|Bet: cooking school for future Earthlings|
Chapter 3 of Star Dance.
Bet dropped her cooking implement, turned and wrapped her arms around him, wiggling them around inside his robe. The magical fabric accommodated itself to the pressure of her arms and she snuggled happily within his embrace. He commented, "You look different today."
She giggled, "I'm still playing around, adjusting my features to match what I sense in your mind. It is fun...exploring your preferences." I don't want you to grow tired of me.
Ghyl was pleased that she once more was holding her thoughts open to him. "You know, the beauty of your mind never changes.....I think you were made for me."
"Mmm, well almost. I was designed to be indistinguishable from an Earthling.....a certain type of Earthling."
He kissed her nose. "Let me guess: the kind that burns food."
She whirled around and rescued their breakfast from the heating element of the stove. "If you distract me then you need to expect burnt food. Let's eat!" They sat at a table at the end of the kitchen. From there they had a simulated view of a sunny beach. They ate fruit and the cooked trout that Bet had prepared. Gesturing towards the ocean, Bet mused, "This is where we will live when we are on Earth."
Ghyl blinked against the bright sunlight. He hadn't really gotten enough sleep. "It's beautiful." He turned his gaze back to Bet and was struck by her glowing appearance, the highlights of her hair and her white teeth flashed in the simulated sunlight that streamed upon her. "It is a beautiful dream.....that we will go to Earth and always be together."
His words seemed to dim her spirits. "Ghyl, I need to explain something....."
He put his hand over hers. "What's wrong?"
"We will not always be together."
"But you said-"
"Yes, we will have a happy life together. First on Earth and then when we return to the Core. But.....but on Earth.....I must die."
"What do you mean-"
"Just listen. We'll have two children and then I'll die. It has to happen that way. And after I die, I'll have a special mission to accomplish in Europe while you have to stay in America and complete our main mission."
Ghyl felt anger building up inside. "What do you mean -you die? Is this what Obsidia told you? Listen to me, Bet, we don't have to be her puppets. We'll find another way-"
Bet shook her head and tears spilled down her cheeks. "No. No, Ghyl, I've seen it. But listen to me. Please! We will be happy. And after we have completed our missions on Earth, we will be together again. Our lives together then....the rest of our lives.....will be even sweeter because of our memories of having once been kept apart."
Ghyl brushed tears from her face and he complained, "I can't bear to see you like this. We don't need to go to Earth at all-"
She lost her temper and shouted, "Stop saying that! We will go, and soon. My death on Earth...it can't be stopped, Ghyl."
Ghyl could see deeply enough into her mind to know that it was true: Bet carried memories of a vision of their future lives. The clarity and serenity of her future vision spilled over and smoothed his own thoughts. Ghyl took a deep breath. "Okay, I think I understand." He did not really understand how she could die while at the same time live on, but that was a magic that he needed to accept. "Thank you for telling me. How long? How long do I have to prepare myself for.....for our separation?"
Bet wiped away her tears. "Now, first, we have about ten years together before we will face that trial."
"I don't want to waste a moment of those ten years." He swept her up in a panicked embrace and for five minutes they renewed their journey of mutual discovery, a gently exploration of their unity that they had begun the night before.
Then Ghyl heard his mother's tense and edgy voice. "Bet, where is my patient?"
Bet replied, speaking into the air, "He just got up. Give him fifteen more minutes."
Janet complained, "I got word from Obsidia; the whole schedule has been moved up and finalized. You two will depart for Earth today. We are at minus 2 hours."
Bet cried out, "What? 2 hours? That's not-"
Janet ordered, "Ghyl, in my office. Now!"
Bet stood up and pulled Ghyl to his feet and she kissed him one last time. "We'll finish this later."
He asked, "What does she mean the schedule has been moved up? What schedule?"
"Obsidia's project... she provided us with a schedule. You and I were to spend a few relaxed months here, learning some language skills for 20th century Earth, but something has changed."
"You mean, our future has changed?" He suggested, "Maybe what you saw of our future -the vision of your death- is no longer valid."
"Hopefully Obsidia will explain. You better teleport over there, Janet sounds frantic."
Ghyl kissed her and was tempted to ignore Janet's order, but Bet pushed him away and said, "Go. I'll see you later!"
He tried to pull his robe together and force it into some semblance of order, then he performed the dance steps to trigger his teleportation to Janet's office. He appeared in the space in front of her desk. Ghyl felt a mild attack of vertigo and nausea and he stumbled to the couch. Janet said, "Good morning Ghyl. Today we are not our own masters. In a few minutes Obsidia will be here."
