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Mar 21, 2015

Harlem

On the way to Como, Italy.         Chapter 4 of Star Dance.
With their mission in Europe complete, Bet and Ghyl took passage on the Carpathia and arrived in New York early in 1904, having celebrated New Years Day during the cruise.

On the day when they would dock in Manhattan, Ghyl tried to put aside the pleasures of the long cruise and he began to think about the next phase of their mission. However, he found his ability to concentrate on their mission was being disrupted by a number of nagging questions about how Bet had made a success of their work in Europe. Exactly how Bet had managed to create her mother was a mystery to Ghyl and doubts about her time spent with Albert were still flitting around in his mind, refusing to dissipate.

Ghly and Bet were by now quite familiar with each other, both physically and mentally. They were almost constantly in telepathic contact and Bet could sense that Ghyl was struggling to prevent her from noticing a thought that was haunting him. When they reached their cabin after lunch, she said, "Ghyl, just spill it."

He slumped on their bed and sighed, realizing that it was hopeless: he could not let go of his curiosity about how Bet had seduced Albert. He asked, "So, did you end up hating your grandfather as much as you expected to?"

Bet sat down next to Ghyl and kissed the tip of his nose. "You are so jealous.....I find that rather exciting. At lunch I thought maybe you were just annoyed by how much attention I've been paying to Count Cavour."

Ghyl chuckled, "If you were not so dazzled by the Count's fancy dancing then you would have noticed how much I enjoy talking to the Countess. She actually thinks I'm a doctor and has been telling me all of her most intimate secrets."

"Careful, she'll soon be asking you to treat her, and you had better have a good reason at hand to refuse."

Ghyl mentioned the day when Bet had first met Albert, on the train to Como. "I've never heard the details of how you met Albert. Did he pick you out of the crowd or did you have to approach him?"

Bet sighed deeply, clearly not eager to discuss the time that she had spent with her grandfather. "You're not going to let me keep any secrets, are you? Unlike the Countess, I don't like talking, I prefer action." She snuggled up against Ghyl and for ten minutes they slowly helped pull each other out of the formal attire that they had worn to lunch in the dining salon. Ghyl knew that she was trying to distract him, and he was determined not to let her successfully deflect his curiosity about Albert as she had always done before. He got up from their bed and sat in a chair. He asked, "Tell me this, do you ever think about what...what you had to do with your grandfather?"

She sighed and gave up. "Very well, I can sense that this is eating away at you. Where should I start?" For a moment she collected her thoughts. "Right after boarding the train, I asked Albert to join me in the dining car. I think he was starving and after I told him I was going to pay, I ended up buying him two meals. He ate and I talked about Planck's work on black body radiation. When we started writing equations on the table cloth we got kicked out of the dining car. He gallantly invited himself to join me in my private sleeping compartment. Everything happened as planned. The next day we went our separate ways."

Lightflute by maxkotovsky
Ghly complained, "Oh come on, there must have been more to it."

"Albert noticed the case for my flute and he asked me to play."

"Ah, I see. I want to know exactly what you played."

"Ghyl, why do you torment yourself? Albert was a sucker for someone who could talk about physics and who shared his interests in music, as we knew he would be. You can imagine what ensued after I had a bottle of champagne brought to us."

"No, I I still can't picture it. How did you get rid of him? Wasn't his wife waiting for him in Como?"

"No, she did not arrive until the next day. However, I had no trouble getting rid of him. The train arrived in Como at dawn and I simply told him goodby. I had my appointment with Angela, you know....for the sperm extraction."

"Wow, he spends the night with you and then he just walks away? I can't picture that."

She rolled off the bed and went to him and sat in his lap. "That's just because you are under my spell, silly."

Bet tried again to distract Ghyl, but he ignored her sweet kisses. "Really, what did you say? 'Thanks for the casual sex and I hope to see your article on photons in Annalen der Physik?' You must have-"

"Enough!" Bet shook her head. "My, you really are quite jealous. You know, I had a job to do."

Ghyl couldn't just let it go. "Did it seem like a job? You felt no emotions?"

"I was terrified at first, but he was charming. Albert obviously enjoys women. He's just a typical young man....you know how it is."

"Hrmph. That tells me little. Was he more or less typical than me?"

Rather exasperated by his persistence, Bet shook her head slowly. "Really, Ghyl, what does it matter? I'll never see him again."

"I am jealous, but I think I would be able to move on and let it go if I knew what actually happened. I've told you all about Shanne."

"And I'm still jealous of Shanne, even though she won't be born for a thousand years. Deep inside you still love her, even though you hate the idea that she was an alien puppet creature."

"Shanne was my first love, but that was long ago and far away. I suspect that Shanne was actually Obsidia in one of her disguises, using my sexual urges to guide my behavior, eventually guiding me to my future career as space pirate. If I understood how you handled Albert then maybe I could move on and stop obsessing over him."

Bet tried again to tell Ghyl enough to satisfy his curiosity. "Well, I got pretty drunk that night. He wasn't really drunk, but he was....oh, I don't know, maybe nervous and over-eager. He fell victim to premature ejaculation while I was undressing him. How was I to know that I should not have touched him just then?"

Ghyl chuckled, "I've told you many time that you have a magical touch."

"Almost certainly he'd never experienced a woman who was forward enough to just introduce herself and then who was so aggressive and desperately trying to seduce him. The spatiotemporal window that I had been trained to work within allowed me the option of staying with Albert for 20 hours, but I wanted the job done as soon as possible. Anyhow, when the sex was over and I finally had the sperm sample that I needed, he started getting creepy."

Ghyl laughed. "Creepy? What do you mean?"

"Well, there I was, naked and sprawled across the bed, panting a bit. I'd done a good bit of work. I had to ride him good and hard before he got a reasonable number of his gametes inside of me. After I was done, hopeful that I'd accomplished my mission, but worried that the special sperm I was trying to capture might have been lost, he started tracing out my muscles. He was enthralled."

"What? Your Muscles? After all that, the physics talk, the flute playing, he just wanted to touch your muscles?"

"Stop teasing me, Ghyl. Aren't you satisfied, yet? What more do you expect me to tell you?"

"Am I satisfied? Not until I hear if you were satisfied."

"That's completely unimportant, Ghyl, but since you must know, yes, I did achieve orgasm and don't expect me to apologize for that. Anyhow, he was fascinated by my muscles. I told him that I'm a dancer, but I don't think he's ever touched the body of an athletic woman before."

"Ghyl kissed her firm belly. "You are a spectacular specimen."

"That's almost exactly what he said. Still, it was creepy the way he kept looking at my muscles.  I'd seduced him with my knowledge of physics and my skill with a flute, but then after he saw me naked it was like he'd forgotten that I have a brain."

"Well, I can understand that. Face it, Bet, regardless of how smart you are, you do have a sexy body. I fell in love with you after only seeing the top half of you."

