‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.
‘Help is on its way. I must leave you all now,’ Gabriel murmured quietly. ‘I’m late for my meeting.’
‘If you’re leaving, why can’t we come with you?’ Dagmar demanded.
‘You are not capable of intercorporeal translation. Please take care of this vessel while I am gone. I shall be needing it back on Earth...when my business in Merope is concluded.’
‘More gobbledegook,’ Dagmar muttered with distaste.
The coruscating Omnisidian started pulsing, flashing light and dark as Gabriel resumed his mantra. He took a sudden, sharp intake of breath and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Then his voice seemed to come once again directly from the Omnisidian. ‘Ah, Dagmar. Do we understand grown-up talk when we are small children? Does it even interest us? Be patient, stay centred and do not fear, all of you. Until we meet again...farewell!’
The Omnisidian’s aura intensified for an instant, then flickered out as the orb went dim once more.
Gabriel slumped to the floor like an abandoned puppet.
All of us rushed to his aid, but he seemed totally catatonic. Peeling his eyelids back revealed eyes that rolled about nervously and without any sign of the intelligence that had been so present just a moment before.
‘Well, that didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped,’ I sighed. ‘Looks like we’ll just have to trust his word that “help is on its way”.’
Baz was holding Gabriel’s head above the floor and slapping his bearded cheek gently. A thin strand of drool had started to trickle from the Pleiadian’s slack mouth. ‘What the hell happened there? This guy is totally gone!’ he exclaimed.
Dagmar was staring wide-eyed at the now-sullen Omnisidian and the face of the absent Pleiadian alternately. Her lips moved as though she was trying to calculate something in her head, but no sound escaped them.
Marion was attempting to do a handstand, putting her feet against a wall as support. ‘We’re being watched again,’ she started to chant over and over in a girlish, singsong voice.
We all looked up at the same time to see the Eye back in its position in the dark and swirling heavens beyond the cage – only this time it looked somehow different. It seemed to be peering into the cage much more intensely than usual, and it moved from side to side as if inspecting every possible angle. Then, slowly, it narrowed in width.
‘Oh, shit,’ I whispered. ‘It’s never done that before. I think it suspects something!’
No sooner had I finished speaking than the cage shook violently as if struck by an immense force from outside. Dagmar and I staggered, Marion was thrown to the floor, and Baz sprawled onto his back. All of us cried out in alarm.
‘And now it’s going to kill us,’ Marion said dreamily from her position on the leisure room floor. ‘For we’ve been bad little humies...’
‘It’s not going to kill us,’ I snapped back at her, wishing I felt as confident as I sounded. I realised that at some point I had put my arms around Dagmar.
Baz was still shaking and slapping Gabriel around the face. ‘This is your fault! Wake up! Wake up for chrissake!’ he snarled at the catatonic Pleiadian. Gabriel just stared slack-jawed through him.
I felt small, cool hands frame my face. ‘Quin,’ Dagmar whispered to me urgently. ‘You’re the only one here who can touch the Omnisidian! Maybe you can call Gabriel back!’
‘I said I can touch it, I didn’t say I had any idea how it works! Besides, you have no idea how painful it is!’
Another immense blow rattled the cage. Shelves flew open and several games and puzzles fell out and onto the floor. Baz started spewing curses at the Eye, leaving Gabriel’s inert form sprawled on the floor and moving to stand protectively over Marion, who had gone totally still and was sat like a doll on the floor, glassy-eyed and expressionless.
‘All right!’ I grated. ‘I’ll try it.’ I gritted my teeth and reached out one hand, touching the Omnisidian gingerly with my fingertips. The indescribable cold instantly shot up my arm, causing me to cry out involuntarily in pain.
‘Gabriel, help!’ I whispered from between clenched teeth, but the Omnisidian remained dull and opaque. ‘Pleiadians – ’
As had happened the other two times I had touched the white orb, a faint image appeared in its opaque depths – this time an image of Gabriel’s face. ‘Help is on its way,’ the Pleiadian’s ghostly likeness repeated.
A third blow to the cage staggered me and I broke contact with the milk-white orb. Dagmar let loose a cry of terror: ‘What do they want?’
I detected a blur of movement to the side of my head. Whirling round, I came face to face with one of those watery spheres that had last plagued me when I had been alone and had first started singing, a couple of thousand sleeps or so ago. I froze for a moment, then looked around the room very slowly.
There were five of them this time – one hovering in front of, or above, each of us, including Gabriel.
