Sylvester comes out of the living room into the kitchen almost slamming the door. He looks very annoyed. Noticing the presence of Beth, he tells her in an irritated voice:
—Benedict is one of our kind.
In front of Beth’s wide eyes and the light shake of her head, Sylvester instinctively turns to the opposite side of the kitchen.
—Hi, Sylvester. What do you mean by one of your kind? asks Rose.
—We just came by to pick up some stuff for cooking, apologizes Beth. You know, as we eat almost every meal here, there’re little at my home now for any decent cuisine. Rose and I want to try to make chocolate cookies. I really need to eat chocolate. She brought some with her but we don’t have enough flour…
—Help yourself, answers Sylvester.
Rose looks at them flabbergasted. She insists:
—Sylvester, tell me. What “kind” do you think you and Benedict are? Is Benedict here?
As Sylvester does not give any answer, she walks through the kitchen and pushes the living room door open before he has time to react. Beth can see him putting a hand on his face.
—Benedict is with Paul, he whispers.
—Where you left him. I suppose his mind is still in Dalygaran. Don’t let her enter the room where he is… you know…?
—She wants answers. If we don’t give her some, she will be upset.
—I’m not the one to calm her. I need to relax myself. I’ll go to my studio and do some painting.
Beth heads to the living room. It seems that Rose has already asked the question about Sylvester and Benedict’s kind. And knowing Rose, Beth guesses she won’t stop asking until someone gives her a plausible answer.
—Well, considering his irritation at sharing his kind with you, Ben, I assume this is not something good. So, once more: what – is – your – kind?
—Rose, we just came for some flour, we’d better leave it at that, Beth tries to interpose.
—You know the answer, don’t you?
—Why does nobody want to tell me anything?
—My kind is unable to have feelings like … love, Benedict finally says.
—Oh, I’ve never heard such a lame answer. Is this all you’ve found to explain your behavior with me?
—Do you really think I would make up such an explanation?
Benedict’s voice is beginning to rise up with anger.
—Don’t talk nonsense, Ben. Sylvester lives the perfect love with Lucie.
—He is telling the truth though, says Paul softly, trying to ease the tension.
—So, you’re in the loop too, exclaims Rose, far from being quelled. I’m the only one here who doesn’t know what all this is about.
—I told you, but you’re not listening. You’re making it all about you. It isn’t!
—Hey what’s going on here?
—David, I thought you were visiting your father.
—It’s been delayed, lies the Major. And with his most charming smile he adds:
—Rose, how are you?
—She is upset and she’s not going to be placated, explains Beth, who has meanwhile come closer to him.
—Upset about what?
—Not getting answers!
—Benedict’s nature, clarifies Paul. Rose has heard something and now she’s wondering what it is about…
—Oh, I see.
—Wonderful. Why don’t you tell me, then?
—Beth, this is your friend, this is your choice, says the Major in an even tone. Should I do something?
—Please don’t. I’ll handle it. Rose, you come with me. You want the truth, you’re going to have it all. All, she repeats gazing at the others.
Beth takes Rose by the arm and goes out of the room, leaving Paul, Benedict and the Major alone to speak.
—Sylvester’s not here?
—Well, he was not pleased to hear what I had to say. He left the room, after he learned I was the one who found him and Paul and informed our world.
—He is just seven, says Paul, pointing to Benedict with his chin. Conditioned to chase his own kind through time and space.
—Guys like me are called hunters. We work alone, not in pairs like the other almost-humans. I didn’t tell you everything last time.
—Oh, but you told me so many things, David says sarcastically.
—I felt like a mouse in front of a big cat. Do you know how he succeeded in making me tell him the truth? Benedict addresses to Paul pointing the Major.
Paul shakes his head.
—He proposed a private lesson. We were alone in the fighting room. And he really taught me some amazing things that evening. At the end of each technique, he just said a few words, engaging the conversation. I’m sure now he was evaluating me. At the end of the session, I was very tired, and grateful, and this was the moment he chose to really begin the interrogation. This guy blew hot and cold at full speed. I was stunned. I almost screamed out that I was an almost-human to make him stop. Telling him the truth was a relief. Better not be his enemy.
