AFTER I HAD TRANSLATED THE MAN’S WORDS TO MY COMPANIONS, he bowed deeply to each of us in turn.
‘Your coming has long been foretold among our people,’ the man continued in a formal, even reverential tone. He wore a simple tunic of woven twine over a muscular, sun-browned body.
I wanted to answer him, but I just shrugged helplessly, not knowing how to form the words of his strange language even though I could understand them perfectly. Dagmar, Baz and Marion crowded around me, their rapt appreciation of the lovely beach momentarily interrupted by the strange man and his worshipful demeanour.
‘What’s he saying?’ Dagmar whispered to me.
‘He seems to think his people have been expecting us for a long time,’ I whispered back sceptically.
‘Strange,’ the man continued then. ‘You do not speak in a tongue that is known to me, yet I understand your words. Do you understand mine?’
I did a double take in surprise. ‘You can understand us?’ I asked him.
‘He can understand us?’ Dagmar exclaimed in surprise at the same time. ‘I sure can’t understand him!’
I held up my hand for silence and
looked expectantly at the stranger.
‘Yes, I can understand you,’ he said again to me in his own language. ‘And it is now clear that you can understand me also, though you speak strange words. Yet it seems your companions cannot. But wonders are to be expected! The Four Fathers have returned to lead us Hither! Arrel ooh yeh!’ His eyes were alight with zeal.
My three companions exchanged more puzzled glances.
‘Er … this could be a bit of a worry, guys,’ I said to them slowly. ‘I get the impression there could be a tiny bit of a religious overtone to our arrival here. Wherever here is,’ I added under my breath. ‘And weirder still, it seems that he can understand me and I can understand him; and he can understand you, but you can’t understand him.’
‘Huh?’ said Baz.
‘So it appears he has the same ability to understand strange languages as you do, am I right?’ said Dagmar.
‘It is the Four Fathers Festival period,’ the man intoned seriously. ‘And the Four Fathers have finally returned! Truly, we live in great times.’
‘Er, mate,’ I began gently. ‘We’re not your four fathers, ok? Sorry to disappoint. In fact, a superficial examination of our group should reveal that half our little group is in fact female.’ I smiled at him pleasantly.
‘Ha! Everyone knows the Four Fathers were only two actual fathers,’ the man scoffed. ‘Tis a play on words, a double entendre with “forefathers”.’
After relaying what he said back to my companions, I frowned. ‘Hang on!’ I objected. ‘How can it be a play on words if you’re not speaking English?’
‘And how come you understood the words “double entendre”? It’s Italian for chrissake! It ain’t even English!’ Baz snorted.
‘It’s French. Like the word
“imbecile”,’ Dagmar corrected him absently. ‘Perhaps you and he are somehow exchanging
concepts mentally instead of understanding words, Quin. Perhaps it is like
Gabriel said about your DNA,’ she suggested, that troubled look she had worn
during Gabriel’s visit returning to her face.
‘So how could it have been a play on w – oh, never mind,’ I sighed. ‘We’re unlikely to figure this out here, are we?
‘My name is Tor,’ the man introduced himself. He had witnessed the whole exchange between us with something like wonder in his eyes. ‘You must come with me. My people will express great joy at your arrival.’ With that, he turned and began walking up the sand dunes towards the fringe of palm trees beyond, beckoning us all to follow.
I translated his words.
‘Great!’ Marion exclaimed brightly. ‘We get to be worshipped! Could be worse, guys. Could be spears and cannibalism in a place like this. I say we run with it.’ And she set off after Tor.
‘What about Gabriel?’ Dagmar murmured.
I squinted back over the water, to where the tube we had emerged from still protruded. ‘He’ll be fine where he is for a while. Not as though he’s actually going to miss us, is it? We’ll come back and feed him in a while.’
As Tor led us a short distance through the palm forest, I bombarded him with questions which I then relayed back to the others. Rather tellingly, Tor asked me none in return in spite of our sudden and difficult-to-explain appearance. He seemed perfectly satisfied with his theory that we were the ‘four fathers’, come back to Avantou to fulfil some ancient prophecy of his people.
