Benedict jumps out of the armchair he was sitting in and walks toward the Major, calmly looking at him sitting in his.
—What? You have the ability of suggestion? Why didn’t you just ask me who I really was, instead of that destabilizing questioning in your fighting room?
—I needed to know who you really were. And I’m not talking about your true nature.
—A sort of evaluation, hey?
—Not sort of. Sit down.
Benedict goes to sit without protest.
—So, Benedict, you just went and sat down in the armchair you quit less than a minute ago. Do you think that is what you really wanted to do?
—You made me sit down?
—I wasn’t sure if suggestion worked on almost-humans. Now I do.
—This is a huge power you have over the people of Earth.
—That’s not how I see the situation. It’s more like an emergency button, to be used in an extremely critical situation.
—Like making me sit down, answers Benedict sarcastically.
—No. This was a demonstration to a friend. And if I had not told you I did it, you wouldn’t have even noticed anything. I’m just showing you what I usually refuse to do. It’s very easy for me. But it’s not my way of doing things.
—You have a curious way of treating your friends. I was strongly shaken that night in your fighting room.
—Maybe you deserved to be shaken, retorts Sylvester, sitting on the sofa nearby with Lucia by his side.
— Lucie, he spied on us, protests Sylvester.
—Well, offers the Major, as badly as it was possible for him to do so; that is, just enough to avoid arousing suspicion at the Edge of Time.
—Thank you, David.
—Anyway, Paul is going to join us in a few moments if everything’s ok with Nelly. Beth is a little sick, but she asked me to call her when Paul is here. So, we’re here to decide how you’re going to die, announces the Major, talking about Benedict’s impeding official demise.
—Well, Sylv, I’m not comfortable with this kind of … brainstorming. I’d rather do something else, apologizes Lucia as she stands to leave.
—Sure. You don’t need to stay here if you don’t wish it, answers Sylvester.
It’s a radiant Paul that arrives in the living room in a Frigellyan transporter.
—The doctors are positive: I’ll be a father tomorrow during the day. I might just have to cheat time a bit and join Nelly as soon as possible. I don’t want to leave her alone for too long.
—Paul, great to see you, welcomes Lucia. I’m going to leave you among the plotters here, she adds.
She lays a kiss on Paul’s cheek, and goes out of the room.
—I think Beth shouldn’t be long to join us, says the Major.
—You’re going to call her…, starts Benedict
—I already have, interrupts the Major. And I can tell you she’s just behind this door.
In fact, some light knocks can be heard and Beth passes her head through the doorway.
—Wow. Creepy. This is your silent thing, hey? asks Benedict.
The Major just smiles and stands up to give his place to his wife.
—You’re so pale. Wouldn’t you prefer to have a rest? he asks her softly.
—David, I can’t mind travel anymore, I’m stuck in that body for … 9 months; just under 7 remaining. I need some distractions.
—Oh, I’m happy you consider my death a distraction, protests Benedict.
—You’re not going to die, don’t be so dramatic, she answers with a light smile.
Benedict gives her a stiff look.
—We’re going to prepare a great multi-time hoax. That’s a challenge, don’t you agree?
Benedict turns to Paul, who just spoke these words, and sighs, and concedes:
—Well, I suppose we’re going to have a great time.
—First of all, this has to be an accident, the most stupid accident possible, with witnesses who are not us. We have to avoid everything that could make your death suspicious to your silent partners from the Edge of Time, announces the Major.
—Will they try to get back the body? wonders Beth.
—I’m a hunter. I’m here alone, but I have a fake family who would be the “close relatives” to be alerted in case of injuries or death. If I’m dead, my “family” will ask for a rapid cremation as they can’t be available in person. If, for one reason or another, there is a risk of an autopsy, or any other analysis, the body is simply “removed”.
—Well, we need to avoid these cases then, says the Major.
—How about a traffic accident, pedestrian and vehicle? proposes Sylvester.
—No, there would be an autopsy looking for some alcohol or narcotic. Vehicle makers keep statistics; since there are no drivers anymore, each accident is considered in detail. You know this, Sylvester… interjects Paul.
—Recovery of human remains and genetic analysis.
—Smashed under a building, or whatever can smash him?
—Falling from a roof?
