On the two Smith’s floor, everybody knows the day has come for Benedict to say goodbye to the 25th century. It will happen in the evening, after David’s training session in the fighting room.
At the moment, Sylvester is showing the Major the workings of the sphere. The contraption is the size of a melon and Sylvester makes it fly in the air with a remote unit he holds in his hands. He can see on a screen the position of the sphere, and controls it with a small joystick.
—Now look, exclaims Sylvester as he pushes a button on the remote.
The sphere disappears.
—Invisibility shield? asks the Major.
—Exactly. I can still monitor its position on the screen, but now, by turning this scroll wheel here, I can switch to the ground view. Here is the chase button. When Benedict appears on the screen, I’ll push it so the sphere will automatically lock on and follow him. I will strike with the red button on the top of the joystick. It’s going to be a great sound and light.
—Happily Benedict isn’t here to see how enthusiastic you are, guffaws the Major.
—He is a nice guy.
—I’m happy you concede it.
Sylvester just answers with a sigh.
—How is Rose? he asks.
—She’ll stay with Beth when it happens. She doesn’t want to see it. She’s asked Benedict to come for a last goodbye before he vanishes from our century. He’s agreed to it, but I can feel she is sad. Beth has known her for a long time. I’m sure she’ll find the words to soothe her … as much as can be done anyway.
—And what about you? Are you ready to use your suggestion abilities once more?
—I won’t be alone this time. Nori will help me. It’ll be easier to fool the medical team with the two of us. Mira and Reymo will be here too. They will take charge of the witnesses, if necessary. I must be the only one who is allowed to provide assistance to Benedict, though. No one else. The medical team must only come up to see the body.
—The body to put in the coffin…
—Paul told me we can have it this evening, and he’ll have the typical burns of storm lightning.
—Yes, they figured if they were going to make a body with no mind to , they wanted to do it for the most useful purpose…, you need a Benedict who will appear to have been killed by lightning, you’ll have it.
—You know, I myself am a Sylvester232?
—You got a number because you don’t have a family name.
—I got a number because I belong to a model series. Every Sylvester looks like me… The counts are cleared every millennium. As a result, I’m not the only Sylvester232 either. But I’m the only one with slowdown syndrome. I did some research. Slowdown syndrome affects almost every model randomly…
—Oh, so we’ll have a body that looks like our Benedict but with the proper wounds?
—Yes, that’s it. Anyway, I’ll give you another device, another invisible sphere, which you will place afterward in the morgue, for surveillance. And we’ll block the morgue drawer where the body will be stored, as previously planned. Any attempt to open the drawer will launch an alarm here, to tell us it’s time to watch out for what happens. We’ll remotely unlock it so that the morgue staff can do what has to be done. They will only think that the drawer was a bit stiff. Meanwhile, we’ll be able to keep an eye on the body and make sure it gets to the crematorium and burned. Then we will be in the clear.
—One last thing; this evening, when you head to your fighting room, I’ll lock the sphere on you, since you always walk there. It would be easier to lead it to the right place that way. Before you enter the building, I will stop the chase and land the sphere on the roof.
—I have the beeper you gave me to warn you when we’re about to leave the fighting room.
—We’re ready I think.
—I hope we are! answers the Major.
Beth and Rose at the beginning of the evening, in Beth and David’s living room
As soon as they are alone, Rose bursts into tears.
—It’s so unfair, she chokes.
—Come here, says Beth opening her arms wide.
The two women hug silently for a while. Then Beth steps back and begins to talk very softly:
—Benedict needs to meet his destiny. He wants to fight for his people. He does not belong to our world.
—He belongs to mine.
—And he will, forever, in all the good memories you’ve built together.
—After we say goodbye, I will never see him again.
—You don’t know what the future is made of…
—Oh … you do!
—Please don’t ask…
—Why? Don’t you want to tell me?
—Can you imagine a life where instead of living it you’re waiting for things to happen as they have to?
—Where’s the problem?
—I can’t believe this.
—I lived it!
—Yes. I told you I went to the Edge of Time, do you remember?
—Oh, I can’t forget that day…
—I left something out…
—I met someone there. Well, David and I did.
—Who was that?
—Our daughter. Our own daughter. She borrowed a travel-body not even knowing how it works … and she popped up right in front of us, while we were exploring the reception area.
—Oh, come on…
—Do you really think I would make up something like that? Seriously?
