The same day, sometime after the Major departed for Dalygaran.
– Hi, Paul. I’m at David and Beth’s place, aren’t I?
– Hi, Lucia. You’re indeed in the right place, don’t worry. David and Beth are at our place. I’m here to keep you company until they’re back.
– Are they travelling?
Paul looks at the young lady with surprise.
– I’ve known you a long time. I know how it works. They go from your and N… er Sylvester’s home by swallowing a pill.
– Only David has gone.
– They always go together…
– Not this time.
– What is Beth doing then?
– She’s drawing with Sylvester, in his studio. Would like to have breakfast?
– Yeah, I’m actually starving to death.
– Let’s go next door then. At least I know where things are over there. Follow me…
– Ok, let’s go.
They head directly to Paul and Sylvester’s kitchen. Paul gives Lucia fried eggs, toast, and an orange juice. It all disappears quickly.
– Hey, what an appetite! teases Paul.
– I ate little last time; I was bothered. Now that everything is clear with Dad, I feel better and I’m getting my appetite back. Tell me, as everybody seems to be busy, would you mind playing chess with me?
– You know how to play chess?
– Yes, you taught me.
– With the game Sylvester offered me.
– And why didn’t he teach you? He’s much better than me…
– Sylvester stopped going to Frigellya when I was a little kid. I’ve barely got a memory of him. Yesterday was like the first time I met him. He sent me a chess set for my 10th birthday, one of those like in the old times, with a wooden checkerboard and pieces, and a note with handwritten words saying he was certain I’ll fancy this game. So it was you who taught me to play.
– I have no old style board here, just a holographic one.
– We’ll make do.
A short while later, Beth and Sylvester discover a concentrating though somewhat put out Paul in the living-room.
– Lucia, you play chess, Sylvester notices.
– It seems that I was the one who taught her.
– The pupil has surpassed the master, teases Sylvester.
– Yeah, it seems to be a constant in my life, answers Paul, still concentrating.
– Really? Whom else did you teach to play chess?
– Me, answers Sylvester.
– He systematically defeats me since a long time ago, mutters Paul, meanwhile moving a piece.
– Checkmate! announces Lucia. It turns out I systematically win against you for a long time too. You prefer to play with Dad. You two get into never-ending games. Hey, Sylvester, would you fancy a match?
– Why not?
– Paul gets up to leave his place.
– In that case, I’ll go back to my drawing, says Beth. I’m going to your studio, Sylvester.
– Try the different colors with the pastels.
– Count on it.
– As for me, I’ll go back to my reading. Chess is hopefully a silent game.
When Beth comes back to the living-room a little later, the game is not yet finished.
– Nobody’s hungry? she asks
Paul raises his eyes and looks absently at the time displayed on the wall.
– Hey, it’s 12:30 already. Maybe you kids have to interrupt your game and take it up later…
– Is that us you call “kids”? asks Sylvester.
– I find it rather nice, replies Lucia.
– I’m not used to Paul being “nice”, answers Sylvester. It’s something new. I like it too.
Paul does not answer to Sylvester’s cutting remark. He gets up and heads to the kitchen.
– Pizzas for everybody? he proposes.
Everyone follows him into the kitchen, chatting joyfully. As the meal is finished, Beth announces,
– Well, Lucia and I, we’ve got to go home now.
When the two young women are on the other side of the communication door, Lucia tells Beth,
– Sylvester is a formidable opponent in chess.
– Maybe. I can’t stand that game. It’s much too long, answers Beth.
– I wonder why he stopped going to Frigellya, while Paul goes there regularly.
– I don’t know. Anyway, neither of them can really go anywhere outside the palace that is not considered Earth and Dalaygaran territory.
Lucia does not answer immediately.
– Things are going to change, you know, she ends up saying as they arrive in the living-room.
– Ok, says Beth, who knows that Lucia can’t say more.
After a moment of silence Beth asks,
– Do you want to do something special today?
– Yeah, there is something I really want to do, but I don’t know if…
– Say it anyway.
– I’d like to see my mother, Helena.
– You’ve got a transporter…
– And yours? Is it still on the landing?
– No, Dad decided to take it back with him. He must have merged it with his. He knows there’s one here. “No need to start a collection,” he said to me.