—Investigation to be sure it was an accident.
—From a ladder?
—Bad slip on a banana skin?
—Well, Sylvester, your brainstorming is very interesting, interrupts Benedict. But do you think you could you just take a little less obvious pleasure in it?
—I’m just trying to be creative…
—Sylvester, intervenes Paul. I told you. He’s a kid. Like you were. He helped us in his own way. There’s no need to be unpleasant with him.
Sylvester hushes with a frown.
—This is not going to be simple. We must find something that won’t be questioned, or analyzed. I confess I have no idea yet, says Beth.
—Neither have I, concedes the Major. Benedict, you’re the primary concerned. Any ideas?
—If I had one, I would have told you immediately to avoid this… strange meeting. I…
The doorbell rings.
—I’ll go, mutters Sylvester, getting up to open the entrance door. He comes back with Rose.
—Hi, everybody, she says. I’ve come for Benedict, but I’m afraid I’m very early. I mistook my transportation reservation. So, here I am.
Everyone greets Rose with pleasure.
—Well, Rose, welcome to my death brainstorming party, announces Benedict with irony.
—You know I have to die, he answers more seriously.
—Yes, you told me. And you’re discussing it now? Among you all? wonders Rose.
—Yes, and I regret to inform you, we are stumped.
—Sylvester, please, sighs Beth.
—Oh, you two still haven’t made up? notices Rose pointing her chin to Sylvester and Benedict.
Sylvester shows a bit of shame at this remark. He lowers his eyes.
—What’s the problem? asks Rose.
—His death must not lead to any autopsy, genetic analysis, or any other investigation, and has to look as accidental as could be.
—Lightning? proposes Rose.
—Hey, Rose you’re a genius. This is an unpredictable event that kills half a dozen people in this area every year, exclaims Beth.
—Well, except it’s unpredictable, and I suppose very painful, objects Benedict.
—I thought you were a great admirer of Sylvester’s talents? says Paul softly.
—Are you? asks Sylvester.
—Yes, I am. You’re sort of a legend…
Sylvester raises his eyebrows showing a real interest.
—I read the court transcripts. You confessed some of your inventions… really brilliant.
—Paul and I had to give them something. Telling a part of the truth allowed us to hide the rest.
—They made your trial public at the Edge of Time. They thought it would discourage almost-humans from running away. They were completely wrong. Each time I was there, before I hunted you and before I came back to keep an eye on you, I saw admiration spreading. And there is something else I can tell you: I’m not the first hunter they’ve sent after you. This was an anonymous tip I received before I began my chase, but certainly undergrounders’ work. I was told I was the youngest. The others had all run away. When I realized you weren’t the danger they condemned, I had a dilemma. If I had run away myself, it would have launched another cycle, another hunter would have been sent. Maybe younger, maybe less capable of overcoming the brainwashing. I had to do something. If I had reported nothing, it would have been suspect. Giving them what they wanted was the only way to make sure the hunt failed.
—We’d have almost been caught that day. If Beth and David hadn’t had those alien genes, we would have been the ones abducted and arrested, underlines Sylvester.
—Yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t anticipate this. How could I?
—He couldn’t, Sylvester, confirms Paul. And when he was asked to spy on us when we got back to Earth, he hid all that could not to endanger us and the undergrounders. He’s already one of us.
—You’re certainly right, whispers Sylvester, head bowed.
—Well, let’s get back to the matter at hand, proposes the Major. This idea of lightning is brilliant. Sylvester, how could we simulate this?
—Holography. Sounds and light.
—And morphing for wounds, adds Beth.
—When someone dies by lightning, there are some burns on the body, am I right? wonders Rose.
—Er, yes, I think, answers Beth.
—So there is something missing, warns Rose.
—Oh, you’re disgusting, protests Beth.
—Maybe we ought to verify this, says the Major. We’re sure there won’t be any special smell due to our holographic device.
—But you can do your magical thing, suggests Rose.
—Magical? asks the Major.
—Making people do and think what you suggest…
—That’s not magic, says Beth.
—It’s not human, retorts Rose.
—Ladies, interrupts Paul. This ability is useful. Let’s leave it there. David?
—I’ll have to go with him in the ambulance, anyway. We’ll have to make sure they think he is definitely dead.