Beth’s voice has just risen in anger. Rose realizes she has hurt her friend. Beth immediately senses Rose’s regret.
—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…
—That’s ok. It’s hard to believe what’s unbelievable. I can’t blame you for it. It was a real shock, I confess. You know, this thing that David and I are able to do…
—Your silent thing…
—Yes, it’s called the bond. There is one between parents and children too. David told me it was this bond that I felt, because for me it was the first time. David shares this bond with his father since he was born, so he could recognize it. Imagine, I met my child and I had never been pregnant…
—You weren’t at that time?
—No, that came some months later. And I thought I was going crazy. Every single day, I was asking myself if I was pregnant or not. I waited, and waited, and waited. And it didn’t come. You feel miserable when something that must happen does not. I burst into tears the day I learned I was pregnant. I waited so long. It became an obsession.
—Oh, Beth, I’m sorry.
—What people like me can learn from the future is mostly piecemeal. I don’t wish you to know something that will eat at you day after day because you’re deeply involved. It’s why I’ll never tell you anything about your future. Never.
—Ok, I won’t ask…
—Your daughter, how is she?
—Impossible! She stole a travel-body.
—The travel-body is that machine you experimented on er…
—Yes, Dalygaran. So you don’t have any idea what she looks like.
—And what happened then with her?
Beth explains it to Rose. When she finishes, Rose says:
—Wow, it must be weird living life in disorder…
—I agree. But knowing the future is only annoying when you’re too involved. Otherwise, I take it as simple knowledge.
—So you’ll be able to tell me things about the future some day?
—I know I will, Rose, answers Beth smiling.
Beth looks at the wall where the time is displayed. Rose turns her head too.
—Benedict “passes on” in about thirty minutes. Well, this is a future in which I know I’m fully involved. I confirm: it hurts.
—I’m sorry, Rose.
—Those last times with him were so wonderful. It’s so difficult, Beth. I can’t help loving him, even if I know he is not able to feel love due to his young age. How could he be seven?
—I can’t answer this, Rose. I’m sorry.
—I… I don’t want him to go…
—He wants to.
Rose can feel her tears coming on again. She raises her hand as Beth steps forward to hug her.
—I need to be brave when he and I say goodbye later. I need to begin to think positively right now or I won’t have enough strength when the time comes.
—Ok, I’m going to try something with you. It’s something David and I do when one of us is sad. Give me your hands.
Beth, holding Rose’s hands, steps forward until her head almost touches Rose’s.
—Bow your head, close your eyes, try to relax.
Beth tries to send her all the positive waves she is able to, as David does when he helps her to free her mind.
—You’re feeling better and better, aren’t you?
—Yes, that’s … that’s … indescribable. I feel really good, Rose whispers. How do you do that?
—Special abilities due to my genetic background and my stays in Dalygaran bodies.
Beth lets go her hands, smiles to her friend.
—You’re a kind of healer, says Rose, amazed.
—Well, I don’t know about that…
—I tell you, you are.
—Ok, Rose, ok, says Beth, laughing.
—I would like to do something for you too. Oh, maybe I know. How about some ice cream?
—I’ve got some in the fridge.
—Not that kind of ice cream. Homemade. I’ve seen someone making it in the neighborhood. I’m going to buy some. Just wait for me here…
Rose has already turned on her heels, when Beth begins to say:
—That’s a good idea, I can…
She can hear the door closing behind Rose as she finishes her sentence.
— … come with you. Well, apparently not, mutters Beth.
She lets herself fall in an armchair, thinking about what just happened. As the Major has done with her before, she shoulders the responsibility of protecting Rose, choosing carefully what to say and what not. This kind of behavior had become a problem between David and her and she was starting to feel stifled. She shut him out of her mind wanderings so as to have some fresh air, to be confronted precisely by what he wanted to spare her. She didn’t want him to choose for her. But she just behaved the same way with Rose. She was sincere when she explained how she lived with the knowledge of her impending pregnancy. She now realizes the dilemma that her husband probably faced. She too wants to spare the ones she loves. “Nothing’s easy,” …
These last words swirl in her head when something suddenly draws her attention. It’s a feeling she has had now for the second time. Well, the same kind, but definitely different. In front of her, a boy has . After a surprised “oh no” from him, Beth sees him begin to dematerialize.
—Stay, please … she begs.
—I can’t stay here, please. I’m going to have problems with my parents. Let me go away. Let me command the regulator…
—Your parents will talk with you… You know who I am, don’t you?
