On a planet in the far future, a civilisation hopes to crack the great challenge of all time - intergalactic travel - using the minds of empathic children. The mother of one of these boys,furious at losing her son for the good of the planet, sets out to sabotage the system, with intriguing and dangerous results.
CHAPTER 1 – THE PLANET WITH A PROBLEM
In a classroom sits a boy. He is angelic-looking. His golden skin is smooth and his features fine. In his gray-blue eyes is a far-off, mystical look. His hair too, is spun from silk and almost floats, giving him a gentle halo. He bobs gently in a seated position, as if in a phantom boat, but no chair is evident. We notice other children, some of a darker complexion, but all with the same fine and sensitive features. They too, drift gently to and fro in the air as they listen dutifully. Their instructor is not physically in the room, but is a luminous presence filling the space with color, light, words and thoughts.
“We have conquered our world,” says the presence, with authority and poise.
“We have tamed the land and tamed the sea. We live in perfect harmony with our environment and it has taken much time to achieve this. Never forget it. Once upon a time we walked everywhere on our feet.”
Here, laughter breaks out, but you would hardly recognize it. The sound is the rustle of autumn leaves, the batting of a butterfly's wings, but it is laughter nevertheless.
“We even killed animals to eat them, in order to sustain life.”
And now a groan erupts softly, as disgust mingles with incredulity. “I am telling you, we have come a long way.”
Tim-Id3 knows this. They all know it. They think they know what is coming next. So does Fors-full2 who floats off course on purpose to set up a collision. He's always doing it. Some people think he is a bit of a throwback. No-one says that about Tim-Id3.
The glowing presence expands and brightens. Fors-full 2 snaps back to his place with a jolt, but doesn't care and laughs his papery laugh.
“Most of us,” the Presence goes on, “have benefited from the evolution and adaptation of our species. We have conquered our planet, we are masters of the land, the sea and the air. In time, all barriers have fallen before us. But the one great question remains.”
Here you might think a cool change had suddenly hit the room, or an archaic rodent had invaded the place, for there is a restless shiver spreads throughout the group. Looking closely, you might be aware of girls as well as boys, but it would be hard to be sure, as they all look so similar.
Again the presence swells and brightens, and again the group comes to order. The words boom in their brains. “Are we alone?”
They have heard it all their lives. It is the one great unknown, but for the moment they are not interested. They are more concerned with the here and now. There are the Pleasure Castles in the Air and the Music of the Spheres to enjoy. They are young, and will worry about the rest of creation some other time. If this world is so wonderful, why shouldn't they just enjoy it, they ask themselves. But these young and unworthy thoughts are interrupted.
“We have always thought we would crack the light barrier. Do you know that once we wondered if we could ever crack the sound barrier?”
At this, much jollity.
“But, for all our research and all the possibilities, it hasn't happened. Nor, in my humble opinion, is it ever likely to happen. We are locked away in our separate rooms in creation. We don't know what is happening in other creatures' lives, whether they are more advanced than we, or what sort of creatures they might be - or whether they even exist.”
A few of the bobbing students calm noticeably at this thought.
“As you know, there may be a breakthrough in this area, just possibly, but it may be our only hope. But it takes a certain sort of person.”
Again there is a concerted movement, as dozens of seated children swivel ever so gently to peer at one of their number – Tim-Id3. They are also treated to the rare sight of a forceful collision from you- know-who.
“I think I'm one of them,” Tim-Id3 is thinking. So does the rest of the class.
The class over, each child drifts toward the outer wall of their meeting room, a full mile above street level. They pass into a gravity bubble which cocoons its occupant, floating gently out above the city streets far below and rising smoothly to cluster round the spire. Passing through the spire's energy field, each bubble is locked into its destination co-ordinates and begins its long glide out of the city, through its maze of minaret and rocket-like structures, past clouds of pleasure craft and mighty machines. Beyond the great city Tim-Id3 can see forests and jungles, and beyond them, green fields and hamlets. And even further away, gleaming like a cluster of jewels, is another great city.
