Most of what the Major knew about Earthly society, he learnt in the very first days he arrived on the planet. Now that he knows he is going to meet Beth’s friends he rehashes all this in his head, going over every detail again and again. In the 25th century, he knows, Earthlings are classified into five groups of population at adulthood. As children, they are at level-0.
Level-1 is the minimum an adult can be. At this level they are granted a place to live, health care, higher education if they wish to pursue it, and a life card for everyday spending. Few people, however, content themselves with a level-1 life. With a level-2, the “services” level, a person’s life card offers more credits to spend, and people can choose apartments in better places. Level-3 is for those who dispense knowledge to others; level-4 is the science development and engineering level; and level-5 is the organizational level, encompassing security, justice, and food and energy management. There are not many differences in people’s life standing between level-2 and level-5, just a different training offer according to people’s life projects. However, level-5 was, for the Major, the most complicated to understand: all high responsibility jobs, but only for a relatively short period. Nobody could stay more than 10 years at this level, and this period was only for those with security jobs, which consist mostly in organizing emergency operations in case of disaster, and to maintain justice. For those in food and energy management, only 5-years missions were allowed. Beth tried to explain to him that these domains were the ones where innovation and new ideas were very important, and so couldn’t rely on the same group of people for very long. After their time served, level-5 people would naturally return to Level-3 to share their knowledge with level-5 mission applicants, or to level-4 to develop techniques.
There are two ways to obtain a level: apply to fill one of your district’s needs, or propose a life project. That was what the Major did for his fencing master activity. As he will be dispensing knowledge, he’ll officially become a level-3. For his military past, Paul and Sylvester gave him a level-4 identity (level-5 would have been trickier), as he was supposed not only to be a test pilot for a state-of-the-art flying craft, but to have a part in its improvement. Paul and Sylvester themselves, as they officially work for the spatial-travel center of the lottery, belong to level-4.
Beth, as a book illustrator, is granted level-2 status. She told the Major that her friends were all level-2s.
The Major was sorry to learn that Earth suffers from climate disturbances due to the thoughtless behavior of past humans, and that Beth’s generation was only the second after the Great Epidemic. As on Dalygaran, a deadly disease spread all over the world, making the global population decrease sharply. The survivors built a new society based on sharing. That was not very different from what happened on Dalygaran, thought the Major; even if people didn’t get any life cards, they could barter anything over there. And as sharing is the basis of Dalygaran society regardless, nobody misses out on anything essential.
The Major was very interested in living through the evolution of an alpha world. As he could see it, humanity was on its way toward the beta state. He had analyzed so many societies before, and here he was in what he felt to be an historic turn. But, over the past few days, his mind was not filled with history or analysis: the Major was anxious, and impatient, to meet Beth’s friends.
He, the service man who had many times gone undercover without hesitation, worried about making a good impression.
It was the beginning of his social life on Earth, and he didn’t want to stumble. As soon as he knew the date of their meeting, he bombarded Beth with questions, about Earth, about young people, about society, and general behavior. He wanted to know more and he was insatiable. Understanding what he felt, Beth explained to him that it was just a mission like any other, that he was used to this and he had no reason to fail. “Approach it this way,” she said to him. “You’re undercover on Earth, and nothing is unreachable for Major Moon Crystal.” The Major knew she was right, but it was the first time he was so personally involved, and this kind of premiere made him feel insecure.
Thus, with all he learned about Earth in mind, and equipped with the backstory they built together to explain how they’d met, the Major goes with Beth to his first meeting with her friends.
When they arrive at the Moonlight Café, they are not the first.
Sitting at a round table with three others, a young man calls out to Beth, raising his hand so she can see them easily.
—Hey, Beth. Long time no see. You almost disappear for a year and then tell us you’ve met the man of your life. You won the lottery of love this time. You’re an eternal lottery winner, guffaws the young man as he welcomes them.
—Er, yes, Tom. Hello, everyone. This is David. And this is Lucia; she’s living with us at the moment.