– You don’t have any memories of your mother, do you?
– None. It’s why I would like to see her.
– I don’t know if we can…
– We’ll stay hidden. Please…
– Is that really what you want to do?
– That’s what means most to me.
– Well, I know the coordinates of the day I met her. You must have been six months old when I saw you with your parents. Let’s go nine months before then. Your mother would have already been pregnant with you and living with Christopher.
– Do you think I could meet my biological father before he died?
– Lucia, we don’t really know who he is. We’ll have to do some research about him….
– Ok. It’ll be great if I could see my mother at least.
– The transporter is in the storeroom. Just one person can enter it. I’ll bring it to the living-room for us to go together.
– I’ll wait for you here, then.
When the transporter arrives, Lucia takes her place beside Beth and the two girls go. Beth chooses to land in the grove just near Christopher and Helena’s house.
– We should have taken a zoomer, says Lucia.
– Wait a sec, there’s a box just behind me. I think we’ll find one inside.
Without hesitation Beth turns around and opens an invisible trap door. She extracts from there a Frigellyan zoomer, which consists of a 12-inche tactile screen and a telescopic pod with a fixation pad. She installs the screen on it, hammers the pod solidly into the ground, and sets it so that the screen is at eye level. Then she zooms in on the house with her fingers running on the screen.
– Just wait and see now, she says.
Suddenly they hear a noise behind them, followed by a scream.
– Who are you and what’s this … outfit?
Beth, recognizing Helena’s voice, hides her face behind the screen as she urgently removes it from the pad. She whispers in Lucia’s ear: “It’s her! She must not see me.”
– Don’t stay here, Madame. My friend is ill, her face is, er… deformed. You had better get away from her in view of your state.
Then Lucia takes Helena’s arm authoritatively to lead her a little bit away. As soon as Lucia is not in the transporter anymore, Beth changes time and her presence fades immediately from Helena’s mind.
Noticing Helena’s basket Lucia says,
– You were picking up mushrooms…
– Where do you come from with your strange clothes?
– Oh, I come from very far away.
– You frightened me.
– I didn’t intend to. I haven’t been here, in this area I mean, for long.
– What were you doing in the grove?
– I was doing just as you: seeking mushrooms.
– You’re a poor seeker, then. You almost walked on this beautiful boletus, says Helena as she walks back toward the grove to pick it up.
– Oops, sorry. I confess, I’m a beginner.
– You sound to me like one of those aristocrats that tries to get on well with common people, to get their knowledge about nature.
Lucia is very surprised by her mother’s remark. Is her princess’ lifestyle at the castle so obvious in her behavior? She answers quite offended,
– I’m not trying to get anything from you. I’m just a foreigner passing by, curious as to how people live in this part of the world.
– How people live? People don’t live here, but survive M’lady. I’m pregnant of a man dead from smallpox. And even if I didn’t get ill, the other inhabitants of the village chased me away, frightened that I’d contaminate everybody. I have to live with a strange man because he is the only one who accepted to put me up. What kind of future will this child have?
– Dad, a strange man?
– What are you saying?
– You’re talking about a strange man…
– The man who took me in, he doesn’t ask for anything in return. He earns our living. He gets away early in the morning, comes back with some small game, makes fire, cooks, and cares for my health. He doesn’t want any help.
– I’ve heard of him. He’s different indeed. But you can trust him.
– You’ve heard of him. But you said you came from very far away. Are you just a liar?
– Your husband was raised by a foster family who found him as a baby.
– How do you know this?
– I told you, I’ve heard of him.
– You practice witchcraft…
– What? No, of course not.
– He does. Everybody does as he says. When he asks for something, people always comply… And he’s not my husband.
Lucia knows about Frigellyans’ suggestive power over humans. She thinks, and then says,
– You’re right, I’m a liar. I come from the same place as he, and like him I’ve got powers. It’s why I know his story. And I can tell you that, if he hasn’t already done so, he will ask to marry you and adopt the baby.
– Why should he do this?
– Because he thinks everybody deserves a new start. He wants for you the quiet life you haven’t had thus far. He wants you to stop being frightened, to know that you don’t need to protect yourself from the others anymore. He wants your child to grow among a loving household, as happened to him before. He will do all that he can to build for you a peaceful life.