Far from the city lies a hamlet. Let's call it Dunwanderin, for it is a pleasant and relaxing haven for the privileged. But this society is one which has learned to value its resources, and even here, folks are busy. On a spacious and airy veranda sit three friends. They sip stimulating beverages of various colors. One is noticeably older than the others, and her eyes wear a gently weary expression.
“How did it go?” she asks her younger, male, companion.
“Oh, pretty much the usual. We've said it before, they've heard it before. You wonder sometimes if it's worth it.”
“We have no choice,” cut in the third, sharply. Like her male companion, she is attractive, with regular features of no particular distinction. “It's populate or perish.”
“Oh, I don't know!”
“No, that's just it. You don't know. You don't know how to give me a child either. Well, who does? It's getting harder and harder.”
“It's no-one's fault,” chided the elder.
Silence fell, and weighed heavily on a trio never at a loss loss for words. Their world was at stake and they knew it.
“Is there any law that says we have to go on?” began the male.
“In fact, there is. But if I have to remind you, it's probably too late.”
The older woman hastened to intervene. The other two listen respectfully, for she is Enodlo1, the planet's leading scientist. She is a neat woman whose movements and manners bespeak discipline and control.
“It's our own fault. We've almost refined ourselves out of existence. And not only have we enfeebled the race, we've messed up some of our own DNA with tinkering and manipulation. We are so disease- resistant that we will be the healthiest corpses creation has ever known.”
Stirring, the younger woman said, “Speaking of which – is there anything in these rumors. You know,” she went on, waving her sparkling crimson drink dangerously, “about contact?”
The two younger ones now looked intently at the older woman, who sighed with a show of reluctance, although she really rather liked the attention.
“Hmmm,” she murmured, looking thoughtfully into the mists of her swirling green concoction.
They waited patiently, confident that she would not pass up the opportunity for a little lecture.
“Tim-Id3,” she said, and waited.
“What about him. Bit of a dreamer isn't he?" ventured the young woman. "His friend now, bit of a throwback, but maybe that's what we need.”
“Not at all. One hundred and eighty degrees wrong. Tim-Id3 may be the future.” “What on earth can a kid like that do for us? He's hardly on the planet he's so dreamy.”
“That is the point actually.” The senior scientist waited for the remark to register, and went on, addressing the man. “What was your lecture about today?”
“Oh, the usual. Limitations, life out there, the future.” “Which we may or may not have!”
“And the man of the future?”
“Yes, I brought that up of course. Whatever he might be – you don't mean?” The question hung in the air.
“Yes I do.”
“He's the breakthrough we've been hearing about?” “Just possibly.”
“Wow!” The man's drink fizzed and bubbled. The women laughed, for it was Empathio, a drink which reflected the drinker's nervous state. He was so phlegmatic, his drink rarely stirred where in other hands it might have boiled over. Now it betrayed a highly emotional state.
“Well I knew something was happening, but I expected a superman from one of the big towns, not a, what, a little dreamer?”
“We're not in a position to bargain with fate. We can't go on as we are.”
“So just how does he help us?”
“What – worm-hole, doorway, what?”
“Nope. Nothing like it. We don't understand it, but people like him can just reach out and touch the stars.”
“How? The distances are just so vast.”
“We've been looking in the wrong places. The universe seems to be situated between our ears.”
She allowed silence to fall again, as she knew it would. She frowned slightly in concentration, conjuring up floating colored clouds of their beverages, which obligingly rained into their glasses. The younger woman clapped in admiration.
“Oh, you do that so well.”
“Yes, but TI3 will be well past all that in no time at all.”
“So they just reach out and touch the stars do they?” took up the male, whom they knew as Stolid. “Do they actually travel?”
“No, they don't need to. They just tap into the most fundamental energy of the Universe. It's not gravity either. And it's not Dark Matter, but that's getting close.”
“But we don't even know what Dark Matter is.”
“All I can tell you is that it is there, and whatever it is, it has a link with grey matter.”
