The 2005 Outer Reaches conference in New York had reached the last day and the topic was Sedna. The hall was packed. This slide [later part of a Wiki entry] was projected onto the large screen:
Sedna (provisionally designated 2003 VB12) was discovered by Michael Brown (Caltech), Chad Trujillo (Gemini Observatory), and David Rabinowitz (Yale University) on 14 November 2003. The discovery formed part of a survey begun in 2001 with the Samuel Oschin telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California using Yale’s 160 megapixel Palomar Quest camera.
It was question time:
‘Joel Parris, Associated Press: Dr. Brown, you’re referred to as the man who killed Pluto, it had it coming. You and your team then discovered the dwarf planet Sedna. What went wrong after that?’
‘Mike Brown: We came up against one tiny little glitch, Joel. Thirty-five Hubble Space Telescope images taken in mid-March said there was no moon and the question of whether this was even a planet therefore arose.’
‘You originally thought there were two moons.’
‘That’s correct. We were sure it must have had at least one – the slow speed of rotation, at least twenty earth days, instead of a few hours like most other asteroids. Further observation and calculations told us there wasn’t.’
‘Susan Hobbes, Reuters: Dr. Brown, what can you tell us about Sedna that most astronomers are actually agreed on?’
‘Astronomers calculated Sedna to be about 1,770km in diameter, slightly smaller than Pluto and about three times further away from our sun. That’s a long way away. It was cold, red-colored and slow-moving: a year on Sedna was equivalent to about 10,500 Earth years or even more, maybe 11,400. It was supposedly composed of frozen methane and other ice, very cold -’
‘I’m getting the feeling you’re about to announce something which has happened, some development?’
‘In one. We stick to what we say about the moons but there’s some other object out there, it orbits Sedna, it appears to be rock beneath ice. The ice may not be methane, this we don’t know as yet, we think, on balance, it is methane.’
‘Maxim Shemkoff, Pravda -’
Dean Freeman switched it off and turned to the five they’d brought into the John A Lassky Center this third Friday in June, 2011, co-director Jay Richards beside him, and added, ‘Dr. Brown took the question from the Pravda man, a minor question about gases, then left the press conference.
That was six years ago and there’s been no official shift in opinion since that time. Sedna is still regarded, as he said, as a dwarf planet, it’s going to be closest to our earth around 2075, there’s talk at NASA about a craft to meet it.’
‘And are we agreed,’ asked Amanda Billings, ‘that Sedna does have this orbiting rock?’
‘Yes. An orbiting rock with irregularities in its composition and in its motion. Zoe, the name of this rock, is an interesting tale. If 90377 Sedna is named after the Inuit goddess of the sea, then Dr. Brown thought he’d name this rock after something Greek, Hebrew or even Assyrian but it appears it was already named. How he could know that is quite curious to us – the name does not refer to anything in our mythology whatever.’
‘Can we just establish, Mr. Freeman,’ asked Susan Allison, ‘that apart from this rock, there are no moons -’
‘There was one.’
‘We blew the real moon up.’
There was a hubbub, Freeman did not smile through his goatee beard, he just took a sip of water and waited for the hubbub to subside.
‘With all due respect, Mr. Freeman,’ objected Roland Parris, ‘we don’t possess the technology to get that close, even with the stuff we keep closeted, and we sure as hell haven’t had that amount of time to transport a weapon of that kind of firepower … er … that far.’
‘Correct. Nor would it have been much use had we done so. The Zoessi do possess the means though. We just relayed them the message to go ahead and they did the rest.’
‘Whoa, I can’t see you for dust,’ said Parris. You ‘relayed’ something to them? Who the hell is ‘them’? And you’re still talking over 25 years just to get a message over that distance.’
‘That’s correct, with our technology.’
‘Explain, pretty please?’
‘When I say we relayed it, we relayed it to their people here at the Center, they communicated with their home and that was that.’
Jay chuckled. ‘It gets worse, Roland. Tell them, Dean, about the Zoessi. As a matter of fact, there’s one of them in the room with us now.’
Predictable looks all around.
‘You were all, as Jay said earlier, brought in by degrees, with much sifting and confirmation along the way. You’re here for a project which you’ve shown great interest in so far, involving communicating with another world though you no doubt thought it meant telescopes and the like, though we gave you to understand, correctly, that there’s far more, that this is pioneering work – we need your skills and we need your temperament. We’re now at the business end of this process, good people. It needs to be a contractual arrangement because there is training, outlay on both sides in time, effort and in our case – costs. If you like us, if we like you, then we go ahead.’
Susan chipped in. ‘Just how were we selected? What common factor do we all have?’
‘You may not like it.’
‘The only reason I’ll try you all is that you’ve got this far, after a rigid process. You were all selected because you were not extraordinary.’
‘Ordinary in other words.’
‘No, not ordinary in the least. Just not extraordinary. You’ve answered the questions you’ve been asked all the way along the line to this point but it’s fair you’re told what some of the 200 plus criteria were.
‘We’ve already told you you were selected for being ‘not extraordinary’ but the most important factor, way above any others, was your ability to empath, as we call it. Not empathise, though that’s always handy too. None of you are overly-emotional beings, yet you have compassion and can open your minds, this is beyond price. There is no way the Zoessi can communicate with you unless that be so.’
‘Hang on,’ said Amanda, ‘we haven’t even got to these so-called Zoessi yet.’
‘We will,’ smiled Freeman. ‘The other factors are all assessed with that empath ability in mind. With the males for example – nobody overly alpha, no Adonises but also no elephant men, just in the middle or rather – away from the edges. All the males are strong enough and can step up when required.
With the females, it’s the lack of stridency, lack of wailing, with not too troublesome monthly issues, no extremes in other words. Sounds highly intrusive but I assure you you’ll see the reason very early on. Regarding ethnicity – it’s not for reasons of dislike but because the Zoessi find it far easier with your physiological profiling, quite similar.’
‘I’m the only non-Anglo,’ commented Jacinta Llata, drily.
‘That’s true but you had so many of the other criteria that it just had to be. You’ve all had your moments in life but haven’t had ultra high stress, except in one or two things. Everyone has a personal tale to tell – we can’t have perfect beings, we need flawed -’
‘Well you’ve certainly got that with me,’ laughed Susan.
‘Yes but you five are also not too self-effacing, you’re realistic about your abilities. You have human strengths and human weaknesses. It’s a corny way to put it but you’re ‘nice’ people who have had their moments. You’re sane. The Zoessi can do business with such people.’
‘And the Zoessi themselves,’ said Jacinta, ‘are they … er … ‘nice’?’
‘Essentially, yes, people tend to gravitate towards similar types. They are a people, not just a force or power, although they can only manifest themselves away from their rock by empath methods. They have developed these over time.’
‘If they were to assume their own form,’ continued Jacinta, ‘assuming these people do exist, if they could appear here now, you’re saying they would look like us?’
‘Yes, we would,’ said Dean. ‘We prefer the human form, it’s closest to ours. The differences between Chinese and Japanese, western and eastern Europeans – that’s the level of difference.’
‘You look human enough. Except for your vast superiority, technically of course.’
