IN A BABBLE OF EXCITED VOICES WE CROWDED AROUND THE PLEIADIAN AND HIS TWO COMPANIONS, whose features were obscured by jewelled masks, though their tight-fitting clothes and their bodies clearly identified their gender. Marion and Apollo, however, stood back a ways, glowering warily at the newcomers.
‘Yo, Gabe! How did you find us, dude?’ Baz demanded, slapping Gabriel on the back.
‘You need not have worried,’ Gabriel replied in his deep voice. ‘We orient ourselves on the Omnisidian, not on the cage.’
‘So, who are your companions? How did they get here?’ Dagmar inquired.
‘They are to be your transport vessels. As am I.’ Gabriel paused for a moment. ‘One may only pass through the Quarantine and physically return to Earth in the physical form of a Pleiadian, or one of the other authorised species.’
‘But what about our physical forms?’
‘The Omnisidian can splice you together – merge you temporarily. It is cumbersome, I know, but it is the only safe and reliable way to circumvent the Quarantine for beings such as yourselves. The procedure is somewhat unpleasant, but you will forget it along with everything else once you are back on Earth,’ Gabriel explained.
‘But there are only three of you,’ I pointed out.
‘Indeed. We anticipate that only three of you will be coming with us.’
Gabriel’s words were met with a shocked silence. ‘Oh? What makes you say that?’ I said finally.
Gabriel said nothing, but turned his gaze to Marion, who had actually moved to stand behind Apollo. She had her hands on the old shaman’s shoulders, as if he were a shield that could protect her from something.
‘He’s right,’ Marion replied in a clipped, tense tone of voice. ‘I am not going back to Earth. No way. Never!’
‘Marion - ’ Baz started.
‘Be quiet, you,’ Marion snapped harshly. ‘Avantou is a beautiful place. I’m free from Mickey. I’m free of masked sickos like your two friends over there.’ She pointed a slightly trembling finger at Gabriel’s companions. 'And my babies…if Trudie’s son ended up here, maybe I can find them somewhere too. So if you think I have any reason to go back to that sick bastard world and my sick bastard life, you are crazier than I ever was.’
Baz moved towards her, his arms outstretched. ‘But, babe, we can start all over! You and me - ’
Marion stepped out from behind Apollo and batted his arms away from her irritably. ‘How? With extensive plastic surgery so no-one recognises my face anymore? Move to some country where no-one watches American movies or surfs the net? They say I’m supposed to be dead of a drugs overdose. Best leave it that way, I reckon. And anyway, you forget; I’m the only one who remembers, goddamn it!’
Baz’s powerful frame seemed to shrink before her, his face crumpled. ‘Then…I’ll stay with you…’
‘No, you won’t,’ Marion replied firmly; coldly. ‘You’ll go back to Earth and get on with your anonymous loser life, and you’ll forget all about me.’ She paused for a moment. ‘And I sure as hell will forget all about you. I don’t want you, Basil. Okay?’ She gazed into his eyes levelly.
Baz stiffened as her words hit him like slaps. His shoulders bunched and his fists clenched, and for a moment it looked as though he would explode into action like a raging bull. But then Gabriel said something unintelligible and Baz’s eyes glazed over and all the tension left his body like water from a jug. Silently, Gabriel led him, glassy-eyed, back towards the others.
‘It seems there is little more to say,’ Gabriel said then. ‘Come, let us prepare for the splicing.’ He took a step towards the Omnisidian.
We all turned to regard Apollo, who had slowly moved to stand before the milk-white orb, holding his wooden staff planted before him like a flag, claiming his new territory.
‘Stand aside, old man. This is no concern of yours,’ Gabriel told him calmly.
Apollo did not move. Instead, he said slowly, ‘Consent has yet to be given.’
‘Consent?’ Gabriel repeated incredulously. ‘What do you know of consent?’ He took another step forward.
‘I know of the inviolable sovereignty of the sentient self.’ Apollo seemed to grow in stature as he spoke, and the air seemed once more to crackle with an unfathomable tension.
Gabriel stopped, his eyes narrowed. ‘Consent is implied. Silence is consent.’ It almost seemed as though there was a battle of wills being waged between the two mysterious men.