Ghyl closed his eyes, put his hands to his head and waited for the world to solidify. After a minute he felt better and opened his eyes. He rose from the couch, went around the desk and kissed Janet's cheek. "Good morning, mother. What's going on, why all the excitement?" Tired and confused, and not entirely recovered from the teleportation, he flopped back down on the couch.
"Obsidia will explain." Janet waved away his question. "Listen, I need to warn you. Your mind is still struggling to integrate with your new body. No more teleporting before zero hour! When you get to Earth, you will gradually adjust to the conditions of your new life. When your powers develop and as your confidence grows, don't foolishly think of yourself as invincible. Let Bet take charge during the preliminary phase of the mission while you adjust to Earth and your new life. Never forget: all this talk of seeing the future is nonsense. The future can change. It will change. While on Earth, you will be forced to improvise. Trust your own judgement, even if it conflicts with something that Bet tells you."
Ghyl felt a rising tide of fear and anxiety under the bombardment of Janet's rather hysterical instructions. Before he could assimilate her rapid-fire orders and respond, she pressed him. "Yes? Alright?"
He objected, "I trust Bet. She would not deceive me. Cannot deceive me. Her mind is open to me."
Janet spoke loudly and with conviction. "No, Ghyl, listen to me. Even if she has seen the future -a future- that exact future might not happen. The same is true for your power to see into the future. Time can still be changed.....that's the whole purpose of your mission to Earth. Time must change. You must change the future of Earth, of all Humanity. So use your powers, but don't be fooled by them. Promise me!"
Ghyl could see part way into Janet's mind and he had no reason to doubt her. "I promise. But how can-"
Obsidia arrived at Janet's office with a man. He looked around, wide eyed and said enthusiastically, "That is so cool!"
Obsidia performed quick introductions. "Janet, please take charge of our guest. He can benefit from your insights....the tricks you know for adjusting to the wonders of Tar'tron. Tim, this is Janet, the Earthling I told you about."
Ghyl stood up from the couch, ready to shake the man's hand. But Obsidia stepped over and took Ghyl's hand, "Come on, Ghyl, quick now, we have an appointment."
Ghyl would not go with Obsidia until he had a chance to embraced his mother. He pulled away from Obsidia and hugged Janet. They said goodby and she told him, "Take care. I'll see you again when you return to the Core."
Obsidia impatiently took hold of Ghyl's arm and led him out of Janet's office and down the corridor and into the play room. Ghyl asked, "Who was that guy-" He fell silent. Ghyl was surprised to find the waitress from Nan Log, Hortensia, waiting in the play room for them.
Obsidia told Ghyl, "I need to tell you a few things about your mission. I'd hoped to do this in a sensible and leisurely fashion, but you'll be on Earth before this day is over."
Ghyl asked, "Why the big rush?"
Hortensia replied, "Come here, Ghyl, let me show you." Hortensia took Ghyl's hand and led him to a set of four high-backed chairs that occupied one corner of the room. The chairs were arranged in two pairs, facing opposite directions. Hortensia pointed, "Sit there." Thon sat next to Ghyl. Obsidia sat down in one of the other chairs, out of sight, behind Ghyl and Hortensia. The room lights dimmed.
Hortensia waved a hand and a vision appeared in Ghyl's mind, almost completely washing away his view of the play room. "This is the shape of Time; the past is over there in blue and the future is in the other direction, along those two red paths."
|The shape of Time.|
Hortensia nodded thons artificially perfect and puppet-like head and pointed towards the displayed divergence of the timelines, "I'm showing you the structure of the next Reality Change, the new future that we are now creating. Your mission to Earth will alter the future, creating the new future shown here. In the new Reality that forms, a different Earthling will arrive here in the Core, on this date. Tim will be replaced by a different person, an analogue who will be quite different. I believe that today is the optimal day for his arrival. You and Bet must now go to Earth and create that new Earthling."
Ghyl turned to Obsidia, "I'm surprised that this.....automaton.....is telling us the future."
Obsidia shrugged, "Not everything is what it seems, Ghyl."
Hortensia laughed nervously. "Ghyl, this bodily form is just my disguise, a way to help me move quietly among the people of the Core." Hortensia altered thons appearance. "Does it matter what I look like? This is my natural appearance."
Through the gloomy light of the play room, Ghyl critically appraised the pointed ears and large luminous eyes of this new version of Hortensia. Ghyl could also read the thoughts that Hortensia was projecting into his mind. "You are an hermaphrodite?"
Hortensia giggled. "You sound uncertain, but in your mind I am revealing the truth to you. Yes, I am an hermaphroditic Kac'hin."
Ghyl asked, "Kac'hin?"
"One of the human variants of the Core. Now, if you can, please concentrate on what I'm telling you.....we do not have much time for-"
Ghyl was in no mood to be ordered around. "Who is the bumbling incompetent that messed up the schedule?"