—How do we escape the morgue? asks Benedict
—Transporter, answers the Major.
—Hey, Beth, you promised me a first flight in one of those machines, says Rose.
—It’s not really a flight, technically speaking, corrects Sylvester.
—What would be the right word then? wonders Rose. Leap?
—Yes, leap describes the reality much better, confirms Sylvester.
—Er, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but in your scenario, there’s a body missing in the morgue, underlines Beth.
—Right, answers Sylvester. The procedure is that bodies are kept in the drawers until a coffin arrives…
—My family provides the coffin, adds Benedicts.
—A body is needed when they open the drawer, objects Rose.
—We’d better do something to avoid its being opened before then, remarks the Major.
—We’ll lock it. A device inside, a remote in your hand, and only you could allow the opening, retorts Sylvester.
—How will we know when they’re going to open it? wonders Beth.
—A light digital surveillance could be enough for us to react in time, answers Sylvester.
—Do I have to come back with my morphed wounds?
—Holographic images could be enough. Anyway, if they see the body in the drawer and then in the coffin, you can easily fool them in between, am I right, David? asks Sylvester.
—Yes, it would be easier for me, less suggestion to do, as what they’ll see will comply with what is expected.
—And the weight of the coffin? Or the amount of ashes? objects Rose.
Beth looks at her best friend amazed. She doesn’t lack for presence of mind. She never had, verily. It’s something Beth admires in Rose.
—We may have to sacrifice one of our creations then. A body with no mind inside. It will have weight, and it will burn, suggests Paul. David will occupy their minds while we put the replacement body inside. Something else, anyone?
In front of his friends’ silence, Paul adds with satisfaction:
—Well, Benedict, it seems your death is planned now. We need an empty body and a storm period. As for the latter, we have very violent ones in fall. That gives us at least one month to prepare. Nothing insuperable. As for the empty body, this will be made in the future, we’ll have it here whenever we need it. I’ll contact the undergrounders.
—Only one month, whispers Benedict.
—If you’re not ready we can delay everything to the next storm season, in spring, suggests Paul.
—I don’t know. I need to think about it.
—Benedict, you wanted to show me something…, says Rose softly.
—You’ve got to go to our room, informs Beth. He wants to show you something with paper…
—Really? I’m impatient.
—Rose, may I talk to him a bit first? asks the Major.
—I’ll go with him to our room. When we’re finished, I’ll come back here, and you can join him.
—How about a drink? proposes Beth. I need some fruit juice.
And without waiting for any answers, she stands up and heads to the kitchen, soon followed by the others, one by one.
Benedict and David
—You don’t need to be so tense, you know, says the Major.
—I haven’t a very good memory of the last time we were left alone together, you see.
—Times have changed. I’m not here to question you anymore; I’m here to make you a proposition.
—Seriously. I need someone like you…
—To help me—us, Beth and I—to free almost-humans, to give them the rights they deserve, that is, to choose their destiny. Almost-humans fail to be heard because they are very few in any given era and unorganized. This has to change. I’m a serviceman. And I’m going to serve them.
—I owe my life to two of you, my love story, my happiness, my fatherhood… I would have had none of this without Sylvester and Paul.
—I understand, I think.
—Rose told me you want to join the undergrounders and use your hunter’s skills to find other runaways through time and space. It’s what Beth and I plan to do too. You already know about some of our abilities. Beth has one that’s very useful. As a freed mind, she’s able to scan time and space at very high speed to find anyone. But it exhausts her and most of the time she ends up collapsing. If I had a squadron of hunters, we would be able to focus on smaller pieces of space-time and be more efficient. It’ll be safer for her, too.
—You want me to work with you?
—I want you to build this squadron. Hunt out the hunters first. And all together, we’ll find more runaways in a shorter span of time.
—Well, I’m tempted. But first I have to contact a Moira and a Raymond. They already started the job. I got this information from the undergrounders. I’ve already been in touch with them for a short while. I suppose my silence about the new natures of Paul and Sylvester has made them decide to contact me.
—And what do you know about these people, Moira and Raymond?
—They’re helping almost-humans to gather and organize.
—And do you know how?