‘Perhaps,’ Apollo conceded. ‘But I will have my say on this
Gabriel sighed. ‘Speak, then, old man. I will hear your words.’
‘Thank you,’ Apollo murmured. He turned then to me. ‘Young man, you call yourself Quin. You are different from these others, and we all know it, none more so than our Pleiadian friends here. They seek to return you to Earth though they keep you in the dark about things of which they are aware. Things concerning your identity and your strange abilities; of this I have little doubt.’
‘Do not presume to understand our ways, old man,’ Gabriel warned him in a low growl.
‘Your mask is falling off, Gabe,’ Marion piped up sweetly.
‘I have no wish to meddle in the affairs of the Pleiadians, truly,’ Apollo assured Gabriel sincerely. ‘I do not believe your intent is ill. I ask only that this man, Quin, be given until tomorrow morning to decide whether or not he wishes to return to Earth with you.’
Gabriel seemed to relax a little. ‘What’s there to think about, Quin?’ He addressed me directly. ‘You don’t belong here any more than Baz or Dagmar.’
I realised that I had been chewing my lip at this puzzling turn of events. I let my gaze wander around the familiar layout of the cage’s leisure room; the hub of my home for the only four-and-a-half year period of my life I was able to remember. ‘True, I suppose,’ I admitted. ‘But then again, who’s to say where I belong? Marion was given a choice…’
‘Marion remembers the Earth and her messed-up former life,’
Gabriel retorted irritably. ‘You don’t.’
The fact that he seemed so partisan disturbed me more than a little. Perhaps Apollo was right; I should take the time to think about where to go from here. ‘I may not remember it, but I don’t like what little I have heard.’
‘Fuck you, Quin, you coward,’ Marion said then. ‘If anyone should go back and make amends for their crimes, it’s you. That is, if you’ve changed as much as you keep saying you have.’
‘Is she right, Gabriel?’ I said then in exasperation. ‘Am I really such an arsehole back on Earth?’
‘Believe me, I would like to tell you, but it would be a contravention of Quarantine restrictions.’
‘So what? I’m going to forget anyway if I go back.’
‘I’m not sure you will. Your linguistic abilities are
evidence of you having superseded certain restrictions. You must first give
your consent to be returned with us. Only then would I be empowered to reveal
such things to you.’
‘What use is that?’ I complained. ‘You’re withholding the very information that would help me decide!’
Gabriel shrugged helplessly.
‘I might be able to help you there,’ Apollo rasped. ‘If you come with me. I promise to return you here tomorrow morning, and you can make your decision then.’
‘How could you possibly help him?’ Dagmar, who had been watching the whole exchange silently, suddenly demanded.
‘I am Shaman of the Avantou. I have certain methods of discernment. I knew you were all coming days before you arrived, didn’t I? I knew how many of you there’d be, didn’t I? I observed my mother for many years in this very room, didn’t I?’
Dagmar frowned and lapsed back into silence.
Gabriel scowled. ‘Shaman, if you are intending to break the terms of the Quarantine - ’
‘I am not bound by the terms of the Quarantine, Pleiadian. I am a human becoming, born outside of the Quarantine, and therefore its restrictions do not apply to me.’
‘But they apply to Quin, fool.’
Apollo smiled thinly.'Only if he chooses to return to Earth.'
'I'm going with Apollo,' I decided then. He was Trudie's son; how could I not trust him? 'I'll see you guys tomorrow, okay?'
* * * * *
'I thought Bambowold was this way,' I said to Apollo, indicating a well-trodden path to our right as he walked ahead of me slowly through the palm forest.
'We're not going to Bambowold,' the ancient shaman explained in an offhand manner. Shortly afterwards, he came to a halt and squinted into the undergrowth on either side of us, as if looking for something specific. 'Wait here,' he instructed and disappeared among the broad leaves.
'Where are you taking me then, if not back to the village?'
My question was met with silence for a long moment; then began a tapping, scraping noise followed by the vigorous shaking of several clusters of leaves a few meters off in the direction the shaman had taken.