Seeing the looks on their faces, she took pity and went on.
“Yes, whatever Dark Matter is, it has a link in the human brain. These little transmitters can tune into the cosmic power station in some way we can't be sure of, and when they tune into a frequency which matches their own, they are there. They see, they feel, theyare that being. I'm just calling it GM for grey matter.”
“It is truly incredible, but what good does that do us?” came the reasonable interjection.
“Would you not want to peer into an AA1 brain, or that of Tapaki2? With the Universe to scour, who knows what knowledge we may glean, for our own advancement and possibly our own protection.”
Silence fell, a thoughtful silence, punctuated by successive colored cloudbursts refreshing their glasses. The sun set slowly on their beautiful little ranch, grass of the greenest hue running up to the cabin, songbirds caroling in the trees and gentle beasts cropping their feed.
Not far away from this academic trio the object of their discussion was visiting his mother. Tim-Id3 touched down gently into a grassy pod, the bubble burst and deposited him in a leafy tangle. Poochie- Pie was there to greet him as usual and he wrestled happily with the little animal until hunger, and his mother, called him in.
“Sometimes I think you love that animal more than me,” she murmured mildly.
He gave her a look which said, “Er, maybe,” but the accompanying smile was so sweet she almost melted. Ah, what to do with this one? The others had been so easy – on their way now, both successful, and one might even be able to reproduce. But this one? His feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. You never knew what he was thinking, and he was thinking non-stop. And now those people from the Government seemed to want to know everything about him. Why? Why didn't they tell her? Wasn't she his mother? Didn't mothers still have rights? And were not mothers the most important people for the survival of the race?
“What did you talk about today, Tim?”
“Oh it was old Stolid with his usual. Future of the race, the new people who will save us.” “And who are they Tim?”
“Could it be you Tim?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Everyone's the same. Except me and Fors-full 2. So if someone's going to do something different, it's gotta be him or me. I reckon it's me.”
“You are funny,” she said, hugging him. He liked it very much, but she could never tell what he was thinking. She felt that even now he seemed to be far away in his thoughts, perhaps thinking of the problems of the day and the solutions of the future.
But in fact he was enjoying the warmth of her embrace and the homely scent of her body.
It had been only a couple of hours since she had received the news. The live wall had glowed a deep pink – it was an official communication. She looked into the wall for a moment so that it could recognize her. She then motioned to privatize the message. It would now be coded so that only she could see it.
“Your son, Tim-Id3 has been chosen for advanced study and training. Congratulations. Detailed instructions will follow. Please be available over the next few days.”
Well, that was a laugh. Where did one go nowadays to get lost? It was impossible. And what could be so important to be hush-hush like this? Every conceivable discovery had been made, and the inconceivable was being teased out as well. She suspected that the impossible was now being attempted. This frightened her, for the big mystery was interstellar travel, of which she knew nothing. Neither did any of her friends or relatives. The only person who had anything different to offer was Tim-Id3, and she had no idea what his talent was or where it could take him. One day he would take
off on his own, a man, and do whatever it was he decided he was here for, but he was still so young and she felt more nervous than honored. It was too early, surely.
It was less than a month after that message, and Tim-Id3 hadn't seen his mother for all that time. He had screened her of course, and they had talked and laughed together. Poochie had barked at him too, but he couldn't smell anything – no grass, no Poochie, no Mother. He knew he was being babyish, and it didn't seem to bother many of the other students at all. He couldn't see the need for all the secrecy. So he had some kind of gift, so what? What was it exactly? It seemed to be something to do with daydreaming, the thing that had always exasperated all the Wise Ones. And for it to be so important, it had to be connected to the Great Question of Interstellar travel. Still, some of the people here were interesting, and some of the training, and the experiments, were tantalizing.
At first, he had found himself staring at others, for no good reason. Twin girls with red hair seemed to look into his mind. It didn't bother him at all. Calmly they looked at him, and seemed to drink his thoughts at leisure. He felt that they understood his fears and cares without judging. He watched as they moved round the vast amphi-park, sometimes walking, sometimes floating, and he saw that they could not bear to stop by certain people. Tim understood their gift, and that it could be a two-edged sword. Occasionally they spoke to him, in a melodious whisper.