Lucia shivers as she pronounces these words, knowing her mother’s tragic end as she tried to protect her husband.
– I’m sure this man will give his life for me, and I don’t know why, answers Helena.
– Before your arrival, he was alone. You gave him a reason to live.
For the first time, Helena softens.
– That is what you think?
– I’m sure.
– I hope he’ll be good to my son.
– Your son?
– Yes, I haven’t got any powers like you, but I’m certain this little being growing inside of me is a boy. And he will be his father’s spitting image, answers Helena with emotion. I will call him Lucius, after him.
– He will treat your child well and will consider it as his. I can assure you of this.
– I so much feel like believing you.
– Believe me then.
Helena looks at her intensely.
– You’ve been sent by the Gods!
– The more I look at you, the more I find pieces of him in you.
– You look like him, my child’s father. Your face, it made an impression on me but I didn’t know why. I understand now. You’ve got his eyes and his mouth.
– Come into my arms.
Helena lets her basket drop and embraces Lucia tightly. Lucia lets herself go completely in her mother’s arms and bursts into tears.
– What is happening to you?
– I… I… didn’t know I looked like him…
– You’ve heard of my late husband too?
– I have, yes.
The two women hear a noise. It comes from the grove. Lucia understands that Beth is back.
– Stay here, I’ll have a look.
Lucia embraces her mother a last time and kisses her on the cheek before leaving her alone and running away. She quickly takes the free seat of the transporter.
– Please, just go, right now, she urges Beth.
Beth enters her flat’s coordinates, and as they rematerialize, Beth notices tears not yet dried on Lucia’s face.
– What happened while I was away? she asks.
– My mother told me I look like my father. She took me for God’s Messenger.
– You were in each other’s arms…
– I was surprised too, believe me. Our conversation started out as a disaster. There was so much contempt in her voice.
– What made her change her mind?
– I lied to her. I pretended to be a sort of prophetess. She ended up listening to me. I was a little bit ashamed, but that’s when she stopped rejecting me. Beth, I need to know what my father really looked like.
– Lucia, there should not have been any contact in the first place; and even if Helena is supposed to have forgotten you, your meeting with her has probably, somehow or other, made an impression on her mind.
– Maybe it helped her accept Dad’s proposal. She found him strange when they met, you know.
– Would a portrait of your father satisfy you?
– How could I get his portrait?
– I’ll do it…
– If you go and see him, why can’t I go with you?
– I’m going to look for him just with my mind, without a body. I need to be fast, and I will go alone. We’re going back to our neighbors’. I need a travel pill.
– It’s non-negotiable.
When they arrive at the two Smiths’ living-room door, Beth knocks.
– Come in, says Paul.
– Paul, I need a travel pill.
– 12 hours?
– I don’t plan to be away so long.
– I don’t have a shorter one.
– I know.
– Sylvester’s not here? asks Lucia.
– He has gone back to his studio.
– May I go and see him?
– Sylvester is always delighted to show his works, answers Paul.
Lucia vanishes from the living room.
– Are you going to Dalygaran?
– No, I’ll stay on Earth. I’m going to explore Helena’s past to find her first husband and then make a portrait of him.
– Travel without a body?
– Yes, exactly… What?
– Don’t you have something to tell me?
– Like what? That we went to see her mother?
– She was determined. I wanted to please her. Except that Helena literally bumped into us. She was looking for mushrooms in the grove we were hiding in to watch the house.
– There was direct contact?
– Direct as can be! I had to urgently go away for Helena not to see my face, and on my return I found Lucia in her arms.
– We will never know the consequences of this meeting on Helena’s fate.
– Lucia thinks it helped her mother accept Christopher’s proposal to marry her and adopt the child.
– This rapprochement contributed to her unfortunate end, reminds Paul.
– Never say this in front of Lucia.
– I’m not that stupid, protests Paul.
– I’m sorry. I’m being unfair. In fact, I’m really upset about myself. I know I shouldn’t have gone there with her. This is all my fault.
– Beth, you’ll never know what would have been Helena’s life if this meeting hadn’t happened. This was an era when people died young. The only certainty you’ve got is that you gave a son back to his family. And speaking of Lucia, she’s already lived a long life relative to all other humans, due to her Frigellyan-like development, but here she’s only a 25-year-old woman.