"Well, I'd worked hard to design my appearance to match you fantasy imaginings of a perfect woman. Given that and my ability to sift through your thoughts, it was not difficult to trick you into falling in love with me. Bit, anyhow, I got a bit angry at Albert and started reminding him of things."

"Things? What things?"

"I asked him if he was married. Of course, he denied it. I asked him if he was engaged to be married. He denied that too, but he started to sweat."

"Hmm. That might have just been his reaction to your body."

"Don't try to rationalize his oafish behavior. I asked him to tell me about his girlfriend. Lamely, he asked, 'What girlfriend?' and then I got mean."

Ghyl chuckled. "Now I know you're lying. You can't be mean."

"When I'd undressed him I'd seen a letter from Mileva in his coat pocket. I got up and pulled it out and found a love letter to her that he was in the process of completing. I read his letter out loud and he was almost in tears. I think he really likes Mileva." Bet could sense that Ghyl had finally heard enough. "So, I told him that he'd never see me again. By then, I think he was glad to get rid of me. You know, I suspect he's attracted to intelligent women, but not one who seems to know more about physics than he does. So that's all there is to the story.....my mission was a success."

Ghyl could easily complete her thought: otherwise neither Bet nor Ghyl would be on Earth. He said, "Thank you for telling me about your ordeal. I'm not feeling quite so jealous now."

"Good". Bet kissed him as if she were putting a period at the end of a sentence. "Really, it was an absurd amount of mess and effort just to collect one tiny sperm cell."

"Ah, but it was the magical sperm cell that made you the amazing creature you are." Ghyl asked, "So which was harder, having to seduce your grandfather or holding your mother in your arms and having to send her away....send her off to the Core?"
Galactic Core (Image Credit: Susan Stolovy (SSC/Caltech) et al., JPL-Caltech, NASA)
"You saw how sick Lieserl was. I'd have been happier had I seen her recovery, but I know she is fine, otherwise-"

The ever-present thrum of the ship's engines changed. Bet got up off of Ghyl and went to look out the small window. "We must be nearing land."

Ghyl asked, "And you know where we'll find Angela?"

"Of course. During my training for this mission Obsidia showered me the house in Amalfi-"

Ghyl laughed and interrupted Bet. "Showered?"

"Sorry, slip of the tongue. She showed me images of Amalfi and the house we will live in next, in Harlem. If there had been any change of plans then she would have contacted us. Or Hortensia would have shown up to give us new instructions."

 "Harlem?"

"Harlem is part of New York City, north of Central Park. We have a wonderful home there, with all the modern conveniences." Once again Bet could sense that Ghyl was trying to hide a thought. She asked, "What's bothering you now?" You are hiding something about Hortensia?

He touched the ring on her hand and asked, "Have you ever asked Hortensia for help?"

Bet could follow his thought patterns. "No, but I sense that you have. When was that?"

"When you left Amalfi to go north and make Lieserl."

"Did you learn anything useful?"

"That's an interesting question. I don't think so, or I would have told you about it long ago."

Bet was not convinced. "She must have said something important or else you would not have failed to mention that you summoned her."

"Well, I was angry and upset about the fact that you have to die here on Earth." Suddenly he could remember something that Hortensia had said. "Oh, my. I had intended to talk to you about your father, but I forgot....I could not have-"

"That's one of her powers, Ghyl. She can put information into your head and program you to remember it years later. What was it she told you about my father?"

"I'm not sure. It made no sense. What I remember was, for an instant...well, I imagined that I was your father!"

Bet grimaced. "Yuck! I mean, that's insane. She was just toying with you."

"That's what she said. Hortensia told me that our grandson....."

"Grandson? Obsidia only told me about our daughter."

"I think she said that our grandson is your father."

"Now wait. Exactly what did she say?"

"I can't exactly remember. She was talking about chromosomes...half of your chromosomes are from Lieserl and half are from our grandson."

Bet shook her head in dismay. "Well, I suppose that is possible. I never knew my biological father. And I think Obsidia once tried to warn me about this. She told me some story about a man who traveled in time and ended up being both his own father and mother or some such thing, although she told me it was a story from Earth.....fiction."

Albert Einstein by Cathy Neill
Ghyl continued to elaborate the thought, "And now, today, with me thinking about how Hortensia used you as the tool that could select just one special sperm from Albert.....I mean, how is that possible? But if it is, then why do we have to wait until just the right moment to have our daughter? And why must it be on Earth, in New York? All this strange twistiness in time makes me wonder about the secrets behind our mission that have never been revealed to us. None of this makes sense."

At that moment, Bet felt certain that she could see a smudge on the horizon. She pointed it out to Ghyl: the coast of New York. She started to pick out clothing to wear for their arrival at the docks. "You know Ghyl, or, perhaps, I do hope that you are aware.....if Obsidia is ancient, well, Hortensia is timeless. Hortensia has probably been working on this mission and thons project for changing Earth-" She hesitated, trying to find the right description, "....well, forever. As long as humans have been on Earth. Obsidia and Hortensia have been all over Earth and you and I.....observing every part of our lives. I have no doubt that Hortensia knows exactly what to tell us in order to trick us into doing what we must do. That's the sign of a true wizard....or God."

"Well, if Hortensia is a goddess, I don't understand why she -thon- does things the way thon does. Although, Hortensia did say that it was okay for me to hate thon."

"That's all part of how we humans can be manipulated and controlled. If you spend years hating someone and there is nothing you can do about it, then you are training yourself to be a slave."

"But really, Bet, how can one of your egg cells attract and select just the right sperm cell, the exact one needed to make your mother? How can we arrange to produce a daughter that perfectly satisfies Hortensia's plans for the future, including the creation of your father?"

Bet laughed loudly and then shrugged. "So, just calling it "magic" doesn't satisfy you?"

"Of course not. If it were magic then Hortensia would just wave a magic wand and be done with it." Bet finished dressing and put her arms around Ghyl. "I've heard it said that all magic is like love. You can break the spell if you stop believing in the magic."

"I think true magic might be like what Hortensia did to my memory. I was not even aware that my memories had been hidden from me. But, no, what Hortensia does is not really magic; she mutters about not being able to tell me about the future, but then she goes right ahead and tells me about my future. As much as she needs to tell me." He reflected on the last thing Hortensia had said. "Hortensia called me the luckiest man on Earth."

"Obviously, since you have me as your lover."

"Yes, but it is more than that."

Bet agreed. "No matter how crazy things get, no matter how impossible our mission appears, you know the future.....you've been there already."

"That's been bothering me too. Exactly when were we in the Core? How far in the future is that?"

Bet shrugged. "Obsidia expended great effort to keep that information from me. I researched the matter, but I could never figure out how to align time on Tar'tron to the timeline of Earth's history. Apparently there is something about the timing of our future life in the Core that we can't be told."