‘We’re just further down the track than you – you’re a younger people than ours – but you will also get to the point we have one day, provided you haven’t killed yourselves off in the meantime.’
‘Sounds a bit too good to be true,’ observed Jacinta.
‘It does at a first meeting. Meetings like this are always nicey-nicey, everyone being pleasant – it’s the nature of meetings. When we get down to work, it’s as people always are – someone will have an idea, someone will disagree, the first will be unhappy with that.’
‘But you said we’d all be happy.’
‘I said you’d all be taken care of, as any company would. You’ll not want for things. As for whether you’ll be happy, that’s up to you. You were selected because you are essentially happy types, you don’t brood, you don’t grow bitter. There is one other thing no one has asked about but I need to mention it -’
‘No one’s married,’ supplied Jacinta, ‘no one has children. The men are all 35-50, somewhere there, the women all 30-40, very traditional, very ‘middling’.’
‘Yes. You’ll be working for days, weeks on end with each other for company – we had to make sure that the least trouble possible would come from this. We need you working, not bickering, as any company needs. You’ll work a standard day for us, in two shifts – one of four hours, then a two hour break, and another four hours after that, not physical labour, staggered so that someone is always on duty. Though you have no spouse or child, you still have family and you can webcam them whenever you wish, from here, not from Zoe itself, you’ll have days off, the usual thing you’d expect, you’ll have eight weeks annual leave altogether, in four two-week stints. We know you’re all in good health.’
‘What about the long term, say ten years down the track?’
‘Or even earlier, let’s be honest. Should you lose your ability, you’re pensioned off but your family, those you select to go with you and who agree, will go to a place by the lake and forest which we own, a large area, a community of huts or lodges.’
‘Or on Zoe?’
‘Yes, it’s possible, if you wish – that’s your choice, not ours, but that would involve some changes in you of course. Now I must get to a most important point. Before you know anything more about this operation, which is tantamount to knowing our industrial secrets you understand, nothing more untoward han that, then you’ll need to sign a document which you’ll read at your leisure in a minute or two, stating that nothing that is divulged to you about the operation after this point now can ever be divulged to anyone else, even family. I point out and emphasise that there is nothing illegal being asked of you in terms of human or national law, nothing beyond your capacities, nothing involving danger to your person or to any of your families. But we really do have secrets which must be kept from our opposition.’
They looked at one another. Asked Roland: ‘Are we actually working for the forces behind governments, the evil muvvers who control the world?’
‘Yes and no. There’s certainly funding, just as there was with the Manhattan Project and similar, but this project has no military purpose, it’s of no value to those who control things.’
‘Because they can never control the seven of us – we provide you with defences.’
‘And if we decline now and take our leave, we will not meet with an accident?’
‘No. That is guaranteed. This is a contract over a period of time. Read it, then if you’re happy, sign it and join Jay and me in the next room. That’s where we’ll get down to the fine detail. Should you not wish, you’re free to leave and anything you’ve been told so far is not confidential – it’s just that no one would believe you except the opposition – and they already know. Guess who they’d then torture to get the secrets? We’ll be next door.’
There’d been a healthy discussion, no doubt monitored, but in the end, they realised it was a pretty standard contract, covering everything from pensions to danger to walk-away clauses. Lmited time, renewable. The Zoessi were as had been stated, they were not going to take the humans over, the five were not asked to do anything untoward outside the Ten Commandments, there were no tricks. If any sort of trick was alleged by any of the five, it was grounds for them to walk away. It seemed more like a tour of duty.
They’d all agreed.
The next room, as Freeman had called it, was awesome and if the other had just been a foyer, this was like a giant war room. The six were on a walkway at one end, looking down on banks of computers being operated by people of all ages – they seemed human enough. Dean would rejoin them soon.
At the other end of the hall which Jay was now pointing out was a big board and projected onto that from behind was a picture of Zoe.
‘Hardly a moon,’ commented Jay, ‘it’s a space station provided by our resources here, transported by their technology to that rock. It’s made of a hybrid metal developed here, not unlike carbon fibre in strength but metallic. The station itself cannot be observed from earth, it’s about 75 miles across, in imperial, and inside is a living, thriving community. Work parties go out from there to mine minerals from the rock. And not slave labour, they’re paid as any workers are., except not badly.’
‘Tell me,’ asked Roland. ‘If you’re one of them, are you going to suddenly turn alien and eat us or lay your eggs in us or something worse?’
‘I’m human, Roland, you’re looking at a fellow human, with a Zoessian inside, Dean chooses to say he’s Zoessian but it’s still a human host. That’s how they travel and how those of you who opt to do so will too. And to answer the unasked, the human can end this whenever he wishes and that person returns. So it’s in the interests of both to be in agreement. The Zoessian protective measures within the mind also take care of the body, just as your system does for you, only this adapts you to Zoe.’
‘You mean astral projection?’
‘No no, that’s a field the opposition tries to get into – we’ve nothing to do with that, it’s a different thing in every way. This is physical.’
Dean now joined them and was also taking questions.
‘Explain the project,’ asked Jacinta.
‘It’s commercial, we’re in the mining business, we extract the solid methane, tap it. The rock is rock but it’s still covered with this methane ice.’
‘Extracted as methane?’ asked Roland.
‘Good question – no, not just as methane. Methane, as you know, is difficult to control. It reacts and if it’s not kept under control, then it goes all the way to carbon dioxide and water, even without enough oxygen. As it melts, outside Sednian temperatures I mean, it becomes … difficult.’
‘You’ve just described three things we have and need on earth,’ said Daniel Landau for the first time. ‘ Is this thing zero sum? In other words, how much goes to your people and how much to earth people? Does it go the other way about?’
‘It would be zero sum if there were peak amounts, but there are not – the frozen methane keeps coming back in from outlying debris but it’s true we need far more – and earth has plenty. It transports quite well and at the Zoessian end, is refined, along with the mined matter. We sell it back, refined. The two rocks – yours and ours – are not essentially different.’
‘Why the huge secrecy? Is it that humans, at this stage of their development, cannot be allowed to know because we’re not sufficiently developed? Would we panic?’
‘Look how quickly you’ve accepted two things – not officially, I know, but to the point we can even discuss such matters – firstly the existence of the Zoessi and secondly the ability to communicate with us. Most of your people could not get their heads around half of that, not really, truly, and yet even that is not the primary issue with humans. It’s not you yourselves who are any sort of problem, it’s those controlling you. I’m not going into who the ones are who do control you because your internet is already onto it and that will take its own course.
We ourselves can only survive artificially for some time on your planet because our defences are exhaustible. I, for example, must return within twenty nine of your earth days.’
‘You can come back later?’
‘Oh yes, not a problem – R&R, I think you call it. Yep, give me a couple of earth months at home, then I can come back for another 29 days.’
‘You seem human.’
‘I am human in the sense that our physiology is the same, give or take the differences you can observe – the problem is that though Zoessian defences work for us plus for any humans there, they don’t work quite as well here for a Zoessian, plus the human tires too in time. You can see why it had to be people of your nature we recruited, same at that end.’
‘And we can all do this?’ asked Susan. ‘What happens if we fail to measure up?’