– It’s not necessarily the life she would have chosen.
– We’ll never know what she would have chosen.
– You’re right.
– Do you still want to see the father?
– Yes, I promised to draw her his face.
– All right, I’ll come back with the pill. Go and lie beside David.
– I’ll go.
When she arrives in the room where the Major is lying, she can’t help herself from caressing his face as a tear runs down her cheek.
– David, I did something stupid, she whispers.
– Don’t think about it anymore, says Paul who has just arrived behind her with the pill and a glass of water in his hand.
Beth sighs deeply, lies down and takes the pill. She is dying to join her partner and throw herself into his arms. But her travel-body is not available, and she would be just an improper mind in a world where it is out-of-place to come without a body. When her mind is freed, she goes directly to the past, to Mesopotamia, and methodically follows Helena from month to month backwards through time. As soon as she loses her, she goes back to the previous point, and follows her from day to day in an accelerated mode.
She sees Helena being chased from her village, and then she arrives on the day Helena’s husband kissed her for the last time before dying. “Fortunately, Lucia can’t see this,” she thinks. “It’s heartbreaking.” Beth is stricken by Lucia’s likeness to the man who will never see his child. She goes further back through time to see him in good health. She imprints the picture of the man in her mind and goes back to her body immediately. The entire journey lasts a little more than an hour. As she opens her eyes, David is no longer at her side. She stands up in silence and goes directly to Sylvester’s studio, where there is nobody but paper and pastels. She draws Lucia’s father’s face, and beside it Lucia herself. She lets instinct guide her hand. She draws almost as quickly as she usually does in her Dalygaran travel-body. In a quarter of an hour, it is finished. She takes the sheet of paper and goes to the living room where everybody is. She is still in a sort of trance, as though she has not really come back from the past. She holds her drawing to Lucia, then turns to her partner and collapses in his arms.
When she comes around, she is lying on one of the sofas in the living room and everybody is around her. The Major smiles at her.
– Once more, you went beyond your strengths. Beth, you need to learn how not to push yourself too hard.
– Shhhh, if you go on using your abilities at their maximum, you’ll collapse again. Take a rest.
Beth can see Sylvester holding the portrait she made for Lucia of her father. He silently articulates a “bravo”. Beth, still tired, tries to sit up. The Major helps her and takes a seat next to her. She leans her head on his shoulder and falls asleep, almost immediately. The Major softly strokes her hair.
– It’ll soon be dinner time; she’s going to be ravenous when she awakes, says Paul.
– Yes, that’s true, answers the Major, smiling.
– I’m going to prepare something, proposes Sylvester.
– I’ll come help you, says Lucia.
– Those two get along well, notices Paul.
As the Major smiles again at these words, Paul adds,
– David, I think Beth feels terribly guilty towards Helena. If she exerted herself without account, the explanation is most probably this one.
– I’ll talk to her. Our bond allows us to share our feelings. I’ll help her the best I’m able to. Time-travels are still new to her. By the way, I have something to tell her I’m not especially proud of either.
And the Major tells Paul about what happened with Very First Gold Ring Ray, at least his shenanigans to make her accept his proposal.
– I’m a little bit ashamed, he concludes.
– Let your human part take charge of this. You’ll see, it won’t last too long.
– It doesn’t work like that…
– David, you did what you had to do. You couldn’t go on being Chief Commander of the Dalygaran Army. That was non-sense according to the life you have today.
– I know.
– You chose the fastest way. Beth and you are not together by chance, at least. She’ll support you to help you understand your humanity.
The Major smiles. He continuously strokes his partner’s hair, unconscious of the action. She finally opens her eyes. He kisses her tenderly on her forehead.
– You slept just a little bit. Even recovering, you’re fast. Sylvester and Lucia went to the kitchen to prepare something to eat. Are you hungry?
– Quite, yes. David, who is “Very First Gold Ring Ray”? I have this name going round in my head. It’s Dalygaran, isn’t it?
– You must have heard Paul and I speaking about her while you were asleep. I’ll tell you everything in private after the meal, all right?
– In that case, everybody to the kitchen, concludes Paul. We’re going to see what Sylvester and Lucia concocted for us.
– Let’s go! says the Major.