'Most of my people are content leading simple lives,' the old man's voice came from the undergrowth. 'They live and work, laugh and play under the sun and among the trees. What need have they of knowledge? What desire? Can it improve their lot? Who are we to dream of more, some of them reason. Aha, but within our number there have always been those who are different. Those to whom mere contentment equates to a subtle kind of existential pain; the mal-contents. Those to whom a love of wisdom grows as naturally as a tree grows, from these very roots - the philosophers.' His voice broke off, and there was a dull hacking sound followed by a grunt and a dry cough. A moment later, Apollo reemerged from the bush, covered in a kind of fine green dust and spluttering a little. The woven satchel he carried at his side was bulging with some lumpy items.
'To such of us,' the shaman continued, picking up his staff from where he had discarded it and resuming his hobbling gait into the dense greenery, 'is bequeathed the gift of Javasco.' He patted his satchel lovingly.
I thought about this for a moment as we walked, then frowned. 'Are you talking about drugs?'
'I'm talking about altered states of consciousness,' Apollo retorted matter-of-factly. 'Do you wonder how Gabriel the Pleiadian seemed able to leave his body and then return to it with the help of that white globe of theirs? What did you call it again?'
'The Omnisidian,' Apollo agreed. 'This appears to be how the Pleiadians use their technology to separate body from consciousness.' He patted his satchel again. 'Well, we don't use Omnisidians here. We have Javasco instead.'
'Are you telling me you can do what the Pleiadians can do?' I asked incredulously, eyeing my gap-toothed, primitive-looking companion in his coarse, fibre tunic.
'No. I'm telling you that the vegetation of Aventou can do what the Omnisidian can do; only better,' Apollo grinned. 'What is nature but the source from which all technology must ultimately spring? This is the truth that all shamans know.'
Presently, the old shaman led me at his slow pace to the end of the narrow path through the undergrowth. It led ultimately to a cleft in the rocky earth, under which lay a churning pool fed by a waterfall twice the height of a man. He was breathing heavily as he leaned on his staff, sweat rolling down from his seamed forehead and into the coarse white stubble that covered his jaw.
'Behind this waterfall,' the old man wheezed breathlessly, 'is a cave. This is where the extracorporeal travelling begins.' His eyes locked on to mine. 'Welcome to the hideout of the Free Ones.'
A narrow path on one side of the pool led directly up to the waterfall, though we had to step through it in order to gain access to the cave. I asked Apollo if he was ever concerned, given his age, that he would slip on this wet and narrow path and fall into the churning pool below. He merely shrugged and told me he had been coming here all his life, and that if the day came when he was no longer able to negotiate the entrance to the hideout, then the day had surely come for him to leave this body permanently.
'Is that all that death is?' I asked him as we stood, dripping, in a surprisingly warm, dry and well-lit cavern on the other side of the waterfall. 'Just leaving this physical body as though it were a car?'
As soon as I had spoken, it occurred to me how unlikely it was that the shaman would have any idea what a car was, but the word didn't seem to faze him. 'Javasco does not allow us to travel beyond that veil,' he replied. 'In all truth; I do not know, for I have ever been bound to this vehicle, and it has always been here for me to return to when my lightbody has grown weary of its travels. Where shall I go when this worn old carcass receives me no more?' He pinched the skin on the back of his hand. 'I do know this from long experience, though: my conscious being is not confined to, or indeed a product of, this bag of meat and bones. As you yourself are about to discover.' He shuffled over to the cavern wall, produced what appeared to be a knife made out of sharpened coconut shell, and began scraping some kind of lichen off the rock and onto his cupped palm. After he had gathered perhaps a small spoonful of the brownish-red lichen, he ducked into a tunnel on the far side of the cavern, beckoning me to follow.
I had to crawl through the tunnel on my hands and knees, though fortunately it was not for long. The tunnel soon opened out into another cavern, lit like the last one by a fire and by strange, bioluminescent tendrils of whiskery vine that hung down from the ceiling. A woman and two men, dressed in the primitive attire of Bambowold, lay motionless before the fire as if sleeping.
'My fellow Free Ones,' Apollo whispered. 'I must ask you now to keep quiet; too much noise can disrupt their travels.'
'You mean they're...tripping right now?'
'Son, I like not the meaning I infer from your word "tripping". I fear you bring with you the ignorance of the Earthbound.' The shaman sighed. 'The Quarantine is perhaps justifiable,' he added, seemingly to himself. Then he turned to face me directly. 'They are excorporeal, as was Gabriel for a time in the cage.Who knows where their thirst for adventure has taken them?'
