ll be better in a bedroom. Do you think we’ve got enough of those things called “pizzas” in our place that we all can eat together this evening?
– Oh, David, no. We won’t eat pizzas tonight. We brought back some meals from Frigellya given by the Queen and the King. We just need to reheat them, informs Sylvester.
– You know the Queen, we have enough food for a week, adds Paul. And we’ve got instructions to share this with you.
– Sorry, Lucia, but this evening we’re going to eat Frigellyan. For Earthling food, you’ll have to wait.
– I’ve got all my life in front of me.