‘It’s possible, Susan, in the way that any humans fail at anything along the way. Most don’t and do fine – there are no surprises in this. If you feel it’s too much, then we need to keep you within the field of protection, you can still work and make a living, but within a protective zone, as the opposition have nasty ways.’
‘Do you have nasty ways?’ asked Jacinta.
‘Not to our payroll. Quite the opposite, as you’re about to find out. But the opposition are still out there, they wish to muscle in and destroy the operation and not just for commercial reasons. Yes, we’re terminal towards them for sure, hence the blowing up of that actual moon, which had been occupied.’
‘It’s only the methane you’re extracting?’ Roland returned to the topic.
‘No, we also need triton-type tholins. They’re of little use to earth though.’
‘Obvious question,’ asked Amanda, ‘but describe the station more.’
‘It’s a giant station with shielding. It doesn’t show up on optical telescopes.’
‘But it does on other types.’
‘It does on other types, yes. Hence we had to blow up the second ‘moon’. It was threatening our existence.’
‘You murdered them?’
‘If there are some fifteen thousand of us and two million bots coming at us – yes, we blow it up.’
‘And I suppose they had cladding too.’
‘All the best planets and moons do. Yours will too one day. For now you have your ozone. As for the station, it’s cobbled together partly from our scrap but also from your materials. And true confession time – our people have been doing this for centuries in your time, unbeknowns to earthlings.’
‘The people you mention who run this earth of ours – do they have any capacity for such things?’
‘It was they who commissioned the pirate station – that’s what the other ‘moon’ was. Let’s get down to this now. Best description I can give is they’re demi-human, they’re not civilized, you really do not wish to have anything to do with those entities – you see the grief in your own world caused by them. They occupy all high places in your governments and other organisations. They assume forms which are human but later give themselves away. Have you ever seen a photo of Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski in his later years?’
‘Ah yes,’ Jacinta spoke. ‘Was he actually human?’
‘Not as we would describe it. No, he has other forms inside, he has occupied a human, shall we say.’
‘Describe the – well – the telepathy.’
‘We’re not giving away completely how it works, it’s a mind/body mix which travels, it must have a host once you reach Zoe, otherwise you’re in ‘no man’s land’. It’s not traumatic because there is no sensitivity, no feelings, no moods which travel, only reasoning.’
‘I myself am human,’ Jay reminded them, ‘but host to a Zoessian in here.’
‘And when the Zoessian in Dean Freeman returns there, what does Dean Freeman become here?’
‘Finally the question. All right, Dean Freeman either is himself again or else hosts another Zoessian -‘
‘Or else dies?’
‘Yes, but so would you if you’d lost your mind. The only humane way is an exchange. In Dean’s case, his human fell in love with a Zoessian there. There are therefore four in a love affair. There does exist, as mentioned, attrition, age, being worn out from too many journeys. If his human were to return to Dean here, Dean would have lost much of the normal human immunity – hence our ‘retirement village’, from where he does not re-emerge unless it’s to return to Zoe. The journeys are not an infinite number. ‘It’nothing to do with being in a prison, it’s to do with immunity against all the nasties outside. I would die soon after if tried to go it outside.’
Silence. Dean went on. ‘There are around a dozen Zoessi currently on earth, not all in this Center, most are in your ‘retirement home’.
‘What’s in all this for earthlings?’ asked Jacinta.
‘Good question. All right, here it is. We cannot extend life or any of that but we can help the bodily defences of both peoples, such that if they live a certain lifestyle, are hardworking, go into the sun, if their empath level is high enough – they enjoy good health on the whole until the body itself is ready to finish up. Not always but generally, one of these lives until 85 – 95, in good health. But we keep using the word empath – this is far more than being nice, this is the key to staying alive. There’ll be more on that in the next few weeks.’
‘You mean a supplement, an elixir?’
‘Yes, partly, but no more than what polio vaccines and others have provided. The danger is the enemy. They desperately want this so-called elixir for themselves while trotting out a false one for humans – they hate humans, detest them. Early, for-purpose vaccines worked fine, the ones now are designer killers. Ours is natural, a by-product of the other operation, humans were anyway increasing longevity, overcoming illnesses, belief systems are important, if benign – for the enemy, this is the last thing they need. There was every chance humans would finally wake up to them.’
‘Yes but why would humans need these vaccines anyway?’
‘Were a pandemic to break out, say. A plandemic.’
They broke to eat.
They’d been three weeks at this work and at their desks in the communications room for two hours today. The work was not arduous, it was mainly research at this stage and the five thought it a quite pleasant way to be earning inordinate sums.
Each was accommodated in quarters like small cottages outside the first perimeter fence but there were two more fences before the big wild world out there. It was better than a typical town for workers, the landscaping was pleasant and green, there were tree lined streets, there were many such huts and each had a different design in some respect. They’d clearly gone to some trouble. One interesting aspect was that the cottages were all built in wood, no exceptions.
After work they’d either use the company facilities in the main building at the Center – the gym, the entertainment centre, whatever, but generally they’d hurry home after the shift ended, via the step-on shuttle which came past the front door every 20 minutes.
This now was not the end of the day though, it wasn’t even lunchtime and yet two of them who worked close to each other both stopped now, no one looked at them.
‘Jacinta, do you have a moment?’
Thus spake Daniel.
‘You know I do, you know what’s on my mind – it’s on your mind too. There’ve been some interesting things these three weeks, Daniel. Sue’s gravitated towards Roland, Amanda and Jay have moved in together …’
‘As if by design. Or awfully good recruiting.’
‘We’ve all become more sensitized. I can pick up how Sue’s feeling, less so Amanda but you – I’m pretty sure of what you’re feeling and when. I want to know how far they can control us, whether they can direct our actions, stop certain behaviours, all in a good cause of course, keeping us on an even keel.’
At the end of each bank of computers was a sitting area for four or five cushioned seats and they’d drifted over there now.
‘Seems to me,’ said Daniel, ‘they can pick up on our moods, not so sure they know what we’re thinking. I know the tech is about mind/body projection along a conduit of some form but that doesn’t mean that outside the conduit, the pathway, they can do it. What about in our quarters? I’m sure they can pick up on moods though, feelings, anxiety, joy -’
‘And lust. And that’s what worries me. No regrets, Daniel and here’s hoping but I’ve been thinking about this expanded state of ours, whether it removes all inhibitions. And if it removes those, what about anger and things like that?’
‘Do you know what I’m thinking now?
She concentrated and concentrated but then shook her head. ‘I get your mood loud and clear and it’s the same as mine. Your actual thoughts though? No, not yet.’
‘So,’ he said, ‘perhaps they can’t mind-read.’
‘I can certainly feel Dean’s feeling of unease in our direction, I’m not sure I like it. And now I want you, we both know what’s about to happen … and we can’t stop.’
There was not even time for reply, she’d stood, dropped the light blue dress from her shoulders … the rest followed. There in the second room of the Center. No one looked.
It was the fifth week when Dean Freeman finally gathered them all in the first room again and they talked, or rather – mainly listened.
‘You’ve been run off your feet, your hours are staggered, it’s been impossible to have this until today but I convinced our funders we needed it, otherwise the human component of the equation is going to burn out. They’re well aware of what’s been happening and want it stopped. We’re not referring to certain activities in the big hall, we’re talking interference from outside.