He peered inside an earthenware jar by the fireside, then grunted in satisfaction. 'Enough Javasco remains for both of us,' he said. 'There is no need for me to brew more.' He shuffled over to a woven basket at the edge of the cave near the narrow entrance, and opened his satchel above it. Two tapering, brown roots fell out of the satchel and into the basket. Then he returned to the jar and raised it to his lips, taking one large swallow. He closed his eyes and sighed in what seemed like deep pleasure. 'Drink the rest of this,' he said to me then, handing me the bowl. 'I should warn you though, the taste will be somewhat alarming.'
After a moment's hesitation, I lifted the jar and drained it quickly, swallowing before my taste buds had a chance to register anything. It was a good job that I did, too, because Javasco was without a doubt several orders of magnitude more foul than I could possibly have imagined. The taste reminded me of the smell of stale sweat and urine, off milk and the rectal discharge I had once expelled while sickening from several months of eating nothing but highly processed and chemically synthesized junk during my early days in the cage. Letting out a cry of dismay, I flung the jar away and retched, clamping my hands over my mouth just in time to avoid spewing the disgusting concoction straight back out.
'It's an acquired taste,' Apollo assured me drily. 'Now you may as well get comfortable. In ten minutes or so you will leave your body.'
'Surely the taste is nature's warning,' I gasped, still gagging. 'Nobody should be drinking this stuff.' I sat down on the earthy floor.
'That's because you are a novice Javasco traveller. Truly, this should never be ingested without an experienced traveller at hand. Once you become adept at extracorporeal excursions, the taste starts to incrementally improve. To me, it tastes like buttered rainbows.' He barked a short laugh and, with a grunt, lowered himself to the cavern floor.
I seated myself some distance from the shaman and tried to concentrate on the glowing embers of the fire in front of me. After an interminable period, I grew drowsy and began to drift off into a kind of half-sleep. The walls of the cave seemed to close in around me until they were the exact size and shape of my body. I tried to cry out in terror, but my dense, hard tomb stifled all sound and movement.
Relax, Apollo’s voice rang in my mind. I am here with you. I will show you the way.
You are still connected to your physical body. As you relax, as you learn control, you will begin to experience freedom such as you have never experienced before…
My consciousness seemed to blur, then overlap, then bifurcate and recede into two coruscating neon ganglia, each of which witnessed the other slowly fading into blank nothingness.
I seemed to experience a heartbeat that lasted several hours; an expansion and contraction as profound and as somnolent as the final exhalation of a beached whale. My senses swirled back online in a chaotic cacophony of impressions, images, sounds, smells and tastes as awareness seemed to splash back out onto the blank canvas of my nonbeing. Everywhere and everywhen seemed to be superimposed on itself and so my awareness just hung there, suspended in a disorienting miasma of information.
Apollo’s voice whispered out of the confusion as if he were stood behind me. You need to focus, he urged.
It’s too much. Focus on what?
On your earliest
I have no memories
from before the cage. Except… and it
came to me again.
I am falling upwards through the twilit sky...upwards in a lazy spiral through the frost-rimed, bare branches and twigs of the winter woodland. My breath mingles with the billowing, freezing fog and my feet are tumbling over my shoulders as I am drawn, bemused, ever closer towards the waiting glare. It is the size of a full moon in the darkening sky; its pearly light diffused by thick cloud, yet bright enough to render silhouettes of the countless tree limbs that seem to caress me like a poignant farewell to the world that I know and yet don’t know…
Yes! This! Apollo seemed to whisper again behind me. Focus on this memory.
As I did so, the confused jumble of sensory information seemed to gain coherence until I was there once again, and yet my awareness remained oddly detached, bifurcated. In an odd kind of way, I felt as though I were nothing more than an ephemeral eye staring at my younger self through a telescope from some unimaginable distance. I felt as though I could sense an endless loop of images behind this one, stretching backwards through time, and that if I so chose, I could track backwards through them like the laser beam of a DVD player. As soon as this occurred to me, the whole scene seemed to play itself in reverse before my disembodied senses. Downwards I spiralled through the trees and the thick fog, until my feet touched down once again on a woodland track worn into two deep, frozen grooves, heavily marked by tractor tires. The light above my head flicked off. My former self ran backwards into the night as my internal remote viewing faculty flashed me faster and faster into the earlier evening. And as I tracked backwards through that fateful night, my story began to emerge.