—Sure, confirms Paul.
—When he asked me to come and tell you and Sylvester everything, I was in no capacity to refuse.
—Whatever you’ve done, we’re not enemies, Benedict. Coming here to tell us the truth was the right thing to do.
—Sylvester doesn’t seem to share your opinion.
—Between the two of us, Sylvester is the more … er … emotional. But he is also kind, and soon he won’t blame you anymore. He needs a little more time, that’s all. You’re just a kid, like he was when I met him.
Turning to the Major, he adds:
—Given his young age, it can be said the conditioning didn’t fully work on him…
—Yes, it seems he left enough clues behind so that your contacts at the edge of time could know there was something about to happen, and it allowed you two to escape in time.
—Yes, we were at this point when Sylvester rushed out of the room, upset. Then Rose showed up and confronted him. You know the rest.
—Well, I suppose you’re waiting for me to go on now.
—Indeed, answers Paul.
—Ok. When you came back to Earth in the 25th century, I was asked to become a member of your circle. David was the one with whom I got along immediately. And I can assure you my reports were mum about your new status, being parents and all or Sylvester’s having a lover. I’ve said nothing about Nelly, either. I know she’s one of us, but she is not the one I’m on a mission to find. I think it’s time for me to disappear. Sooner or later, they’ll suspect I’m not so loyal to them. I don’t think it’s the case for the moment, but I prefer not to wait for it to happen.
—Well, it’s simple: you must die, says the Major.
Even Paul gives him a surprised look.
—Seriously, for everybody’s sake, both here and at the edge of time. As your reports say nothing special, there is a chance they won’t bother sending anybody else. But if you just disappear like a common undergrounder, your successor will be sent soon. You need to die… Officially.
—He’s right, confirms Paul, finally. Sylvester is the one who will make this real to the world. He’s gifted at creating fake destinies.
—I know. I’m a great admirer of his talents. But I wonder… Rose… will she be briefed about this?
—Beth decided to tell her all. I’ve no doubt all means “all”, even if it hasn’t happened yet, replies the Major.
—I really don’t know what I should do with her, confesses Benedict. I think I hurt her. I didn’t want to. But the fact is I can’t feel love… I have no desire at all.
—Being an almost-human does not mean you don’t have any desires. But if you give way to them, you just sense nothing. It’s like being in front of an appetizing meal and having no ability to appreciate its taste.
—I see. But if I had felt desire, I should have recognized it, am I right?
—Absolutely. If you had had any, you would have known. You’re still very young; that may be the point. I was twice your age when I met Nelly. And I can tell you, I had no doubt about what was at stake between us. We were both very frustrated about it, in fact.
—Being human opens many doors to suffering, doesn’t it?
—It opens many doors to strong feelings, good and bad. But it’s worthwhile, believe me.
—I’ve heard of an operation for us to become human. You obviously got it. I have the result in front of my eyes. You and Nelly, you’re going to be parents.
—The first among all former almost-humans, says Paul proudly. And we won’t have to wait long now. Nelly is about to give birth. We agreed it was safer to have the baby on Frigellya. She’s already there. I will join her after we’re finished here. I’ll ask her to put you in touch with the undergrounders. You’ll need a place to hide while you are dead.
—Well, I’m not sure I’m in a hurry…
—You decide. Remember this needs to be planned, insists Paul. I’ll talk to Sylvester.
—David, may I ask you a question?
—What made you realize I was not who I pretended to be? Why did you decide to question me, finally?
—It’s something that came up with Beth a few days ago, while we were talking about you. We were both sure you don’t love Rose. You just like her, even though you never rejected her when she made tender gestures toward you. She was legitimate to think you shared her feelings. But we knew they weren’t at the same level.
—Yes, Rose and I argue about this. I wasn’t aware of what it really was. I appreciate her. I would have let her do anything she wanted to. But tell me, how could Beth and you know such intimate details?
—We’re kind of empathists. It’s an ability we have that no other humans have. We can feel people’s moods and emotions. And we were both sure you only like her.
—You’re not what you pretend to be, either. You’re a friend to two Epsilons, knowing what they really are, and you’ve got abilities no other human has. And so does Beth. Seriously, what are you?
