Mystères élémentaires Nº 2
Courir de la lune pendant que la terre brûle
The cat came in the night – that first time.
Into the village, from the trees – then among the houses.
In silence, searching the night with keen eyes and nose.
A baby’s cries and people tensed, then screams split the night – followed by darkness and silence.
In the morning, in the light of day, one house found torn apart. A baby gone, her mother mauled, dying first – then dead.
Two nights later, the same, again. A mother talking to her children, trying for quiet, to go to sleep. Then the screaming again.
In the morning the mother’s body found, her throat a ruptured mess, her two children – gone. Only a blood trail that led to a dead end at the river.
Men went out looking after this attack, found the remains of a child beyond the river, a mile beyond the land they called their own, but they came back in silence. Thinking. Planning. What next?
“Perhaps we should move on to the highlands now,” one of the elders said. “If it is one of the black cats we will never see it, let alone kill it.”
There were murmurs of assent. No one had killed one of the black cats before, and the only tracks they’d found looked to be from one of them.
“We should pray to the Cat Gods,” another elder told the assembled council-of-war knowingly. “We have offended Her somehow. We must atone, pray for forgiveness.”
More knowing nods this time, and as this option seemed most agreeable to his own clan, and entailed the least effort on his part, the chief agreed. “This we will do. Prepare the ceremony, we will make the sacrifice when the moon is full, tomorrow night.”
A girl was chosen, a disagreeable girl no one wanted to marry, and the site – though miles away – prepared. Brush was cleared from the sacred rock, implements carried to the altar, torches readied, knives sharpened.
The ceremony began, prayers offered. The writhing girl, now apostate, cried out to friends and family, begging for her life. Tied down, her screams pierced the night before the silence came again, then her organs were laid out in the proscribed pattern, her blood consumed be every member of the village. When it was over the people of the village went back to their homes and everyone sat in silent awe, not sure what had just happened, or why.
The cat came back the next night. Came to another noisome house, and more screams pierced the night. A young girl this time, gone. No trace found once the light returned.
The chief gathered several men in a clearing away from the village, told them the village would begin preparations to move away from this valley, but that they had been tasked with trying to find the cat, and killing the beast.
The men looked at one another, shook their heads – but they could not refuse. To do so would put them in open rebellion, and the old conflict would resume. This had happened before, of course, but not against a chief so strong. And no, there was truth in his choice. Why run? Why not make a stand, kill this cat and let life resume?
One of the men, an older man named Tak, asked if his son could join in the hunt. Rehn was, he argued, the fastest boy in the village, and he was the best tracker any had ever seen. The chief considered this but refused; he wanted Rehn for his own daughter, and to lose the boy now would be to forfeit the next generation of his clan.
So the five men gathered their bows and arrows and their spears and they set off into the forest. Two returned a week later, badly mauled.
“It is a black cat,” one of the survivors said. A great cat, bigger than any had seen before, and Rehn saw that his father was not among the survivors and he was angered by the chief’s foolish waste. He knew he could kill the cat on his own, and quickly, too.
When the survivors had been taken away he went to his house and gathered the two things he knew he would need – rope and a knife – and he took off into the forest, alone. And almost from the moment he left the village he felt her eyes on him.
He led her away from the village, far away and high into the mountains, and he would stop from time to time and feel her eyes, then he would smile before he led her deeper into his trap.
He came upon a large snake eating a small animal, but the snake was exposed, defenseless. He tied a noose and slipped it around the snake’s head, towed it through the forest to a spot that looked like what he wanted, and with the gorged snake as bait he set his trap. He waited high in a tree, and when the cat came for him it found the snake. Not wanting to be eaten, the snake managed to get around the cat’s neck and the two fought and fought, and when both were exhausted the boy came down from the tree and killed the cat, then the snake, with his knife.
He was about to set out for home when he looked up at the hillside across the valley.
Like a shimmering gold veil above the trees. That was his first thought.
‘Something that does not belong here,’ was his second.
“I must know more,” he said, and he took off across the valley floor.
Hours later he came to the shimmering thing and he reached out tentatively, touched it gently – and the moment he did the thing simply vanished. It was getting dark and he smelled a fire close by, but he felt more eyes following his every movement now, and he wanted to get to the safety of firelight – so he followed his nose into the forest. A few minutes later he came to the fire – a small fire set inside a ring of rocks – so he knew someone had built the fire. But he saw no one…
Then another thought came to him, but too late.
This is a trap.
And I am caught.
Rob Jeffries was in the mountains west of Los Alamos, New Mexico, stalking a puma one summer morning, a cat that had been bothering his father’s cattle for weeks. With two calves taken in the last week, his father had started the hunt to the ridge line north of the pasture, and his older brother was working the rough hills just to the south. He was making his way up a rocky creek on the west side of their property, much closer to their house, and had just come upon a steep walled, enclave of red rock and tightly packed juniper when he heard the cat’s low growl.
It was close, he knew, and he was exposed. He readied his rifle, his senses on high alert.
He heard a twig snap, yet he knew that was all the warning he’d have. He turned to the right and saw the cat arcing in for the kill, slipping through tall grass and low trees, headed his way. He raised the Model 94 to his shoulder and fired once, just as the cat leapt, and he jumped aside as her body sailed through the air, coming to a rest in a tangled heap of twisted limbs a few feet away. He walked over, saw his one shot had caught her in the face, and he was happy, in a way, because she hadn’t suffered.