—Hi David, hi Lucia. Very pleased to meet Beth’s fiancé and er…
—Lucia’s my cousin, says the Major.
—A distant cousin, specifies Lucia.
—Yes, distant, confirms Beth.
—Ok, answers Tom. Welcome, everybody. That’ more simple, isn’t it? May I introduce you to the others? This is Rose, these are Patrick and Sarah, and the one who’s just arrived is Emily.
Rose, Patrick and Sarah nod and smile.
—Hello, says the Major.
—Hello, says Lucia.
—Hello, everyone. Very pleased to meet all of you. It’s been such a long time. Sue and William told me they will be here a little late. Jon’s not here yet? wonders Emily.
Beth signals a no and again presents David and Lucia.
—Let’s take a seat, proposes Beth.
—So what’s the great news you have to tell us about? wonders Rose. It certainly has to do with this charming man you came with. You told us in your message he’s your fiancé … she teases pointing the Major.
—Maybe we should wait for the others, answers Beth mischievously.
At this moment the waiter approaches. Peter tells him they are waiting for some other people, and he goes away.
—Sue and William really don’t know what time they can be here. They told me they would be between 30 and 40 minutes late, adds Emily. We’re not going to wait so long to hear about your great news, are we? Unless you really wish to torture us… Hey, here is Jon.
And once again Beth makes the introductions. When she is finished, all eyes turn on her.
—Ok, ok, I’m going to tell you. David and I … we’re getting married.
—Wow! Beth Smith is getting married. Who would have guessed that one year ago? Jon teases.
—You know, David, you’re a lucky guy, adds Tom. Before you, there was nothing else but the stars and the planets. Space travel was her obsession. She was always trying to bring us to this museum…
The Major laughs, before proposing,
—The Spatial Museum, hey?
—Yes, that’s the one, confirms Tom.
—We met there, affirms the Major.
—Yes, last year, when I started my space-travels, adds Beth.
—But you’ve stopped travelling, haven’t you? asks William.
David, Beth and Lucia look at each other, as the others stare at all three.
—Er, yes. I was contaminated during one of my travels, something in the gas, and after that I stopped.
—Wow, that’s weird. Are you all three communicating mentally? The look you gave to each other before Beth answered, it was just strange, as if you know something we don’t, jokes Tom.
—Don’t talk nonsense, answers Beth quick as a flash. We’re just living under the same roof, that’s all.
And she giggles hoping her friends won’t hear it is nothing more than a hollow laugh.
—Oh, look at this guy who’s coming, whispers Rose. He’s so cute. Is he coming toward us?
Lucia turns to discover whom she’s referring to, then turns her head to briefly glare at Rose.
Jon whispers quietly in Rose’s ear, “Private ground.”
Sylvester comes and stands just behind Lucia.
—This is Sylvester, announces Beth.
The others greet Sylvester with some “His” and “Hellos”. Sylvester just nods, and says,
—Lucia, I’ve got something to tell you. Please, will you come with me outside?
And he holds his hand out to her. Lucia turns to face him. He smiles at her, his hand waiting in the air for hers, and his look begs for her approval. She puts her hand in his, stands up, and they both go out of the café.
—Wow, he hardly even saw us. They make a lovely couple. Are they getting married too?
—What? No! says Beth without thinking.
As she can see her friends’ surprised looks she adds,
—Er, in fact, I don’t know.
—I wouldn’t be surprised if those two one day … begins the Major.
—Really, says Beth. So fast?
—Remind us, whose cousin is she? teases Peter.
—Since I’ve known her, she’s been like the little sister I never had, Beth says as an apology.
—Hey, we were talking about a wedding, intervenes Emily. So, do you already have a date?
—We know it will be in about three months. We’re doing the administrative part now. As a wedding needs a representative of the district to be celebrated and validated, this doesn’t really depend on us. We’re waiting for an answer. As soon as I have the date, I will tell you all. You’re all invited. Rose, we’ve known each other since we were kids, so I thought you can be my witness.