Ghyl tried to build on the power of his skepticism and push on to an understanding of the mysteries that haunted him. He asked, "Then how do we know that we will return to the Core at a time in the future? Maybe we'll be sent through time again, but sent even further into the past."

A puzzled look came over Bet. "No, I've seen our future. Based on my visions, I've decided that we'll go directly from 20th century Earth to the Core, without any additional time travel. Hortensia told us: soon time travel will no longer be possible. My only question is this: exactly how far in the future is your time period, the era when you grew up on Halma?"

"How do you know that I came directly from Halma to the Core without traveling through time?"

"Obsidia told me."

"And you trust her?"

"I worked with Obsidia for a long time. I've had a pretty good look into her thoughts."

The cruise ship's engines slowed once more. Now, out the window, they could see land close by. "Well, I still don't understand why our daughter has to be your ancestor. What's the point?"

Bet considered the matter thoughtfully. "Obsidia never wanted me to understand time travel, but she once tried to explain the power of time loops to me. She said that they are a way of storing energy, the energy that is needed to power a major Reality Change."

Puzzled and knowing even less about time travel than Bet, Ghyl wondered, "What is that supposed to mean?"

Bet slowly shook her head then shrugged. "I don't know, but I've seen the shape of Time. We've come back to a point in Earth's timeline when there are loops all over the place. Obsidia told me that the loops have been carefully designed and structured."

"And if you put that idea together with the claim that time travel will soon come to an end...."

A silence fell upon Ghyl and Bet. They watched the city of New York as it was coming into view through their cabin window and they heard a bustle of excitement from other passengers outside in the corridor.

Knowing that they would soon be in port, Bet unwrapped her arms from around Ghyl and allowed him to finish dressing. He was always challenged by the intricacies of buttons and ties and for a minute she watched him while he dressed.  Suddenly she remembered something that Ghyl needed to know. "Ghyl, about the future...."

He was struggling with a cufflink and mumbled, "Mm? Yes, my love?"

She finished seating the link. "I want you to begin doing something for me." She turned and went back to the window.

He noticed that she had switched off their telepathic connection. He went to where she stood looking out the window and put his hands on her hips. He kissed her neck and asked, "What is it, Bet?"

"We need to start preparing for the day when I abandon you and our children here in New York, when I'll have to return to Europe, alone."

He objected, "But that is so far off....years in the future. I don't want-"

"No!" She snapped at him then waited a minute before continuing in a calm voice. "Just be ready for any opportunity that arrives.....to, to start constructing the....those parts of your life that will allow you to survive and be happy while we are apart. I don't want you to be alone and miserable."

"What are you talking about, Bet?"

"I don't know how you will survive on your own in New York City, but you must find a way to go on without me....after I die. Promise me!"

"Of course." He turned her around and looked into her eyes. "You're scaring me. We've talked about this before. You'll go off to Europe for a few years and then we will go back to Tar'tron and be together again, forever."

There were tears in her eyes and she quietly said, "Yes."

For a long time they held each other, then a porter knocked on their door and took away their luggage. Bet took Ghyl's hand and squeezed it playfully. "Welcome to the new world." She winked at him, "Come on, we have a baby to make." She led him out of the cabin and on to their new life.

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It was almost midnight by the time they had traveled from the dock and across town and finally had reached their destination: a modern house with electric lights and a view of the Hudson river, not too far from the northern tip of Harlem, in the neighborhood of Inwood.

Angela opened the door and gave orders to their driver for bringing the luggage around to the back service entrance. A few minutes later, she had a bottle of champagne open and led Ghyl and Bet in a celebratory toast: "Welcome to America!"

Bet sipped the champagne and commented on the house, "I'm impressed, Angela. I did not know that such luxury existed here in these primitive times."

"Yes, its all new construction and, well, I cheated a bit. The wine cellar is operating under a special spell; I simply refuse to serve improperly aged wine."

"You've already been entertaining guests here?"

"Yes, Bet, and I used your name during the entire building process, too." Briefly, Angela allowed her face to change and match that of Bet, then she switched back to her former Madam Pampuri appearance. "There is a list of people up in your room, an accounting of everyone in New York who you already know, or, I should say, who already know you."

Ghyl emptied the wine from his glass. He frowned and set down the empty glass and looked across the table at Angela. "And when will I get to hear about the next phase of our mission?"

Angela shrugged, "There is no rush. It is not until next year when the woman who will raise your daughter finally arrives in New York."

Ghyl, aghast, looked at Bet: we won't raise our own daughter?

Bet nodded. "Ghyl, you need to be philosophical about this. As a physician, you will be positioned to swap our daughter for another baby girl. In a sense, we will have two daughters; the one we raise and our biological daughter. You'll get to see them both grow up."

Ghly tried and failed to control his anger. "And nobody bothered to mention this little detail about our mission until now?"

Bet patted his hand. "If Angela were human then she would have found a better way to tell you this. In any case, we'll love and cherish the little girl who we raise just as if she were our biological daughter. And we'll follow the life of Rachel with interest. Eventually, about 30 years from now, our grandson will be born and then it will finally become possible to assemble me from the genetic bits and pieces that were waiting for us here on Earth."

Ghyl tried to be philosophical about the need to accept his future with stoic grace, but his thoughts were spinning with questions and confusion. "Our daughter will be named Rachel? Who is it that will raise her?"

Angela explained, "The father and mother will soon immigrate from Europe. They'll raise Rachel right here, in Manhattan."

"What about the girl who we will raise? What is her name?"

Bet shrugged, "Whatever we decide. Do you have a favorite name?"

The first name that came to Ghyl's mind was Janet, followed closely by Shanne. Then he took hold of Bet's hand and kissed it. He said, "Whatever you would like, dear."

Bet giggled, "I've always liked the name Siomha, but it is a bit odd."

Ghyl repeated, "Siomha." He squeezed her hand and asked, "What does it mean?"

"It's from a story that my father told me. The first time I saw a Kac'hin I was upset and he told me a tale from Earth, a story about an elf named Siomha. I've seen the little girl we will raise and in my vision of the future, well....she reminds me of an elf child."

Angela said, "Speaking of children, you'll have four of them eagerly waiting for you at the studio, at 7:00 AM."

Bet groaned, "Ug, and it's already after midnight. Where is the studio?"

"Not far, just the other side of Broadway. You could walk if you want, but I'll drive you over at dawn. I've compiled a file with photographs of your students and descriptions of their dancing skills...everything is on the table next to your bed."

Bet stood up and pulled Ghyl to his feet. In his mind was a question: studio?

Angela said goodnight and as they went up the stairs Bet explained, "I'll be running a dance studio, teaching youngsters."

Ghyl asked, "And when you are busy doing that, what will I do?"

"Well, you need to be out and around town establishing your reputation as a philanthropic doctor, a recent immigrant from Europe. In particular, you need to establish a new clinic in the Lower East Side where in a few years you will swap our baby for the little girl who will become our daughter. Would you object to a silly name like Siomha?"