—Seriously? I’m their creation, he says pointing to Paul.
Paul laughs at the sight of Benedict’s face.
—His body is human and had been created by undergrounders in our era under our instructions, but his mind is not.
—I was about to die, not being able to get back into my own body on my own planet…
—You see, whistles Benedict. A Dalygaran. Peaceful people, as far as I know.
—And I was given this body, the nearest my mind could slip into.
—I would have never guessed Beth and you were Dalygarans.
—You’ve got the same abilities though.
—It’s a long story. I’ll tell you everything before you die.
—You really want me to.
—I do, yes. It’s our best chance to get rid of hunters from the future.
—I get it. So, from my behavior you deducted I was an almost-human.
—I deducted that I had to ask questions.
—Oh, this you did very well.
They all laugh together.
—I think I have to talk with Rose now, sighs Benedict.
—I’m going to see if she and Beth are done. I’ll bring her out to you, proposes the Major.
Meanwhile, Beth and Rose speak.
—I’m all ears, says Rose when she and Beth are in the young couple’s bedroom.
Beth rummages in a chest and brings out some drawings.
—Is that paper? wonders Rose.
—Oh, yes it is. If you find this surprising, wait till you see what’s coming next… You already know this place…
—Yes, it’s Proxyterra. You visited it during the space travel you did thanks to the lottery.
—I went much farther.
—Really? Why didn’t you tell us anything?
—My memory was temporarily erased and when I recovered it, I just couldn’t anymore.
—Yes, erased. Let’s see some other drawings. Explanations will come in their turn. I need you to trust me now… This is Midnight and its amazing underground world.
—And it’s far, far away. But I even got farther than that, where no 25th century human had ever gone before.
Beth puts her index finger to her mouth to ask for silence, and brings out a drawing of the Great Cascade, and some of other Dalygaran places.
—This is Dalygaran.
And Beth tells about her arrival there and the days that had followed.
—If we weren’t friends for so long, I would think you’re mocking me. It seems like such a cock-and-bull story… You, in a man’s body. An alien one. And all these stories about names…
—Ok, ok, go on…
And so Beth does.
—What?! Your body was a travel machine?
—Yeah, that surprised me too, believe me. But I loved the sensation.
As she describes her departure from Dalygaran, Beth is interrupted again.
—This Major, even if you looked angry with him, you fancied him, didn’t you?
—Well, it’s complicated.
Rose opens her wide eyes, when she learns who had actually erased her friend’s memory.
—The two Smiths are Epsilons? Do they have this kind of right, erasing people’s memory?
—It’s not about rights Rose, it’s about duty. I would have been exposed if I had talked. And yes, before having gone to Dalygaran, I was not aware it could be dangerous for me to tell my story. We’re an Alpha world, not ready to learn about more advanced worlds.
—Do you really believe what you’re saying?
—Oh, come on, Rose. Here space travelers are considered, at best, sweet dreamers, but most of the time people think they are just a little mentally off… A part of the population even believes all this is just a legend for morons looking for wonders, and ready to buy anything that is given to them. That’s our world today, Rose.
Rose looks down as if she was guilty of something. She finally says:
—You’re right. Space travelers haven’t gotten good ink here. Er, Beth, Paul and Sylvester are Epsilons. Do they share this with Benedict?
—It’s what I understood from Sylvester’s remark. But they share something else, I think. Something more than belonging to a much more advanced world. It’s about where they’re from, and their natures.
—Are they aliens?
—No, not them.
—How’s that, not them?
—Rose, you should see you face, guffaws Beth.
—Are you mocking me?
—No. I swear I’m not. Rose, what I told you previously is not the most extraordinary thing that’s happened to me. Let me go on, and you’ll understand soon…
Rose nods and Beth starts from the day she received the Major’s message during her sleep.
When she speaks of his death, Beth can see a tear running down her best friend’s cheek. She is not interrupted during all the telling of the quest for the morning star. Rose looks like she is knocked out, mouth opened and nodding from time to time. Beth takes a pause after she is back on Earth, after having brought the morning star to Dalygaran.
—Rose, talk to me.