—With great pleasure, she answers radiant.
—And you, David, you’ve got a witness too? inquires Tom.
—The Sylvester we just saw?
—Yes, that Sylvester. I don’t know any other Sylvester, by the way, he answers smiling.
—So, you two, tell us now how all this started? asks Peter.
Beth and the Major begin their story. They speak one after the other giving precise details and so quickly that the others have to be attentive to follow them.
—Hey, you two, it’s like you’re only one. It’s amazing, underlines Rose. You almost make me dizzy with your story so quickly told. Oh, I wish I could be so close to someone one day… I envy you, you know….
Beth and the Major smile. They didn’t even pay attention to the speed they told their story. Rose is right, it was like they were one. They will have to pay attention to this in the future thinks the Major to himself, not sure this was very human.
The group of young people goes on chatting joyfully when the Major announces,
—In ten days I’ll be opening a combat room.
—He’s a great fencing Master, says Beth enthusiastically.
—Have you learned how to fight?
—Yes, Rose. He teaches something very special. I really love it.
—And she learns fast, adds the Major proudly. Anyone among you fancy a try?
—Hey, why not? answers Peter.
—Can we just come and see what it is? I’m curious now that I know Beth seems to love it, says Rose.
—Everybody’s welcome to try, or to observe. It’s up to you.
—Great. I’ll be there, answers Peter. But where will it be?
—I’ll send you the details, announces Beth. Well, to all of you. You’ll do as you wish.
—Hey, here are Sue and William, sooner than expected, says Tom.
And it is another occasion to do the presentation, tell their story and answer another bunch of questions.
—And where are you from David? asks Sue.
—Let’s see if you can guess, teases the Major. I come from a densely wooded land, with not so many people live here.
—You worked as a service man, as I understood, aks William.
—Yes, that’s right.
—In a densely wooded land?
—Yes, that’s what I said.
—Great cascades and lakes?
—Old Canada. I’m sure. There’s a military base over there. They work on space travel.
—Old Canada, yes. I can’t say more, I’m afraid.
—That’s ok. If you nearly died there, it’s not a good memory to talk about anyway.
The waiter comes again, and this time the group is ready to order.
—White Stars for everybody? says William joyfully.
—Er, no, answers Beth.
—What? Are you pregnant? asks Rose, a large smile on her lips.
—What? Er, no. As far as I know, I don’t think so … stammers Beth
—No, it’s about me. I don’t drink beer, concedes the Major.
—The only alcohol he drinks is cider. The sweet one, clarifies Beth.
—I’m not used to alcohol. There wasn’t any where I lived, he adds.
—Wow. Even after work, you didn’t drink a little bit? wonders William.
—I can say my work relied upon mind control. So no alcohol at all. As I’m not used to it, there are few alcoholic drinks I like.
—Ok, so let’s say, ten White Stars, and one sweet cider then, announces William.
When he is back, the waiter lays down a glass in front of each of them. The price appears on the bill screen all around the table.
—It’s on me this time, announces Emily. I’ve been granted a level-3 since last week. I joined a teaching center.
Everyone joyfully congratulates Emily. After the payment is made, the Major asks,
—What do you teach?
—Almost everything, answers Emily. My special skill is scientific pedagogy and popularization. I collaborate with our researchers and engineers to make their work understandable for others through learning units.
—Emily is the head of the group. She can understand so much, says Jon admiringly.
Emily smiles at him. Beth for the first time realizes the feelings those two have for each other. It is so obvious with her Dalygaran abilities to see it. She is certain that they never go out together, though. Being human is sometimes being completely blind, she says to herself.
—Last time we came here, we talked about space travel, says William. What do you think about mind travelling, David; seeing without being seen, is that not a bit immoral?
—That’s just the beginning, answers the Major. One day, we’ll have the technology to travel with our bodies. There will be no need to travel without being seen anymore.