Hortensia grimaced, "I take full responsibility. It was not until last night when I observed the remarkable synergy between you and Bet that I realized the need to move you two to Earth at once. It is not safe to keep you here in the Core with-"
Obsidia was carefully examining the projected data about the future. She interrupted Hortensia, "The whole landscape has shifted! And this new timeline is fractured, incomplete."
For Ghyl's benefit, Hortensia pointed and highlighted part of the future in the data display, "We are initiating a complex Reality Change. Perhaps the most complex Change that has ever been attempted. Think of dominoes falling.....the exact shape of the future will not become clear until we get much deeper into this Change."
Obsidia objected, "Then how do you know that this will lead to a better future?"
"With this type of display and with the limited magical powers available to you and Ghyl, the future appears incomplete. However, we Kac'hin were created as a human variant that is able to access the Sedronic Domain and view entire Reality Chains. I can see that this path to the future is the one that we must take."
Expressing her deep bitterness, Obsidia remarked, "So, as usual, I must trust you."
Hortensia nodded and said simply, "Yes, you must."
Ghyl sighed. He glared through the dim light at Hortensia and warned thon, "I've explained this to everyone else, and I suspect that you know it, but I'm not able to function as a puppet. I can't trust you."
Hortensia allowed a cold cloud to surround Ghyl's mind and press itself against his pattern of thought. "If needed, I can implant automatic and unquestioning trust in your mind. However, that kind of force will not be needed. I've set aside adequate time to complete your team's preparations for the mission to Earth. So let us-"
Ghyl insisted, "Then Bet should be here."
Hortensia spoke and simultaneously brightened the room. "Bet, we are ready for you now."
-Poof!- Bet appeared in the play room and she rushed to Ghyl. She plopped herself down in Ghyl's lap. They put their arms around each other and Ghyl asked her, "Do you know Hortensia?"
Bet replied, "I've seen thon around Nan Log." Hortensia shifted thons form back to that of the waitress. Bet watched the transformation and uttered a small gasp of surprise. "A Kac'hin masquerading as a waitress?"
Hortensia shrugged, "Some humans are made nervous by Kac'hin. I often find it useful to disguise myself."
Bet spoke to Obsidia, "So, Hortensia has been the source of our powers, our ability to see the future?"
Obsidia replied, "I believe you are correct."
In a hollow voice, Bet said, "Then we are puppets of the Kac'hin."
Hortensia shook thons head, "I have assembled this team, but it is up to you to go to Earth and complete your mission. It is now up to you and Ghyl to create the future that Earth and Humanity deserve. The people of Earth need you there, they need your powers, the power of your linked minds, to help them navigate the 20th century to a desirable future."
Bet asked, "But will we still have our magical powers when we reach Earth?"
Hortensia explained, "Yes, but you must voluntarily restrain yourselves from using magic. There is danger; you might be detected on Earth. As the key battle ground of the Time War, Earth is constantly Observed in an effort to prevent interference in the course of Earth's timeline. You can't afford to attract Overseer attention. Anyhow, most of the time you won't need magic on Earth. Not, much."
Ghyl wanted to ask Hortensia about the Overseers and the Time War, but first he asked Bet, "So, do you know the details of our mission?"
"I know the outlines. There are three phases." Bet held up a finger, "First we will go to Europe in order to find my mother."
"Your mother is from Earth?"
"Yes, she was born on Earth and brought to the Core by us."
Ghyl struggled to make sense of what Bet had said. Trying to follow the complicated swirl of her thoughts, he felt a growing vertigo.
Hortensia laughed at Ghyl's confusion, "Among time travelers, this sort of thin happens all the time, Ghyl. In order for Bet to exist, she must go to Earth and save her mother from suffering an early death."
Ghyl nodded, "I see. And so, if I want Bet in my life, then I can't act on my idea of refusing to go to Earth."
Obsidia agreed, "Bet would not be here at all if you did not go to Earth with her. Now, no more foolish talk of abandoning the mission. Listen carefully while I tell you what you need to know....."
Zero hour was at hand. Hortensia had one last bit of information for Ghyl and Bet. "You'll travel from here to Earth's Moon. You must make this first leg of your journey with the Earthling who just arrived here today."
Astonished, Obsidia asked, "You are only leaving one day for him to find the Buldoon Arques?"
Hortensia nodded, "That will be enough time for his task, but today we are short on time. Ghyl, Bet, take your seats, there, facing the wall. Quickly, now." They did as instructed and slumped into unconsciousness like rag dolls. Hortensia gave one more command, "Obsidia, teleport out."
Obsidia quickly stepped the teleportation dance and vanished.