“We have a pet. We have several pets,” they murmured gently.
Tim understood that what they were really saying was, “We know about Poochie.”
“We really miss them,” they went on, but he knew they were saying, “We know you are really missing Poochie.”
Confused, he replied “Oh, yes, yes I do,” while hoping that his real fear, that of being seen to miss his
mother, was not so easily read. He was at a loss to know how to deal with this and decided valor was called for. He tried to look them in the eye, but their combined solicitude was too powerful a force, and he quailed before their insistent probing.
“You seem to be a special boy,” one of them said.
He couldn't tell which one was speaking at any one time. He felt he would shortly have no secrets left, and they were good at this. He picked the nearer one and addressed his answer to her. As he did so, he gazed steadily into her grey eyes meanwhile asking banal questions to place them in the here and now. “And which home cluster did you come from? When did you get the summons? Is your mother pleased about all this? Have you been in touch with home?”
Under his direct gaze and questioning, the protective veil of fuzzy good-will evaporated, and the girls lost all poise as their solidarity disappeared. Arm-in-arm they retreated to plan anew. Tim felt sorry, for he liked them and would have liked to get to know them better, but perhaps that would come when they had learned to control their ability.
CHAPTER 2 – THE WOMAN WITH THE ANSWER
Mild-looking, and considerably older than most of her audience, she obviously commanded great respect. A benign gaze nevertheless hinted at a certain steel which no-one was anxious to test. Her voice, too, was gentle, not with the affected gentleness of a quiet dominator, but with the clear and natural articulation of a precise and razor-sharp mind, utterly without personal ambition.
“You know what we are here for. Does anyone have anything to report?”
The question would seem to be rhetorical in a civilization used to instant communication. The very walls had ears and mouths at the service of the populace. In a world of where communication occurred in a virtual reality, it was still desirable to convene some gatherings in person, not least where secrecy was important.
Lights dimmed as security systems, listening devices and transmitters were switched off. “Do you, Doctor?” came the response, from several sources.
“I do, and if there is no further input, I shall sum up the situation. The enemy is at the door, but the chicken may yet fly the coop.”
With this enigmatic statement, a murmur arose from the assembly. The “enemy”, they knew, was a powerful coalition of disparate forces opposed to research, development and experiment. They sought refuge in their idea of a glorious past, interpreted according to the imaginations of various splinter groups. Some advocated selective breeding programs while others would exercise strict discipline along military lines. All of them harbored fanatics among them who would do whatever was necessary to scotch the plans of the more progressive element. Some cities were now becoming ghettos where, although outwardly serene and well-ordered, society had become increasingly narrow and hostile.
And a huge majority of the population didn't care.
“We know the enemy, but who's the chicken?” was the next question.
“You know that's top secret – but there comes a time when we must trust each other.” “We've trusted you,” rang an accusatory barb.
“Yes, you have and I thank you. I regret the need for secrecy, but I will now tell you where we are.” A hush fell.
“This involves Dark Matter. We still don't know quite what it is. But I can tell you this. Whatever force or energy it is, it resides, in a tiny way, in the brain of each and every one of us.”
The hush was swamped by a roar of conversation. A tidal wave of surprise, remark and conjecture
crashed around the room for some time. It eventually subsided leaving President Enodlo3 with a desperately eager audience.
“It's the force that binds creation. If you can tune in with it, you can hear and watch some remarkable transmissions. If you would be so kind,” – and she gestured upwards. Each individual‟s vision was soon filled with familiar scenes, mainly of the Government Training Headquarters where they had all received some kind of training in their past. The colors and levels changed, and they recognized the Hall of Inquiry, the Level of Adventure and the Kingdom of Perception. Many children seemed to frequent these levels, and they had fleeting glimpses of young faces, some older people too, some strange, some vacant and most, surprisingly normal.