‘It’s all right,’ I said slowly, seeking to reassure the others. ‘I’ve encountered one of these things before – when I was alone. Just don’t, whatever you do, do anything too quick or unexpected. Baz! Don’t attack them, if you value your life!’ Baz, who had raised his fist, lowered it again but continued to stare at the floating sphere, his eyes wide.
‘What are they?’ Dagmar quavered.
‘I’m not sure,’ I replied quietly. ‘Something to do with Them, for sure. From my own experience, and what Trudie told me, I gather that these things are kind of a way for the Eyes to interact with us inside the cage – how they inspect us from up close. It’s also how they kill us if we become a problem in some way, and probably how they...take...’ my voice trailed off, and I looked at Marion, but she was still sat on the floor, humming to herself, seemingly oblivious to the watery sphere hovering just inches from her head.
‘Why are they here? What do they want with us?’ Dagmar insisted. ‘Do you think it might have something to do with that...Omnisidian?’
‘That’s what I’m thinking, yes. They must have sensed something is going on in here. Something that They didn’t expect, and They don’t like it one bit. Now we’re being closely monitored.’
‘Oh, great. So what do we do?’ Baz demanded.
I backed away slowly from the watery bubble in front of me, and sat down. The bubble followed me. ‘Well, I suggest we do our best to ignore them and go about our business very normally and calmly. They might go away in a while if we do that.’
Marion piped up then. ‘Relax, guys. The Pleiadian said “help is on its way”.’ She looked around. ‘Anyone hungry?’
For the next two or three sleeps, we tried our best to get back to our usual tedious routine. Superficially, we succeeded. I strummed on my guitar and sang or did jigsaw puzzles (sometimes new ones came down the food chute), Baz went back to utilizing the exercise machines to earn most of our food, Marion spent a lot of time dressing up in front of mirrors and rehearsing famous lines from movies, and Dagmar took to taking care of Gabriel’s catatonic body in between her usual journal-writing and pottering around in the nature room. Throughout that time, the watery spheres followed us all around, always hovering within an arm’s reach of us. Thankfully, there were no more frightening blows to the cage, although the slightly-narrowed Eye remained above us, constantly vigilant, seldom blinking.
On the third ‘evening’ after the arrival of the watery bubbles, we had gathered as usual in the leisure room and I was singing Every Breath You Take by The Police to the sphere that orbited me. Without warning, all five of the bubbles popped into nothingness, causing me to stop singing in surprise.
‘Thank fuck for that,’ said Baz.
‘What was that all about?’ Dagmar mused. She was feeding Gabriel some mashed potato with cheese. His body seemed capable of swallowing, but not chewing, so Dagmar only fed him semi-solid food.
‘How long are you gonna keep that up, Dagmar?’ Baz asked the Norwegian woman. ‘What’s the point in keeping this sack of meat alive? Not much of a life, is it?’
‘He said to look after “this vessel” while he was gone, because he would be needing it again once we got back to Earth,’ Dagmar explained calmly.
‘Ah, he said a lot of weird things,’ Baz retorted dismissively. ‘You weren’t exactly hanging on his every word while he was able to talk, were you?’
‘That’s true,’ Dagmar admitted. ‘But he clearly has some kind of relationship with that Omnisidian thing. And whatever it was that he did seems to have got the attention of you-know-who,’ her eyes flicked upward, ‘and he seemed to talk as though he knew he wasn’t going to be here in spirit for a while.’
‘He mentioned “intercorporeal translation”,’ I added. ‘to me that suggests moving from body to body.’
‘It sounds like pseudo-scientific nonsense to me,’ said Dagmar, ‘but I don’t know, look at the reaction it got. I think it’s fair to say Gabriel knew things we didn’t. And I have to admit that as far as I know, we can’t explain the first thing about where consciousness comes from, or how it happens.’
‘Duh! Consciousness comes from your head!’ Baz stated.
‘There is a correlation between consciousness and the brain, certainly,’ Dagmar said thoughtfully. ‘And it’s an easy mistake to make, I think, confusing correlation with causation. I mean, just because you see the internet every time you turn on your computer, does it follow that the internet actually comes from your computer?’
‘He had an interesting take on what was going on back on Earth, too,’ I added. ‘With the Quarantine and the Elohim and all that.’ I made a face. ‘I just wish I could remember something of my own life there.’
‘If you did you’d probably puke,’ Marion piped up brightly.
‘Aw, give it a rest, will you?’ I sighed.
‘No, actually, Marion, why don’t you tell us what you remember about Earth?’ said Dagmar pointedly. ‘You’re the only one of us who remembers anything of your old life. Why is that, do you think? And why were you worried that Gabriel might recognise you? And what did he mean when he said he knew exactly who you were?’