You’re well aware that sudden urges are involved, sometimes sexual, sometimes anger, sometimes lethargy and we weren’t able to get you working again. We’re all aware it’s beyond normal, almost as if a normal feeling has been taken over and just cranked up to full speed.’
He looked around and they were looking at each other a bit sheepishly but also surprised that they were all in the same situation. Dean went on. ‘You’ve noted my anxiety too. We, the Zoessi, know humans, how you operate. And we know that something has got into the pathway to make you this way, something alien, hyper, neither you nor we are responsible for it. We know what it is.
We’ve told you about the ‘opposition’ – that’s a kind word for them. We have suppressors, we have all sorts of failsafes, we have our monitoring of you which a couple of you are worried about but not all are.’ He did not look at anyone. ‘You might think that’s prying, spying, but if you only knew – it is so we can take instant action if we see something like this happening, if there’s an attack on you.
Of late, with four of you, not Amanda, something has been preventing the monitoring and we believe that it’s this alien element which has got through. With two of you, it’s been annoyance, bordering on anger – problem with humans being human is that it could just be natural – or maybe it’s this interference. And for the other two, it’s been the sexual imperative. That might not sound a problem but it is when you’re in transit or on Zoe, because it’s amplified.’
‘More on who they are, this enemy?’ asked Jacinta.
‘They’re scouting parties, mischief makers. Humans give them names in films – gremlins, goblins – and the females have names too. They serve a master. Of late, we’ve been having issues with these females – we call them Sirens. They’re lost women from history, were probably raped and/or murdered and they’re out there doing the bidding of someone above them. They’ve long since lost any reason, they are base in their souls.’
‘Were these the inhabitants of the second ‘moon’?’
‘No, the second ‘moon’ had warriors and mining crews, but they fell under the influence of these elements, let alone the way that ‘moon’ had just muscled in on our patch anyway, which we weren’t putting up with.’
‘Where are they coming from?’ asked Susan. ‘These Sirens I mean, is it from Zoe?’
‘No, from here, from this end. They’re actually going through the pathway outwards from here, causing mayhem and then coming back here. There’s a certain opinion on Zoe, I have to tell you, which is not well disposed towards you humans for this reason. They want the project stopped.
So what you, what we also must do is stay vigilant, we the Zoessi have ways of dispersing them but still they come back. There’s not a lot you can personally do – I can’t ask you not to be annoyed or not to make love – but be aware you might be facilitating this thing if it gets excessive.
At a minimum, shut down any of these feelings until you’re back in your quarters, don’t bring them into the Center or if it does happen while you’re working, then excuse yourself and the Zoessi will understand why.’
‘Will we ever visit Zoe?’ asked Roland.
‘Amanda already has. You want to speak of it, Mandy?’ There was a gasp.
‘I don’t want to be rude to Dean but it’s like living in some sort of giant metallic barracks – vast of course, many acres – but people sleeping in tiny rooms, two to a room, food provided centrally, they’re cheerful enough, apart from the Siren issue they have now but sorry, I can’t see that it’s any way to live. There’s no great smell, it’s extracted well, there are hydroponic gardens everywhere, there are entertainment points for those who want them, the food’s good, there’s an awful lot of sex going on.’
‘As with us?’ asked Jacinta.
‘No,’ put in Dean, ‘just as you’d expect in any community, less cranked up. We’re not especially religious but we do accept a Deity. We know the enemy well. In fact, you might almost call our lives boring. The people are generally friendly, there are dangers -‘
‘Ultimately though,’ said Amanda, ‘I wanted home.’
‘And you were inside a host,’ said Roland. ‘Are they like us?’
‘Not a lot different, slightly broader foreheads, more sallow cheeks, not as physically thickset but quite strong. Not a lot to describe really, sorry to be disappointing.’
‘You’re not, you’re reassuring. The little kids are sweet?’
‘Sweet, monsters, all sorts, typical kids. Good parents, not so good. They’re just a civilitation, only much more cooped up. Do the math – 15,000 people on 75 acres.’
‘And are you changed?’
‘I’m sure all this does expand the mind. We do become brighter. They get colds too but if that happens, there’s instant quarantine, as you’d gather. I’m feeling less sniffly than usual.’
‘While you were there, who was in you here?’
‘Jay’s actual lady from there, a human. It’s not as with Daniel and Jacinta – they’re more working partners. I knew fairly soon what Jay was looking for and I was happy to oblige.’
‘Daniel and Jacinta have some R&R coming up,’ put in Freeman, ‘they’re going to visit the Scholars, as we call them, at the lake resort. They’ll be able to report at our next meeting, the more you know, the better. What I’m saying is you were not recruited, you five, to just do the mining and couriering, each of you has a special task we had in mind – you are not manipulated that way, we wanted to see if you gravitated the way you have. If not happy, there are dozens of other jobs, key jobs where you’d be of immense help.’
Jacinta gazed out of the car window, nearing the retirement place, and reflected on their own quarters. The Center was stuck out in fields outside of town, rather than out in the desert with spinifex and all that and if they’d walked outside, they’d have found civilization within an hour, it was hardly hi-security in that sense.
This place they’d travelled to now was miles from anywhere, a clump of woods down by a lake, on about ten acres at the end of a twelve mile road, with nothing either side. Someone had had the idea, maybe twenty years ago, for just such a resort but it had never gone commercial.
She had to own, coming over the last rise on this brilliantly sunny day, rare for early spring, that it wasn’t a bad looking retirement place.
The driver, Charlie, dropped them at a cabin belonging to a happy enough couple, Evan and Dara and they noticed that each cabin, though about the same size, had some small idiosyncratic design feature, quite clever and it did help. Each had gardens, trees, it was all quite civilized.
Each though was wooden, entirely wooden, including the roof.
Over coffee, Daniel and she learnt what fifteen years of ‘hosting’ does – the mind expands to a point, then plateaus, then slowly burns out. People retire before that happens. Looking about the front room where they were, there were the usual trinkets, pictures and photos on the wall and there was no rental payable, according to Dara.
They thanked their hosts, went out to the car and were dropped next at Aubrey and Sophia, some way down, who were a different matter, particularly Aubrey.
There was something in his manner not effusive, the first one they’d met like that, a bit withdrawn, the way he engaged Daniel’s eye was as if he wanted to say something but knew he must not … Daniel was expansive enough of mind by now to realize it, he could feel the man’s mood, which meant the other two could too.
He’d been at it eighteen years and it had aged him, early. Business shirt, greying hair – he was 51 but looked older, acted older. She was more youthful. He apparently loved his morning constitutional walks, she liked to knit, so who was the more youthful?
‘Are you with guest?’ asked Jacinta, of Aubrey.
‘Aubrey isn’t, I still am,’ smiled Sophia pleasantly and Jacinta immediately thought ‘jailer’, which Daniel picked up on and thought Sophia must have too. He couldn’t pick up the thought but could the mood. Maybe it was also so for Sophia.
What was clear was that if there was anything wrong at all – and there was no reason for it to be that they knew of – they’d learnt not to think about it, they’d learnt how to put it out of mind, so they could not be monitored that way. What they did was to engage in an emotion of some kind, any kind, usually lust and under cover of that, exchange messages.