“These are some of our promising subjects, and I should like to show you an encephalorama.”
A groan erupted, and a couple of distinguished older guests stood to attention, announcing their intention to quit the gathering.
“I'm afraid you can't do that,” pointed out Enodlo3. Her voice was even and calm.
“This is a meeting of the First Chamber. Your absence will not be tolerated. I assure you, I have no more use for pseudo-scientific quackery than you. But I have every belief in the scientific method, trial and observation. I remind you of my record.”
These were strong words indeed and no-one needed further reminding of the consequences of disobedience. Chairs were resumed and silence fell again, albeit a restive one.
The vision in front of them materialized into an image of two girls. They were quaint little creatures with doll-like faces and huge eyes. They were playing with a smaller child. The image fuzzed and re- focused, in the classic manner of an encephalorama. As they spoke, uttering mere commonplaces, the image became different in tone and style. The world of this image was larger and more frightening. The girls themselves appeared as larger and more authoritative figures, and all round were clever and
highly energetic people, quite business-like and adult-looking.
The audience members realized they were now seeing the world through the eyes of the small child, replete with its emotional tenor. This was a first, and they were impressed. But how was it done, and what significance did it have for them? There were primitive possibilities here for thought-control and manipulation to be sure, but a mature mind would surely be proof against these abilities.
A couple more examples raised a few more fears, which were in turn allayed by general skepticism and wishful thinking.
President Enodlo3 rose again. All eyes were drawn to the neat, spare figure, crowned by a shock of steel-gray hair. “Please watch carefully,” was all she said. It was all she needed to say.
They did so as they met an attractive little boy with fine, floating blond hair and a dreamy faraway look. As they focused on his session, they felt disoriented, for there was little that was recognizable in it.
There were glimpses of strange alien places, and waves of odd inhuman feelings as they struggled to come to grips with the tenor of his vision. Skies of strange hues, plumes of colored smoke, seas of gold and beasts of fable slipped in and out of focus. There were alien animals with alien appetites. Flashes of un-nameable emotions darted tantalizingly across their awareness. Gradually the feeling arose that they were seeing through someone else's eyes. The session lasted thirty minutes, and left the whole assembly exhausted.
This time, the tsunami took a while to build, as each individual took so long to interpret what they had
seen. As realization hit them, the discussion swelled to a sustained roar of excited speculation. It lasted for fully forty minutes, with eventually little to communicate because of the extreme noise. They were by now desperate for an interruption, for leadership and explanation. This time, when President Enodlo3 called them to attention, you could have heard a pin drop.
“And there it is,” she breathed into the eager silence.
“Would you agree with me? I believe we are looking at the future, and the present. But not the past. What do I mean by that? You have had a chance to discuss this, but you have not had all the facts. The future?
This is something new. It's a breakthrough. We have analyzed all the data in every way possible. Some of this is recognizable. These are real places, some of which we have located by the co- ordinates of constellations in the various backgrounds. We are there. We have traveled. It might not be the real thing as far as some of you are concerned, but we are looking at the breakthrough which might allow us to travel, in a way previously thought impossible, to these places which, as I say, are real. This is the future – our future.
As for the present, listen to this. I told you these are real places. We have calculated by their position, what period of history we are looking at. The last sweep was from a constellation two hundred light years away. You know what that means, don't you?”
“Yes,” rejoined a colleague near the front, mostly for the benefit of those whose grasp of space and time was tenuous. “Yes, it means we are only just receiving the light that left there two hundred years ago, so that we are looking at a scene two hundred years in the past.”
“Yes indeed! That is what it would normally mean.”
The hubbub rose again, with many voices now interjecting. “What ... you don't mean?... are you telling us ?...”
“The positions of the neighboring stars have been carefully calculated. There is no doubt that they are two hundred years advanced from present knowledge gleaned in the usual way. I am telling you – you
are looking at the present, no time delay.”
Again, hubbub tinged with disbelief and even with anger. Again there was a long excited discussion, before President Enodlo3 called for order.