They'd reached their bedroom and Ghyl watched Bet quickly disrobe and jump under the covers. Fighting the hardware that held him tight in his cuffs, he said, "Siomha sounds almost like a Halma name.....it will always remind me of Shanne."

Bet frowned, "You know, I still rather jealous of Shanne.....your first lover."

Ghyl asked, "What do you think. Was it Obsidia in disguise as Shanne?"

Bet replied, "Obsidia never told me that. I suppose it is possible."

Ghyl finished undressing and turned off all the lights in the room except one. He crawled under the covers and was surprised to find the sheets were warm. Bet giggled, "Angela said that she felt the need to cheat. Apparently that extends to providing us with a nice comfortable bed."

Half an hour later Bet lay relaxed in Ghyl's embrace. Ghyl whispered in her ear, "Siomha. I do like that name."

Bet said, "This is where we will make Rachel, next year. And across town, in another bed, Siomha will be conceived."

"I'm having a hard time picturing it...how will I be able to make the swap? It does not seem right to take that other couple's baby. I'm surprised you can even consider giving up your own daughter, putting her into another family."

Bet kissed his forehead. "You think too much."

Ghyle was trying to follow the thoughts that were cascading through Bet's mind. He asked, "When we return to the Core, will Siomha go with us?"

"No, Ghyl. Siomha will be a woman of Earth. In fact, she will never be allowed to know that we are from the Core. But she'll be happy here on Earth."

Ghyl quickly fell asleep, while Bet began to read the files that Angela had prepared for her.  Angela came into the room and asked, "Are you ready to merge?"

Bet glanced at Ghyl, although she could tell from his thought pattern that he was asleep. She replied, "This always disturbs me." Angela's clothing melted away and she took on the exact physical form of Bet. She got into bed next to Bet and as soon as they touched, their bodies seemed to merge, with Angela disappearing into Bet's body. With Angela magically inside Bet, she would have ready access to Angela's memories.

Ghyl's firs car.
When Ghyl awoke, Bet was gone, but Angela was there, handing him a robe. "Get up, we have a busy day." She talked to him all through breakfast, explaining the plans that she had for his day. In something of a hurry to get him out the door and on their way, she dressed him with a wave of her hand, invoking a spell that caused his robe to transform into a business suit. She led him to the back door and when they stepped out of the house, Angela transformed herself into the form of a young woman, dressed in a jaunty riding suit at the cutting edge of 1904 fashion.

Behind the house there was an extensive set of outbuildings that had been designed to look like remodeled agricultural facilities including a tall barn, horse stables and even a large greenhouse. However, there had never been a farm on the site, only a small marble quarry, now lost under second growth forest.

Holly and Ghyl climbed aboard a motorized car and Ghyl quickly learned how to drive as they left behind the quiet residential district of Inwood and then traveled south, down Broadway through Harlem and then along the west side of Central Park with Angela's long hair fluttering in the chilly January air. Ghyl found it difficult to keep his eyes off of Holly and on the road. He asked, "Who are you disguised as now?"

"This is Holly Fergus, your live-in maid. We're going shopping today, but first we'll visit the three public health clinics that you fund in the Lower East Side. And I want to show you a good location for the next clinic that you must open." Ghyl discovered that he was already well known by the staff of the clinics. Angela explained, "I do a fine impersonation of you, Ghyl. Would you like to see my performance in drag, as you?"

"Not really. I don't like the idea that you can take on any form you like and trick me, or trick others into thinking they had seen me."

Angela laughed. "You don't complain about Bet using this sort of magic."

"Why would she trick me? Besides, here on this world she restrains herself from using magic."

After visiting the clinics they stopped at a midtown restaurant for lunch and then they went shopping. Angela, still in the role of Holly, bought clothing for both Ghyl and Bet. Angela even took Ghyl to look at baby carriages. She wheeled one around and asked, "What do you think?"

A watching sales woman asked, "When are you due?"

Holly replied, "We're just making plans. 1906 would be nice."

Gyle was perturbed. He still was not comfortable with the idea of raising someone else's daughter. When they got back to their car, Gyle asked, "Must you pretend to be my wife?"

"I'm not pretending, but that sales girl made a natural assumption. Anyhow, who do you think is going to actually take care of Siomha? Bet will be busy with her work and then she'll be gone-"

"Don't say that!"

"Why not?"

Ghyl knew he was being unreasonable, but he said petulantly, "Because it upsets me."

Holly said, "I don't take orders from you."

It was late, cold and blustery with some flakes of snow in the air by the time they returned home. Ghyl said, "We should have phoned Bet to warn her that we'd be late."

"No need. She's taking her students to the Metropolitan Opera House tonight. She'll return home quite late."

Somehow Ghyl had never thought through the details of his new life and how things would change in America. Their years in Italy had been almost completely filled with relaxation and Bet had seldom been away from Ghyl. He felt daunted by the idea that they were to be busy all the time with Bet at her dance studio and Ghyl managing the downtown clinics.

But it was Bet who was busiest, by far. Ghyl actually had little to do at the clinics. Angela had hired and installed an efficient staff that left Ghyl with little real work to do. The clinics provided health care to thousands of immigrants who other wise might not have gotten proper medical attention.

Ghyl and Angela, in her role as Holly, established a routine domestic schedule and Ghyl had time to take up golf which he played occasionally with wealthy donors who supported both the clinics and Bet's dance school. The dance studio only accepted students from poor families, children who otherwise would never have the chance to become dancers.

Ghyl discovered that Inwood and Washington Heights were home to many wealthy entrepreneurs who all shared a vision for the future that included a healthy, well educated populace with upward mobility for hard-working immigrants. Ghyl became friends and golfing buddies with many of his neighbors who generously supported the clinics and the dance studio.

One day at breakfast Holly passed on to Ghyl some news that she had recieved from Holly, "He has arrived."

Ghyl looked up from reading the newspaper and asked, "Who is that?"

"Siomha's father. He is now in New York."

Ghyl was not sure that he wanted to know any details, but he asked, "What's his name?"

"Leib Gruber." Holly seemed like she was about to say more, but she remained silent.

Ghyl had learned to peer into Holly's mind and follow some of her thoughts. "What?"

"Nothing. You'll just get upset."

This was a side of Angela -or Holly, Angela was almost always in the role of Holly now- that Ghyl had never accommodated himself to. There were things that she knew about the future that could not be shared with Ghyl. He'd learned to ignore those things when they came up in conversation, but he could not resist fishing for other items of information that Bet might be able to share. "What?"

Holly said simply, "Well, Gruber....he's got an interesting background. He killed a man in Europe."

Shocked by the revelation, he muttered, "And we have to turn over Rachel to be raised by a murderer?"

"Not murder. Like you, Gruber has a hot temper. He killed a man, but it was not murder."

"Then what was it?"

"You could say that he was defending the honor of his wife."