—Well, I think I need something strong. Do you still have that terrible, old-fashioned thing?
—You know that terrible drink you made me taste once.
—It’s not terrible. It’s whisky. It’s a scarce spirit. Are you sure you want some?
—A hundred percent sure.
Rose drinks down her glass of whisky.
—Rose, I’m not sure…
—Beth, please. I need it.
And she downs her second glass of whisky.
—Now, I’m listening. What’s next?
—Well, considering your state, maybe we’ll go on another day.
—Beth, I’m in a normal state after what I’ve learned.
—Rose, you’re in shock.
—Yes, I am.
—What I’m going to tell you is going to be very … well, it’s almost unbelievable.
—I said: I’m listening.
—Better show you.
And Beth takes the portrait she made of the Major, his Dalygaran face beside his human one.
—Is this David?
—Yes, and beside him, this is Major Moon Crystal.
—This is a Dalygaran, with no hair? You told me Dalygaran men have long hair that is braided…
—There’re not so different from us, hey?
—Don’t you notice anything?
—Oh, is there something to notice then? No. Why did you draw them side by side?
—Look at their eyes.
—Dark grey. Rare color for eyes. Both. Amazing.
—Now, take a look at the whole face.
—I have no idea what you… Oh. I see. There are some likenesses in their facial features. It’s light, but there. Indeed. And then? It’s just chance, isn’t it?
—David and Major Moon Crystal are the same person.
—You’re kidding me.
—How? How is this possible?
—The two Smiths. They did it. I told you the Major came to talk to me when I was asleep. He really came. Well, his mind did. But as he was seriously ill, he didn’t have the strength to go back to his own body on his planet.
—You already told me that. He died that day.
—That was what I thought. But the two Smiths decided differently. When I was looking for the morning star, I met them two months before the Major delivered his message to me, from their viewpoint. As they hadn’t travel in time, unlike me, it hadn’t happened yet. That’s what time travel can do: someone’s past becomes someone else’s future. They had time to build him a body, knowing exactly when he will come.
—They asked other Epsilons living in a more advanced world to do it for them. They are able to create empty bodies and choose what mind to put inside.
—Who are they?
—I’m coming to it, I promise. Don’t you want to know how Major Moon Crystal became David Crystal?
—Of course I do.
—The night the Major came to see me, the two Smiths got a body ready for him. I have no idea how they communicated with him. I didn’t ask. But they proposed to him to stay on Earth in a human body they’d specially prepared for him. They warned him he was not strong enough to get back to his world. He was so weak; he took the chance he was given. The two Smiths were not sure he would survive. But he did. I can’t describe to you my feelings when I saw him.
—Oh, don’t tell me you believed it immediately when they told you who he was.
—They didn’t tell me anything. I recognized him.
—What?! This time you’re messing with me.
—Rose, be sure I’m not. I knew who it was. So many strange things happened to me. I just thought it was another strange ability. I was so happy to see him alive. He taught me later how it was possible that I had recognized him under his new shape.
—I’m impatient to learn it, too.
—It’s the bond. It’s something Dalygaran. It is how love expresses itself on this planet. When two people are bound, they can feel the presence of the other, even if they’re out of sight. I had no idea we were bound, he never let me know he loved me too… Do you need another drink?
—What? Er, no I’m fine. I’m just thinking how practical this is, this bond. You have no doubts about the feelings of the other.
—I’m not sure a Dalygaran will see it the same way…
—I try to imagine, how it could ease relationships between people.
—Well, in Dalygaran people can also be unsure. And there’s only one way of not letting the other know: hiding one’s feelings. That is the slippery side of this ability. Love must be a complicated thing everywhere in the universe.
—Between David and you, it’s so crystal clear though…
—Well, it didn’t start that way, I confess. The first thing I did when I realized who he was and when we were left alone was to slap him, so strong that he rubbed his cheek.
—All the deception I felt when I thought he betrayed me on Dalygaran came back to the surface. You should have seen his eyes. No anger, not even a hint of suffering, just a damned willpower. A few words from him, and he got me. After he explained the bond, we kissed. And that’s how our love story began.
—The two Smiths, they changed your life.