He felt another presence then, a force at once welcome and unwanted.
He turned, saw the Other and smiled, waved, but the other just looked at the cat and shook it’s head.
He was resigned to what would come next. He’d disappear for hours, maybe even days, then they’d leave him by the house in the middle of the night. That’s what they always did.
He turned and walked up to the Other, and the being looked at the Winchester and shrugged.
Come. That’s all he heard, for the Others’ was a voice inside his mind. We must talk.
We will go far now.
“In distance, or time?”
You will not be gone long. We promise.
“I know. I’m not complaining.”
Yes. We know.
“So, let’s go.”
It wasn’t far off this time, the shimmering gold wall that hid their ship. As it had the few times he’d gone with them, when he touched the ‘wall’ it disappeared – and the ship, a small one this time – lay a few meters away in a small clearing deep in a thick part of the forest. He paused, went to a tree and got rid of some excess water – as the Other called it, then had to get low, crawl inside through a small hatch. Then he had to ignore the foul odor that permeated the interior of the craft; like vinegar and stale urine, he thought, but he was expecting it this time and tried to think of something else.
Within moments he felt the subtle motion envelope him, nothing really discernible but it was there. The ceiling height in this ship was not quite five feet, and he found it difficult to get comfortable, but he found a place out of their way and settled-in. Unlike the larger ships he’d been on before, this one felt cramped, like he imagined a submarine might feel, only this ship appeared to be made of the flimsiest alloys imaginable. He saw five, maybe six of them looking at screens, making adjustments.
‘They’ didn’t have names, either. Talking to one was talking to all of them, everything he said was ‘received’ instantly by everyone inside this craft, and yet ‘thinking out loud’ was talk too. If he thought ‘this place stinks’ everyone ‘heard’ that – instantly. There was no privacy in here, and he had considered years ago that the term was meaningless to them.
Just then one came over and faced him:
We have found someone of interest to us, but he is alone now. His villagers have all been killed by nearby rivals, and he is far from home and unaware of what has happened. Without food and water, he is in danger from things he does not see yet.
“What do you want me to do?”
We will try to make him to come with you.
Back to your home, to live with you.
“Father won’t like that. Not again.”
He will be safe with you. His language is unknown to us yet, so we haven’t made contact, but we think he may be useful.
He may go beyond.
“Where and when are we going?”
You would name a place in Central America, El Salvador. 1,625 years before your time. He is outside now, 34 meters from where we are now. You will see the fire.
“You spoke of a danger?”
A large group of nomads from the north, they will be Mayans soon. They are aggressive, killing all they come upon. They are close.
You must move quickly.
He had listened to their clumsy approach and climbed high into a tree, and one of them came into the firelight – then left – but he knew he was surrounded now. The warrior had skin much like his own – deep red – but the man’s face was painted with what looked like dried blood and white mud. Weird, intricate designs, images of dark things, dark like death.
He felt a crackling presence, almost like lightning struck far away, then an unnatural stillness came over the forest. The normal stirrings of night creatures, even birdsong, had just – stopped – like something new and very dangerous slipped from closed shadows and had just made itself known. Strange smells followed, then he saw a boy, a boy about his age, walking through the woods, walking to the fire.
But his skin was white, his hair blazing red!
He wanted to laugh…what kind of freak was this?
But it was the boy’s clothes that stunned him. Brown and green, like the forest, and he held a strange stick in one hand, and a small thing that emitted light in the other. The boy walked to a stump by the fire and sat, rubbed his hands before the fire, and he looked at the red painted warriors watching this odd new boy, then he saw several run in towards the fire. They stopped, and one strung his bow, took aim at the white-skinned boy, then let slip the arrow…
It crossed the space before the action registered, before he could warn the boy, and he watched, feeling somehow sad – yet in an instant the gold veil surrounded the boy and when the arrow hit the veil it turned to dust and fell to the ground. The red warriors saw this and, suddenly enraged, the entire group stormed the boy sitting by the fire.
Dozens were running now, running towards the boy, and all had knives drawn or spears at the ready as they closed.
Then the boy stood, and by his side were dozens of huge black cats. As the warriors approached the cats stood and roared as one, the sound causing him to lose his grasp and fall from the limb he was hiding on. By the time he arrested his fall and had flattened himself to a new limb things had changed.
The boy sat by the fire once again, and the cats had disappeared.
One red warrior approached warily, and circled in front of the boy, a long knife in hand, a knife made of bone. He took a step closer, then moved back. Closer still next time, then falling back, testing the limits of the boy’s strength.
Then the boy put his lips together and strange sounds starting coming from his mouth. He had never heard music before, not even singing, so had no idea the boy was whistling George Strait’s The Cowboy Rides Away, but the effect the sound had on the red warrior was instantaneous.
With his knife high overhead, the man screamed and rushed towards the boy by the fire. Then the gold veil reappeared – and when the warrior hit the wall he simply disappeared in a puff of dust.
He was frightened now, as frightened as the other warriors in the forest, but they turned now and ran into the night…and they did not stop running…leaving him suddenly more alone than before.
He looked at the boy for a long time, and lay on the limb barely breathing. It was getting cold out now, and the fire was burning down – and the boy walked over and put more wood on it, then sat again, still making the peculiar noise that had enraged the warrior.