Now, searching through memories in Bet's mind, Ghyl could sense something of the horror that Gruber had been through. "So, he is running away.....coming to America with his wife."

"No. They are quite poor.  She will not arrive until next year, after he has accumulated enough money to buy passage for her."

Ghyl rather glumly finished eating, thinking about how each day brought closer Bet's death.

Ghyl had nothing to do all day and he puttered around in the garage, working on the new car he had bought. Holly was there with him, working on the car's engine all day. She was an expert mechanic, but to Ghyl's annoyance, she was always magically altering the cars to make them quieter and more efficient. Ghyl insisted that they rebuild the engines to accomplish those goals and not use her magic spells. Holly thought he was silly and stubborn for not using at least a few little magic spells that would never be detected by anyone.

Ghyl found himself feeling rather guilty over how much he enjoyed working with Holly, crafting metal parts and modifying the car. He'd grown up carving wood, but now he had fallen in love with the idea that he could craft metal into pieces for a mechanical device. What looked like horse stables that had been converted into a parking facility for cars was just the entrance to the autoworks where Ghyl and Holly spent so much time. Each parking space in the stables opened at both the front and the back. To the back side was a paved path that connected into the barn, the true garage and metal working shop.

Holly was still largely a mystery to him, but he sensed that she enjoyed going down the streets of New York City in a flashy car, with heads turning to watch. When he tried to look more deeply into her thoughts there was a strangely alien, almost mechanical calm there, but he imagined that she enjoyed their time together tinkering in the garage as much as he did.

That evening he and Holly came to blows. Rather than magically conjure up dinner, she'd made dinner from scratch and cooked food on the stove. They were alone in the house: Bet had gone to Philadelphia for the weekend with her dance students to see a dance performance by a ballet troop that was visiting from Europe.

After going to bed, in the middle of the night, Ghyl rolled over and bumped into the warm body of Bet. "Half asleep, he asked, "Back so soon?"

She said mischievously, "I was hoping you'd wake up."

For a few minutes they held each other and kissed then Ghyl grew alert and concerned. "Why are you back in New York?"

"Why do you always have to ask so many questions?"

Ghyl pushed her away, jumped out of bed and turned on a lamp. He saw her transform from Bet to Holly. "You!"

"Yes, me, and why not? Turn off the light and just pretend I'm Bet."

"I will not! Get out of here!"

With deliberate slowness, Holly reached over and plucked an envelop off of Bet's night stand from among the pile of folders and papers there. She tossed it to Ghyl. "Read that."

Ghyl opened the envelop and read the note that was inside, written in Bet's hand.

Dearest Gyle,

I've asked Angela to take things slow, but she intends to move things along now. This weekend when I'm out of town, I want you to think about how we are going to survive when I die. You need to find a way to keep going without me. You'll be responsible for providing Siomha with a happy home and helping her cope with my disappearance and blossom after I am gone. You'll know that I'm off in Europe, but poor little Siomha will never know that. For her, I will truly be dead. Of course, Angela will be there to help. Please, make use of Angela, of Holly, of who ever is there to help you. I know you've tried to keep you distance from Holly, but 'she' is just a machine, a constructed device. Use her like you use a car to get across town. You might even be able to fall in love with her...rather the way you've learned to love your cars.

Thinking of you, always -Bet

He threw away the note and shouted, "She never wrote this!"

Holly said, "Yes, she did Ghyl."

He grabbed her arm and jerked her out of bed, "Get out of my sight!"

Standing there naked, in the middle of the room, she refused to leave. "Aren't you going to honor Bet's instructions?"

Ghyl turned his back on her. He could sense her thoughts: yes, Ghyl, I crafted Holly carefully so that her form appeals to you. Why not relax and enjoy our time together?

Angry and out of control, he whirled around and struck her. She barely flinched and her smile never wavered. Then she raised her arm, formed a fist and punched his jaw. He staggered and fell to the floor, surprised and slightly dazed. She said, "Don't ever hit me again, unless you want to end up in a hospital." She resolutely got back in bed, and stayed there, as became her habit anytime that Bet was traveling out of town. But Ghyl refused to touch her.

A year later, a year during which a sort of truce had settled in between Ghyl and Holly, Bet told Ghyl, "I'm pregnant."

They celebrated by going shopping. Ghyl had, until then, refused to let Holly buy anything for their daughter. As the pregnancy advanced, Angela began taking Bet's place at the dance studio on many days. Bet and Ghyl spent more and more time together. He almost managed to forget that each passing day brought him closer to having to give away Rachel.

At the new clinic, he met the mother of Siomha. Ghyl was alarmed to learn that Mrs. Gruber had a heart defect. He arranged for her to give up her job and rest. The staff at the clinic made sure that she ate well and stayed healthy.

Then, suddenly, one day it was all over. Bet and Clara Gruber gave birth on the same day and Ghyl efficiently swapped the two newborn girls. For a few weeks Bet enjoyed being a mother, then she was increasingly eager to get back to the dance studio and her students. Holly took over caring for Siomha and again a steady domestic routine enveloped Ghyl.

When Siomha began to walk, Ghyl and Holly began taking her to Bet's dance studio every day. For the first time, watching her at work, Ghyl began to understand Bet's enthusiasm for dance and her devotion to her students. Bet only took in poor children, usually from immigrant families who could not afford to pay. They were children who loved Bet and the opportunity for a special path through life that Bet was giving them. Ghyl began to take more seriously his role as a fund raiser. By the end of the year, Bet had hired an assistant, a woman from India who was an expert in a type of ancient south Asian dance ritual. Ghyl noticed similarities between her dances and the style taught by Bet and the dance patterns that he had avoided practicing as a boy on Halma.

One warm day Ghyl drove Bet and Siomha out to a beach on Long Island and as they walked along the shore he asked her about the true nature of their mission on Earth. "Why are we here, Bet? Sometimes I feel that all this nonsense about bringing you into existence is only a smoke screen. The one constant from Halma to Tar'tron to Earth is the magic of dance."

"I can't answer your question, Ghyl. Anyhow, I don't question the role that dance has in my life. My parents taught me to dance....they taught me to be happy dancing. And I'm satisfied to share that joy with others." She gestured towards Siomha, playing at the water's edge. "Promise me that you will let her dance as she grows up."

Siomha seemed to be something of a tomboy and she enjoyed being in the garage with Holly and Ghyl while they worked on car engines. Sioma played more with toy cars than dolls. "I'll support her in anything that she takes an interest in."

Bet gazed out into the haze above the waves. "I was never told if our next child will be a boy or a girl. Would you like to have a son?"

"I don't know. I'm a little afraid.....I worry about abandoning our children on this world. I wish I knew when we will return to the Core. How old will Siomha be then?"

"Obsidia never showed me those details of our future, Ghyl."

"Clara has an appointment at the clinic for next Monday. I'd like you there....to see Rachel."

"Oh, Ghyl, I'd rather not. I prefer not to think about her."