—You’re my mom.
—So if I tell you we’re are not going to scold you, you can believe me.
—Dad will. He’s very strict.
—Your Dad is certainly very protective…
The child hushes, sullen. Beth puts on her sweetest voice.
—If you arrived here with this transporter, I assume it’s because there is a problem.
—You’re both very protective, whispers the child, head down … and you always agree, he adds with some reproach in his voice.
—It’s because you’re special.
—I know I’m special, the kid almost shouts.
—How old are you son?
Pointing at her belly, he asks:
—Who is in there?
—Your elder sister.
—Oh, this is…
—Please, don’t tell me her name. Don’t tell me any names. Your father and I wish to be able to choose them by ourselves. Do you understand?
—Come here, says Beth opening her arms wide. Come and sit on my knees.
The boy obeys. Beth hugs him.
—How did I get here?
—Maybe you wished to … even not being conscious of it. We are different: you, me, your father, and your sisters… We have powerful minds. Apparently you needed to talk with someone, and here I am…
—I don’t want to talk…
—Ok, if you don’t want to… What do you need?
—I need to not be at home. I need … to be far away from you … your future you.
—Oh, you’re angry?
—You must be too, now that you know…
—I’m happy to see you, son.
—Mom, will you remember this in the future?
—Oh, yes, I will.
—So why don’t you let me breathe?
—Oh, you feel stifled… Well, being as we are in the 25th century on Earth, things could be dangerous…
—Oh, you two repeat this again, and again…
—It’s because it’s true. Maybe for parents it’s not easy to know when it’s time to give rein. Do you have someone you can freely talk with about these kinds of ?
—I can’t talk about this with my friends, .
—Did you try with your granddad?
—If he is your choice, don’t hesitate.
The kid is considering the proposal.
—Granddad Franky is very cool. Oh, your dad, too. But I see granddad Franky more often…
—Do as you feel, son. You have no idea how much I would like to keep you here longer, but you should go home … and put this back in its place, before your father notices its disappearance.
—You won’t tell him?
—Letting him know or not will be your choice. This is my decision. But you have to promise me, you’re not going to do this again.
—I promise, mom.
—Oh, and don’t forget to go and see your grandfather. He will listen to you. Do we agree?
Beth’s son just hugs her and leaves her a kiss on the cheek.
—Think return plus 5 minutes. I won’t take control of the regulator this time.
The boy takes his place in the transporter, says goodbye and disappears.
Beth is very happy to have been able to hug her son. That is something that won’t eat her mind, even if she has to wait a long time for his birth. She feels more and more ready to be a mother.
Some minutes later, Beth can hear the entrance door opening.
—Look at what I brought back: strawberry and vanilla.
As she announces it, Rose puts two tubs on a table.
—Ready to taste them?
—Absolutely. Let’s go to the kitchen, we need bowls and spoons.
Meanwhile, David, Benedict and the others
On this stormy evening people do not seem in a hurry to get out of the fencing room. Benedict, David, and Nori have to wait longer than they’d have liked before they are left alone.
—Ok, I’ll send the first signal to Sylvester. Let’s go out now.
The three men head to the entrance door. When they are out, David and Nori stop and go on talking, while Benedict, after waving a goodbye, continues to walk. Quickly the Major takes a look around and locates Mira and Reymo. There are few people on the street due to the coming storm, which can be heard approaching. The situation is ideal. Sylvester is going to push the shooting button on the Major’s second signal.
Even knowing it’s coming, the noise and the light effects are so impressive that the Major does not have to pretend stress, as he sees Benedict falling on the ground.
—Call an ambulance, he shouts, running to and kneeling immediately near Benedict, who looks totally scared.
—I’ll get him for this, mutters Benedict through his teeth, as low as he is able to.
—Your wounds, whispers back the Major, and he presses the morpher Benedict is wearing on his wrist.
The witnesses gather round, Reymo and Mira among them. As some other people arrive from the surrounding buildings, other Frigellyans appear as well. Mira and Reymo decided to cover the area with their squadron. They feel the need to help their friends as much as they can.
—There is nothing more to do, he is dead, says the Major to the little group of persons now around him.
—Are you sure? answers a lady ready to kneel too.
—Yes, I’m sure, retorts the Major, while Mira whispers something in the lady’s ear.