‘Is “Avantou” the name of this beach, or this country, or your tribe, or this planet, or what?’ I asked him.
Tor looked puzzled by the question as he led us through trees that grew to immense heights as we penetrated deeper into the tropical undergrowth. ‘I hear your words, but they are strange to me,’ he replied, gesturing all around him. ‘This is Avantou, our home. We are its people, under the Yas.’ He shrugged as if this were self-evident.
‘And what are the Yas?’ I pressed him.
Tor stopped then and stared at me incredulously. ‘Do you seek to test me?’ he demanded. Then he lowered his eyes. ‘Yes, of course you do. You seek to test if we have become ignorant of our ways over the passing of all these generations.’ He looked up again. ‘The Yas are our Watchers, our Makers, observers in their pyramidal chariots, bringers of youth, dispensers of justice, guardians of the peace and tranquillity of Avantou.’
‘Quin, what’s he saying?’ Dagmar
‘I blundered into asking him about his gods,’ I answered her ruefully. Turning back to Tor, I asked him if he knew anything about Earth or The Quarantine.
‘Ah, Earth?’ the man responded enthusiastically. ‘Tis a popular fairy story we tell our young ones.’
‘You think Earth is a fairy story?’ I exclaimed, then translated what he had said briefly to my companions, who responded with amused expressions.
‘The fabled land of our Four Fathers’ forefathers,’ Tor added. ‘The land of misery and vice, the land the Yas delivered our Four Fathers from.’ He laughed then. ‘But of course, you will know this, being they.’ He sprang on ahead again. ‘Come. We are nearly at Bambowold.’
‘How many of you are there, Tor?’ I asked after his back.
‘Why, we are one hundred and forty, of course. As has always been.’
‘What? You mean there has always been one hundred and forty of you? What about the young ones?’ I ran to catch up with him.
Tor blinked in confusion. ‘The young ones make up the one hundred and forty. Is it possible you do not know this?’
‘Sure, but you know…eventually, the young ones grow up…make new young ones…’ My guilty conscience forced me to glance at Marion, and sure enough, I found her glowering back at me, one eyebrow raised.
‘Make?’ Tor exclaimed in a shocked voice. He made a quick gesture which I assumed was intended to ward off some superstition. ‘We do not make young ones! We are but men and women.’
I relayed what he had said to the
others in a stunned voice.
‘Jeez, these guys are really dumb,’ Baz murmured under his breath.
As we walked, what sounded like several xylophones being played at a furious pace began to be heard, growing increasingly loud as we approached. Tor presently led us to a clearing in the dense forest of impossibly tall palms where a small crowd of people ran out from their leafy seclusion to greet us, most of them holding woven baskets laden with food or coconutshell vessels. The xylophone sounds seemed to be coming from somewhere above us, causing me to look up and gasp in surprise. An intricate latticework of aerial walkways constructed from vine and bamboo criss-crossed through several levels above and around us. Here and there, the walkways broadened out into wide platforms suspended between thick trunks, upon which simple dwellings of bamboo pole and woven palm leaf had been constructed.
‘If this isn’t Earth,’ Dagmar murmured, ‘the vegetation is so similar it’s unbelievable…’
The others who had come out to
greet us, though similarly attired to Tor, were of all ages and racial groups; lending
credence to Tor’s implied claim that his people did not interbreed in any
‘They have come!’ one little boy exclaimed excitedly in the same liquid tongue that Tor used. ‘It is as Apollo promised!’
Tor motioned for silence, then gave what could have been a prearranged cue to his people.
‘Hail to the Four Fathers, returned to us at long last,’ the whole crowd chanted in unison. The xylophones broke off for a single beat, then divided into several consecutive rhythms, each mimicking its predecessor before adding its own distinctive riposte.
My three companions and I exchanged uncomfortable glances.
‘Quin, you’d better explain some things to these people, before they ask us to make it rain or something,’ Dagmar whispered to me, tugging at my sleeve. ‘I suggest you try to sound as ungodly as you can.’
As if to emphasise her point, Baz
shoved me forward.