Marion was silent for a long moment, as a range of complex emotions flitted through her flawless face. ‘I can’t tell you,’ she blurted finally.
Dagmar raised a cool eyebrow. ‘Can’t? Or won’t?’
‘I can’t,’ Marion hissed with frightening intensity. ‘I think...I remember things...because I was...programmed not to remember bits of my life back home...from when I was small...and whatever gets done to our memories when we come here...reversed my amnesia somehow.’
‘Oh, that’s very convenient,’ I muttered. ‘Yet you seem to have no problem ramming details of what you claim to be my life down my throat every five minutes. Why are you so hesitant about your own?’
Marion appeared to want to reply, but the words seemed to stick in her throat. Her face contorted wildly, and then she finally said ‘Mmmkkkkuuuuhhhh!’
‘Mkuh?’ Dagmar repeated, her forehead creasing lightly.
‘Mkkkuuuuuhhhhllll...’ Marion continued, the veins of her neck and forehead standing out from the strain. ‘Mkkkkyy! Mickey! Em! Kay! Uhhhh...’ she shook her head helplessly and gave up, and then Baz was there, putting his arm around her shoulder protectively.
‘Marion,’ Dagmar said gently after giving the younger woman a moment to calm down, ‘if I ask you questions about this, do you think you could indicate yes or no?
Marion glowered at her, then nodded slightly.
At that moment, the cage gave another lurch and tilted several degrees.
‘Aw Christ, they’re at it again!’ Baz moaned.
‘That didn’t seem like a blow this time,’ I disagreed. There was another lurch, and then the sensation of bobbing up and down.
‘No, definitely not!’ Dagmar confirmed. ‘In fact, it feels like this whole place is moving!’
Everyone was silent for a moment as we processed the new sensation, and its implications.
‘Oh no! No, no, no!’ I exclaimed, my heart sinking in the first intimations of absolute despair. ‘No, we can’t! If we move, how will they find us?’
I jumped to my feet and started hammering on the walls and yelling incoherently.
The profoundest despondency settled over all of us within the cage. As the sense of movement continued, the swirling reddish-brown indeterminacy of the outside seemed to evolve in both hue and in the patterns of its motion. Shapes coalesced into fractals upon inspection; a never-ending invitation to mesmerize the trammelled Self.
We were all silent for a long time: hours, perhaps. Every lurch and jolt seemed to decant the hope that Gabriel had brought with him out of the cage like fine wine from the goblet of a palsied hand.
It was Dagmar who finally broke the silence, while pouring a cup of water gently past the lifeless lips of our absent-souled Pleiadian.
‘He told us to not to fear,’ she murmured in a low voice. ‘Before he left.’
‘He couldna seen this coming,’ Baz rasped.
For another long moment, I stared at the lifeless Omnisidian, mulling over Dagmar’s words. The milk-white orb seemed to radiate unobtrusiveness, like it was trying to shove my very eyes away from their line of sight. A strange thought hit me from somewhere.
‘Dagmar’s right,’ I said evenly. ‘He did say that. And he also advised us to “stay centred”. What’s more, he knows how the Omnisidian works. Those watery bubble-things They sent to inspect us didn’t pay it any attention at all, did they?’
Dagmar frowned, and turned her gaze to the Pleiadian device herself. ‘No...and neither did we!’ The merest hint of excitement ignited her tone. ‘Didn’t he say that the Omnisidian had sort of drawn him here? If so, couldn’t it also draw other Pleiadians to it?’
‘They’ll find us if they want to find us,’ Marion asserted confidently, as if she hadn’t been affected at all by the whole group’s hours of black despair.
‘Well then,’ I shrugged. ‘It seems to me that there is little we can do in our present predicament but be patient and maintain a positive outlook.’
‘Whereas in other predicaments, that would be a complete waste of time,’ Marion retorted in a sarcastic, vixenish tone.
‘Hey, we never got round to asking you questions about what you remember on Earth, young lady,’ Dagmar reminded her. ‘Do you mind if we carry on with that?’
Marion shrugged indifferently. ‘If you make sure they can be answered yes or no.’
‘I’ve got a question or two,’ I volunteered assertively. ‘Firstly, do you remember much about your “Mari” persona?’
Marion’s face grew troubled, but she nodded affirmatively.
‘Are you ashamed of what Mari was or did?’
Again Marion nodded, more affirmatively this time.
‘Jeez, I’m not sure I wanna be a part of this,’ said Baz in a sick tone of voice. But he made no move to leave.