I had been escaping from a sumptuous mansion deep in the English countryside, having been held prisoner in one of its countless rooms for several weeks. A man who looked exactly the same as me – only somewhat older – had been paying me several visits, each time with increasing concern which had ultimately grown into full-blown rage. I addressed him as 'Harley'. He had been coercing me to step into his shoes, act as his double, and I had kept refusing.
‘You cannot refuse me,’ the man had sneered at me in a voice heavy with malice, scorn, and the slightest undertone of disbelief and fear. ‘You are a copy, nothing more. You aren’t even an original copy, either – quin.’
What’s this? I don’t understand… I thought silently at Apollo’s presence.
Go back further. The shaman’s silent instruction still somehow managed to convey a grave compassion.
Flitting through the endlessly changing scenarios
of my past did not seem to take as long as it should have. I let weeks and months and years pass by in reverse as I searched for clues about my life. I was always either inside the great house or walking or running around on its vast grounds. I went through months of singing lessons. I saw fleeting images of other young men aside from Harley who came and went and looked just like me.
Back and still further back I went. I had judged that I
had perhaps been approaching thirty years of age at the time of my abduction,
but it soon became clear that this was not so. I witnessed myself being grown
in a laboratory, deep under the foundations of the house that had kept me
prisoner, no more than eight years previously. I had emerged from a hideous tub
of dimly-glowing cytoplasm at the earliest stages of full adult physical maturity.
My pristine, lifeless body had then been taken up to the surface, where masked
and cowled figures had performed some kind of odd ritual which had involved
placing my body inside a pentagram, chanting in low, mournful voices and
drinking dark liquid from jewelled goblets.
Quin! Apollo’s thought suddenly cracked at me from nowhere. Watch out! Something sees us!
A pixelated patch that had been coalescing around the head of my neonate physical form within the pentagram seemed now to be heading in the direction of where my awareness was located.
What is it? I asked the shaman.
An entity. It means to enter the body in much the same way that Gabriel does. It knows we are here, though, and that should not be possible.
I wanted to ask why not, but I could sense that the answer was not likely to be something I was yet capable of understanding. The odd, pixelated patch was soon buzzing around the point of my own awareness, as though it was intending to make contact, though it seemed unable to do so. For the briefest instant I felt overwhelmed with a sense of music; as though every word and note of every song and every tune I knew flashed through my thoughts at lightning speed, tempered by a knowing familiarity, a sense of resolute anger that was yet held firmly in check by an indomitable will, and the merest hint of affection and … was that nostalgia?
Suddenly, without warning, the pixelated patch buzzed into coherence and I saw a ghostly image of myself dressed in a black-and white chessboard suit, an enigmatic smile playing on my lips. This other me then sucked in a deep breath and blew theatrically in my direction.
Th entire scene I had been witnessing was snuffed out like a candle. Somewhere in the blankness, Apollo was swearing.
thing I knew I was sat in a chair exactly like those in the leisure room,
except I was back in the cave of the Free Ones. Opposite me, sat in a similar
chair, was my doppelganger dressed in his chessboard suit. Apollo was nowhere in
‘Who are you?’ I asked him.
‘Your future self,’ the other Quin shrugged. ‘Though you may never become me. You have learned enough tonight to make your decision.’
‘Where is Apollo?’
‘He is here, though slightly out of phase with this time frame. Javasco has qualities even he has yet to discover.’
‘Am I hallucinating?’
‘From a certain point of view,’ the other Quin shrugged. ‘You are experiencing a different order of reality. Some would name that “fantasy”. But what’s in a name, Quin?’
‘Did - what I just saw - really happen to me?’
The other Quin laughed. ‘That is a harder question to answer. What you saw really did happen. It tells the tale of how your physical body came into being. Is that you, though? Is that who you are? Who gets to decide who you are, Quin? Don’t look at me. I made my choice long ago.’
‘That other guy – the older one – Harley. He said that I was a copy.’
‘People will often talk about you as if you were your body and nothing more. Is that how you see it?’