"I know, but I think she is developing telepathy. Just like Lieserl did."

Bet showed no surprise. "Is it affecting her health? Her relationship with Clara?"

"I don't know. If you and I probe her mind together, maybe we can find out."

"No, I don't think that's wise. Rachel must live here in this world. Really, there is nothing we can do to change the life she will live. We know it works out well."

"Yes, because you are here and Rachel is your ancestor. But what exactly does it mean to say 'it works out well', what can we know of Rachel's future in the time after we leave Earth and return to the Core?"

"Ghyl, I can't allow myself to worry about things like that."

"Well, I worry about everything, enough for both of us. Two years from now you'll be dead."

"Don't say that in front of Siomha."

"She can't hear me. Anyhow, she should know. Clara has already told Rachel about her bad heart."

"Why terrify the child?"

"It isn't a source of terror if you tell a child factually what to expect."

"You still resent the way Janet walked out on you when you were young."

"No, I needed that.....change.....that bump in my path through life. It turned me into a revolutionary."

"Look at her." Bet gestured towards Siomha, playing blissfully in the sand. "She'll have a quiet and ordinary life."

"I can't promise that. She might not be ready to be on her own when we complete our mission and leave Earth."

"Don't worry. Even if we leave Earth while they are young, Holly will take care of our children."

"I do worry. Holly does not really understand people. She's not really human."

"You need to stop demonizing her. She was crafted from human parts."

"If so, then she should stop acting like a demon. Or a witch, or whatever she is. She keeps doing magic in front of Siomha."

"The whole world is magical to a child. Holly knows what she is doing." Bet could sense the guilt that was never far below the calm surface of Ghyl's thoughts. "Don't torment yourself, Ghyl. Allow yourself to like her."

"You know that's the problem, Bet. I do like her. She does everything she can to please me."

"Stop fighting it. Really, I can't stand to see you suffering. I'm not jealous of Holly. When I'm gone, Holly must become Siomha's mother. You can't hold back your feelings and keep pretending that Holly is just an employee."

"You know me better than that."

"Yes, I know how stubborn you can be. But what do you gain from your zealous devotion to me? I know that you love me and that you always will. That does not mean that you can't-"

"No! Don't say it."

"Why not. You see the thought in my mind. I've written it out for you....written instructions-"

"Stop!" Siomha heard that shout over the sound of the waves. She came back to them and Ghyl picked her up. They turned and walked back along the beach towards the car.

A year later Bet was again pregnant, as was Clara Gruber. Clara's health had never fully recovered after Rachel was born. Ghyl had tried to talk to Clara about birth control, but she had not been interested.

Ghyl asked Bet about the coincidence of her pregnancies with Clara's. "Did Obsidia ever explain the linkage? Why must this next birth also be synchronized?"

Bet tried to explain, but she did not understand it either. "It has something to do with the inertia of time. The births of Rachel and Siomha had to be synchronized and it made a reverberation in Time, a kind of standing wave. In this Reality, my life is linked to that of Clara."

"Nonsense. Hortensia is behind this, I'm sure. It is all part of her need to control you and I."

"You don't know that. Now, be a good boy and hush up. Kiss me." Bet jumped up and started doing a teasing little dance on the bed.

Just then Hortensia teleported into their bedroom. Ghyl pulled on a robe and muttered, "What do you want?"

Hortensia chuckled, "I wanted to check on Bet's delicate condition, but she seems quite frisky."

"She's perfectly healthy. Perhaps you can explain why Bet must die."

"Ghyl, you know the answer to that. Because of your hard head and your absurd gallantry, the only way to separate you two and allow Bet to complete her mission in Europe is to terminate your life together. Thanks to my magical powers, her death need only be temporary, but there is nothing you can do to stop it. Bet's life -and death- is now linked to Clara's."

Ghyl shook his head. "That's nonsense. Tell me how she dies. Does Bet have some hidden medical problem?"

"We'll, I suppose we could call being in love with you a disease. But, no, as you say, Bet is in perfect health. I can't tell you how she dies because If I did, you two would never complete your mission here on Earth."

Bet went to Ghyl and put an arm around him. "Really, Ghyl, you must stop fighting the future. Accept the fact that Holly is here to help us. You need to do what is best for our children. I must die, but you know that Hortensia is a wizard of Time. My death will be correctable. In the end, we will be together again."

Ghyl asked Hortensia, "How can you reverse death?"

"Death is easy to manage for a Kac'hin like me. I can tap into the fabric of Reality and find alternate timelines. Think about the absurd way you yourself dodged death on Halma. I was watching over you and when you died, I simply changed Reality so that you lived again."

Ghyl thought about his confrontation with the rulers of Halma and his death sentence and the miraculous way he had escaped his own execution. "So, I've already been through what Bet must go through?"

"Yes, you have. And never forget: it is your own stubbornness and refusal to accept your situation that triggers Bet's death."

Silently, Ghyl resolved to find a way to escape from his fate: he could not accept the idea that he would cause Bet's death. He put his around around Bet and asked, "Boy or girl?"

Bet glanced at Hortensia who replied, "Bet will give birth to a boy."

"She'll die giving birth?"

"No, your son's birth will be routine. The timing is all controlled by Clara's failing heart, which will give out a few days after she gives birth." Ghyl was thinking of the last advice that he had received from his mother. Hortensia could follow his thoughts easily enough and she warned him, "Struggle as you must to shape the future, Ghyl, but it is your struggling that will kill Bet. You are well and truly trapped." Hortensia performed the teleportation dance steps and vanished.

Ghyl was certain of only one thing: that he must try to select his own future, a future that he could live with. At that moment he could imagine a half dozen ways to help Clara and forestall her death. Bet could follow the logic of his thoughts. She said, "Do what you must do Ghyl, but let's make the most of the time we have left together."

From that day on, Siomha had two mothers. Ghyl surrendered to Holly's artificial charms and he made no attempt to correct Siomha when she called both Bet and Holly 'mama'. When Bet was at the dance studio, Ghyl was at work on his own project, consulting with physicians and searching for a way to successfully treat Clara's failing heart.

Frustrated by the poor quality of Earthly medicine, on an evening when Bet, now eight months pregnant had quickly fallen asleep, Ghyl let himself into Holly's bedroom. For a minute he looked around the room. He'd never been in her room before. It showed no indications of use. Angela appeared with a quiet little -poof-. He asked, "Where were you?"

"Ghyl, I have work to do. I'm making final arrangements for Bet's arrival in Europe."

"Back in Amalfi?"

"I can't tell you where. The whole problem, the reason that Bet must die is because if you knew where to find her then you'd follow her and mess up the timeline. Bet will adopt a new identity when she goes to Europe and I can't do anything to help you find her."

Ghly approached Angela and touched the fabric of her tight-fitting dress. "And yet, here you are, again in your Madam Pampuri disguise. I suspect I could detect volcanic Italian soil on your shoes if I tried."

Angela took off her shoes and handed them to Ghyl, "Here, knock yourself out."

He took off her jacket. "And with a microscope down at the clinic I can detect the type of pollen that is on this jacket."

Angela teased him, "If I had known you wanted to undress me I would have transformed myself back into my Holly disguise." Now she did, and stood graceful and nude in front of Ghyl. He picked her up and took her to the bed. "I'll start treating you like my wife, in every way, starting now, tonight, if..."

She asked, "If? There are conditions. Ah, but yes....I see what you want. It is a clear burning desire in your mind."

Ghyl wanted there to be doubt or confusion. "I'm sure you could fix Clara's heart with your magic, just as you repaired my damaged foot the first time that you touched me."

Holly laughed. "Ah, yes, your poor foot. But that was not our first meeting. You still don't recognize me do you, Ghyl? I had the pleasure of touching you long before you arrived in Amalfi."

Ghyl felt a chill. He sat down on the bed next to Holly and touched her jaw. He'd always been captivated by by Holly's beauty and in a dozen subtle ways she reminded him of Shanne. He asked quietly, "Shanne?"

"Nice guess, but wrong. I did incorporate some of Shanne's physical features into my design of Holly."

A horrifying possibility occurred to Ghyl. He tried guessing again. "You are Hortensia?"

"Devil Town" by Fernanda Suarez
"She's far too busy to be here, spending her days changing diapers. Anyhow, I don't have to tell you anything. Just remember, if you make a deal with the devil then you always have to pay. She laid back on the bed in a provocative pose. "If you make a deal with cute little Holly then all you need to do is play."

Ghyl laid on the bed beside her and placed a hand on her belly. "And if I play, then you'll repair Clara's heart."

"Clara will die of an infection. While giving birth, a bacterium will enter her blood. A few days later she will be dead. Her life could be saved by a simple antibiotic. Too bad these primitive Earthlings have not yet discovered antibiotics."

"But you could use your magic to save her."

"Ghyl, as you once said, if we tried then we could save millions of people on this pestilent planet. But we are here to make a future for Humanity. Along the way, a few eggs must get broken....and a few must get fertilized." She began to undo the knot in the cloth belt of his robe.

He jumped off the bed, startled by a new idea that he had not allowed himself to contemplate. "You and I will have children?"

Holly pretended to be hurt by his question. "Is that such a remarkable idea? I know you won't touch me until Bet is dead. But you long ago decided to ravish me as soon as Bet is taken from you."

"But....you are an automaton, not a real woman."

"True, but I've been playing the role of a woman, of many different women for centuries. True, most of my disguises have been in the male pattern, but in recent times it has been more productive for me to use the female form. I think I've gotten quite good at playing the role of a woman. I can see you desire burning in your thoughts, Ghyl."

"But you can also see in my mind that I'm going to remain faithful to Bet."

"Faithful to Bet? But Ghyl, she long ago told you to make me your second wife. And you have, in every way except one."

Ghyl asked, "So is it a deal? I'll make love to you right now if you agree to use your magic to save Clara."

"You're confused Ghyl. Why do you think I refuse to accept your deal?"

He imagined that she was unwilling to question Hortensia's authority. "You believe what Hortensia says, that the future can't be changed. You won't even try."

Holly could follow his thoughts clearly enough. "And just because your mother told you that the future can be changed, you are going to try to make me change it. No, Ghyl. Think it through." She paused and let him calm down and think.

For a minute he waited in silence then he asked, "What's the matter, can't you think of a convincing lie?"

"I've never lied to you, Ghyl. Think. Yes, I could save Clara, but that won't save Bet. And further, Clara is not a very good mother. Just as Siomaha will have me as her new mother, Rachel will have a new mother after Clara dies."

A wonderful idea occurred to Ghyl. "We will adopt Rachel?"

Holly laughed, "Clever! But wrong. No, we will watch Rachel grow up from across town. In a few decades I will act and help her create the new Tim."

"New Tim?"

"That squirrely guy who you met in the Core, in you mother's office."

"How do you know about that?"

"Why shouldn't I know. I'm in communication with Hortensia all the time. But I don't mind telling you a little secret....I was the one who brought you to the Core. I've been your guardian angel, Ghyl. I picked up your dead body the first time you died on Halma. I split you out of the original copy of Ghyl. I brought you to the assembly room so that Svahr and Janet could play around with you."

"Obsidia?" Ghyl watched in amazement as 'Holly' transformed and took the physical form of Obsidia. Ghyl whispered, "And even your thought pattern changes." And just as quickly, Obsidia was morphed into a replica of Bet, bulging belly and all. Ghyl asked in dismay, "You can even simulate Bet's mental pattern?"

The copy of Bet grabbed Ghyl's hand. She led him back to the master bedroom. "Watch this." It was a warm night and the real Bet lay sprawled across the bed, sound asleep, with moonlight pouring in the window. Obsidia, still using Bet's bodily form, went and got on the bed. As she touched Bet's body, Obsidia sank in and the two bodies merged.

Ghyl was not sure what he had just seen. Bet sat up and seemed to instantly wake up, but Ghyl could tell that it was Obsidia who now spoke with Bet's voice: "Bet is still sleeping, but I've taken over her brain. This is my favorite magic trick. I love how it fools you every time."

Ghyl could follow her thoughts, which seemed like Bet's pattern of thinking, but tinged with a coating of evil cynicism. "You mean...."

"Yes, Ghyl, I've often been in control of Bet's body without you even noticing. And other times I've taken on the form of Bet's body and you never noticed that either." She could sense the shame and horror he was experiencing. She pulled herself out of Bet's body and transformed back into Holly. "So, since you have already made love to me many times, why should you hesitate to touch me when I'm using this body form?"

Bet woke up and asked, "Wha- what's going on?"

Ghyl went and sat next to Bet and put an arm around her. "Holly has been demonstrating some magic."

Bet tried to focus her eyes on Holly's naked body. "Mmm...I see...she finally got the three of us all in the same bed."

Holly laughed, "Until tonight I restrained myself, since you warned me that Ghyl is not into threesomes."

Bet told Ghyl, "I sense that Obsidia revealed herself to you."

"You've known all along that Angela was Obsidia in disguise?"

"Ghyl, I long ago gave up making assumptions about who is who and worrying what disguise Obsidia is using. On Tar'tron, it is routine for people to change their appearance. You feel violated and tricked, but what harm has been done?"

He asked, "You don't mind that she sometimes impersonates you?"

"Well, I can tell it offends you, but on Tar'tron it is a popular game for two people to 'trade bodies'. And an automoton like Obsidia can even merge into a human body and go along for the ride."

"Or take command."

In the Barn
"So, I see Obsidia has revealed all of her tricks to you. Ghyl, let go of your anger: just look at Holly: she's simply gorgeous. Sometimes I like to take Holly's form and work with you in the garage. I can almost understand the pleasure that you get building cars.....its like the enjoyment I get shaping young dancers."