The tea and club sandwiches were yummy enough, the view of the lake through that bay window with the chintz curtains to the sides was magnificent, Daniel wondered if Aubrey would ask him out for a canoe paddle but then realized he’d not be able to communicate anyway, he gave every impression of being watched.
‘Do come back and see us,’ urged the lovely Sophia, all smiles, and Jacinta had the presence of mind to distract her with a ruse. She fell on the way out, Sophia came to her aid, bent down to help, then suddenly realized, spun around and took her partner in again, Sophia’s smile quite out of place in the light of Jacinta having just fallen.
In short, no one was fooling anyone and it was not good.
To cover it, Daniel and Jacinta resorted to the usual thoughts of sex for later and continued thinking only of that, all the way back in the car. They realized that much of the shock, the mood, had reached Sophia and supposedly therefore Dean also but seemingly not their thoughts. This part they were still not sure about but there’d been signs that at times, some things they’d said to Amanda’s ‘guest’ had not produced any reaction but when they’d thought nice things about her, prearranged, there’d been a response.
The journey back was uneventful, dusk was falling. Weren’t they meant to have visited The Scholars? It had not been explained – were those four The Scholars?
Now they were on the backroads again and the lights of their facility could be seen in the distance, if they’d had any fear of a detour or something untoward, it did not eventuate.
They reached their gatehouse, were ushered through, went through the second, were dropped off at their quarters, went straight for their room and got down to the sex.
Dean Freeman had been about to go and see them, realized and let it go, with a chuckle. Ten hours without it, dear oh dear, thought Dean, however had they managed?
When the lovemaking got to the main course, Jacinta above, he casually spread a slip of paper on his chest, she read it as far as possible without ‘noticing’, without breaking the mood as it were, she now said she wanted to lie down, they changed places, he handed her the paper, she read it, then ate it.
After an hour, they called it a night, cuddled up, thinking of nothing but each other and that was that, she dropped off first in his arms.
‘Roland? Sue? You ready?’
Their first trip, they were in the comfortable non-threatening armchairs in the smaller suite beside the main computer room, no nasty straps nor metal cages, no horrible helmets with wires.
There certainly were earphone headsets but thankfully no mood music.
‘How long’s the journey?’ asked Roland – a late stage to ask such a thing.
‘Meaningless,’ said Dean. ‘Fraction of a fraction of a second, actually some minutes in your terms.’
‘And this host is ready … and she’s a woman?’ added Sue.
Why do people ask inane questions or those which should have been asked long ago? Then again, if Dean Freeman had left it this late himself to inform them, then perhaps their concern was legit.
‘Just as yours is.’
‘Where’s mine go, the one in me now?’
‘Home to the lady in the chair on Zoe, just as you are here.’
‘Tell us what to expect,’ asked Roland, ‘any rush, any short pain?’
‘There’s a hollowness, you can feel the travel. At the other end, you feel yourself settle inside and around your host, your host then speaks as you or as him or herself. But he or she is in control – you have no bodily needs of your own, no fears, no joy – you yourself are pure reasoning mind. You’ve a set tour of duty, then you return, as you know.’
‘And you’ve done 29 days of this?’
‘I’ve built up to it by degrees, this will be my 81st time next week.’
‘Well, that’s reassuring at least. All right, let’s do it.’
There was a nothingness, that was the only way she could describe it. To be fair, there was no pain, no bodily sensation … no mood and that was probably good, but it was still weird to know you’re travelling and not actually feeling anything.
She felt they were there now but nothing had happened, there was no eye-opening or hearing, there was nothing. She had no way of knowing where she was, where Roland was, she was pretty sure she was not within her host yet and now she reasoned that if she … they … were stuck someplace, then reason told her there was no way out of this … ever.
There was no anxiety, there couldn’t be, just the knowledge that this may have gone wrong, might have been the greatest mistake of her life.
A voice suggested itself to her – that was the only way she could put it – a soft voice actually … her own:
Not cold, not warm, not nice, not horrible. Nothing. But it was in English.
She waited and thought of Roland.
‘He is safe, as you are. Why are you not in your host, you ask? It was not safe to put you into your host immediately.’ The voice did not tell her not to worry, as she couldn’t have. ‘You will work in ten minutes, a Zoessan four hours, as agreed.’
It was clear Sue was thinking on this, as the voice then added, ‘I have said – your host is not ready. These things happen. When your host is ready, you will join her.’
Slowly, she became conscious of Roland, so that was good, and now there were others. It felt as if they were in conference, various voices came through with questions, technical information, questions of temperature, of conditions, of timeframes of stability, they weren’t overwhelmed but did find themselves speeding up the responses.
The original voice cut in. ‘Do not rush – if a dozen questions come at you, then just as on earth, decide which first, prioritize, choose your own pace. At the end of four hours, I will tell them – enough – and you will rest.’
Daniel and Jacinta had been invited back to the Lake for lunch, so Dean had told them.
What the slip of paper had told them was this – there was no way to disrupt mood monitoring but thought monitoring was almost impossible during the early days, provided they further cloaked it with some powerful mood – well they knew this. It was more difficult to cloak later, as they changed inside. Those monitoring could only do so within the range of what an AM radio signal would cover, so it was to their advantage to use hills and hollows – dangerous but possible. Not possible, each thought and then tried not to – if someone such as Charlie was in the front seat.
Aubrey had written that they’d be given a better, more technical way of cloaking today. He’d taken one hell of a risk, they did fear for him and weren’t sure this return visit was the wisest thing for his health.
They were dropped off at the top of the pathway leading down to the lake, having been given a collection time and down they carefully trod, towards the hut. The lake was a delight today, the waves barely lapping.
Stepping up to the porch, Daniel knocked, stepped back and they waited. There were noises and it was Sophia who opened the door. Her face was ashen.
‘You’re too late.’
They looked at each other, back at Sophia, then through the door, across at Aubrey – he was seated in his favourite armchair, his eyes staring up at the ceiling, there was no life in him. They wondered why she had not closed his eyelids.
All sorts of apologies followed, condolences and so on as they backed out of the door, the door closed behind them, they stumbled back down the steps, then Daniel nodded for them to walk by the lake.
The realization dawned in each that they’d have to get some masking going here so they could discuss it and even that was a huge risk, any mood involving sex was going to look appallingly callous, even to someone as nefarious as Sophia . Also, how would that go down back at the Center?
As they walked the lakeside brick path, the venue slowly came into view – it was so blindingly obvious where they’d have to go. It was a clearing, the edges under overhanging trees which she knew to be Aspen, or populus tremula, there were neither conifers nor willows about. She’d noticed that last time but now she looked about and reasoned – they must have been planted here some twenty years or so ago.
Yes, the clearing was the obvious place, they looked at each other, actually sighed and got down to the undressing. Soon they were at it and spoke. ‘Daniel,’ she whispered, though not unmoved by what had just happened, ‘think, think where he could have left it? He must have thought this through, must have known we’d go for this walk – by the way, keep moving, we need to prolong this – well, you know what I mean.’