Janet and the man from Earth, Tim, walked into the play room. Hortensia took Tim's arm and led him to the other two chairs that were set with their high backs to those occupied by Ghyl and Bet. He could not see their limp bodies. He said, "Janet tells me that we are returning to Earth already."
Hortensia had no time for useless chatter. Tim was simply a lump of clay, a type of temporal place keeper for the man who was destined to exist in the next Reality and play the role of the wandering Earthman who would come to the Core to obtain the Buldoon Arques. Hortensia commanded: "Yes, Tim, it is time to return home. Please sit down." They settled into their chairs. Hortensia nodded to Ghyl's mother and said, "Thank you, Janet, you may go."
Janet teleported back to her office.
Tim, the Earthling, commenting on Janet's disappearance, said, "Very cool!" Then he slumped and fell unconscious.
Hortensia lifted a finger and then, in the following instant, the three humans and Hortensia the Kac'hin vanished, teleported from the Core across a vast interstellar distance.....
.....and they appeared at their destination, in a similar set of chairs in another part of the Hierion Domain.
Hortensia stood up and made a brief visual inspection of the three unconscious Earthlings. They were now in a smaller room than the play room that they had just left behind in the Core. Hortensia stepped around to stand in front of the chairs that were occupied by Ghyl and Bet. Hortensia waved thons hand and they awoke; simultaneously a view of a blue and white Earth appeared on the wall. Hortensia said, "We've reached Earth's Moon. Collect your wits. Relax. I'll be right back."
Ghyl and Bet struggled to clear their minds. They reached out and grasped each others hands.
Ghyl was nervous and overwhelmed by how quickly everything was happening. He blurted out, "What if something goes wrong?"
Hortensia pointed a finger at his hand and the ring that thon had given to Ghyl vibrated on his finger. "That ring is my link to you."
Ghyl noticed that Bet wore an identical ring. Now Hortensia extended thons hands to them. They stood up, none too steadily, and Hortensia guided them to the wall, which now seemed like a large window looking out upon the Earth. Ghyl noticed that the blue and white image of Earth continued to shift across the wall. The view of Earth was breathtaking and Ghyl realized that they were in a spaceship which was now descending towards the surface of the planet, although there was no vibration or physical sensation of movement. They sank down into a dark Italian night and then Hortensia popped open a hatch. The smell of planet Earth reached Ghyl. Hortensia said, "Fare well."
Taking Ghyl's hand, Bet confidently led the way out into the darkness of Earth's night. The spacecraft that had brought them to Earth silently drifted off into the sky.
Ghyl and Bet stepped inside. Bet said, "Madam Pampuri?"
"Si, please call me Angela." She led them from the dim entry way into a comfortable parlor that was lit by gas lamp fixtures on the walls. "As my guests, I insist that you allow me to be of service. Anything you need, just ask."
Ghyl sank down into a comfortable chair that was upholstered with lush velvet. He examined the bottom of his left foot. "I stepped on something sharp."
Angela knelt at his feet and gently massaged the sole of Ghyl's foot. "Hortensia knows nothing of Earth! That witch could not even be bothered to give you shoes and dress you like Earthlings." The abrasion on Ghyl's foot was now gone. Angela asked, "Better?"
Having been trained to not indiscriminately use magic while on Earth, Bet asked Angela, "You dare use magic here?"
Angela laughed. "On Earth? Most of the time it is safe to use magic. Tonight, here, in this house, who would possibly care? Now....."
A slipper formed on Ghyl's foot. Angela's clothing spell quickly spread up his leg and over his entire body, causing his robe to disintegrate. He was now re-clothed in fashionable silk pajamas suitable for the era. Ghyl looked up and saw that Bet now wore an elegant night gown. Angela asked, "I suppose Hortensia also failed to feed you. Are you hungry?"
Bet glanced at a clock on the wall and said, "It is almost dawn, but for us it is lunch time."
Angela guided them deeper into the mansion, through a rather large dining room and on to the kitchen. "Eat. I'll open a bottle of wine." Ghyl and Bet sat at a small table and Angela poured their glasses full. Food magically appeared on the table, seemingly as they thought of it. Angela spoke while they ate, "Bet, in preparation for your mission, I've become quite familiar with your grandfather and his family. Your great grandfather, Hermann, will remain in Italy until next year, although his health is still declining. As you know, your mother must be conceived soon, at the end of next month."
Angela looked back and forth between Ghyl and Bet. "Lieserl should be a lesson for you two. According to the mission schedule, your daughter will not be born until you have been on Earth for five years. I hope that Hortensia remembered to provide you with-"
Bet giggled, "Yes, we are fully protected. I have complete conscious control over my reproductive processes."
Ghyl could feel Angela searching through his mind.
