Previously: Beth, a 25-year-old Earthling, wins a 12-space-travels set in a lottery. Travelling by use of her mind, she is offered a body on a distant planet called Dalygaran and has to stay there for 7 days. She discovers that her body is a traveling machine and that she can go from one place to another by dematerializing and rematerializing. On Dalygaran she receives physical training by a serviceman called “The Major”. Two months after her return to Earth, the Major comes to talk to her in her sleep and begs her to come back to Dalygaran.
“Open the door. For God’s sake, open the door!”
Beth is drumming frantically at the two Smiths’ door. It took some her time to come here. Transports are few at this time of the night, and the two Smiths do not live very near her flat. It has been a little more than an hour since she was awoken by the Major’s alarming message. She is about to drum her fists on the door once again when a tired Sylvester opens it.
Sylvester: Beth, we didn’t expect you so early, considering the transports…
Beth: What? What are you talking about?
Sylvester: Er, I’m still a bit sleepy…
Beth: I can see that.
Paul is approaching too, looking as tired as his colleague.
Paul: You’re already here?
Beth: Stop it. You two are talking as if you were waiting for me. It’s not my painting day guys. It’s the middle of the night.
Sylvester: Really, no kidding!
Beth: May I come in?
Paul: Sure. Let’s go to the living room. You know the way.
They head to the living room. Each Smith sits in an armchair. Beth stays standing and tries to explain.
Beth: It’s the Major. He came to talk to me during my sleep…
Beth: Don’t interrupt me, I beg you. He came to talk to me while I was sleeping. He came without a body to warn me that Dalygaran was in great danger. You should have heard his voice. He seemed so weak and so desperate. This is not the Major I knew. Something really serious might have happened up there, and why I have to go back, I have no idea. But if the Major made the effort to ask me, it’s because this is important. I have to go.
Paul: Lucky you. We never believed in your decision to stop travelling. We worked out a small pill that will allow you to go without any gas. So you don’t have to go to the lottery travel center anymore. You may continue to come here, once in a while, nobody’ll notice. But be careful, you can’t stay away more than 12 terrestrial hours. Go see what’s so important up there. If you need a longer stay, just come back and tell us. We’ll find a solution.
Beth: How will I know what is the terrestrial time?
Sylvester: You’re conditioned to return on a signal. We’ll send it to you before it’s too late. The process is simplified when there is no gas. No need of a travel unit. We’ve prepared for you a quiet room where you’ll be able to lie on a couch.
Paul: I’ll go get the pill.
Beth: Seriously, you’re creepy guys. You never have any doubts. Everything is ready for me to go.
Sylvester: Beth Smith, we know you better than you seem to understand…
Some hours before on Dalygaran
Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe (Star): Major, what are you doing here? You’re very sick, you should have some rest.
The Major: I have to make contact with Beth. She’s the only one who can save this planet. She knows how to use the transporter.
Star: So, you’re aware of this.
The Major: Am I to conclude then that you have seen her dematerializing too?
Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe clears his throat.
The Major: And you hid it from me?
Star: Yes. Beth and I had an agreement. I would have told you if you had told her the truth about her memory wipeout. It’s why I tried by every possible means to convince you. Do you remember?
The Major: Yes, I do. And when did she do that?
Star: It happened during one of our botanical walks, two days before the Great Council meeting. She was upset about having to lose her memory. She believed this story of time differentials. Under emotional stress, she literally flashed. She didn’t want to be there anymore, but didn’t give any destination, until I gave her one. Thereafter, I had to explain all of it. The memory, too. And I have something else to confess. She didn’t take the pill against re-synchronization sickness. She pretended to, but then she gave me the pill when she shook my hand, just before she went.
The Major: She did what?
The Major raises his hand as Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe is about to answer.
The Major: It doesn’t matter, my friend. I saw her dematerialize when she literally disappeared in her bedroom, the day before her departure. I had something to tell her. I’ll tell both of you, when she comes here later. I need a travel pill, would you mind getting me one?
It is really the first time that the Major has called Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe “my friend”. Even after he had had him over for dinner several times since Beth left.
It is obvious to Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe that the High Command is not aware of this initiative and that the Major is asking for a big favor. But he also knows that the Major is not able to make the transporter work anymore, because of his poor state. The only other being in the entire universe who knows how to use this machine is Beth. She is now Dalygaran’s last hope. If nothing is done, the planet will be on the road to ruin.
An epidemic has been wreaking havoc for a little more than a moon. A cure exists, but a plant is needed, and only someone who can operate the transporter can fetch it. Too many people have already died. Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe gets the travel pill for the Major.
Star: Here you are. Maybe I should go in your place. You’ve no strength left…
The Major: Thank you my friend, but I have to do this myself. I need you to prepare the travel-body for Beth in the disembarking room. She is going to come. I’m sure of it. You have work to do. Come back to me when it is ready. Meanwhile, I’ll try to contact her.
When the body is ready for Beth, Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe comes to tell the Major. But he is no longer breathing. He looks at peace.
A great sorrow comes over Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe. He learned to appreciate this man as time went by. They worked together on the travel-body project, he as a scientist, representative of the Space Travel Center, and the Major as representative of the Dalygaran authority and test pilot of new tools and machines.
Did he succeed in contacting Beth? Was it this last effort that ultimately cost him his life? The disease would have doubtlessly found him in the coming days; that, Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe knows for sure. But if Beth would have been informed earlier, maybe the Major could have been saved too.