Then she saw it. Now looking towards the overhanding foliage, there on the underside of a branch were two carved in numbers. She whispered the numbers, telling him not to lookup. ‘I think they’re coordinates, how do coordinates work?’
He took a quick look around the clearing, which was roughly rectangular. He didn’t know why but it seemed obvious – if they divided the width by ten, it was roughly ten paces. Latitude or northings would be maybe 15-17. But her numbers had been 3 and 7 and that, in his view, marked a spot by a fallen tree over there.
Now he kissed her with a final burst of passion, then whispered, ‘We need to dress and go out of this clearing, past that fallen tree.’
They cleaned up and dressed, knowing they’d now lose the mood masking but it was clear what he was going to do. As they went past the end of the fallen tree, he saw the empty knot hole and stepped over to it, drawing a note out of the hole and this time they read it together, thinking lustful thoughts of one another.
Interesting then that it began with a biblical quote or rather, a reference:
Where were they going to find a bible, except online – that most likely giving them away? Perhaps this had been Aubrey’s intention.
The next bit said:
‘I’ve discovered a way to intercept messages between my wife and Zoe base, undetected. This includes signal and protocol decryption. She is possessed, so are many on Zoe base. Don’t know who has gone under, I hope you two can learn to tell. Can’t teach you the way, too complex.’
Uh-huh, it went on:
‘What you can do is buy a signal emitter.’ He named a store between the retirement village and Center. ‘Any emitter, even morse code, not necessary that anyone receives, better they don’t, any guff will do. Masks thought reading which will start becoming possible with you two. Good luck. Bless.’
He wrote on the back, ‘If our car had an accident in the town -’
She took the pen and wrote: ‘Not going back? Daunting.’
Now he wrote: ‘You see any other way?’
She took the pen again: ‘Not really. You want me for life?’
‘Was there any doubt?’ he wrote.
‘It’s just us now, Daniel.’
‘Yes it is.’
In their quarters, lying on the bed, Amanda said to Jay. ‘You’re unsure about something.’
‘They’re suspicious, those two, they’re frightened.’
‘Daniel and Jacinta?’
‘Yes. I think it has something to do with one of our retired people, Aubrey – they visited twice. He was not at one with us at the end.’
‘Then why let them visit?’
‘They both needed to see things for themselves, we need that input, that ability to discern, it has to be learned, we have to allow it. This is for the security of Zoe and ultimately, all who are here. My feeling when they arrived was that he was actually asleep, which they interpreted wrongly. Sophia needed to explain things to them, that she didn’t is a worry for me, it is for all of us.’
‘Correct. She may have been taken over by a Siren, temporarily, more permanently, can’t know. We’ve had an unusual situation on Zoe in the past few earth days – these Sirens can appear and disappear, they can enter hosts that we were preparing. Roland and Jane are currently in suspension, nothing bad, nothing good as they can’t feel. They just are. They’ve been working though, quite well by all accounts but the hosts themselves – one is dead, the other has had cold feet and is showing signs of slow takeover by a Siren.’
‘Well, get another host.’
‘We will, we have a list but it does take time and we are under attack, it’s a situation we’re struggling with, barely coping.’
‘Why did you let Roland and Jane go?’
‘Because the Zoessi who do the transfers said they had the situation under control.’
‘So one of them might be a Siren.’
‘I’d say there’s a good chance, though the Zoessi have the capacity to throw them out after their first rush.’
‘And if Daniel and Jacinta can do this now – switch off, what then? What does it actually switch off?’
‘Everything – moods, thoughts, actions. They may well feel we’re the enemy now, even you – that you’ve been taken over as you have, as I have, so they’ll not communicate with us and they’d not be wrong to do so – that’s the problem. They really don’t know who’s good and who’s bad. I can’t blame them.’
‘Could I go?’
‘We don’t know where they are. We know they’re with Charlie but we’re not getting read-back on where that is. Simple, basic data is deteriorating by the day and hour. We’ll probably have to shut down the pathway for now but those two would still have to come in to send their mind-visitors home. It’s not all about Jay and Jacinta, it’s Zoe base, it’s the pathway itself – hope they realize this.’
‘Tell me about these Sirens if you can. If you don’t want, I’ll understand.’
‘Humans have always wondered if there are other dimensions, time warps, tears in the fabric and so on but one of our forbears made a discovery as a result of one of these Sirens whom he succumbed to, sadly, but he did get a message out. The thing which happened to him, under control, was that his perceptions changed.
Think of it this way – we have five primary senses and many consider we have others. Now imagine if our senses had been, say, factory-set, that is – we can only ever perceive a certain amount. It doesn’t mean everything else does not exist, it just means we can’t see it. I had a friend for whom – if he couldn’t read it by one of his five senses, then it didn’t exist.’
‘But that’s insane.’
On earth, they’re called ‘rational people’. The Sirens, in taking over so many humans over time, expanded human consciousness, enough for various humans to perceive them and in that very perception lay the danger. The Sirens have no power over those who cannot perceive them – only over those who can.
This whole mind/body pathway we use does expand consciousness and that’s where the danger is. At the moment, it’s Sirens, but with time, it could be any of a number of horrible entities it’s best not to know about. Someone once said humans should not dabble – those were wise words. Don’t dabble, don’t invoke.
But they want you to invoke them, don’t they? They can always perceive you, for the very simple reason that they have broader perception than humans, but the laws of physics in the wider universe – that is, outside human perception – are a bit different to those within. Human perception was designed to be what it is.’
‘But humans have always had that exploring urge,’ she said.
‘Yes and it was always a question of time. Eden, Noah, Babel – these are allegories for this process.’
‘So where does that leave us?’
‘In trouble, unless we can get Daniel and Jacinta in before the Sirens get to them.’
They saw the woman and the timing was perfect.
Charles, their driver, had to slow to a crawl here, they were acting nonchalantly but that woman had just put her shopping in the back of the wagon and would probably close the hatch. Jacinta pushed Charles with all she had, holding the wheel over, the car hit the kerb and the lightpole stopped it, they were out and into the back of that wagon, the woman started shouting at them but they begged her to drive, Jacinta put on her most imploring look and the bank notes did the rest, she pulled out and Jacinta begged her to go fast, it was life and death, they were going to have to jump out soon anyway, they needed another similar situation, similar car, could the lady please look out for one.
Once she understood she would be both rid of them and considerably better off than earlier, she did search and quickly saw the next one, she pulled up quickly, she ran over to the other woman, said these two would pay, Jacinta put on the forlorn and flashed the notes, explaining that this was life or death, off both cars went in different directions, one with them in the back, which was just as well because Charles’s car cut off the first lady and the last they saw, an animated conversation was taking place, with her trying to delay him.
On the back bench, Jacinta was on the passenger side. ‘Lady, my name,’ and she showed her badge, Jay followed suit. ‘We’re not terrorists, we’re not anything but ordinary but we have criminals after us and we have to hide, our lives do depend on this now and we’re in your hands.’
They’d got the right woman this time, a feisty gal who did not appear to have family to go to. ‘You gonna tell me?’
‘We are but out of sight first – you know anywhere?’
‘I know just the place.’ She was pulling into a driveway.