“Yes, I know exactly what I am saying. And you must understand that I don't say it lightly. We now have people among us who can span the stars. They see through the eyes of other beings, instantaneously. And in doing so, they are telling us the answer to that great question, 'Is there life out there?' You saw the answer for yourselves. Whether we can ever physically travel there is another question, but I am sure you see the possibilities for yourselves. There are many like this boy. They are our hope and our future and everything will be done to expedite their development."
CHAPTER 3 – THE MOTHER AND THE OTHER
Seeker22 enjoyed his times in the woods. They were still vast and unspoiled tracts, teeming with primitive life and screened off from the neighboring zones. Only by virtue of his position did he own the visiting privilege. In all this world, it was possible that he was the only person. For a man of his position and accomplishments however, there was little danger. Levitation was an easy answer to the running beasts, and an instant force wrap was the last resort in the case of any unexpected attack. Still, accidents happened from time to time, and it paid to be careful.
The vast canopy towering overhead always filled him with feelings of awe, and there was a sacred, brooding silence which delivered a sense of scale. Here he felt like a transient speck of creation. He had turned off all communication, and quietened all tracking devices. No-one knew where he was, and that drove them nuts. “They” were the people assigned to guard and protect him, but in the end, he felt it was “they” who were the enemy. Only doing their job no doubt, but so annoying. It had been ever thus, he reflected, long before he had become Seeker22...even when he was TimId3.
Choosing a majestic arboreal giant, he floated gently up to its upper branches, and choosing a generous moss-filled platform, eased himself onto its welcoming surface. He dispensed with his bubble, setting only an emergency setting in case of a fall, and settled back to enjoy the vista. It took a moment to focus on this situation. A gentle breeze had set up a vast, soft, surreal hum, playing the mighty trees as if they were the reeds of an antique organ. Spiraling through the trees were several species of raptors, the day-time ones, and occasionally the monkey-like animals they hunted. How primitive, to see the age-old drama of hunter and prey engaged in their eternal dance.
He sat for quite some time, thinking of nothing at all. He often thought of nothing at all. People always assumed he was thinking deep thoughts, but they were wrong. He knew this and often smiled at the thought.
Now, one by one, thoughts did begin to crowd in on him. Enodlo3 now, where was she? Was she truly dead, or had she been abducted? Was her disappearance murder and why should that be? He saw at a flash the years of training under her guidance, the gradual development of a deep and respectful friendship and the grief at her disappearance. How would he have coped without her earlier support, he wondered. Had she truly supplanted his mother, as his mother bitterly claimed? She had found it difficult to offer the words of comfort on Enodlo3's disappearance, possibly because that was what she had so earnestly desired.
Was it on his twentieth birthday that the two women had actually met? Was it the older woman who had bestowed on him his adult name? His mother had dutifully addressed him respectfully by his new name, but as they embraced in the formal fashion demanded by the ceremony, she hugged him roughly in a rare show of emotion, whispering fiercely in his ear.
“What rot! You'll always be Tim to me, and I'll always be your mother.”
Be that as it may, it had been hard for her to help her gifted son. It wasn't a gift he had asked for, but he had no choice in the matter. He couldn't explain how it worked, just knew it did. He wondered what it would be like to live a normal life,
not so cocooned. Everything was done to make him as comfortable and normal as possible, but even those who helped him could hardly understand what it was like to lose oneself in the vastness of Creation. All the certainties and platitudes of the great and famous now appeared to be the posturing of children, and it was something he couldn't explain to them. He was the conduit for information flowing in from every arm of the Galaxy and of worlds far, far beyond. He was being milked for information that terrified him, but which he had learned to keep to himself. He smiled wearily as he recalled his first session.