But it is too late now. Having looked after the rituals for the deceased, Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe goes back to the disembarking room, where he stands and stares at the travel-body without knowing what to do. Should he also try to contact Beth? If the Major did not succeed, he would have to do it. With his child set to be born in the next few days, he is wishing hard that this epidemic ends at last. He is afraid for the baby, he is afraid for Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain. Neither she nor he is infected at this time. But the disease is spreading so quickly. Trying to protect oneself against it is illusory. It is in the air, in the water, everywhere. The travel-body Beth will use has been placed in a sterile bubble, just in case. Beth must not take back any pathogenic germ with her. If ever she happens to come.
Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe straightens suddenly. Oh, this feeling; he recognizes it very well. Someone has arrived. The body livens up.
Star: Finally, you’re here. Stay where you are, please. Well, you can sit down, but don’t go out of the sterile bubble.
Beth sits down. She is back in her Dalygaran body. The body she shared with the Major.
Beth: Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, what happened? The Major asked me to come. He’s not here?
Star: The Major won’t come Beth. After he contacted you, he didn’t awake again.
Beth: What do you mean?
Beth’s voice breaks on these last words.
Star: Beth, the Major passed away. He was very sick. He might not have had enough strength to come back after delivering his message…
Beth: Oh god, no.
Star: He had something to tell us. Now we’ll never know. He had changed since your departure you know.
Beth: How’s that?
Star: He looked… wistful. We had him over several times and talked about you. Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain ended up giving him your selfie. I can say he was very pleased.
Beth: I don’t know what to say…
Star: Don’t worry. All I can say is that he liked you very much, and he trusted you. He chose to call you by himself. He never doubted you’d come. I can feel your sadness, but I’m sorry, I have to tell you the mission he wanted to assign you. Time is short.
Beth: A mission?
Star: Yes, you’re the only one now who knows how to use the body as a transporter. And we need someone who knows how to travel with it.
Beth: You ended up telling him so?
Star: Sorry, I didn’t get that. What do you mean?
Beth: The Major. How did he know about me and the travel body?
Star: The day before your departure, when he came to see you in the evening, you dematerialized just in front of him when you disappeared in your bedroom.
Beth: Oh?! And since then, he hadn’t told anyone?
Star: No, he hadn’t. He was very surprised when he understood I was aware of it too. He and I will never have another explanation of this now…
Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe takes a break, a time to clear his sadness.
Star: When you left, the High Command asked the Major to work twice as hard, so that the last settings for the travel body would be achieved. And he worked without respite until he got sick. This body can travel everywhere now, but most importantly for your mission, it can travel in time.
Beth: What? What are you saying? In time? That’s impossible!
Star: No, it’s not.
Beth: Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, I really don’t know if I will be able to help. What am I supposed to do?
Star: Oh you will, you will. I saw how you work. You get accustomed to new abilities given to you very quickly.
Beth: If I can travel in time, maybe I could save the Major…
Star: There is an intransgressible rule for time-travel: nobody can modify what happened on one’s own timeline. To be clear, nothing you could do to try to save the Major has a chance of succeeding. He is part of your timeline. And he is dead now. I am so sorry. But you could save many Dalygarans by stopping the present epidemic.
Beth: What is the connection with time travel? I don’t understand.
Star: I’m going to give you the explanation. The present epidemic is a resurgence of a very old one. We believed the pathogen had disappeared. Research is in progress to know how it reappeared today, and at this level of extreme virulence. The problem is that the only thing able to stop this pathogen is inside a plant that has become extinct. The data we had about this plant was damaged with all the data regarding the same era. We have no formula to synthetize the molecule we lack, and no samples preserved anywhere. We just have a drawing, a name, and the certainty that this plant is the solution. You’ll have to go back to the past to take a sample of this plant for us to be able to isolate the molecule and then produce a sufficient supply to stop the epidemic.
Beth: You have advanced technology here. Don’t you have any other means of action?
Star: We lack time Beth. The possibilities are infinite and the pathogen progresses each day. The more time that goes by, the more virulent it becomes. We had delayed too long to react now. The Major had just enough energy to validate the time travel with a small leap. He had already begun to weaken. He couldn’t undertake this mission.
Beth: I understand…
Star: You will find in the internal pocket of your overalls a mini tablet with the drawing of the plant you have to take a sample of. Its name is the Morning Star. It is open only in the morning and its corolla is in the shape of a star. No matter the state of the specimen you will find, even dried, will enable us to find the structure we are searching for. But you have to put it in the temporal conservation tube that I put in your left leg pocket before coming back to our time. Otherwise, it will be unusable.
When you travel to the past, be discreet. Normally, people you meet won’t remember anything as soon as a traveller leaves their time-space. You’re like an anomaly when you’re in a time that is not yours. The memory doesn’t stay. Nevertheless, you have to absolutely avoid drawing attention. And generally, don’t talk about the future with the people of the past. Before you go to search for the Morning Star, you have to learn how to travel in time. You have to be able to go back to at least 500 gold rings and then be able to come back here. Your mini tablet will show you the time where you are. Oh, I almost forgot this: you’re protected by a security protocol. You can only materialize where it is safe.
Beth: I see. That’s a heavy responsibility you’ve given me.
Star: I know, Beth, I know. Will you help us?
Beth: Of course I will. What a question! What do I have to do to travel in time?
Star: You have to activate the functionality. The simplest way to do this is to think of an era you always wanted to visit.
Beth: Better not. The era I’ve always wanted to see, since I was a kid, is the Juras…
Beth dematerializes in front of a dumbfounded Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe.