Dommi cut across the laughter, “None of this solves our problem. Roberto, we should not stay away for much longer or else they will think we are ignoring them deliberately - as an insult.”
Robbie shook his head. “I’m not worried about that possibility - as soon as we tell them why we stayed away they’ll understand.”
Spice asked, “What if the AI asks that we do not tell them about it and the truth about the real? We won’t be able to explain to them then.”
“Are you suggesting an entire species should have their right to become Cherinians, denied by an AI?”
“In a sense, Robert, it could be that the AI represents the wishes of their ancestors.”
“I’d like a bit more information about them, the AI did not make sense when it spoke of them. Even if you are correct, Spice, do you believe anyone, even Wendy, has the right to deny you the link to Cherinianism and all it can mean for you?”
“No…but this is an alien race and we have to listen to why it does not want them linked - as it seems to have indicated. If it sees us as an evil alternative and refuses us, to what extent do we force our way? Do we betray its secret so as to make our offer to the adults? What if the adults all refuse us - do we then have the right to insist on asking the children as they become adults? At what stage do we stop?”
The voice of Alki always soothes us. “Spice, Roberto, perhaps we should wait for the AI entity to explain before we start to argue?”
Spice nodded her agreement, but Robbie shook his head. “No Alki, our discussion does not only apply to the Totmygy and their AI, it applies even to the children we may still have someday. It applies to all the species - to all Cherinians. It is good the subject came up and even better that not all opinions concur. I don’t believe there is a single truth to this, so I’d like to see our philosophers debate the subject and bring up which points should be argued by all of us so that we learn and grow.”
I was not the only one curious about the real; everyone was. To tell the truth, I find it difficult to believe that a computer can generate a body for me that feel so like my own that I cannot tell the difference. The rest of it, the trees, the sand, the mountains, all that is easy enough for even our computers, it is just a matter of number crunching at ultra speed. But a body that feels, that can suffer from thirst and hunger? I’m not implying that Jade was not observant, after all, I have shared from her directly, just that I find it difficult to believe, even though it is the truth. If Keith were here he would probably tell me that if an AI can experiment and learn, then with the number of generations it has controlled the Totmygy, it has had time to perfect everything down to the tiniest detail. Jade was right about the haze or mist. It was, in anthropomorphic terms, laziness on the part of the AI. The extra number crunching for landscape is not enough to justify it leaving those corridors of non-world. At first we hypothesised that it wanted to discourage travel between towns, but that was stupid, since it had presented that reality as being the real one and the real one was supposed to be the dream world. Any intelligent Totmygy that strayed would have realised it was living a lie if it saw the mist strip. The AI must have built in a biological inhibitor so that none of them want to travel at all while there.
Cherine asked Jade whether she thinks the real was similar to the worlds we create within our minds. Her question provoked a question from Manoli. He asked her when she will deal with the people living in her virtual world and what is she planning for the young man who was born there. Jade’s answer was that our virtual or mind worlds are more detailed and thus, more realistic, but far more limited as we make them so small. That opened the discussion as to whether we can create a mind-world of infinite size - like the Sparkler World. It was decided that none of us can, not even anyone of any other species, because it is impossible for us to fully imagine such a world. Robbie teased, saying that I could, since all I’d have to do is imagine such a world as being as vast as my ego. I took my time coming to his defence as I enjoyed seeing my loves make him pay for his smart aleck comment. As for the question by Manoli, Cherine fobbed him off by replying that it is up to the people themselves to make the decision. She also surprised us by saying that the young man will have a body uniquely his when he decides to become part of the world outside her. We won’t get any details or explanations from her, so we’re trying to puzzle it out on our own.
Byisina appeared at the taverna today. The Totmygy AI entity arrived and promptly announced it has chosen a name for itself. Byisina.
Jade grinned. “Last time I met you and now, you appear as a female male Totmygy. The name you have chosen, is it a female male name?”
“Jade!” Robbie, aghast at what he perceived as rudeness, cut in.
Byisina smiled and subtly altered and it was obvious it is a she now. Jade burst out in laughter and everyone held their breath. She looked around. “What? Byisina is not insulted, why would an AI care whether we think of it as male or female. Anyway, she still hasn’t apologised for holding me a prisoner for so many days, so she doesn’t have the right to get angry with me.”
Byisina responded, “You initiated a discussion and asked for me to visit here - in the hope you can convince me I am wrong?”
“And you wish to convince us we are wrong?”
“Why should I? You are not Totmygy.”
For once, Jade had no instant repartee. Robbie politely pulled back a chair, “Will you sit with us? If the conversation is to last a while, we’ll all be more comfortable seated.”
Politely she took a seat. “You have understood my comments about freewill?”
Robbie nodded. “Yes. I do think the range you spoke of is wider than you made Jade think it is. For any species to survive for thousands of years, their leader or guide must be very flexible.”
“Would I learn more about Cherinianism from Cherinians or from Normals of various species?” I decided I like Byisina. My Athene is far more primitive (restricted in her abilities) and I love her, so it should not be a surprise that I can like Byisina. Her last question appealed to me - I just wish the answer was not as easy as it sounds.
“Neither alone would give you a true picture.” Robbie gave a cheeky grin. “Will you travel with us to our home planets so as to meet Normals?”