Angela said, "I sense that you two are.....quite fond of each other."
Ghyl took hold of Bet's hand. "I really should resent the may we were brought together so as to fulfill our mission, but I'm too happy to complain."
Bet explained, "We just me yesterday, but we are looking forward to a long joyous life together."
"Wonderful! And, of course, as soon as you found each other and fell madly in love, Hortensia sent you right off to Earth." Angela shook her head in dismay. "Well, then, I will try to make your time here be like a honeymoon for you two. For a few weeks, just relax. Ghyl can start learning how to act like a doctor and you both need to work on your English."
Ghyl wondered if he had heard correctly. To Bet: um...doctor?
Bet told Angela, "Ghyl knows nothing of the role he will play, that he must pretend to be a physician."
Angela shook her head. "Sorry, I assumed that he would have been briefed before coming to Earth."
"We were rushed out of the Core before we had an opportunity to familiarize Ghyl with the details of our mission."
Ghyl asked, "Why should I pretend to be a doctor?"
Bet explained, "We'll be dealing with children and anxious parents. As a doctor you will be able to harvest the two Earthlings that we must send to the Core."
Ghyl's heart sank and he wondered: baby snatching?
Angela held her arms out to her sides and gestured to the surroundings, "Here in Europe we are just entering into a period of long steady decline in the infant death rate. In the most recent Reality, the old timeline that is being eliminated with your help, Lieserl died as a little girl, from a simple bacterial infection." Ghyl could see in his mind an image that Angela was familiar with: the small, sickly girl Lieserl, her skin red an ravaged by a battle between her immune system and a swarm of bacteria. "Taken from Earth and moved to the Core, Lieserl will survive and have a good life. I'd call it saving a life, Ghyl, not baby snatching."
Ghyl asked, "Of all the children on Earth, it seems odd to save just this one. Why only Lieserl?"
Angela sighed. "Sadly, you will probably never really understand why. You need to accept that the Reality which you are modifying, with a timeline in which Lieserl dies young, is almost optimal. You and Bet will make just a few small changes and help create a new Reality that will be the Final Reality."
"It does not seem fair. With just a small effort we could save thousands of children. Probably millions."
Angela gave a small negligent shrug. "If you start down that road, there is no end to the changes you will want to make in Time. These primitive Earthlings don't understand the use of antibiotics. Yes, we could allow Lieserl to survive and live on Earth, but Hortensia does not have the luxury of playing that game. We are close upon the time when time travel itself will end."
Ghyl felt an odd chill. "How can time travel end?"
Angela replied, "Magic comes. Magic goes. The age of time travel is ending."
Just then the back door of the kitchen opened and a man entered. Angela greeted him, "Buongiorno, Martino."
He looked at Ghyl and Bet. "I vostri ospiti americani sono arrivati ieri sera?"
"Sì. Non c'è bisogno di preoccuparsi di loro. Quando hanno bisogno di qualcosa che chiederanno aiuto."
Martino shrugged and turned to leave, "Avrò i cavalli pronti in tempo per prendere alla stazione."
"No, Martino, per favore non li dusturb. Camminerò alla stazione."
"Molto bene, Signora, io camminerò con voi." Martino went back outside where the sky was just beginning to brighten.
"Grazie, Martino. Sarò fuori in cinque minuti."
Ghyl asked, "Who was that?"
Angela explained, "Martino is the caretaker. Now, I'm off to Rome for the weekend. Each weekend I visit my mother in Rome. Oh, end expect a visitor. Every weekend my niece, Stella, comes by." Angela seemed to smirk and Ghyl caught an image of a saucy young woman in Angela's mind. "Now, come with me, I'll show you upstairs before I go."
Five minutes later Ghyl and Bet watched Angela and Martino depart down the gravel road. From the window of their third floor bedroom they could see the misty Sea below. Ghyl turned and put both of his arms around Bet. "So, your mother was...will be....is Italian?"
Bet said, "Her parents just happen to live in Italy, they are here for work, for business reasons. Sono stato addestrato bene per questa missione. Non c'è bisogno di preoccuparsi."
Ghyl could sense the meaning of her words in his mind and somehow he even could recognize some of the words. Bet explained, "You will learn Italian quickly. Picking up new languages is one of your magical powers." She started unbuttoning his pajama top. "Now, where were we before Hortensia interrupted us?"
Ghyl pushed at the shoulder straps of her gown and kissed her bare shoulders. "I wonder when this Stella will arrive." Ghyl was captivated by the image of Stella that he had seen in Angela's mind. "It seems odd for a guest to arrive whenever Angela leaves town."
Bet led Ghyl to the large over-stuffed feather bed. Somewhat perturbed by Ghyl's nearly instantaneous infatuation with Stella, she explained, "Stella is one of Angela's little tricks. Stella is really Angela, disguised as her own niece."