‘Er…hi guys,’ I began, squirming with discomfort. ‘Well, it’s like this, you see. We ain’t your Four Fathers. Sorry and all that. We’re just four people from Earth who have been stuck in a cage for several years, and have somehow ended up here.’ I held up my hands placatingly and shrugged, an apologetic smile on my face.
The locals stared at me in
silence for a long moment. The creaking of the walkways high above us seemed to
increase in volume as I continued to gaze back at them, my smile frozen into
Suddenly, as if in response to some hidden cue, the entire congregation dropped to their knees and started humming a tune in unison.
I turned back to Dagmar. ‘What did I say?’ I asked her, puzzled.
Dagmar had also ceased paying attention. She was looking up, as were Marion and Baz. Following their gaze caused me to jump in shock and alarm.
There, directly over our heads, hovered an eyeball the size of a large watermelon. Its iris was oddly two-toned, greyish-blue and brown around the pupil; far smaller and closer than it had ever been in the cage. The impact of its gaze was rendered all the more intense by the fact that only empty air now stood between it and ourselves. But the oddest thing about the eye, seeing it as we were now able, was the white orb surrounding the pupil. It seemed to be fraying violently around the edges, roiling and boiling in jagged loops and chunks that seemed to peel off the surface like milk-white sunflares that almost took coherent shape before dissipating like fine mist into the surrounding atmosphere.
‘What was that you were saying about coincidence, young man?’ A gravelly, rasping voice said from nearby.
Wrenching my gaze away from the awesome spectacle above, I located the source of the voice. Standing a small distance in front of me was a wizened, very old man clutching a thick walking stick as tall as he was in both hands. A few days of thick white stubble covered the lower part of his face, but even that could not disguise the old man’s striking resemblance to Trudie.
I glanced back up at the Eye above for a brief moment, then again at the old man, my mouth open; speechless.
‘What’s the matter? You’ve seen Yas before,’ the old man rumbled matter-of-factly. ‘Avantou isn’t much different from your cage, except you’ll see more of them. Think of this place as a kind of Yas Safari Park.’ He shrugged delicately. ‘I’m Apollo, Shaman of the Avantou.’
For a long time, I just stared at him, dumbfounded, my thoughts disjointed and confused. When I finally regained the power of speech, all I could say was, ‘Safari Park?’
‘Yes. Well, it looks like you folks have been upgraded in your incarceration.’ Apollo chuckled. ‘Though why they dumped you here is beyond me. And let me assure you, that’s not something I say very often.’
I felt a tug at my sleeve. ‘Quin,’ Dagmar hissed. ‘The old man! I…understand his words!’
‘It’s a trick I’ve picked up,’ Apollo explained. ‘Must be mighty confusing to you folks. I can understand you and you can understand me. The young man can too, and my people can understand you, but you can’t understand them. It’s not an easy thing to explain without a thorough grounding in the principles of expanding consciousness. But I guess there’ll be plenty of time for that later.’ He turned to the other villagers, who were still prostrating themselves before the Eye. ‘Stop that,’ he admonished them gently. ‘It isn’t healthy, you know.’ The shaman turned back to me. ‘They’re not normally so pious,’ he explained apologetically. ‘I suppose the excitement of the day’s events must have got to them a bit. Your overgrown friend here may have a point. They can be dumbasses sometimes.’
Baz beamed at him in surprise.
The villagers started climbing back to their feet, several of them rather sheepishly.
Apollo banged his staff on the ground a few times. ‘Hey! The Four Fathers are here, people! Don’t just stand there gawping, let’s get the party underway!’
As if shaken from a trance, the villagers started moving around in a flurry of activity; fetching chairs, tables and mats from the bamboo huts, laying out food and drink, building bonfires of welcome.
‘We’re not your Four Fathers, sir,’ Dagmar told the old shaman politely but firmly.
‘Who says so?’ Apollo scowled, then he grinned. ‘I know. You’re
not talking to some dumbass villager now, lady. I knew you were coming days
ago. I had to come up with something, or your welcome might not have been quite
so friendly, know what I mean?’
His dark eyes, framed by deeply lined and creased brown skin, seemed to gleam with knowledge and inner power. He hobbled over to a large basket chair and lowered himself into it with a grunt of effort. ‘Excuse me, but standing for a long time isn’t much fun when you’re pushing a hundred.’
‘There’s your coincidence, shaman,’ I told him. ‘You say you knew we were coming and you had to come up with a story. How convenient for your story that our arrival coincided with your Four Fathers Festival.’
Apollo shrugged in his chair and reached for a bowl of grapes on a nearby table. ‘Well now. You say that a coincidence is something that happens by chance, which implies a random event, yes?’ Not waiting for me to nod, the old man went on. ‘So. How do you know the event is random chance?’
I frowned. ‘Because…stuff just happens!’ I explained.
Apollo barked a short laugh at that. ‘What a curious articulation of faith,’ he observed. ‘You take it, then, that what you reason to be random chance must be just that, because you reason that it is so. But are you ever in possession of enough of the facts to make such a reasoned judgement?’
‘No, he certainly is not just a dumbass villager, is he?’ Dagmar murmured at my side.
‘No, and I have some other suspicions about who he might be,’ I whispered back.
‘So how did you know we were coming?’ Marion asked the old man curiously.
‘I’m going to have to put that one down to a trade secret,’ Apollo replied mysteriously. ‘I am shaman round here, after all.’
‘So we’re now stuck here, instead of in the cage?’
‘Girl, “stuck” is just a word, and need I remind you that words are not how you and I are truly communicating. You’re not stuck anywhere you don’t choose to stick yourself.’
‘Marion means, I think, that we were about to get rescued from our cage, but it seems They – that is, the Eyes – found out and brought us here instead.’ I explained.
‘Ah!’ Apollo’s eyes widened. ‘You see? More facts come to light, and suddenly everything seems less of a coincidence. Rescued, you say? By whom?’
‘There is a fifth member of our group of Four Fathers,’ Dagmar explained a little sardonically. We left him in the cage because he is…indisposed at the moment.’
For the first time, Apollo seemed taken aback by something one of us had said. He raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh? This I did not see…’
‘He wasn’t with us for very long. It’s all happened so suddenly we haven’t had any time to make sense of things ourselves,’ I added. ‘His name is Gabriel, and he claimed to be a Pleiadian.’
Apollo sank deeper into his chair. ‘Gabriel…’ he repeated to himself, then trailed off, lost in thought. A few moments later, his brow creased. ‘Ach, I’m getting too old. My brain isn’t working properly anymore. What the Yas was a Pleiadian doing in your cage?’
I flicked a nervous glance at the Eye that was still glaring away above us. ‘I’m not sure it would be wise to say.’
Apollo frowned deeply at me, then looked up at the Eye himself. ‘You may have a point there,’ he said finally. ‘But I need to get to the bottom of this.’ With a sigh and another grunt, he hauled himself back up to his feet with the help of his staff. Not for the first time in the brief period since we had met, I was struck by how strongly his mannerisms, as well as his looks, reminded me of poor old Trudie. ‘Quin, I ask that you bring this Gabriel to the village, that we may care for him. But I also ask that you allow me to go with you to your cage. I feel I would very much like to take a look around.’
‘Do you think you’re up to the trip, old man?’ Baz asked sceptically.
A shiver ran down my spine, as I thought of Trudie and the memorabilia she had left in the cage. If Apollo was who I thought he might be, then there were indeed some very important reasons for him seeing the cage. ‘You should come, yes,’ I said firmly. ‘We can carry you if need be.’
Apollo whispered something to a girl child who had been hovering in attendance nearby, and then hobbled forward at a respectable pace for such an old man. ‘I think need be not,’ he retorted confidently. ‘At least, not until we get to the water. Come, let’s go. I find myself strangely eager.’
Although he walked awkwardly and stiffly, Apollo’s energy levels were impressive considering how old he claimed to be. As we walked back to Natal Beach, he provided us with details about his life in the small community of Avantou. Like all the others, he had been found on the beach as a very small infant raised in a happy and comfortable environment, where food grew in plentiful supply and there was little to no danger. Tor had spoken truthfully when he had said that their number had always been one hundred and forty, as only when one of their community died did an infant appear on the beach as a replacement. On hearing this story, Marion had asked intensely whether there had ever been five infants appearing all at one time, some small number of years ago, but Apollo had only replied that this could only happen if some disaster killed off five of their number all at once, which had certainly never happened in his lifetime.
When we reached the spot on Natal Beach where we had come ashore, we could still clearly see the transparent tube that had led us from the cage protruding slightly from the waves, though it was perhaps ten metres out from the edge of the beach. Apollo grudgingly accepted Baz’s offer to be carried, and the five of us went in through the opening and down the gentle slope (now knee-deep in sea water) back to what had once served as the quarantine room. Apollo murmured to himself as we descended about what the material the transparent tube might be made of, and made several references to having seen something similar during his ‘astral travels’.
I began to shake as we entered the cage once again; the place that was after all, the only home that I could remember. Could we really be free of it at long last? My feelings about that were confused. What did They – the Eyes, the Yas, the Macrobes, whatever one chose to call them – really want with us? Why were they so interested in observing us? Was it simple scientific interest, or did their surveillance stem from some darker and more sinister motive?
Baz lowered Apollo to the ground once we reached he entrance to the leisure room. The old shaman gasped when he entered, making his way immediately to the Omnisidian. His eyes were so wide they almost seemed to protrude from their sockets. ‘So it’s here,’ he whispered, his voice heavy with emotion. ‘It’s here! She was here…’ he reached out two gnarled and trembling old hands. Just as we all cried out a frantic warning, his palms touched the surface of the milky sphere. I cringed in anticipation: but nothing happened. The old man sank to his knees before the Omnisidian, unharmed but seemingly rapt in its contemplation.
‘It’s here,’ he kept saying over and over again softly. ‘She was here…’
‘Who was here, Apollo?’ I asked the old shaman gently, though I felt sure I already knew the answer.
‘My mother,’ Apollo murmured. Tears were streaming down his face. ‘All my life…I dreamed about her. In this place, the place with the white stone globe. I would hear her voice, when I was young. She would – ‘ his voice broke, and he swallowed hard, silent for a moment. ‘She would sing so sweetly to me, into this globe, while she knitted, imagining I could hear her. And I would always tell her I could hear her and see her. But she never heard me. She never even knew I was still alive.’
I moved closer, and put a hand on his shoulder. ‘She knew, Apollo,’ I assured the old man quietly, my own voice growing thick with emotion. ‘She told me so.’
‘What are you talking about, boy,’ Apollo said irritably. ‘You didn’t know my mother. How old are you? How old do you think I am?’
‘I did know her, Apollo, and she was very dear to me. I owe her my sanity. She lived until about four and a half years ago and died peacefully as I read her a story. She told me about you. She never forgot you, and she told me that she knew you were alive and well somewhere, though she couldn’t explain how she knew.’
The shaman took a deep, sobbing breath and roughly dashed the tears from his old eyes. Then he struggled painfully and stiffly to his feet and gazed at me blearily, looking every inch his mother’s son. ‘Ah, truly? Can people live so long then? I am the eldest in the memory of the Avantou, though I can scarcely imagine myself surviving for another generation.’
‘Trudie was a very special lady,’ I answered him.
‘She surely must have been,’ the old man mused, a faraway look in his eyes. Then his face fell and his expression darkened. ‘So she spent all her long life in here?’ he said, his voice rising dangerously. His tone seemed to convey such power and peril that we each took a step back from the little old man in alarm.
‘Quin,’ Dagmar said suddenly then. ‘Where is Gabriel?’
For the first time, I noticed that Gabriel was not where we left him on the floor of the leisure room.
‘I’m right behind you,’ a familiar, mellifluous voice said.
We all turned around to find the Pleiadian standing in the doorway. There were two other people, a man and a woman, stood behind him.
‘We are here to return you to Earth,’ Gabriel continued. ‘I assume that this is what you still want?’
End of Part IX.
Click here for Part X, 'The Free Ones'