As a child, he felt comfortable with Enodlo1, as though no harm could come to him. Not only was she kind and caring, but she carried all the authority of the world's most prestigious scientific organization, the Governmental Advisory Science Section, or GASS – she was the president, and consequently commanded enormous respect. But even in a society as advanced as theirs, there were pockets of ignorance and resistance. He listened in fascination as she explained the history of the planet, the way in which the people had groped their way out of ignorance and superstition into a world of enlightenment and rationality. She also explained the existence of their nemesis, the counter- cultural group sworn to return their civilization to a prior state. Never formalized and loosely associated, they nevertheless included some surprising adherents, and these were the ones who were happy to be public. It was felt that their roots ran deep.
“But who are these people, Eno?” he would ask. “Where do they live, what do they look like?”
“They live here and they look like you and me.”
The boy giggled.
“You don't think they're very dangerous if they look like me, eh?”
They laughed together, a childish treble and a melodious contralto. They had little to hide from each other.
He tried another tack.
“What makes them dangerous then?”
She looked at him thoughtfully before answering.
“It's a good question. They have strong feelings and strong beliefs.”
“But you always say that's good.”
“I do, don't I? But they would like to impose their beliefs on everyone.”
“But isn't that what you want, Eno?”
“No, I want people to come to see my way of thinking. Through science and rational thought.”
“But what can they do to us. They wouldn't hurt us, would they?”
She patted the fine silky halo of Tim's hair and was amused to see the wisps rise to meet her hand, charged with a considerable amount of electricity. She knew that even in this age there were colleagues who would fight for the honor of the autopsy should Tim-Id3 meet with misfortune.
“No,” she lied, and instantly regretted it as she saw his frown. “Well, there's no knowing what some people will do when they're upset, is there? People call them PASS – people against secret science. Get it? But we don't know if they really exist or a just a bunch of grumps. Are you ready for tomorrow's session?”
He was, for he knew that this was what he had been training for, and it seemed quite an adventure. Even though they had shielded him from publicity, he could tell that they respected and valued him and he knew it must be as a result of the encephalorama.
The first time Enodlo3 supervised his session she knew the world would never be the same again. The boy himself seemed hardly conscious of where he was, yet one could hardly say he was in a trance either. With the headphones on, and sitting close to him, she could visualize much of what was passing through his mind. She could sense the immense distance where his mind probed. With the playfulness of a child flicking an old radio knob his brain combed the Universe in a vast sweep, now settling on a rocky world under an emerald sky, now ranging over a watery moon beneath double star and now skimming over a matted, tangled jungle canopy leaping with life. In every case she could feel the viewpoint of the host observer, and sometimes even sense the tenor of their thoughts, though she doubted Tim-Id3 did, as yet. She was interested later to find that he recalled the experience as a colorful dream, like a child unable to comprehend the wickedness of the world when watching a newscast.
The sessions grew more frequent, though she was careful not to overwork him. She knew that similar results were being achieved by other readers in other centers, but doubted that any of the other subjects was as gifted as Tim-Id3, or enjoyed as effective a working relationship as he did.
A WOMAN WITH A PROBLEM
Tim-Id3 and his mother were peas from the same pod, to be sure. They were both attractive in a fey and sunny way, an unusual combination. But where Tim- Id3 easily made friends (and just as easily moved on) his mother was given to enduring friendships with loyalty at a premium. More surprisingly, she was a very good hater.
And as she sat on her porch, preparing a meal (another sign of her quaint disposition, people said) she sliced and pounded with unnecessary force. In fact, an observer would have said, with real venom.
Blasted woman, she was thinking. No child of her own, but has to kidnap others'. Taking them off to fill their minds up with nonsense before they have time to grow up. Just who does she think she is? Everyone treating her as if she were a plaster saint. Dear old Enodlo1, so sweet, so kind, so wise. So selfish, so sneaky, so sly, that's what she really is. She gripped her knife more and more tightly, more and more clumsily, till, with a jagged move, she sliced her thumb. Blood everywhere, and looking like a fool, proving them right when they said no-one should use barbaric implements like that any more. Well, she told herself grimly as she washed away the blood and bound the damage, I know how to use a knife, and I wouldn't mind sticking it thoroughly into one dear little old lady.
“Huh!” she snorted in aimless frustration.