Ghyl watched Bet take off her gown and climb into the bed. "Who is Angela trying to trick?"
"This is a common method for Interventionists like Angela. In the role of her wayward niece, she can be more -friendly- with Martino and gain his loyalty."
"You mean-" He could see in Bet's mind that she did mean that Angela maintained an intimate physical relationship with Martino through her doppelganger Stella.
Bet could follow Ghyl's thoughts. "Doppelganger is probably not the best term to apply, since Angela is not actually alive. Now, forget about Angela and think only of me...." Bet isolated her thoughts from Ghyl in order to stop the rapid feedback that all too easily took over their thought patterns. Bet and Ghyl fell into their game of mutual exploration and play.
It was an hour later before Ghyl had a chance to think again about Angela. With the early morning sun streaming in, he was gazing at Bet in fascination, then he thought of the future and the idea that she would have to die. He remembered what Bet had said: Angela is not actually alive. He asked, "Will you become like Angela after you die?"
Bet allowed her mind to link up once more with Ghyl's and she followed the shape of his thought in his mind. "No. Angela was never alive in any biological sense. She was conjured up from scratch and serves as a tool of the Interventionists on Earth.....a powerful agent who cannot be recognized as an alien invader by those who guard Earth against such things." Her thoughts turned to Earth itself and they both sprang out of bed and rushed to the window.
Ghyl looked out at the sparkling Sea. "This ocean, this is the view that you showed me in your house on Tar'tron."
Bet nodded but corrected him, "I never had time to actually take you to Tar'tron. That place we were in.....it exists beyond normal space."
Bet suddenly turned away from the window and pulled open a closet door. She called to Ghyl, "She's back! Get dressed." She threw on a silk robe and ran from the room.
Ghyl found his wardrobe in the closet on the other side of the bedroom. He spent five minutes exploring the odd clothing that he found there before dressing and returning to the first floor of the mansion. He found Bet talking to a young woman, actually, what appeared to be a teenaged girl. Bet said to Ghyl, "This is Stella.....Angela's alter-ego."
Stella nodded towards Ghyl and finished what she had been telling Bet, "So don't come into the stables until later this afternoon unless you want to disgrace poor Martino. He's a happily married man, but his wife -the entire town , for that matter- knows nothing of his affair with Stella."
Bet shrugged. "Very well." She took Ghyl's hand and pulled him towards the door. "We'll go down to the beach."
The narrow rocky path down to the shore was a challenge for Ghyl to negotiate. He was impressed by the ease with which Bet moved and the way her robe fluttered around her graceful body. They reached the sandy beach running and Bet performed a short dance across the span of wet sand at the water's edge. Ghyl commented, "You are a beautiful dancer."
He turned and gazed back up the slope to look at Angela's home, perched above the cliff face, its stone face glistening in the sun. "Wouldn't it be safer to teleport down here to the beech?"
"Not really. One of the locals might see us." Holding hands, they walked up the beach, pausing often to examine interesting items that had washed up on the sand. After a while, Bet could feel his thoughts slipping back to her death. "Please, Ghyl, don't think about it. I'll still be me after I die."
"But I don't understand. How can you die and just continue living? There is something you are not telling me."
She tried to think of a way to move him past his anger and fear. That was to have been Janet's job. "Some things are better... it's better for our health when things are not examined, when we don't allow ourselves to be obsessively concerned-"
"Then why did you tell me at all?"
"I had a vision of the future, a future in which I had not warned you about my death. In that timeline you were so angry with me.... Well, I had to change that."
"I see. So I'll deal with your death better this way? Spending ten years waiting for it to-"
"No!" She walked in silence for a minute and waited for her anger to cool. "Ghyl, you can't spend ten years fretting about my death. I gave you that knowledge because....."
Ghyl felt her mind isolate itself from his. "Bet, don't close your thoughts off from me."
"Then stop taking what I must tell you in the worst possible way."
She said enigmatically, "We're dealing with my jealousy here. I can't stand to idea of you being in love with anyone but me."
"Neither can I. You are my perfect match. I'm amazed that I've found you-"
"You feel that way now, but in the future that I saw, you were so mad at me....you did not wait for me after I died and we were separated. And then I got mad at you and foolishly took revenge. And I don't want to do that. So, let's enjoy what we have been give and not foul it up."
They'd come around a head of land and now the stone houses of Amalfi could be seen on the steep hills that lofted the village above the Sea. Fishing boats decorated the harbor. Ghyl said, "I never learned much Earth history. This is the Roman Empire?"