I was silent for a long moment, as I replayed the
images I had been allowed to see in my mind. It was then that I understood the truth that
I was a clone, one of five clones that had been made of some dark and powerful
individual whose likeness I had inherited. Indeed, as my very name suggested, I
had been the youngest, and four ill-fated brothers must have preceded me.
The revelation seemed to settle into my awareness like the central piece of a jigsaw puzzle, as though I had just nonchalantly slotted it into place back in the leisure room of the cage. I felt as detached from emotion as I had hitherto felt from my very memories.
Trudie’s voice, speaking about my amnesia, then seemed to come back to me like some kind of ghostly prophecy: I’d be grateful if I were you. Not remembering is a kindness.
‘If I go back with the Pleiadians,’ I said finally, ‘will I forget all this? Why didn’t you let me see more?’
‘Apollo may have believed you were undetectable, but he doesn’t truly understand who you are or who is associated with you. Had you been detected, it could have led certain parties back to your physical location. This would be in neither of our best interests. As to your first question, I will say only this; it carries a risk. It is true you have awakened significantly since your abduction, you are able to perceive more of the Greater Reality - but you did not regain your memory, did you? What does that suggest about your relationship with the Quarantine?’
‘Can’t you just tell me?’
My double grinned. ‘Knowledge that is not earned is worthless at best; deadly at worst. I made my choice, as I have already told you. Now you must make yours.’ He produced a beautiful electric guitar from behind his chair and struck a chord which faded slowly, along with my consciousness.
Apollo was shaking me awake. ‘Quin, it’s morning,’ the old shaman was telling me. ‘The time has come for you to make a decision.’
I opened my eyes and gazed at him blearily. He was crouched over me, a troubled expression on his face.
‘I take it things didn’t go quite as you had
expected with the whole Javasco thing?’ I asked him drily.
I stood up, slightly dizzy, brushed myself down,
and followed him.
As we made our way slowly back to Natal Beach, I told the old shaman about the encounter I had had with my doppelganger. ‘He told me he was my future self…or rather, the future self I may become if I made a certain decision today.’
Apollo sighed. ‘Yes, yes, it’s all rather disappointing, isn’t it,’ he admitted. ‘I had hoped that the Javasco would reveal more to you. I’m sorry your journey was cut short.’
I thought about that as we made our way back through the palm forest. ‘I think I learned enough,’ I assured him. ‘At least it showed me where I came from. But…was…was it real?’
‘Ah, real,’ Apollo sighed. ‘You Earth humans are so hung up on that word. What you usually mean is, can it be verified physically? Well, Quin, it’s all you’ve got right now. You can go back to Earth and verify it physically – but if you do, you might very possibly forget all about what it is you wanted to verify. And even if you don’t forget, it seems clear that you’ll be coming face to face with some very unpleasant people. People who you were clearly running away from in the first place. Or you could stay here, explore further with Javasco – and my help – and eventually I have no doubt you will become convinced of the veracity of Javasco’s visions, as I have. I will be more careful next time. There are other ways to find things out than directly witnessing them. There are many other things I could show you…if you choose to stay.’
Soon, we exited the undergrowth and were back on the rolling sand dunes that bordered the edges of Natal Beach.
‘Here he is,’ a familiar voice with a hard edge said from atop one of the dunes. There, with a deep orange sarong clinging to her statuesque figure, sat Marion. ‘So, what’s it to be, Quin? Are you man enough to go back and face the music?’
I stopped and turned to face her squarely. ‘Marion.
I’m sorry to have to say this, but you were wrong all along about me. I’m not
the man you thought I was, and neither am I the father of your … quins.’ As I told
her my story, I briefly wondered at the significance of this number again. The
sinister man, Harley, from whom I had been cloned (according to the visions),
had made four other clones before me. Could it be that he had also begat five sons with Marion?
It certainly seemed more plausible in the light of what I had been shown.
Marion listened to my tale with a host of conflicting emotions playing across her doll-face. The warm sea breeze made her hair dance around her crown and temples as if it were being stirred by a medley of unwelcome thoughts her mind was unable to contain. Skepticism appeared to finally win out. ‘You’ve had all night and a bag of mushrooms to come up with this bull,’ she said coldly.