—Yes, they are amazing. But at that time I was far from guessing what they really were. Let me tell you the rest of the story… Oh, David’s coming…
Knocks on the door can be heard, and David passes his head through the doorway.
—Are the two of you finished? he asks.
—That’s creepy. You really don’t need to see him to know he’s here.
—She does not know who the two Smiths are yet.
—But I know who you are Major Moon Crystal.
—Dalygaran is the world I came from. But I’m human now. Well, I try to be. But if you’re interested, I could talk about my world with you some day.
—When you’re finished, Benedict would like to speak with Rose.
—You can stay with us, proposes Rose.
—I’m just about to tell the two Smiths’ story. Maybe you can help me.
And Beth starts with the two Smiths running away from Earth and arriving on Dalygaran with a Frigellyan transporter, while she and David were having dinner with their friends.
Rose laughs at the story of their abduction, especially of the way Beth mocked the little man who talked to them.
—Almost-humans? It was what they were looking for…
—Is it what the two Smiths are?
—And Benedict too?
—Yes. And Benedict told you the truth. An almost-human can’t feel love. His feelings are curbed.
—How is this possible?
Rose is horrified when she learns how almost-humans are made.
—How could humans do this to other human beings?
—We agree, it’s terrible, and we’ll fight this. Well, our future selves are going to. Another story, maybe not for today.
—Just a last thing. Obviously Paul and Sylvester can love. Why?
—They underwent surgery. They were transformed into full humans.
—This is possible?
—I don’t believe it.
—It’s understandable, says the Major.
—Rose, it’s Epsilon technology. Far beyond anything you can imagine.
—I guess. Why is Benedict not transformed yet?
—This is unofficial technology, created by some almost-humans gone underground. I think Benedict will soon be able to benefit from this technology.
—David, Beth, will it change our relationship, Benedict’s and mine?
—Rose, you really need to talk to him now, answers the Major.
—I’ll tell you the rest of our story another day. I can feel you’ve had enough.
—I won’t argue with you this time. Let’s go and see Benedict.
Benedict and Rose alone
—Ben, I’m so sorry for what I said…
—I’m not sure I’m happy you know all this. She told you I am an almost-human, didn’t she?
—Yes. And lots of many incredible things.
—If they’re incredible, why do you believe them?
—Beth is my best friend…
—Even friendship sounds so weird to me…
—Ben, you can tell me everything…
—Really? Do you think it’s easy for me to stand in front of you, not knowing how feelings work, fearing to hurt you each time I open my mouth?
—Rose, you and I, it’s so complicated. Paul thinks I would be able to feel desire when I’m older, but not now… With you, I’m in uncharted waters. Do you have any idea of my age?
—I opened my eyes for the first time seven years ago.
—Beth didn’t tell you we’re born adults?
—Yes, but I didn’t realize what it really meant. You’re seven?
—I am. Like humans, almost-humans’ personalities build up over years. The first five years, we’re all in the Personal Development Center. But there’s nothing personal about it. It’s just conditioning. We’re bound to be time travelers, and it’s how we’re raised. Our natural abilities are tested and evaluated. It’s how I became a hunter.
—My prey are almost-humans that ran away in time and space. I was assigned the mission of finding the two Smiths, and then to keep an eye on them.
—You were spying them?
—Rose, there’s always a difference between what you’re assigned to do and what you really do.
—Oh, you didn’t do what was expected of you?
—Why should I obey those people? Runaways are supposed to put our world in danger, but that’s not what I observed. They’re not in the right place, it’s true, but am I? Nobody here, except for Beth, David and now you have the faintest idea of what they really are. I am certain none of you will do anything to put Paul and Sylvester in danger. And our world is safe. So my mission is meaningless. My world’s goal is clearly not a matter of danger. It’s a matter of control. So I decided to hide things I thought they shouldn’t know…
—You’ve shown maturity for a … kid.
—That’s our curse, that we’re never what we should be. Not really kids when we’re young, not really adults when we age. This is a messy in-between.