“Damn, wish I had some hot dogs right about now…” the boy said, then he reached inside the garment on his chest and pulled something shiny out. He pulled the shiny thing apart with his teeth, then took something out and began eating it.
Rehn had not eaten in two days and was very hungry now, the sight too much. He slipped down from his perch and walked over to the boy and held out his hand. Without saying a word the boy handed the food to Rehn.
‘He didn’t even look up!’
‘Like he was expecting me!’
And the boy kept making that strange noise with his lips, but the boy turned and looked at him now.
Then the boy said more meaningless words: “Well, y’all think we should hit the road now?”
And then the Other came out of the forest and sat down by the fire, and he wanted to scream when he saw the creature, to scream and run away.
This Other was half as tall as he was, and it’s skin a cool solid gray. Smooth and gray. It’s body slight, weak looking, it’s head huge. Eyes black, solid black and too big. Two tiny nostrils on a too flat face, and something that was too small to be a mouth, and too close to the nostrils, resided just below those slits. Fingers too long, feet more like a frog’s, toes too long. Nothing else…nothing at all…just smooth skin where other things ought to be.
The Other ignored him, so he looked at it once then looked away too, tried not to appear as frightened as he felt.
Then he felt something like fingers inside his mind, trying to speak by forming images – and he jumped up as new fears emerged. His village – gone. And now his mother too. He could see it all so clearly. Certain knowledge, not a simple feeling. He turned around and around in panic, blind now as knowledge replaced feeling, then he was aware of the boy, standing by his side now. Like he was seeing the same knowledge, was sharing his feelings.
Then the boys arms were around his shoulders and he felt something like the feeling he had for his mother and father wrap itself around his being, and he felt at ease for the first time in days, since the big cat’s first attack. He saw images of the boy’s home, images of a place to go, a new home in his mind, and he turned, looked at the boy. The boy smiled and pointed to the woods.
He saw an image of his village in his mind.
“A-keelee-menjay,” he said.
“Home,” the white boy said.
An image of the boy in his home appeared in his mind. “Home,” the boy said, pointing first at his own body, then at him.
“Home,” Rehn said, the unfamiliar now utterly familiar.
The Other was gone now, but the boy stood and turned, began walking into the woods, and there was nothing else to do now, so he followed the boy.
They walked from the craft, walked through a different kind of forest, came upon another cat. Smaller, a different color, but though it’s face was ruined he could see it’s teeth were as deadly. Then he heard a strange buzzing sound, saw two men on strange red beasts headed their way.
No legs…black round things. Not animals. Smell…bad, farting smoke like they were fed rotten bananas. Then the men stopped and got off their beasts. The older man was looking at him, then at the dead cat.
“I see you got him,” the old man said.
“Barely. She almost got me.”
“I shouldn’t have sent you up here alone…kind of figured it’d be hanging around in these rocks.”
And Rehn felt words as images in his mind now, like he could almost understand what was being said.
“She was in the rocks. She charged, and I got her when she was about ten feet out.”
“Careless. Who’s your friend?”
“Don’t know his name yet…”
“Rehn,” he said, not quite knowing why he said that.
“Rehn?” the boy asked, pointing at him.
He nodded his head. “Rehn.”
“He don’t exactly look like he’s from around these parts, Rob.”
“He’s not, Dad.”
“Our friends again?”
“What does it look like we’re doing around here? Running a home for wayward aliens?”
Then the other stepped from the forest, stepped into the clearing.
Hello, old friend.
“Well, speak of the devil…how’s it hangin’, Paco?”
Why do you still call me that?
“Sounds better than Shithead, don’t you think?”
“So, what have you brought us now?”
A boy, in trouble.
“No, Shithead, I ain’t buyin’ it.”
And I am not selling.
“Sure you are. You’re fucking with the timeline again.”
No, we are not. This boy is in need. We thought you could help.
“Uh-huh, sure. Look, you leave him with us, he stays. Simple as that. Got it?”
That is all we wished.
“Okay. So, what do you want us to do with him?”
Raise him as your own.
“Uh, yeah. Right. You remember those things we have? Chromosomes and all that nonsense? You think that’ll work?”
Tell them you found him on your property.
“Yeah…we do that and the Indian Affairs people will be on us like stink on shit.”
We remember when you used to say ‘white on rice.’
“Things change, Paco. Why do I feel like you’re changing things again?”
We do not know.
“Where’s he from?”
“Dad, I think El Salvador, like maybe sixteen hundred or so years ago.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” The old man turned and looked at him, then turned to the Other again. “So, you’re fucking with the timeline again, aren’t you? Tell me the truth, or it’s no deal.”
No, an academic team found the boy. Looking at your distant ancestors.
“Sixteen hundred years ain’t distant, Paco. What the fuck are you up to…?”
“You do know I don’t trust you, I reckon?”
“Rob, take him on up to the house, but you better take him by the barn first, hose him down before you take him in to meet your mother. She’ll throw a hissy-fit if he goes in there on her new carpet – looking like something you just drug in from a dumpster.”
“Were you in their ship?”
“Smells like a buncha cats had a pissin’ party. You might rinse off yourself.”
When the two youngsters were gone, Dan Jeffries turned to his oldest, Robert. “Better get this carcass out of here, somewhere Fish and Game won’t get wind of it.”
Dan turned to the Other once again. “Anything else I can do for you this morning?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
No. We will remain nearby, to complete the bridge for the you. Until he can communicate without us.
“How long will he be here with us?”
Two years, maybe three. Until he is sufficiently aware.
“And you’re not taking him back?”
Dan Jeffries shook his head, because he knew what that meant. He turned, could just see his boy and the strange new one walking across the pasture, and he didn’t know whether to be afraid for him, or envious.
No, this new boy wouldn’t be going home. Back to the where he came from.
This boy, like the others who’d come through before, was destined for the stars.
She felt Electra on her chest, sitting there contentedly, the motor in her neck whirring away gently. “Mourning becomes you, my friend.”
Then she remembered the dream.
Nazis? A young pianist? Bare trees and snow? And that fog! Everywhere!
She climbed out of bed and walked to the bathroom, turned on the shower and bathed the night away, wondering when the boy finally left. And when had she finally gone back to sleep? She dried off and pulled out her blow-dryer, ran a brush through her short, silver-gray hair for a few minutes, then she went to her little closet, half expecting to find those folksy, 1940s era fabrics she had seen during the night – but no, everything was as it should be and she laughed at her fear, pulled out something casual for today’s class. She set Electra in the window and walked down to the street.
The sky looked like a picture postcard…polarized blue and crystal clear, not a cloud to be seen, anywhere. She walked to the Anvers metro station and transferred at La Chapelle for Cluny, then walked to class, and still the sky seemed an almost surreal blue. Bluer than blue, really, it was an infinite blue she hadn’t seen in years, a distant colour that seemed to reside in memory, and she walked to her classroom thinking of such things. Silly, faraway things, like riding a pony at her grandfather’s farm when she was five years old, painting pictures in her grandmother’s studio – triggered by the sky…
The lecture hall was nearly half full, perhaps a hundred sleepy-eyed students were already seated, another fifty or so would drift in soon, yet most were watching her as she entered, and as she set her notes out on the lectern a girl approached.
“Will there be extra review sessions? For the ones you missed?”
“That I missed?” she said, puzzled.
“Yes. Friday’s, and Monday’s as well.”
She pulled out her iPhone and looked at the date. “Wednesday?”
She thought quickly, tried to understand how five days had simply vanished, then she looked at the girl. “We’ll talk about that before class ends.”
“Are you feeling better?”
“Better? Yes, thank you for asking.”
The girl smiled and took her seat while Christine Mannon wondered what had happened to her world; she in any event decided that no more alcohol – and no more boys – would be best – at least for a few days.
She dropped by Claire and Jean Paul’s before going home, after making up two review sessions and promising to hold two more the next afternoon, and Claire seemed happy to see her. Upset, but happy nonetheless. And, of course, she wanted to go to the Sabot Rouge this very night!
They stepped off the Metro and walked by her apartment; she dropped off her notes and fed Electra, then walked back down to the street – where she had left Claire and J-P – yet when she stepped out the door she was embraced by an icy fog, so thick she literally could not see her hand in front of her face.
She shook her head, took a deep breath and willed the sight away – yet when she opened her eyes again the cold air was still clamped tight around her – and that same Gestapo officer was walking up to her.
“Ah, have you found your cat?” he asked.
“Your name is Werner, is it not?”
“Yes, my lady. And I missed yours last time.”
“I am so sorry. Mannon. Christine Mannon.”
“And you live here? In this building?”
“Yes, the top floor. Number 3.”
“Why on earth are you stepping out now? Surely you haven’t misplaced your cat again?”
“No, I was waiting for a friend, but I doubt she’ll come, not in this fog.”
“Have you had dinner?”
“No, not yet,” she said, then she realized what she’d just done. “My friend and I were going to prepare something upstairs.”
“Ah, a pity. Well, perhaps you will allow me to take you out – some other night?”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
He held her eyes in his for a long moment, nodded his head slowly. “Very well. Good night.”
She turned and walked back to her apartment, looked around at the archaic belongings around the room, then she walked over to the windows and looked out into the gloom. As before she could just make out the limbs of bare trees, only now a light snow was falling – again.
She turned, looked for her cat – but now even she was gone, too.
‘Why am I here,’ she asked the room. ‘If this is real, if I am awake – who would do this to me?’
She turned back to the window, looked at the bare limbs swaying in the fog and the snow, and she listened to the wind.
She heard a gentle knock on the door, tried to ignore the chills running up her spine, then she quietly turned and slipped into her bedroom, closing the door behind as she went, disappearing into another fog.
It was a world of firsts.
His first shower, first hot water – and he found the experience terrifying. Soap was something else altogether when it got in his eyes.
Sitting at a table, trying to not pick up food and eat from his hand. Then there were forks and knives for one food, and another – Rob called it pizza – that was eaten from the hand – yet Rob’s mother ate her’s with a knife and fork. Exasperating!
But most amazing of all, the next morning Rob and his father saddled up horses and they showed him how to get up on the beast’s back, how to tell the horse to turn left or right, to speed up or slow down, then they went out for a long ride. Several days and nights long, with just Rob and his father. He learned how to build a fire their way, then he showed them how he did it, and they liked his way better.
They did not bring food so they hunted. The first day they killed small furry things with big, floppy ears; they used bows unlike any he’d seen before, and arrows that defied description. The second day they showed him how to use the bow, how to use the complicated sights, and when they came upon fresh scat they tracked a small group of hoofed animals. When they came upon them, Rob let him use his bow to make the kill.
They cleaned the animal, cut up useful hunks of meat and Rob’s father packed them in a powder of some sort, and they had that for food now. They went higher into the mountains after that, higher and higher until the air became very cold, and he experienced another first.
He walked in the stuff and it was as shocking as everything else about this new place.
And he could not understand why there was this thing in his head now. Something that explained things through pictures, but also through feelings. When Rob said ‘rabbit’ the day they hunted such things, he saw ‘rabbits’ in his mind. The next day it was ‘deer,’ two days later he learned what a puma was, then a bear – a black bear. He saw things called coyotes, and small, angry snakes Rob called ‘rattlers’– and Rob’s father played with these snakes. He let them strike out at his outstretched hand and he caught them behind the head, then put them down and let them do it again. When they found a big one, however, Rob’s father avoided it, grew wary and kept far away as it watched them move along, and he could feel the older man’s fear too. Not as his own, but as the other man experienced it.
And he knew this was happening because of the Other. Somehow the Other was in his mind now. Even as they went high up into the mountains. Into this thing called snow.
They kept on for another day, then they came to a house – Rob called it a cabin – and they unloaded the horses here. Rob showed him how to start a fire up here, because, he explained, there was less air, and that fires had trouble burning this high, especially in the winter when wood was often wet.
Then something even stranger happened.
He ‘talked back’ to Rob, using the same images and feelings, and suddenly he and Rob could communicate. Rob’s father called it ‘the link’ – and after the link was established Rehn began learning Rob’s language at an incredible rate – and now when he saw an image, and heard the corresponding word, almost automatically he spoke it. More troubling…he remembered these words and concepts without any real effort on his part.
And then the biggest change of all.
He had all his life ‘thought’ in the language of his parents, yet within a week up in the snow he began to think in this other language, and once that happened the transfer of information began in earnest.
When he thought: ‘Why are we up here in the snow?’ he would pick up an instantaneous insight, something like, ‘Where you’re going, you’ll spend half the year living in these conditions.’
‘Where I’m going?’ he thought one night.
And then Rob’s father was there too, listening and ‘talking’ to him. ‘Come with me, outside.’
And when all three were outside under the dome of the night sky, Rob’s father pointed at a group of stars in the sky. “That’s Orion, right there,” Rob’s father said aloud, “and that’s where you’ll be going.”
“Why?” Rehn asked, but now there was another voice with him, and he turned, saw the Other standing in the snow behind them.
Only the creature was dressed now. A suit of some sort, something to keep the Other warm, but the Other was staring at him now, waiting.
“Why must I go there?”
Images of something called a colony flooded his mind. Hundreds of men and women who looked like him, and he could tell there had been a rebellion of some sort. War had broken out among two groups of colonists, then had spread to all the groups on the planet. Instead of progressing, the colony was failing. Hundreds had been killed so far, and the war was spreading.
We did not provide these colonists with the tools to understand their new world. They were taken from their homes and almost in an instant arrived at this new place, so all of their beliefs went with them. All their understanding of one world came in contact with a new reality. They were ill-prepared, and the fault is ours. We are preparing another attempt. You will lead this second group.
Yes. The first will arrive soon. You will be their leader.
“Why here? Why in the snow? Is the new place like this?”
Yes, for part of the year. And that has caused many problems.
“Why not find someplace like my village. Someplace with no snow?”
That was not possible. Your new world is like what you knew in many ways, and most of the time it is very warm, but it also grows very cold and dark, for a long time, too. You will learn to survive in the snow now, then Rob has more things to teach you. I – am leaving you now. The link will be broken, you will no longer see words in your head. When I return, the link will return. Do you understand?
And with that the Other disappeared.
They spent several days walking the mountains near timberline, and they spent time tracking small animals, setting snares. They built a cave in the snow one night, and he learned how to build a small fire to warm the cave without melting the ceiling, and the next morning he learned how to navigate, how to take ‘sight bearings’ with the sun and how to find places that might otherwise be lost, and then they returned to the trees, worked their way down the mountain towards the ranch – but they stopped again and made camp in the forest.
“Are you hungry?” Rob’s father asked.
“Good. So go find something to eat,” the old man said, handing over his bow and one arrow.
Rehn looked at the old man, then at Rob. “Are you coming with me?” he asked.
And they turned away.
‘So, it is to be a test,’ he thought. He took the bow and arrow and set off up the hill, and when he was far enough away he felt the breeze on his face, then looked at the sun. ‘I must use the wind and the sun to my advantage,’ he told himself, and he worked his way towards a rocky outcropping. He remembered something Rob had said and looked for signs a cat might be in the area, then he set up above a stream and waited for a while.
Nothing. He found a taller, more sheltering group of rocks and hid himself better…
Then he heard something behind, on the rocks up above. Something large. He could hear an animal sniffing the air, approaching carefully, and as he pushed himself deeper into the rocks he realized that something else was using the wind and the sun to it’s own advantage. He saw a shadow next, low and moving quietly.
He slipped the arrow onto the bow and as the cat jumped down into view he let it go.
The cat fell where it landed, dead, and he went to the animal. pulled the arrow free, then ran quietly into the trees. Breathing hard, he made his way to the stream and walked along the water’s edge until he saw tall grass near another group of large, house-sized boulders. He hid again, more mindful of what might be behind him, and not long after a small deer came to the stream and he killed it, then he put it over his shoulders and slipped through the forest to the campsite.
He was surprised to see the cat there, laid out on the ground, the old man skinning it, Rob building a fire. They watched him clean the deer and let him cook parts of it, and the old man carefully rolled up the cat’s skin and gave it to him.
“You can make clothing out of this,” he said. “Never waste anything out here.”
“What of the meat? Can you eat a cat like this?”
“Yes. It’s actually not as bad as you think, but there are more parasites in them so it has to be cooked very well.”
“Did you follow me?”
“Rob did. As soon as you took off for the rocks.”
“That was a mistake?”
“More dangerous. And deer understand that, too. They keep away from large rocks unless they are in a large group and need to hide.”
“So, I made a mistake.”
“Yes. But you lived this time.”
“And next time?”
“There shouldn’t be a ‘next time,’ Rehn. You learn from your mistakes, and you remember those lessons. If you forget, you die.”
“Would you have let me die today?”
“That is why I am here. To teach you the hard lessons. When you get to Rigel you will not have a teacher. You will be the teacher.”
“You did not answer my question.”
“No, I did not.”
“Next time I won’t. Do you understand that, as well?”
They walked down the next morning, but they saw the shimmering veil long before they got back to the house. Rob felt the usual mix of joy and dread when the link returned, but Rehn seemed more reluctant to embrace the giving.
Everything you think and feel,” Rob said suddenly, “is known by everyone on the link. It is better to simply let go and open up to everything, try not to hide things, because that only makes it worse.”
“I do not like them.”
“They do not care.”
“That is hard to understand. Why would they not care?”
“Perhaps in time you will understand. It is not important now.”
“What is important?”
Rob stopped his horse, looked at Rehn, focused his mind on an image.
“Do you see them?” he asked.
“Yes, but what are they?”
“The reason behind everything we do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to.”
Nor is there time.
They felt the Other inside then, and Rehn instinctively turned to the trees behind them. He saw the creature standing beside a tree, and there were five girls behind it. About his age, all of them very frightened, all but one, and this girl was staring at him. Studying him.
And suddenly he understood why he was here, what this was all about, and he laughed for a very long time.
They were together! Pure joy!
He leaned back, looked at the stars, danced in all their myriad possibilities. He felt a gentle stirring in the water, a hint of warmth, and he looked at his mate, at his child and all was sudden contentment. This was where he belonged. Here, under the stars – with them.
He slipped under the water and spiraled down lazily in long, looping arcs, and he looked over, felt his son by his side, his wife too, and all the rest of his pod. This was the coming together, the prelude of the infinite before the joining. Before creation, and renewal.
In a brilliant flash he saw the creature on the moving island, so many moving lights. Feelings almost the same as his, he recalled the pain that radiated from her being. The ending was near. The sad longing. But why did he remember that now? What was so special about that creature? How was she so different from the other he had helped?
The sad longing?
Then he saw the shimmering veil of gold. Far below, too far to be real, and he wondered what it was.
Then the probing began.
Something in his thoughts, reaching inward, and he shut them off, turned away. He wanted nothing to do with them. Not now, not again.
It is not time. Those days are yet to be.
The sudden crashing sound was jarring. Metal on ice, metal on metal. Inrushing water, air pushing out. Screams. The screams of others like himself, yet not quite.
He turned, saw that everyone else had heard the sounds, and for a moment they looked at one another…
Then feeling flooded through him.
Fear. Panic. The sad longing filling the sea with despair.
He turned to the voices and burst forward through the last of the night.
A moment later the shimmering veil lifted from the seabed and turned to follow.
The helmsman never saw the ice, neither had it shown up on radar. The second officer had seen it on sonar yet she hadn’t recognized it for what it was. A sheet of ice ten feet thick five feet beneath the surface; it was larger than Manhattan Island, it’s mass a million times that of the cruise ship, and when the ship’s starboard side slammed into the ice it penetrated fifteen feet inside the hull. Traveling at 22 knots, the ice ripped a gouge 600 feet long before splintering, leaving great shards to float to the surface while the ship listed precariously. The captain made it to the bridge in time to realize there’d be no time to get his passengers to the boats; the ship was going to roll, and fast…so he concentrated on getting distress signals off while the ship rolled through fifteen degrees.
“Jettison the inflatables! Now!” he commanded, and the Second Officer hit a button simultaneously launching two hundred fiberglass canisters high into the air. When the canisters hit the sea large life rafts automatically deployed and inflated, each one lit by flashing strobes, each raft automatically emitting search and rescue signals that were instantly picked up by dozens of satellites in orbit overhead.
Norma Edsel was sitting on the edge of her bed, watching her husband sleep when she felt the entire ship lurch sideways. Bob Edsel sat up in an instant and they looked at one another, then he ran out onto the little balcony and looked out at the sea, then ran back inside.
“Clothes on, now,” he commanded. “Warmest stuff you’ve got.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“I don’t know, but this ship’s going to turn-turtle, and soon.”
“You mean…capsize?” She could feel it now too, and when she looked out the sliding glass door she could tell she was looking not at a horizon, but down into the sea – and panic gripped her. “And here I thought cancer was going to get me,” she laughed. “Life is nothing but one surprise after another.”
The rolling list was speeding up now, and she had visions of that silly movie decades ago, with Gene Hackman…and all she knew in that moment was she didn’t want to end up trapped inside an upside down ocean liner…
“Should we jump now?” she asked. “I mean, we’re getting close to the surface. If we jump we can swim clear…”
He ran to the balcony again, saw the water was now about twenty feet away, and there were dozens of life rafts nearby, just sitting there on the mirror-smooth surface of the sea.
“That’s not a bad idea,” he said, then he looked up. “We’ll have to swim fast to clear the stuff overhead, but that may be the best shot we’ve got right now.
“ALL HANDS, PREPARE TO ABANDON SHIP!”
They heard the announcement over the PA, then loud, buzzing alarms filled the ship.
“Come on,” he said, and when she came to him on the balcony he grabbed her and held her close, kissed her once. “I love you, doll. You ready for this?”
“I’m not ready to leave you yet,” she said, then she kissed him again before she climbed up on the railing, bracing herself against an overhead beam.
“When you hit the water start swimming away from the ship, swim for one of those rafts right there, as fast as you can…” he said, pointing to a group just a hundred yards away. “Okay, let’s do it!”
And with that they both pushed off and arced down into the sea.
Into the 41 degree water.
She felt like a million pins pierced her during the giant, mad-thrashing crash, and she had trouble breathing. She fought for rational control, tried to recount how the body reacts to extreme cold, how blood pressure changes as capillaries constrict and adrenaline surges, how her diaphragm was spasming and why that made breathing difficult, then she remembered – SWIM – I’ve got to swim for those rafts…!
She heard screams overhead and chanced to look up once; she saw the ship overhead as it leaned Pisa-like for the sea and she saw a woman falling, naked, into the water. She wanted to turn and help but she knew that would mean being trapped by the rolling ship so she kept stroking for the rafts.
Then in one sickening moment the ship let go and rolled completely, and a wave formed. She felt herself life on this wave and tried to make her body into a kind of surfboard and ride the crest, knowing this would be the only way she would clear the falling superstructure. With her arms by her side and her body gently arced, she felt a kind of momentary exhilaration as she slipped along five feet above the sea ahead…
The she realized the rafts were sailing ahead too, that they were getting further away her now…
The wave fell away moments later and she felt her speed fall away too, then she was bobbing on the water…
And she felt something underneath her feet, something broad and flat. Something like…ice. She could just stand here, but she couldn’t walk, and she figured she had just minutes, possibly less, to gain one of the rafts before deep hypothermia set in. The rafts were the only way out of this nightmare and she began breast-stroking for the nearest one, now so far away it was barely visible.
“Too far,” she said, then she turned and looked for Bob. She could see the ship, it’s keel glistening in the starlight, but not one soul was visible on the water’s surface. “Oh, no,” she whispered. “Not here, not without you. Please God, not like this.”
She felt the presence in the water. Close, terrifyingly close, and she turned, saw the white skin, the black eye, the imperturbable grin. And others nearby, too. All looking at her.
She shook her head, tried to comprehend the moment. This whale had just asked her a question?
“What?” she replied. “What did you say?”
“Yes, love. He’s out there,” she said, pointing to the sea between them and the capsized ship. “Love, there!”
It drifted closer, rolled a little and offered her it’s pectoral fin, then he carried her through the water to the nearest raft and pushed her aboard. She leaned over and looked into the black eyes, then she pointed to the ship again – “Love! Love is there!”
“Love?” it said, then it disappeared beneath the water and was gone. She turned, opened a small duffel inside the raft and found a ‘space blanket’ and wrapped it around her body, then tossed it aside. She pulled off her wet clothes and rewrapped the silvery mylar thing around her body again, then lay in the bottom of the raft, her shivering now out of control. She found packets of ‘chemical heat’ pads and unwrapped one, slapped it under her left armpit, then she unwrapped another and placed it under her right, then lay back and let the warmth hit her circulatory system.
She felt a bump and went to the raft’s edge and saw the naked woman there, unconscious, and a smaller whale nudged her up and she took the woman aboard, ripped open more heat pads and put them in the armpits, wrapped another space blanket around the woman’s body.
Another thump and she leaned over.
It wasn’t Bob and she said “no,” and pointed to the sinking ship: “Love still there!”
The whale disappeared again and she pulled the man aboard, stripped him and placed heat pads, then wrapped him, her own shivering now subsiding a little. She went to the tubular rail and leaned out, peered into the night – and the sight offended her sense of reality. Dozens of white whales were helping people to the rafts, and a man in a nearby raft looked over to her.
“Heat pads and blankets in the duffel!” she called out, and others heard her call then got to work.
She looked down, saw Bob’s unconscious body in the water. “Yes! Love!”
The whale nudged him aboard and she set about stripping him and heating and wrapping him, and she was holding him close a half hour later when the first helicopter appeared overhead. By then the whale had disappeared into the deep water, following the huge moving island as it drifted and rolled on it’s way to the seafloor, still looking for life.
Newspapers around the world carried the story on their front pages. The largest cruise ship disaster in history, 3400 dead, and more than 200 rescued – by white whales.
Yet the shimmering gold veil remained, watching the scene from far below. But not watching the humans.
No, they watched him, and when he swam off a day later, they followed him, discreetly, from a distance.
Mulder and Scully stepped out of the mobile command post as the ADs helicopter touched down on the highway, but they waited for the door to open and her to step out. They could see her talking on a handset, and a moment later the door opened and she came out, walked over to them.
“It’s confirmed,” she said as she came up to them. “A Cathay Pacific freighter, hit near the Sino-Siberian border. The pilot got his ship to Hong Kong, but just barely. So, what’s with this Jeffries fellow?”