Bet laughed and pulled her robe tight against her body against the cool ocean breeze. "That empire is long gone and the kingdom of Italy is almost gone. Here, in this century, Italy is quickly becoming a modern nation, with democratic ideals. The dream of empire still exists....a dream that will rip this world apart during this century."
On the rocky little headland, they were exposed to a brisk sea breeze and Bet was covered with goose bumps. Ghyl took off his jacket and put it over Bet's shoulders. They turned and walked back down the beach he way they had come. Ghyl marveled at the sensations of being on Earth. For years he had dreamed of traveling through space to visit the origin world of Humanity. He mused, "And your mother will be born here in this primitive land."
"The people of Earth don't understand telepathy or other magic, but the folklore of Earth is dominated by tales of magic and magicians. Occasionally an Earthling has particularly powerful telepathic abilities. We are here in this time to collect the best combination of genes that Earth has to offer, in the form of a little girl."
"However, a telepath cannot survive on Earth. She will shunned by Earthlings, even her family. My mother will sicken and die unless we rescue her and send her to the Core."
Ghyl was awe-struck by the possibility of a daughter traveling back in time to assure that her own mother would live and give birth to the daughter. "And by saving her, you will become her daughter. I don't understand how this paradoxical time loop began."
Bet shook her head. "Nor do I. Hortensia has never explained it. Of course, there were earlier Realities in which Lieserl was rescued by someone else. It is a constructed innovation of the earlier timeline, a Reality Change, to now send you and I back through time to make a new Reality in which I save my own mother from death."
"Yes, that is what I don't accept. If you and I did nothing while here on Earth but make love and walk on beaches then Angela would simply send Lieserl to the Core. There is no real need for us to be involved. Why must we be involved in saving the life of your mother?"
Again Ghyl felt Bet shielding her thoughts and trying to hide some of her knowledge of the future. He asked her, "What is it?" He could see tears in her eyes and she was shivering in the cool breeze. He pulled her up into the dry sand and they dropped down out of he wind behind the protection of a low berm or small dune. Ghyl held her close and waited. The sun felt warm and friendly.
Finally Bet said, "I don't want you to be jealous."
Ghyl could sense that there was some secret that Bet did not want to speak about, but she had decided that she must explain everything to him. "I don't really understand this, but I have an important role to play in the birth of my mother. Actually, in her conception."
Trying to follow the pattern of Bet's thoughts which were a swirling turmoil and not entirely open to him, Ghyl began to imagine that Bet was actually hermaphroditic and was destined to be the father of "her" own mother. Bet could follow the confused meandering of his thoughts and she laughed, "Not, I am not a hermaphrodite! You've seen and carefully explored the true shape of my body. I'm.....well, let me explain."
For a minute she tried to collect her thoughts then she tried to explain what form the future must take. "I have the magical ability to select the sperm cell that must produce my mother."
Ghyl was startled by the idea. "Wait, you mean....."
"In a couple of weeks I will go north on a mission. I must accomplish two things. First, I will attract the attention of a young physicist....my grandfather, a man named Albert.... and then I must arrange for Albert to start thinking about light in a new way. He'll be captivated by my beauty, by my resemblance to his girl friend and by my knowledge of physics. We'll end up in bed together and my own ovum will trap the special sperm cell that must be used to create my mother. Angela will transfer the chromosomes from that cell into an egg cell from Lieserl's mother. So, there will be two artificial conceptions: both Albert's theory of wave-particle duality and also Albert's daughter, Lieserl.....my mother."
Ghyl tried to control his jealousy. "Do you really accept this nightmarish plan, that you must.....make love to your own grandfather?"
Bet held onto Ghyl so tightly that he had trouble breathing. She whispered, "I've seen it all. Albert is a womanizing- well, I don't have to like him. I just need to assure my own existence. I;ve been designed by Hortensia to be the biological chromosome trap that must be used in order to make possible my own existence. I can't back out of this without destroying our life together, Ghyl."
"And what was it you said about light?"
Bet looked into his thoughts and replied, "You know nothing about physics, do you?"
"It is not a topic taught to the children of Halma."
"Well, there is no reason for me to try to explain the whole subject to you now, but in this century Earthlings are starting to discover the nature of matter. They've just realized that electrons are components of atoms and in the next few decades they will learn about atomic nuclei and how to tap them as a source of energy. In past Realities, those discoveries came first. then, only then, was Maxwell's wave theory of light finally questioned. However, Hortensia wants to change the sequence of scientific discovery and so I must arrange for my grandfather to propose a theory of how energy can exist in light as particles: photons. With that change, Albert will become a famous physicist and the entire history of Earth will be changed. Most importantly, in this new timeline, Albert will be in position to take another important step later, after I die. I'll return to Europe and make sure that he takes that second step, introducing to Earth an understanding of cosmology that otherwise would not be achieved until much later."
Ghyl did not understand anything about the physics that Bet was alluding to. He did not care about physics. His thoughts were only concerned with Bet and his hopes to have a long and love-filled life with her. Ghyl still was not satisfied with the basic premiss that Bet must be the one to alter the life of her grandfather and change the history of Earth. "Angela can take on any form she wants, so she could work with Albert to help him make these discoveries of new physics. Surely you do not need to die in order for the science of cosmology to develop on Earth."
"Ghyl, I really can't explain any of this, but before the end of the century, the magic will end. Time travel will no longer be possible. Hortensia needs to change the shape of Earth's future before then and all these changes that involve me and my grandfather are exactly what must occur. In the new Reality that we create, the people of Halma will never be enslaved by aliens and Earth will have a chance to avoid its own catastrophes." She implored him, "We can't allow our jealousies to derail our future together."
Ghyl's thoughts were swirling with dozens of questions, but he pushed them away. He resolved to not be jealous of Bet and what she must do in order to make her own existence to be possible. He committed himself to making Bet happy and for two weeks they did not speak again about their mission and why they had come to Earth.
And events unfolded as Hortensia had planned them.
Then, on the day after Bet and Angela went north to engineer and manage the conception of Lieserl, Ghyl used the magic of his ring to summon Hortensia. Thon appeared in Angela's home and sternly asked Ghyl what he wanted. He let all of his frustrations out. "Who are you to use Bet so ruthlessly?"
Hortensia had adopted the form of typical Earth woman. "She" sat down in a comfortable chair and slipped out of the pinching shoes that were part of her disguise. "I see that you are angry, Ghyl, but don't lose sight of the facts. Without me, Bet would not exist and neither would you."
"Still, I can't believe that you are forced to use Bet as your puppet and make her do such horrible things. I suspect that it is all a game for you.....arranging for Bet to seduce her own grandfather."
Hortensia giggled. "In a very real sense this is a game. I suggest you enjoy playing your part in this. After all, you are the luckiest man on Earth."
Hortensia's sly grin and her frivolity irritated Ghyl. "Do you really expect me to be happy, sitting here knowing that Bet must make love to her grandfather?"
Apparently bored by Ghyl's qualms, Hortensia drummed thons fingers on the arm of the chair. "Well, of course, she does not have to do it. If she refuses to go trough with it, if she diverges from our mission plan, then she will bring into existence a new timeline, one in which you and she never come to Earth. Similarly, you could still refuse to do your part in bringing Bet into existence."
For a moment he felt Hortensia in his mind and Ghyl could sense something of the future, something that he had not previously allowed himself to question. He asked with a sudden shiver of horror, "I'm Bet's father?"
Hortensia laughed. "I allowed you to imagine that for an instant, just to horrify you, but no. When done with this first phase of the mission, you and Bet will go to America and have a daughter. Your daughter will in turn have a son. That man is who will provide half of Bet's chromosome pattern, although I'll grab his chromosomes long before he grows into a man."
Appalled by what he had been told of the future and disgusted by Hortensia's cavalier attitude, Ghyl complained, "This is insanity!" He tried to control his anger. "Why does it have to be this way?"
"In order to shape an acceptable future for Humanity I need a tool, a powerful telepathic detector. You see, I must find someone who holds Earth in her grip....a kind of evil mastermind who controls all of Earth. Earth has been carefully designed to prevent such a telepath from coming into existence. We must use magic tricks and all the available genetic resources of Earth in order to build a path to the kind of future that both you and I want to create, Ghyl. Unfortunately for you, you must remain ignorant; some of my magic tricks are designed to trick you into doing what you must do. If you persist in questioning this, then you do have the power to blast my plan, but doing so would not help you, Bet or your bumbling species."
Ghyl said, "I don't want to disrupt your plan, but why must Bet die as part of that plan?"
Hortensia shrugged. "I can't tell you everything without triggering you into some gallant yet fruitless act of rebellion. However, most of your problems are of your own making. It is because of your devotion to Bet that an extreme method had to be found to separate you two for a while."
Ghyl was rather taken aback, but the more he considered the idea the more he realized it might be true. "You could find no better way?"
"None. And I looked, carefully. Anyhow, her death is nothing remarkable, nothing the magic of the Core can't cope with. After Bet's death you two will be reunited and all your misery over this will eventually strike you as petty and misguided. Of course, in your current state of ignorance, I don't expect you to be happy about anything I tell you. It is healthy for you to revile me. I don't mind." Hortensia stood up and did the teleportation dance steps and thon vanished from Earth.
|New York City, 1904|
return to Chapter 1 - Brisé
return to Chapter 2 - Penché
Next - Chapter 4: Harlem