‘No, they’ll trace your car, they’ll make the first lady talk, she’ll describe you.’
‘Have faith.’ She called on her mobile.
Another lady, a girl came out, obviously a friend and not of this country, their driver explained all, said it was kosher, the friend was reassured – Daniel was a choirboy and Jacinta – well, butter would not have melted, the girl now climbed into the front and they talked it out as they drove slowly, thinking.
Turns out the driver was named Simone and the foreign girl was Antal, from Hungary. Ah, they understood, Simone had taken pity on her.
They pulled up in a back lane, the fair-haired, tallish Simone undid the lock and beckoned them through, then through the backdoor. It was a terraced house and the question was the neighbours.
Jacinta called for a pen and paper, they were brought and she wrote it all on the paper – why they could not afford to think, who they were, why they’d run, she now produced the same bank notes for Antal and continued writing. Would the girls help out?
Would they ever.
Daniel asked about the house. Antal’s bestie, away in Mauritius, Antal watered the plants. Neighbours only came back in the evening, no activity after 9 or before 4. There were tins of food for now and Simone would get fresh food to them tomorrow. Antal would remain with them.
‘Thank you so, so much.’
Dean Freeman swore. He saw it all now, how scared they really were and yet it had not shown up on the monitor – they were out there somewhere, sentient and alive, they’d obviously had help escaping. He wanted to say, ‘Whoever or whatever we are, these Sirens are a hundred times worse,’ but realised he couldn’t. But he was 100% right about the Sirens – once they were down this pathway, there was no putting them back in the bottle.
He wanted to explain that yes, all right, they had not come altogether clean, the Zoessi, they were ripping earth off financially but he’d also be right in saying that this was a drop in the ocean for earth, life and death for Zoe. The Zoessi had no really bad habits, he wanted to explain, beyond human habits, they did not eat their young or anything like that, they did not experiment on humans, he had not lied as far as that went.
They were miners, salvage crews, that was their livelihood. That’s all they’d ever been. And Jacinta and Daniel were now threatening their very existence. If he couldn’t get them in voluntarily, then for the sake of Zoe, he would have to make a decision.
‘I’m uneasy,’ said Jacinta. I get vibes from the Center, from Dean, and he’s terrified, but what of? That we’re going to block him? You wouldn’t be terrified of that, you’d be angry, haughty, all of those things. And as I’m saying this openly, he knows too and is now feeling hope. I think we need to at least talk to him without him able to track us. And he’s agreeing.’
‘How to contact him? Phone? We can get Simone to buy one tomorrow, use it as a one off. Anyway, I don’t know his number.’
‘I do. We’ll do it.’
Antal had been observing, she now offered her mobile. ‘Would this help?’
‘But it can be traced to you.’
‘No. It was given to me by a friend of Simone in the south.’
‘I see,’ said Jacinta. ‘Yes, it will do fine but we can’t phone till tomorrow, away from here. Dean is agreeing, he feels a whole lot better now. Yes, it’s the right thing to do.’
‘I think we owe it to Antal to explain the Sirens.’ Antal looked over expectantly.
‘Antal,’ started Daniel, ‘there are these creatures, they have no form, they appear and float into people, they -’
‘I know this.’
‘You know this?’
‘Where do you think I come from?’
They told what they knew, she added what she knew. The house they were in was gloomy too, that did not help. Antal was no fool, she also knew they would need to do certain things together, it could not be at night when she was there, therefore it would be now. She announced she would meet Simone and get food.
They’d slept all right, no nightmares, no trauma, the mood was good.
Simone had turned up and she and Antal had done scrambled eggs, with herbs, along with other goodies, it was nice. Around eleven, they’d walk into town, find an open place and phone.
In the meantime, Antal regaled them with tales of old Hungary – of the 1285 Mongol return and Bela’s fortifications, of the Árpádian kings, of Transylvania and the Carpathians – quite a storyteller was Antal.
She was still chatting about it all as they locked up and went uptown, delighted no doubt to find a patient and willing audience for once. They had to decide where to stand and Antal suggested a place in the memorial part of a square which had three roads coming off it. In the middle was a grey/green gunmetal statue of seven fierce warriors they knew not of and there was a fountain either side. She loved this place above all and she’d explain why later.
Dean Freeman was on standby at the Center, he had been since 10.
Antal handed over her phone, Jacinta called, he picked up immediately, pleasantries were exchanged, it was down to business.
‘Yes, it’s true,’ he admitted, ‘we were monitoring you, we must do this, yes we can read minds later as you expand, moods at all times, yes we have issues on Zoe with Roland and Jane there, the issue is the Sirens have got through.’
‘How did you blow up that ‘moon’?
‘The ‘moon’? That was the missiles we stole in our last operation. We’re space pirates if you like, our people are, it’s a rough game but that is nothing, nothing,’ his anxiety was building again, ‘to what would happen should one of those Sirens get to you and you’re helping them by going offline.’
‘You lied to us,’ Jacinta was reproachful, ‘to us all.’
‘Yes, we had to, but -’
‘How can we be sure now that anything you say, anything at all, is true?’
‘Because it is.’
The abruptness, the exasperation they felt in him, also the reasoning had them looking at one another. OK, they bought this but that still did not mean they were coming in, as it seemed there were more problems at the Center and with Zoe than they currently had where they were.
They felt him agreeing in principle but: ‘Please come in.’
‘For what, Dean? So that you can eliminate us? Blank our minds out?’
‘We have shields on the building, we have shields on the equipment, we have them wherever we go, we have them on the pathway – the monitoring is also a protective device – it monitors them too, the Sirens, Jacinta and other beings as well. It’s all we have … and you out there have nothing, no protection whatever.’
‘You can launch a mind attack on us right now.’
‘We can, yes, but we won’t, have we ever shown any signs of that?’
‘You’re being honest for once, Dean.’ She handed the mobile to Daniel because she’d just seen something.
‘We have to work out a compromise position,’ continued Dean, unaware he was now speaking with Daniel. ‘How many minutes on your mobile?’
‘Plenty,’ said Daniel.
Suddenly there was a commotion at the Center and they felt Freeman’s heart rate jump, something was wrong, he snapped, ‘Have to go. Call again in two hours.’
He looked at the phone, snapped it shut and gave it back to Antal.
Jacinta though, now standing in front of them, looking over their shoulders, put out a frightened hand to his shoulder. ‘Look behind you, Daniel. L-l-look.’
He turned and though it was broad daylight, in a public square, it was still chilling. Moving slowly through the plinth of the statue were four young women, they reappeared this side and Daniel felt that that had just been gratuitous, completely unnecessary – they could have walked around. They were just showing off.
‘Who’s the statue of, Antal?’
She was now too frightened to speak, shaking her head slowly, then muttering, ‘Nem, kérem, nem, nem ebben az országban!’
‘What’s she saying?’ he asked and Jacinta gave a rough translation: ‘No, no, not in this country. Antal, who is the statue of? Antal?’
‘Ezek a hét vezér.’
‘She said they are the seven leaders but she means, I think, the seven Magyar chieftains who led their people to the Carpathian basin.’
‘Ah, this does not sound excellent.’ He looked over at Antal who was as white as a sheet, repeating over and over, ‘Távozz, nem jött erre a helyre.’