‘It wasn’t mushrooms, and if you care to have a go yourself, I’d be happy to show you what Quin saw,’ said Apollo.
Marion glared at me for another long moment, then she burst into tears, stood up, and fled back towards the trees.
The old shaman sighed. ‘She’ll get over it,’ he assured me.
‘Come on. Let’s get this over with,’ I said. Picking the old man up, I started towards the shore, where the cage’s tube still protruded from the gently lapping waves.
We found Gabriel waiting for us in the leisure room. He had been in a meditative pose in front of the Omnisidian, but he roused immediately as we arrived.
‘Where are the others?’ I asked him.
‘They have already gone.’
‘What? No way. Dagmar wouldn’t have left without…saying goodbye to me,’ I objected, a little surprised by the forlorn tone my voice had suddenly taken on.
‘The state of being spliced into another physical body is an extremely uncomfortable one. Delay wasn’t really an option,’ Gabriel explained dispassionately. ‘She left you a note,’ he added, flicking a finger towards a small piece of paper that lay on the wooden ledge that surrounded the Omnisidian.
I walked over to the note, picked it up and read the words, written in Dagmar’s stately style:
My dear Quin,
I am sorry I was not able to wait for you. And I always hated goodbyes anyway. Whether you choose to stay put or come back to Earth, it is still goodbye, because I won’t remember you. Knowing this makes it impossible for me to look you in the eyes one last time. Maybe you will remember what we shared together, even if I cannot. It is clear to all of us, Quin, that you are special, but to me most of all.
Perhaps we will meet again after all, and if we do, I hope you can forgive me for treating you like a stranger. Take care and I hope you find the answers you need, and even perhaps the peace you deserve.
I folded her note carefully, my heart heavy. I had made my decision, but reading her words strained my resolve more than I thought would have been possible.
‘So, Quin,’ Gabriel said quietly behind me. ‘Are you coming with me?’
I stood up straight, squared my shoulders, and turned to face the Pleiadian. ‘No. I’m staying here. Sorry, Gabriel.’
Gabriel gazed at me expressionlessly. ‘You’re staying,’ he said evenly. He licked his lips and nodded. ‘I see. You do realise, Quin, that if you don’t come with me, there will be no further rescues forthcoming. The Pleiadians won’t come for you again. You’ll be marooned here. Do you understand?’
‘I understand. But you’re wrong, Gabriel. I’ll be far freer here than on Earth.’
Gabriel’s shoulders seemed to slump in defeat. Rather surprisingly, he looked genuinely sad. ‘Very well.’ He sighed deeply, then ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Then I must return to Alcione. I ask you please to bury this body here on the beach, for I will not return for it. I’ll miss the old thing.’
Before I could put words to my confusion, the Pleiadian
placed his hands on the Omnisidian, and a tongue of flame licked from its
surface onto his forehead as before. Then his body crumpled, and the Omnisidian
shattered into a million pieces.
Apollo and I stood there, shocked, for a few seconds. Then I
went over to check on Gabriel’s body. This time, there was no pulse; no sign of
life at all.
‘He seemed genuinely sorry to leave his body,’ Apollo mused.
‘I don’t understand,’ I muttered. ‘Why did he do this? Why didn’t he tell me he was going to do this?’
‘I think he was expecting you to make another decision,’ the old shaman replied. ‘And…I don’t know, perhaps he had no other use for his body.’
‘Why didn’t he just take it with him? Call the Pleiadians to pick him up? Why this?’ I shuddered, feeling as though an inexplicable, heavy burden had just been dumped unexpectedly onto my soul.
The old shaman shook his head in sympathy. ‘Who knows the ways of the Pleiadians? Perhaps we’ll be able to find out. Come on, son. This place is giving me the creeps. Let’s go back to the village. I’ll send some men to come and fetch Gabriel’s body, and we’ll give it a decent burial like he asked.’
And together we made our way back up to the surface, past otherworldly scenes of vibrant coral in every imaginable hue, spangled by shoals of electric green tropical fish, and out into the sunshine of a binary-sunned world.
Above us, a spinning pyramidal chariot lowered itself from the skies. The tip of the pyramid was oddly detached from the base, and within it a gigantic, blue-irised eye followed our slow path back to the forest.
The further adventures of Quin are told in a
tale known as