—It’s so unfair…
—It’s how it is. Paul says that adult almost-humans are not indifferent to the other gender. A man can have desire for a woman, but it stays very childish. We can’t feel love. Never. Affection. But not love. He says it’s something present though. And this is revealed as soon as we’re transformed into real humans. Except if you’re still a kid, like me. My feelings are not going so far.
—How can he know?
—He’s in touch with the undergrounders … the almost-humans who ran away. They’re organizing transformations, and they’ve observed this difference between very young almost-humans and others.
—Oh, it isn’t just a theory then…
—No, it’s reality. Rose, there is something else I have to tell you… I won’t stay here.
—What do you mean?
—I want to join the undergrounders. I want to help them. I’m a hunter. I have abilities to find people. I can help gather our kind so we can be stronger, to demand a stop to this. We’re only some hundred or so living in our time, but since we’ve been created, we’re thousands and thousands. We could be a force.
—I think you’re going to find some help among humans for this.
—This won’t happen.
—Almost-humans have allies. Trust me.
—You won’t tell me more.
—I won’t. Someone else will.
—You’re going back to your world, then?
—You didn’t answer my question.
—On purpose. You didn’t answer mine either.
—My world is all time and space, Rose. I’m not made to get stuck in an era, especially the one I’m born in. I’m a time traveler…
—Is that what you wanted to tell me, that you’re leaving…
—Yes, but there is something else…
—I have to die.
—David thinks it’s indispensable. And so does Paul.
—You’re not going to die, says Rose with a hint of anger in her voice.
—Of course I’m not. I just have to “officially” die, for everybody here, and for my world in the future. David thinks since I don’t report special things about the two Smiths, this could end their surveillance. But if I just disappear, they will send someone else.
—It’s only hypothetical!
—Yes, but it’s worthwhile, if it works. I can help them make everybody think I’m dead. I want to disappear anyway. I can make it useful, you see…
—This conversation, it’s a sort of good-bye then…
—Yes, Rose. I can’t stay.
—You can, but you don’t want to…
—I can do great things as a hunter for the undergrounders. I swear I appreciate you all, you, Beth, David, the two Smiths, Peter, Jon, Emily, William… You’re kind people. But this isn’t my world, this isn’t the life I want, you’re perfectly right.
—That’s ok, Ben. If it’s your destiny…
—I can see you’re sad.
—I’m human, Ben. I have feelings for you. I can understand your viewpoint. I can understand that between us this is something impossible. But there is a huge difference between understanding and accepting… This is my concern now, not yours anymore. I’ll overcome.
—It’s ok, I said.
He wipes away the tear running down her cheek.
—You don’t have to suffer because of me, he says softly. Please don’t.
With eyes brimming with tears she tries to compose the bravest face she can. She breathes deeply and says:
—These are my last tears for you, I promise.
—Except the day of my funeral…
Rose laughs and dries her tears with her hands.
—I will be a real crybaby.
They hug, laughing together.
—Rose Taylor, I’m so happy to have met you.
—Benedict Watson, it was a pleasure.
—How about having a drink outside? This conversation was a bit…
—Well, I came here to make some chocolates cookies with Beth. Would you like to try this with us? You’ll be famous far in the future for making killer biscuits.
She adds, lowing her voice mischievously:
—I’ve got a secret recipe.
—Do you think Beth would mind if…
—Beth is only interested in the result. She’s pregnant, and she told me she needs chocolate cookies. Rule number one: don’t upset a pregnant woman…
—Isn’t this a permanent rule with Beth?
—Oh come on, Rose. Have you ever seen her fighting with David in the fencing room? She’s fast and very talented. I saw her disarm him more than once. She’s formidable. He teaches her something, though: moderation and control. She’s obviously a hothead.
—Believe me. This is my hunter’s skill speaking. I quickly know who is in front of me.
—Those are not a kid’s words.
—It’s as I said before: never real kids, never real adults. That’s the reality of almost-humans.
—Are you interested in making cookies with us, eventually?
—I’d love to leave this era with some special memories of you, Rose. I don’t want to stay here, but I don’t want to forget you either. These cookies could be a part of you I bring with me, everywhere I’ll go. I’ll make them and think about you.
—Sold. You’ll have to teach me something too. Do we have a deal?
—Yes, we have. Let’s join Beth now, shall we?