Surprised by the idea, Ghyl tried to imagine Bet impersonating Holly. He could see the memories of it in her mind. She continued, "Anyhow, I grew up with Obsidia as my friend. She was one of my first lovers, along with Svahr. I still love her." She took hold of Holly's hand.

Ghyl muttered, "Well, thank you for telling me. I guess I was starting to hate you because you seemed to expect me to treat Holly like my wife, even before you died. I could tell that you like Holly, but I thought you were just trying to push me and Siomha over into the care of Holly so that you could pursue your work at the dance school."

"Yes, and because of your stubbornness, Holly talked me into trading bodies and playing tricks on you. Holly predicted that the time would come when we could reveal how you had been fooled and then you would have no more reason to withhold your love from Holly. Really Ghyl, you can love two people at the same time."

"But is Holly -Obsidia- really a person?"

Bet shrugged. "I don't care."

Holly said, "I might not be a biological human, but I am a reasonably good counterfeit."

Ghyl asked her, "Do you love Bet? Do you love Siomha? Do you love me?"

Holly replied, "I've studied human emotions for centuries and I have access to the means to simulate emotional responses. Usually I choose not to subject myself to emotions. However, I'm fascinated by human behavior and I easily follow the mind patterns of both you and Bet. I enjoy the way you two think about each other....I'm dazzled by the way you love each other. I think I've learned the pattern of that love and I've also learned to love Siomha."

Bet told Ghyl, "She just can't admit the simple truth: she was built as a tool, an assistant for Hortensia, but built from the stuff of humans. She has emotions, she just also has the ability to turn of the emotional outbursts that plague we mortals." She sank back into the softness of the mattress. "So, are we done here? I'm tired and I'm expecting Holly to drive me to the studio at dawn."

Holly and Ghyl each kissed Bet and apologized for disturbing her sleep. Holly took Ghyl's arm and led him back to her bedroom. "There. We finally cleared the air." She put her arms around him. "I like the way you just looked at me."

"I haven't trusted myself to really look at you. You are gorgeous."

"Yes, I've worked very hard to shape my 'Holly' disguise into the woman of your fantasies. It infuriates me that you prefer Bet to me."

"I'm infatuated by you both. I am under your spell." He allowed his hands to touch her skin.

Holly kissed him with a loud 'smack' of her lips. "Good. We will have no trouble maintaining a happy home for Siomha when Bet goes off to Europe. Now, would you like me to fix you breakfast before or after I take Bet to the studio?"

Ghyl looked at the clock and replied, "I thought maybe we have time for more than a snack."

"Oh, yes, but I do admire the way you've resisted my efforts to seduce you. In a few weeks Bet will be gone and I will be able to introduce you to this body. I assure you, it will be worth the wait." She kissed him once more and then she pulled herself from his embrace and pushed him out the door and into the hallway.

One month later, again on the same day, Bet and Clara gave birth. The next day Clara had a high fever and then the infection spread to her heart. She quickly declined and died.

Bet remained in good health, but as foreseen by Hortensia, Ghyl was the cause of her death. His misguided efforts to find a way to save Clara became centered on the development of a botanical formulation that had bactericidal activity. Ghyl had hired a team of chemists to prepare a treatment for Clara's infection.

Watching over Earth, the Observers noticed the efforts of Ghyl's team to develop an antibiotic therapy. An Overseer was sent to Earth to investigate and she became suspicious of Ghyl and Bet and their apparent sudden appearance on Earth in the 20th century.

When Clara died, Ghyl was there at the clinic.

Back at their Inwood house, Clara's death was Bet's cue for leaving New York and returning to Europe. She was waiting when the phone rang and she listened patiently while Ghyl described Clara's rapid decline and death.

At the end of the phone call, Bet used her ring to summon Hortensia, as planned. Hortensia teleported to Bet's position and without any preliminary small talk asked, "Are you prepared to teleport to Europe?"

Bet said, "I have some questions about-" Outside, the Overseer detected a nearby teleportation event. Fearing that Bet might have departed, she sprang into action.

The Overseer smashed open a window and saw Bet. She pointed a weapon at Bet and a death ray shot out and Bet disintegrated in a flash of light and with a loud -POP!-. Going around and entering through the door, the Overseer detected another teleportation event. Upon searching the house, the Overseer found the sleeping Siomha and her baby brother. She departed.

Later, when Holly and Ghyl returned home the house seemed quiet. Ghyl strained to make a telepathic link to Bet, and something told him that she was now far away.

He found the broken window. Holly had had already been in contact with Hortensia and she explained: An Overseer arrived from the Moon a few days ago. She could find no actionable violation of the Rules of Intervention until Bet summoned Hortensia. The Overseer destroyed Bet, but Hortensia used a little time travel magic to send a copy of Bet to Europe. Our mission continues, but we cannot use magic any more.....we are being carefully observed now.

Aloud, Holly asked, "Will you eat?"

Ghyl replied, "I'm not hungry." They found the children still asleep. Ghyl and Holly called the police station and reported Bet missing. Then they repaired the window and with that task, they fell into an easy routine of day-to-day life.

For a few weeks, Ghyl had to resist the temptation to fantasize about going to Europe in search of Bet. But each day that passed, he fell more deeply in love with Holly and the children.

After Clara's death, it did not take long for Gruber to find a new wife and Ghyl even stopped obsessing over Rachel. On the day of Siomha's fifth birthday, after the children had fallen asleep, Ghyl and Holly were in their bed and they began exchanging thoughts: when will we return to the Core?

Holly suggested: maybe you should check with Bet.....find out the status of her mission in Europe.

It was sensible suggestion and it was a course of action that Ghyl thought about occasionally. However, Ghyl was feeling guilt. He'd discovered that he was perfectly happy living without Bet. The prospect of eventually being reunited with her was a sweet dream, one that he had grown comfortable imaging as part of a far off future.

Without being summoned, Hortensia teleported into their bedroom. Thon said, "Bet is close to completing her work in Europe. I suppose Ghyl can now be trusted to have limited contact with Bet."

Holly sat up and peered through the dim light at Hortensia. "You should explain to Ghyl that Bet will leave Earth first."

Hortensia shrugged, "That was my original plan, but she has made new friends in Europe. She might decide to stay here far longer than I had foreseen."

Pictured: Lieserl (Marie Pliqua)
Ghyl felt a sudden surge of jealousy and he wondered if it might be better not to have contact with Bet. He asked, "What do you mean by 'limited contact' with Bet?"

"I could arrange for you to meet in a private place, have a little vacation together, and then return to Earth."

Ghyl asked Holly: would you mind if I had a vacation with Bet?

Holly laughed: of course not.....the children and I will go along with you!
________________________________________
Next: Chapter 5 -Prague

Previous Chapter: Hortensia

return to Chapter 1

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