Mulder shook his head. “You know, this isn’t sitting too well with me. A collision, over China, and their ship comes down here, where this Jeffries is headed. And so, if what that co-pilot says can be believed, Jeffries went with them after he got to this parking lot. And she says he knows them. So that means the ship tried to make it here for a reason.”
“No Ma’am, not one comes to mind.”
“There’s more than one ship,” Scully said.
“This ship crashes, then Jeffries arrives, but then he leaves – with them. He didn’t leave unless he went in another ship.”
“Do we know who he is?”
“Pilot for a CIA sub-contractor. Flies all over the place doing odd jobs for them.”
“That’s just fucking great,” the AD said. “It’s always someone on the inside.”
“It makes him the key. We won’t understand what’s going on here without him.”
Scully looked from Mulder to the AD. “So? What do we do about them?” she said, nodding to the downed-ship two hundred yards away.
“I agree with Mulder,” the AD said. “The woman, the car, they’re a warning. ‘Stay away.’ Well, I for one don’t want to piss them off, and neither does the President.”
“We’re missing something important,” Mulder said. “If this Jeffries dude has been in contact with these, well, these beings, that means they’ve been operating here for a while. Maybe a long time. And that implies a large presence on out planet, and a sophisticated understanding of, well, everything about us.”
“How’s the woman? The co-pilot?”
“No change, but we shouldn’t have given her so much water.”
“She can’t pass it, and when a paramedic tried to run a catheter it just broke off. She’s in a lot of pain now.”
“She can’t pee?”
“No muscle control, or very little, anyway.”
“How far away?”
“Let’s go,” the AD said. A few minutes later she regretted not getting a car. “Goddamn, this humidity is gross. What is it…?”
“98 degrees, 84 percent humidity.”
“We tented the site, are cooling the woman down. She seems fine other than needing to take a leak.”
“Good thing you didn’t give her Taco Bell…”
They walked up a few minutes later, the BMW and the woman still hanging inverted in the air, still just a few feet up from the white gravel parking lot, both now inside a large, white, hard-sided tent, and the AD got down on the ground beside Mulder as he slipped under the woman.
“How’s it hangin’,” he said, grinning.
“I wanted to ask…your name isn’t really…”
“Sure it is. Isn’t yours?”
“Sick sense of humor.”
“That’s the government, for ya. This is my boss, by the way.”
“Hello,” the AD said.
“Yup. Howdy yourself.”
“You don’t know this Rob Jeffries well, by any chance?” the AD asked.
“Not as well as I’d like to.”
“Yeah. Life’s a bitch.”
“Any idea how well he knows these beings?”
“Did you see one of them?”
“I see. Would you tell me if you had?”
The girl smiled. “Nope.”
“Ah. So, you think this is a rescue operation?”
“Seems that way to me.”
“Seems that…what do you mean by that?”
“I think that’s clear, don’t you?”
“Now see here, young lady…”
“No threats, if you know what I mean.”
“We’re being watched, aren’t we? Judged?”
“You never heard that from me, Ma’am.”
The AD smiled, nodded. “Of course. Thanks, you’ve been most helpful.”
“Is that really his name?”
“Of course. What else would it be?”
“Weird, that’s all.”
“Art imitates life, or have I got that backwards?”
“I hope you’re not asking me?”
“Truly,” the AD said as she pushed herself out from under the woman.
When they were outside again she took a bottle of iced water from an airman then started back for her helicopter. “Okay, we pull back five miles and we wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“And then what?”
“We try to make contact.”
They saw a man walking out of the swamp just ahead, and Mulder recognized him from the file photos he’d seen earlier that morning. “That’s him,” Mulder said. “Coming out of the woods.”
“Ah. How convenient.”
Jeffries turned and looked at them, then cocked his head a bit – as if he was listening to someone – but he started walking towards them.
“I don’t suppose you’d like to tell us where you’ve been?” the AD said when the met up.
“Kind of hard to say, Miss Kurzweil.”
She seemed shaken by that. “Have we met?”
“Oh yeah,” Jeffries said. “About five years from now.”
The AD staggered to a stop. “What did you say?”
“Ten years from now, well, sort of, we would have gotten married, too.”
He turned to Mulder. “You even kind of look like him, ya know?”
“I get that a lot,” Mulder said.
Then Jeffries turned to Scully. “Yeow. Love those Louboutins, darlin’, but really, don’t you think those are overkill out here?”
“So? Any questions? If not, I’ve been up for two days and I’m really quite tired.”
No one said a word.
“Excellent. Well, we’ll seeya at the tea party,” he said as he started off for the parking like, but the AD started after him.
“Now see here” she said, startled by all this, “what do you mean we’ll be married in ten years?”
“Tell you what. Come home with me now and let’s see what we can see.”
The BMW was right side up now, the engine purring contentedly, June sitting in the front seat too, looking equally contented – and a few quarts lighter – as he climbed in behind the wheel.
He looked at the AD and grinned: “Ménage à trois, perhaps?”
“Well, maybe next time,” Jeffries said as he slipped the transmission into Drive. “Bye!” he said as he pulled out onto the highway and drove off.
“Should we follow him?” Mulder asked.
“Ya think?” Scully said, smirking.
“Now what the Hell did he mean by that?” the AD asked.
© April 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | more coming, maybe, if I can figure out how to break out of the mothership. Oh, if you missed part one, look here.