Under the control of the Frigellyans, the people around the supposedly dead are very calm and not moving.
It does not take very long till the siren of an ambulance can be heard. As soon as they approach the scene, the medical team asks everybody to move away from the body. The Major, Nori, Reymo, and Mira do not comply. The Major says softly to the medic that is about to do the diagnostic:
—No vital signs, he is dead. Just bring him to the morgue.
Mira and Reymo suggest the same thing to the other two medics.
—We need two witnesses, says the medic near Reymo. He collects their coordinates, to summon them later. Their testimony will complete the incident file to be opened in the ambulance. Myra and Reymo are the ones who are going to brief the witnesses by adding some details from other similar cases in their minds before they go to the registration desk.
—We’re coming with you, the Major tells the medics, pointing to himself and Nori.
In the ambulance, the Major asks a medic to fill the incident file. He gives him all the identity data and dictates to him what to write, based on a report on a similar death given to him by Sylvester, who stole it from a hospital computer, as well as all the testimonies needed by Mira and Reymo.
Nori controls the other medic, assuring him that everything is happening normally.
At the morgue, the Major asks the two medics to face the wall. He needs them to turn their backs during the evacuation of Benedict and the arrival of the body.
Sylvester, after receiving the exact coordinates from the Major, comes with the body in a Frigellyan transporter. Benedict, still upset, glowers at him, but helps him put the body on the stretcher he had just occupied.
The Major, realizing there are a bunch of drawers, goes to ask the medics which one they should use.
—We have to validate our file first and the drawer number will appear on the screen.
—Please do this for us, commands the Major while he gestures to Sylvester to go away, pointing to Benedict too.
Sylvester shows Benedict where to sit and they disappear in silence.
The medic turns on a screen on a table and then the tablet he used in the ambulance. He just pushes a button with “sync” written on it.
—The synchronization is done, he says after a few moments. Number 22.
—Thanks, go back to face the wall.
The Major brings out the small surveillance sphere and sets its positioning as Sylvester had taught him, in front of drawer 22. Then he opens the drawer, puts a little pin inside that will be the part of the device that will block its opening once the body is inside. Then, with Nori’s help, he lifts the body to the drawer and lays it inside.
—The process is finished, you can close the drawer, says the Major to the medics.
Once more he sends a signal to Sylvester, who arrives immediately with the transporter. While one of the medics is busy closing the drawer, the other is already working on the file, to contact the victim’s relatives. Before they all disappear, the Major says:
—You will remember this as a classic case of death by lightning strike. You completed all the procedures normally.
In the two Smiths’ apartment, Benedict is yelling at Sylvester.
—I’m not finished with you!
—I told you, a storm is a storm, I couldn’t do it softly to preserve your ears. It had to look real.
—Yeah, I really thought I was going to die … from a heart attack!
—Benedict, this storm frightened us all. But that’s what a storm is: frightening…
—And you, don’t use your power on me, shouts Benedict pointing to the Major.
—What’s happening here, you’re going to wake up the baby! protests Paul entering the room.
—He’s lost it! says Sylvester.
—He almost killed me, retorts Benedict.
—Everybody can hear you’re not dead, answers Paul sarcastically.
—You take his side of course…
—I have to talk with Benedict … alone, says the Major suddenly.
Before Benedict has time to retort, he raises his hand and adds:
—It’s not negotiable.
Everybody but Benedict leaves the room.
—I would like to apologize.
—I’m the one who organized this mission. I didn’t see you were not ready.
—You’re going to have a new life. You’re going to leave some friends, but you chose this for one purpose: to free your people. Is it what you still want to do? We can give you another identity, if you finally want to stay…
—I was so afraid when the lightning struck.
—It was very impressive. But you know, Sylvester’s right, that’s how storms are. And you were in the middle of the scene.
—You think I should apologize to him?
—I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. You’re very young, Benedict, and we—even if just symbolically — killed you. I guess it would be unpleasant for anybody. This storm, it was brutal.
—And I’m ruining the last moments I have with all of you by…
—You were shaken, that’s human in such a situation. We might have prepared you better.
—I’m not sure any preparation would have overcome that final shock. And to be honest, if I had been struck by lightning once, even as practice, I might have refused it a second time.
—Well, you’re the one who knows you best, answers the Major smiling.
—I’m not sure about that. I’ve the sensation you know much more about me than you show…
—You’re really accurate at deciphering people. I’m happy Beth and I will work with you soon.