Even with years of training and special sessions, Tim-Id3 would visit his mother, Babs. But he always seemed to be on borrowed time, one eye on the clock, and never far from his minders. He was well looked after, she knew, and so was she, but she wanted a relationship. Was it too much to ask? It's the question she asked her friend, Proton4. He never told her where the name came from.
“Can't say Babs,” he replied without much thought.
“No, thought not. What about kids? Didn‟t you ever want them?”
“None of my own of course, just borrow someone else's. Sorry, bad joke,” he added as he saw her stiffen. “Here, brought you a zinger. Look like you need it.”
The archaic bottle seemed to quiver in the hand as she poured, and she was grateful for the gift. Pro was always thoughtful, even if he didn't make a fuss about it. Fizz, buzz, fizz went the crackling brew, and she held it under her nose, savoring the herbal essences. And whatever other magical ingredient gave you such a lift.
She felt better after a couple of these and then had some more. She needed it, and the pleasant chat of her old friend. He'd brought her up to date with his life, the research for and creation of anything that would entertain a vast and pampered population and his non-existent relationships.
“Never felt the need,” he would say. “But you like me, don't you?”
“Course I do Babs, but we did our science together, we shared a lot of stuff.” “Yes, and so did a lot of other fellows. I married one.”
“Ah yes, but I'd rather be friends.”
“I'll drink to that!” and another zinger went South.
After a companionable silence which threatened to morph into torpor, she cleared the Zinger-haze to start again.
“Pro, you've got about as good a grasp of anyone about our world. Don't turn your nose up, you know it's true. You've travelled everywhere, you know our history. What do you think? Are we in trouble?”
He took no time at all in answering. “Babs, it's all I ever think about.” She was shocked.
“So you think it's bad?”
“No – far worse. I think my life is one whole distraction from reality, until it's all over and not my problem any more.”
“You mean it don't you?” “'Fraid so.”
They walked now, companionably arm in arm, by the small stream sculpted along the cabin's side.
“I expect every day to wake up. To fight an enemy, beasts or invaders, but they never come. To set off for a distant land of strangeness and terror. But we've found them all and made them just like us. To carve out a farm in the wilderness, and populate it with the help of the love of my life. But she married someone else,” he added with a laugh.
She knew it was a joke as she'd never felt a hint of yearning from Pro, but she knew it rang true. In so many ways he'd lacked the impetus to take risks, to adventure or explore. Yet he was so capable and brave. Had their comfortable world emasculated him?
“Yes, Babs, I think the race is in trouble. We're actually a plague upon the planet. No other species really needs us, and we are here in incredible numbers living longer and longer. But it might not go on much longer. Folks are losing interest – in children, in themselves, in each other. The birth rate is dropping, and we are in danger of imploding.
And do you know who I blame Babs? I blame GASS.”
Was he joking again? No, he seemed deadly serious, and there seemed no awareness of GASS's interest in Tim-Id3. No-one knew because they all thought he was off doing the multitude of courses and tasks open to the young and living his own life.
Now he had her attention.
“What exactly is the problem with GASS?” she asked gently, not wanting to appear too eager.
“We're living in cuckoo-land Babs. They are taking our best and brightest the world over, and steering them into cul-de-sacs of mystery and imagination. It's a dead-end. They're pursuing it because they are desperate for a solution for our future, but it's only making the problem worse. No-one lives any more in the here and now. No-one can distinguish reality from make-believe. No-one believes in anything.”
“Is there a cure – if this is as bad as you say.” “There are plenty of us, Babs, who think this way.” And what are you going to do about it Pro?”
“We talk – of course. And there are more people showing interest all the time. There are hot heads too. They could be dangerous. People like President Enodlo are a target.”
Babs bit her tongue.
“Why her,” she asked, not quite innocently.
“She's a dangerous woman. You know how much clout she carries. She's very persuasive, and the word I have been getting is that all the research they have been doing is very expensive, none of us knows just how much but I'd say it would be enormous, and as far as I am concerned it is just taking us on the path to extinction. And I don't want to go there, do you?”