‘What’s she saying?’
‘She’s telling them to begone. There’s also a name she says, I can’t pick it up, starts with S, think she means the fair-haired one, part of their legend.’
‘How do we get ourselves into these situations?’
‘Don’t ask me, this whole thing looks … not good.’
The four looked like they were straight out of the crypt, talk about goth, obviously not those ones who can’t stay in the light but not nice all the same. One, maybe the leader, was fair-haired and looked the least mangy of the four, she seemed the most dangerous all the same, the second had long, drak locks and was sullen, the third had long, matted hair, dirty and the last was the youngest, looking for all the world like some ancient victim of an outrage.
Two now just disappeared. The other two glided over to them and hell, they really were floating, hovering two yards before them. This was terrifying but also exciting – at close quarters, they had the perfect view of these creatures and they seemed so real, so human, the skin was not all that bad, not a bit like the monsters of legend but all the same, they were distinctly unhealthy and he for one did not fancy them getting any closer.
One of them now disappeared. Then the other. The two ladies just stood there, not knowing what to do, the only thing he could think to say was, ‘Well at least they’ve gone.’
‘Yes, they’ve gone,’ said Jacinta. ‘You like pizza, Antal?’ The girl nodded.
They went to Carlo’s about six shops away and ordered, then sat in the alcove, the waitress came over. When she’d gone, Jacinta asked, ‘You want to know a joke on my name?’ Jacinta Llaita. Sin ta later. Not a very good joke.’
‘It’s a great joke,’ he smiled. The pizzas arrived, cut into eighths.
They were back at the house, all four, plus the two males that had to have been around somewhere, the two boyfriends – they’d arrived and had brought alcohol – what they were expecting, Daniel and Jacinta knew exactly but they also knew another thing – this was not the night for it, not the place. No way. It had foreboding writ large … and Dean had not phoned.
Interestingly, it was Antal who said it. ‘I don’t want. I sense danger.’ All knew to what she was referring, the boys hid their disappointment but also did not demur – they’d felt it too. Antal explained. ‘No one will leave here alive.’
She looked across at Jacinta who was struggling, really struggling – the imperative was strong now in her, raging, and she was losing it. Antal walked over, touched her forehead and said, ‘No. This night is for bigger things.’
Daniel suddenly asked the two boys – what are your names? They’d not been introduced in everything else which had been going on.
‘Előd,’ said one.
‘Kond,’ said the second. ‘Why do you ask, Árpád?’ at which Antal gave out a shriek and fell to the floor.
‘And how could you interpret Antal this afternoon?’ Daniel asked Jacinta.
She was seriously nonplussed. ‘I … I don’t know.’ This cooled her ardour for a minute but then rekindled it … or seemed to. ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to bring them out.’
The weird part was that everyone there knew what was going to happen, they thought it through and surprisingly, it was the two boys who shook their heads. ‘No, this is bad craziness,’ said the one who’d called himself Előd. ‘Bad, bad. My children will be cursed forever.’ The one called Kond agreed.
Jacinta though countermanded them. She stood. ‘Yes, we are doing this.’ With that she removed her clothing rapidly, the two boys made no attempt to avert their eyes, she then said, ‘You must want, only that – want.’ Suddenly the penny dropped, they climbed out of their clothes and moved towards each other, clasping arms, the three females opened their mouths and with a guttural sound came smoke from each mouth – near Jacinta, the smoke formed a shape and that shape was the fair-haired Siren, near Simone was long, drak locks, the sullen one, near Antal was long, matted hair, the dirty one and no sign of the fourth.
Then appeared out of Daniel’s mouth smoke which formed a warrior chief but not Árpád, Antal supplied the name – Ond – the smoke of the other two formed the warriors named but if they thought that was the end, now burst through the living room double door Amanda, in the form of the youngest siren, with Jay, in the form of Árpád, hot on her heels, out came actual swords from somewhere and the Sirens lay dead on the floor.
‘I think we’re in real rouble,’ said Daniel as they all looked this way and that. ‘No, I mean when the tenant returns and asks Antal what happened while she was away.’
‘Here I am, Dean.’
‘Yes, Jacinta.’ He looked around at the others, quite forlorn. ‘We lost Roland and Sue in the sense that they are without hosts on Zoe and whether they can be found hosts – we do not know. Half the Zoessi are dead, the conduit is closed, and I am stuck here, as is Jay. We are nearing the end of our time. We can either make an attempt at the exchange, all four being alive … or we can open the conduit one last time and induce the Sirens – tens of thousands of them – to enter the conduit to attack someone formidable. That’s the theory, who will be formidable enough, hated enough by the Sirens and the rest of the creatures – that I don’t know.’
‘I know,’ said Antal. ‘I know exactly.’ And suddenly, so did Dean.
‘Might be, could be, possible.’ Then: ‘Such a risk.’
‘Would someone mind explaining?’ asked Amanda.
‘You explain, Jacinta,’ said Dean.
‘Er … right. Daniel, you remember the plinth, the statue in the square? You remember which human, not Gabriel, was atop?’
‘Ahhh.’ It had dawned on all. ‘But that is suicide for you two.’
‘We know,’ put in Jay. ‘Each for our own reason, Dean and I.’
‘When?’ asked Jacinta.
‘No time like the present. We would need, the two of us, to open the portal at this end as if to return, maybe controlled by Amanda, who knows how to do it, we’d need that personage to appear – if he didn’t, then the world here would not be in a great state soon after.’
Said Dean: ‘Simplest way is a straight vote among the eleven here, including our tech people. The two choices are try for it … or not try at all.’
One of the tech people, Jane Carter, asked why the two could not just be returned, a straight exchange.
‘We’d never get there, we do know this. Even if we did, our shelf life is ended. Let us vote.’
All the farewells, all the explanations, all the regrets – they’d all been conveyed, the hugs, Dean and Jay were in the chairs.
‘They know,’ said Dean, ‘at the other end, what to do, when to close it off. Won’t rid the universe of these pests but it will certainly set them back. It’s not just for Zoe … or for earth … it’s for everyone. What did your writer once write – it’s a far better thing I do now?’
‘Somethng like that,’ said Daniel. ‘So all right. Massive thanks. Ready?’
Each nodded when he was.
It began like something out of Revelation, with a hush for the space of however long. Slowly there was a build of activity, synapses, however, thought Jacinta, the tunnel was operating again and from the other end, something was pouring into the tunnel, millions it seemed, and at this end, just two Zoessi trying to get home.
Now the horde, the host, were almost upon them, all the humans shrank back to the walls … something had entered the tunnel and suddenly Amanda shut the portal, which at the same time raised questions about who she really was, inside.
They all had the feeling it was over.
Appearing, as if from nowhere, a massive figure in garb of days gone by first bowed to all, then laid on the table first a two-barred cross, then his crown, he smiled a becoming smile … and disappeared.
Dean and Jay were alive, so much so that they called everyone around to them: ‘Take a chair, people, come on, haven’t got all day,’ said Dean, ‘we need to discuss the Center, the assets, the work, we have much to get through. Anyone need coffee?’
‘We’ll get it,’ said Amanda and Jay.