—You’re a great optimist. Space travelling encounters limits, and those limits are about physics. Mind is the only way to travel so far…
—Just have a look at Earth’s history. One century ago, space travelling was just a dream. Humanity tried to build bases on the Moon and on Mars before. This did not last very long because they were dead worlds. Then, travel by mind was discovered, and it changed everything. Now humanity knows that out there, there are worlds with beings and civilizations. What would it be like when humanity finds a way to meet those civilizations? A new era will begin.
—Oh, David, you’re a great dreamer.
—Oh no, not me—humans. If humanity had not dreamt of the stars, never would it have discovered how to travel with the mind. Things are discovered because things are searched for. It happens sometimes that one discovers something one has not searched for, but it has nevertheless always been while searching for something. Humans are eternal seekers. And how about other civilizations; what if they are seekers too? One day, whole sectors of the universe will communicate.
—Are you serious? asks Peter.
—Absolutely, answers the Major with a large smile.
—I want to believe our future will be like this, announces Beth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
—Let’s imagine we meet new civilizations, what about belligerency? What if these worlds don’t want peace? What if these worlds want to conquer? asks Rose.
—What if these worlds want to share, what if these worlds want to learn? answers the Major.
—Oh, you really are an incorrigible idealist, retorts Rose. How can you expect those civilizations to be peaceful?
—Maturity? I hope this is where every civilization is going, says the Major softly.
—I hope you’re right, adds Peter.
During this conversation Beth is thinking about what the Major told her one day.
According to him, people travel only when people are ready, and they are ready when domination and competition is out for their heads. The technology needed to travel across the universe demands huge cooperation. Conquering worlds couldn’t reach this level because their model is competition and competition just leads to dead ends. All this he couldn’t explain today to her friends.
—Well, it won’t be tomorrow that humanity reaches maturity, sighs Rose.
—Our drinks are going to get warm if we wait too long. Cheers, says Beth.
—Cheers, answers everybody
Meanwhile in the park, Sylvester and Lucia walk hand in hand…
—Sylvester, you said you wanted to talk to me, but since we left the café, you’ve been silent.
Sylvester stops walking and faces Lucia without letting go of her hand. In a whisper he says,
—I love you.
And then, still holding her hand, he goes on walking. Lucia pulls his arm to make him stop.
—What did you say?
—Lucia, I need to find a seat. My legs are like cotton wool and I feel dizzy. Please…
Lucia, suddenly worried, looks all around.
—There’s an empty bench other there. Let’s go.
When they are seated, Lucia speaks,
—Sylvester, what happened to you? You look so pale.
—Emotions. I’m not used to so much emotion. Being so brutally human just makes me sick. I’m sorry. I’m terribly sorry. When I see you, I’ve got the sensation I’m in a storm. My heart is beating full speed. I need to learn how to tame all this… I…
—Shhhh, Sylvester, calm down. Paul told me a bit about what it was like being almost-human. But I know that love was something you weren’t able to feel before being operated on, that almost-humans couldn’t have any sexual lives, and…
Lucia stops as she can see Sylvester’s eyes open wide.
—Brussels sprouts, he mumbles.
Sylvester does not give an answer. He just closes his eyes during what seems to Lucia a very long time. When he opens them again, he smiles at her and says calmly,
—All my apologies to have run away earlier, when I arrived from Frigellya.
—Please, don’t. All this is my fault. I shouldn’t have thrown myself like that into your arms. That was childish…
—That was lovely…
Sylvester and Lucia hush, looking intensely at each other, their heads irresistibly leaning toward one another. They kiss gently, but briefly.
—Sylvester, you’re shivering.
—It doesn’t matter when you’re the one who makes me shiver, he answers while trying to smile.
Lucia shakes her head.
—Sylvester, those emotions, they must not hurt you. You don’t need to suffer. We’re going to follow your pace. We’re not in a hurry anyway. You decide how far you desire to go. If we just hold hands, it’s ok. Little by little, we’ll learn to know each other.
—I don’t know how much time it will…
—It doesn’t matter. I love you, Sylvester. I can wait.