—You’re so disturbing when you’re like that….
—Not denying and making it positive…
The Major shrugs his shoulders before saying with a big smile:
—By the way, I have to give you back your great-grandfather’s kaleidoscope before you leave. I showed it to Beth. She really loved it.
—Well, it was good to have a great-grandfather … answers Benedict laughing. You can keep it. Please. There’s already a child here, and you’re going to have one. You’ll show them how beautiful it is when they are old enough to get interested in it…
—Oh, thank you. Maybe I’ll be the one who will look through it most… Shall we join the others now?
—Yes, let’s join the others.
While saying this, the two men head to the kitchen. Only Sylvester is still there.
—I made coffee and tea.
—Well, after all those emotions, I would have thought of something stronger…
—Oh, please, pull yourself together!
The Major’s voice is so desperate that the two men look at each other and begin to howl with laughter.
—Sorry, mate, I got the fright of my life. I shouldn’t have laid into you that way.
—Well, I should have understood you were in shock. Maybe I have something for you. Have you ever tried tequila?
—No, what is it?
—You asked for something strong.
—Don’t be so suspicious. I’m not going to poison you.
—Ok, let’s have a try.
—We’re going to clink glasses together.
—I avoid spirits. It makes me sick most of the time. But I can clink with a glass of juice. I’m thirsty, retorts the Major.
—Ok then, we’ll have a cup of tea or coffee just after, what do you think?
—Ok, answer the Major and Benedict in chorus.
Once they have finished their beverages, Benedict suddenly becomes pale.
—Rose, he murmurs.
—You two seem to get along …, says Sylvester.
—Our relationship has improved. We have shared memories … and I promised to say goodbye tonight.
—Are you ok? asks the Major.
—Yes, David, I’m alright. There is nothing else I can offer her. I have to go.
The Major can feel Benedict’s confusion.
—She is with Beth at your place, isn’t she?
—Yes, do you want to see her now?
—Let’s get it over with … whispers Benedict under his breath.
The Major and Benedict find Beth and Rose in the former’s living-room.
—Could you leave us alone? asks Benedict to Beth and the Major.
—Sure, you certainly have much to say … suggests Beth.
When they are alone, Benedict stays almost five steps away from Rose, without moving.
—That’s it. I’m dead, he finally says. I have to quit the 25th century.
—Ben, come closer.
—I prefer to stay where I am… Rose, the last times we spent together, I will never forget them. And I’m so sorry I can’t feel the way you feel…
—Please, don’t. This is not your fault.
—Rose, I … I know you’re sad. I’m not an empathist like Beth or David. I can just see it in your eyes. You may put a smile on your face, but your eyes are not smiling… Rose Taylor, you deserve better than me. I’m too young. I have to grow. I need to find my own way. I need to escape the place where I pretended and lied. I need to help my people. I need to change my life. That’s what I was offered today. My fake death frees me of a past where I was just a pawn. I will fight the system that led me here. I will free my brothers, as many as I can. I want everybody to be complete. I want everybody to feel love. I want the end of the almost-humans. We should all be full-humans. I…
—Ben, come closer.
—Rose, I can’t give you what you need.
—I just want to say goodbye.
Benedict walks toward her. She holds her arms out saying,
When he is close enough, she hugs him warmly and lays a kiss on his cheek.
—Goodbye, Benedict Watson. I wish you the best in your new life, she whispers.
—Thank you, he answers, in an almost inaudible tone, holding her tighter. I wish you a wonderful life. And he lays a kiss on her cheek.
As they part, Rose is smiling.
—Look at my eyes, Ben. What do you see now?
—Kindness … even tenderness.
—That’s how I want you to remember me. You can go now.
—Goodbye, Rose Taylor.
—Goodbye, Benedict Watson.
And they part.
Rose sits heavily in an armchair as soon as Benedict has left the room. A tear runs down her cheek. As for Benedict, he is in a similar mood, a tear running down his cheek too. Rose is the reason why he will bitterly regret leaving the 25th century. He was about to kiss her tonight. But he contented himself with her cheek. He would have felt nothing anyway and she would have suffered much more, knowing he is beginning to have a desire for her.
Saying goodbye to all the others will be much easier.
Benedict takes a deep breath before pushing the communication door leading to the two Smiths’. He knows they are waiting for him for a last drink on Sylvester’s proposal. He composes a happy face before entering the room where laughter can be heard.