—I have no idea. I suppose I need to prove myself before the undergrounders fully trust me. But as soon as I’m dead, I’ll look for information.
—Maybe I can help.
—It’s up to you.
—No, you don’t understand. I’m not going to look for some information on them for you. I’m going to tell you who they are.
—What? You know who they are?
—Oh, yes, I do. Beth and I are them.
—We haven’t started yet. Er, our today selves, I mean. But we decided that each month of our life, we’re going to spend one day to gather your people. We’re going to make it a meeting of undergrounders each week in your era. So the gatherings will run over a shorter period.
—Are you serious?
—I am. Nelly has already met us. She guessed who we really were.
—I can’t believe this…
—Beth and I, we’re morphed when we’re Moira and Raymond. We look different, but we’ve got the same voices. It’ll be easy for you to recognize us when we bump into you.
—Gee, who’d have thought that, huh? I’m actually in awe.
—Considering your young age and the insight you’ve already shown, I think you’re the right person to lead the hunters. You could be a real strategic ally. Please, join us.
Benedict scratches his head in disbelief.
—I need to snap out of it, he finally says. I can’t believe what I’ve just heard. It’s so … unexpected. I hadn’t even dared dream about this.
The Major stares at Benedict amused.
—You’re not going to die tomorrow; we could talk about this another day.
—Oh no, no, no. I’m going to be all right. I just need a few minutes.
—Rose is waiting…
—Rose, whispers Benedict.
—She’s impatient to know about your paper thing.
—We’re building memories.
The Major raises his eyebrows.
—Rose and I want to remember each other. So each one will teach something to the other. I chose something she’ll never forget…
The Major smiles.
—I’ll send her to you, he answers softly.
Benedict and Rose
Benedict is rummaging in his jacket pocket while Rose looks at him with curiosity.
—You spoke about paper?
—I hope it’s still in good shape…
And Benedict finally holds towards Rose a piece of red paper.
—Is this a dragon? she asks.
—Yes, it is. A paper dragon, made by just folding. I love folding. This is a gift. I am going to show you how to make simpler things as a first step. A paper plane, paper boat, paper hen… You’ll see, it’s easy.
—You use paper for folding?
—Yes, it relaxes me.
—Rose, paper is still scarce today, but in a few years it will come back.
—Ben, it has been years and years since we’ve failed to make proper replacement paper. We can’t use trees anymore. Bacteria made cellulose show instability. How could it come back?
—By accident. A failure with one of the ingredients added to the nutritive substrate stabilized the process.
—I thought the idea of paper was gone.
—It seems that mankind never gives up. Why do you laugh?
—That’s no kid’s words.
—Ben, forgive me, but this is something difficult for me to accept. You’ve got only seven years of existence and you look so mature…
—Try to forget what I am. We’re here to share…
Benedict’s eyes are imploring.
—Ok, Ben. Let’s make those memories. Show me what you wanted to, concedes Rose.
And Benedict starts with a paper plane. When it is ready, he throws it in the air. Rose applauds and laughs while the plane is flying.
—That’s great. I’ll try.
And she makes her own paper plane. When she throws it in the air, it goes into a dive and crashes directly on the ground.
—The angles of the folds are very important if you want your plane to fly.
He takes Rose’s paper plane, corrects the lean of the wings, and throws it again in the air.
Benedict and Rose go on folding and laughing, like two kids. Rose quickly knows how to make a paper boat and a paper hen. She finally says:
—Ben, these memories, I can’t share them with anyone outside our circle. Furthermore, it’s something I won’t be able to practice soon. I’m likely to forget it. The folding, I mean. But I’ll keep the relaxing sensation in my heart. It was a real pleasure to do this with you.
Ben seems to think intensely.
—Maybe there is something I can teach you that you can share with anyone you want. Since I’ve been here, I’ve often been alone. I spent nights learning your sky.
—What do you mean by “our sky”? You’re from Earth, aren’t you?
—Yes, but far in the future. Stars move and constellations change shapes. I know everything of this sky above, and I can show you.
—My father taught me a couple of constellations when I was a kid. I know the Great Bear and Orion. Oh, and Cassiopeia.
—You’re going to know much more.
—I can’t wait.
—How about tonight?
—Maybe we can join the others now. What do you think?