And the two lovers sit for a while, forehead against forehead, just shutting their eyes, until Sylvester puts his arm around Lucia’s waist to make her sit closer to him. She leans her head on his shoulder, and that’s how they remain, silent, for another while, until Lucia speaks again,
—Sylvester, I have to confess, I was unable to have those kinds of feelings until I came back to Earth. I don’t know if it was because I was like an “almost-Frigellyan”, just living at their rhythm and not really being one of them, but boys out there left me indifferent. In any case, when one showed interest, it was the Royal Earthling he saw in me. I have always felt like a …
—Yes, exactly. The day I arrived on Earth, you were the first face I saw, and I my heart immediately started beating stronger. You were so nice to me.
—You looked so lost…
—Love at first sight, that’s what it was for me. I never had such strong feelings before.
—I wasn’t able to sense this. But you know, even as an almost-human, I already liked being with you. I liked seeing you every day, chatting with you, cooking with you, playing chess with you. I really didn’t question myself about this. It seemed so natural to me. Today, as a real human, I know that these moments are the ones that really count. I love being with you. I wish it would last forever…
—We’re at the very start of our story, answers Lucia smiling. I hope it will be a long and wonderful story, too.
—You know, the day I went with Paul to the Earthly-Dalygaran Territory inauguration on Frigellya, I had this feeling of being a sort of trophy, a kind of attraction because I was an Earthling. I appreciated the party, though, and do you know why?
—No, obviously not.
—Because I learnt how to dance, and I discovered I loved it. Next time, I just want you as my partner.
—Beth and David’s wedding! Will you come with me?
—Sylvester, I can’t. I’ll be already there. Not me, the kid… And my parents will be there too.
—Nobody will recognize you…
—You’re adorable. But…
—I won’t go without you, repeats Sylvester.
—You’re David’s witness. You have to go.
—I won’t go without you. We’ll find a solution. We always do. We’ll be together that day.
Lucia finally smiles.
—I would go with you with great pleasure, but let’s ask the bride and groom first. If they agree, I’ll go. Do we have a deal?
Again, forehead against forehead, they smile at each other. When they part, Sylvester puts a hand on Lucia’s cheek. He is obliged to remove it rather quickly, as soon as things begin to be less pleasant for him.
—We’ll go through this together, says Lucia softly, as she senses he is a little bit embarrassed. Don’t worry… Are we going to join the others in the café now?
—I’d prefer to go home. And you?
—Well, let’s go home. I’ll text Beth to tell her.
Lucia takes her phone out of her pocket to send the message to Beth.
—Let’s go now, Sylv, she says. Do you mind if I call you “Sylv”?
—And I’ll call you Luce or Lucy. I love Lucy.
—My brother and my sister call me Siah.
—Oh you’ve got a brother and a sister?
—Yes. Dad and mom had their own children, full little Frigellyans. I hope you’ll meet them one day. They are very nice and clever kids. I miss them.
—I understand. Even if I don’t really know what having a family means, I can guess.
—Maybe we can visit them…. Sylv, I think I can tell you that you’re allowed to go all over the other planets. This story of Earthly-Dalygaran Territory has been over for a long time…
—It always exists, and nobody is going to end it as long as my parents are alive. And I’m sure it will survive them too. But you can go anywhere you want; well Paul used to, the older one I mean. This will happen after Beth and David’s wedding. As the new Queen, mom asked for the revision of your sentence. You were sentenced to stay on Earth, in an era far away from yours. The Earthly-Dalygaran Territory where you’re allowed to go is on a planet with a different time, and this is not your fault, Paul’s or yours. Not allowing you to go outside this territory is like sentencing you to be locked up somewhere, and that was not the term, nor the spirit of the sentence. She obtained a change so that you can go everywhere on Frigellya, at any time to meet people you’ve known since the day you were sentenced, because of the existence of the Earthly-Dalygaran Territory over there.
—Well, as soon as this decision will be taken and Paul and I are notified here, we’ll go together to meet your family. I promise.
He hugs her softly and briefly, before taking her hand and going out of the park.