We spent the next half an hour or so trying to establish more about Marion’s mysterious and fragmented earlier life, but it seemed like we were asking the wrong kind of questions. About all we could ascertain was that Marion had not been aware that she was also Mari, and vice versa. The reason for this seemed to be connected in some way to the character she referred to only as ‘Mickey Mouse’, but that that (quite obviously) wasn’t this character’s real name. Mickey had been an important part of Marion’s (and Mari’s) life since her earliest childhood, and he had subjected her to the most horrendous psychological and physical torment.
At this point in the questioning, Baz had walked out of the room, though he had returned only moments later.
It also became clear that this Mickey character had been an acquaintance (though Marion did not think they had been friends as such) of the character ‘H’ who she was so certain was my identity on Earth. The only things she knew about ‘H’ (apart from intimate physical details which we all tactfully declined to explore for the moment) was that he was an up-and-coming British singer with powerful and influential connections to the banking world, of all things. And that ‘Mickey’, who had always seemed so very dark and omnipotent to her, had seemed afraid of H’s associates and so had been very keen to accommodate him (with her).
Each and every revelation about Marion’s recollections of this character who she claimed was me felt wrong at my deepest, most intuitive level...except the part about him being a singer. Now, even more than ever, I keenly felt the frustration of having no memories of my own to challenge those of the Girl Who Didn’t Forget. Without any such insights, I found myself feeling more and more compelled to ignore my intuition and accept her assertion about my identity.
But I didn’t like it one little bit.
After our questions had exhausted themselves into endless variations around themes that Marion simply had no clear answer for, Dagmar noticed that at some point during our interrogation, the cage had stopped moving. Suddenly jolted from our preoccupation with Marion, we looked up.
What we saw made all of us gasp in surprise.
Above us, and all around us, was the clear blue of what could only be water, dimly illuminated by light from somewhere above. Here and there, we could make out the long, undulating strands of what might be some kind of seaweed.
‘Hot damn!’ Baz exclaimed. ‘We’re underwater!’
Dagmar breathed an epithet in her own language. ‘Maybe this is it,’ she said afterward. ‘Maybe it wasn’t Them moving the cage after all. Maybe it was the Pleiadians!’
‘Let’s not jump to conclusions,’ I said grimly. ‘We need to figure out a way of getting out of here first.’
In the moments that followed, we all spread out around the cage, inspecting each and every room for some kind of exit or mechanism that we had not seen before. Once I reached the quarantine room, my heart leaped with excitement to discover that not only was it open, but that there appeared to be an oval opening connected to some kind of long tube at the far end; the transparent walls of the cage revealed that the tube seemed to lead onto a ledge of ocean floor and then upwards into the gloom of the ocean. I could see now that periodically, shoals of fish that could only be tropical darted above and around the cage, clearly aware of the obstruction it posed.
‘Hey everyone!’ I shouted excitedly. ‘Up here!’
The tube appeared to be made of the same hard, transparent glass-like material as the rest of the cage, though I couldn’t begin to understand how it had just appeared. It ran like a pipe over the shallow sea floor, veering gradually upwards through the improving light, past stunning views of both familiar and strange-looking sea creatures and glorious, vibrantly-coloured corals, until finally the tube broke through the surface of the water and into the bright, blue-skied sunshine and warm breeze of a perfect, palm-fringed beach.
‘Well, well, well. Looks like we’ve lucked out here, folks!’ I exclaimed as we waded the remaining few paces onto the fine white sand of the deserted beach.
‘This is Earth,’ Dagmar breathed, running a handful of fine sand through her fingers. ‘This has to be Earth!’
‘If it is,’ Marion said nonchalantly, squinting up at the sky and shading her eyes, ‘it seems to have gotten itself an extra sun.’
A brief glance up into the clear blue sky confirmed the actress’ words. High up above our heads was the fierce glare of the sun our truncated memories told us to expect: yellowish-white and far too intense to look at directly. But lower on the horizon shone another heavenly object; seemingly larger but much dimmer, and orange-brown in hue.
‘Not Earth, then,’ Dagmar sighed.
Lying down on the sand, I was just about to reiterate my original comment that we might just possibly have found ourselves in a better situation (remembering the human picnic), when a shadow fell across my line of sight; the silhouette of a man.
‘Welcome to Avantou, travellers,’ the silhouette said calmly. It was only upon hearing Baz and Marion’s confused exclamations, and Dagmar’s calling out my name for help with translation, that I realised the stranger had not spoken in English, nor any other language I could put a name to.
End of Part VIII.
Click here for Part IX, 'A Community of Homo-specimens'