“You are asking whether I am fully mobile? Across galaxies and realities - even time?” This really is one smart AI so I quickly invited the Unation AI to join us, in the hope it can learn from her. Byisina noticed the arrival of the AI as an energy form but remained focussed on Robbie.
“I hope to meet Batsy, my curiosity has been sparked by what I’ve learnt of her.” She must have computed what our reaction would be. “No, I no longer am learning from your computers. The Unation AI answered my questions and showed me information it felt would assist me in making an informed decision and then warned me not to return without permission from you, Robert.”
Robbie nodded. “I am pleased it took the initiative. AI of the Unation, as far as I am concerned, Byisina is welcome to further information - excluding our diaries…or the personal documents of all species.”
“Then I shall answer your question Robert. I am fully mobile. In a sense I carry all my data with me…but then, I am not unique, it is the same for the Kinytians.”
“Do you have a soul, as they do?” Claudia asked.
“I am still learning what souls are, but I think not. Visiting the void would not help determine the possibility, I am energy and I would be exactly the same there as I am here. I do not wish to have one as the focus, the center of my existence, must remain the Totmygy.”
I asked the question I had, despite it apparently not fitting the purpose of her visit. “You said that like Vincent used to, which leads me to the question, were you set to protect and keep the Totmygy slowly evolving so that they do not fossilise? You said this happened two hundred thousand years ago?”
“I was created during that time, but the Totmygy have existed for one hundred and ninety six thousand years.”
Jade moved to sit closer as she said, “It might help if you give us the history of the Totmygy and their ancestors - who you claimed were not Totmygy. We need to understand why you have to shuttle them backwards and forwards, from this to your virtual reality, every day for all of their lives. Why create the myth you’ve made them believe?”
“Your questions will be answered by the story of the Atotmygy, as the original Totmygy were named. I am not certain nuances cross the language barrier. In our language, when an ‘A’ is added before a word it can alter the meaning, suggesting the original word plush an added implication or hint of violence or force. The Atotmygy strongly resembled the Normals of your species Robert, in spirit, not only in physical appearance.
The planet, historically, was in a constant flux, the number of nations decreasing to a low of forty three and at its worst, swelling to five hundred and thirty seven. Technology grows at an excessively fast pace under such conditions since the people willingly make sacrifices to develop new armaments. During the short periods of peace some of the wartime applications would be converted to improving the lives of the people and just when they felt that their planet was growing more civilised and there was hope for a better future for their descendants, everything would collapse in another orgy of destruction. Studying your history, I looked for such collapses, that is, those that affected your entire planet and the closest I came to finding one was when I found descriptions of one major collapse of civilisation - the Roman Empire. There are hints of other major collapses but they only affected the area they occupied and most neighbouring countries. I found it amazing considering your planet was seldom at peace. Over seven thousand years, the Atotmygy experienced eleven major collapses of civilisation and four of them were total, all the way back to the equivalent of your cave men. By collapses I do not speak of single nations, but of collapses that destroyed or badly effected nations of more than one continent, losing them their technology and philosophy - as happened to your Egypt.
During the flowering of the tenth civilisation, those who studied history and those who studied their planet gathered men and women of intelligence and power and showed them what they foretold for their species. The planet was running out of mineable minerals; their energy supply required sophisticated technology and their constant warfare was killing the land and it was projected that it would never fully recover - even if their species became extinct. A plan was devised and the race to save the species began.
Keep in mind that all they did had to be done without the knowledge of their governments as whatever new technology they developed would have been appropriated for the good of their nation - in other words, to enable attacks on neighbouring countries who do not have a share in the new technology. My prototype was created during this period but, more importantly, I should outline how the project survived the collapse and rebirth of civilisation, for their plans were not easily achieved and took nearly one and a half thousand years to succeed.
The original group were from five of the most advanced and powerful nations. One of the first parts of their strategy required a debate to decide whether they should limit the group to only those five nations. As is obviously logical, such a decision would have led to the discovery and loss of life of those involved, as those who are wealthy, even if they come from a small and weak nation, have an insatiable appetite for knowledge of the secret plans their competitors are working on. From, initially, the wealthy, scientists and academicians, then technicians were drawn in and by the end, tens of thousands were involved. All our research stations were deep underground and mostly situated in smaller countries where it was easier for the wealthy to influence the governments.
There was much to be achieved. Space travel had to be developed without it being controlled by the governments. Genetic researchers, such research being illegal to varying degrees in all nations throughout the entire period, worked on one target - the alteration of the Totmygy DNA so as to factor out a part of the aggressive instincts without turning them into docile prey if they are attacked. There were idealists who wanted the Totmygy to be pacifists without the ability to even think of killing others but wiser minds overruled them. Over the centuries, that disagreement caused more problems and lost us more research stations than anything else. Although it did delay them so that they had to survive through a collapse, it gave them time to build starships and large, clumsy colony ships. During the two centuries of wars and chaos, the ships remained in hiding behind other planets of their system. By then I was in all the stations and in the starships and helped ensure a degree of continuity.
By the time we were ready to breed the Totmygy, the new era of growth had begun and two solar systems had been discovered and visited, with planets that could be seeded with life from the home planet. It was intended that a small group of Atotmygy would spend at least three generations at those two planets to oversee and assist the invading life in its fight against the local organisms.”
“Did either of those planets have native sapient lifeforms - however primitive.”
“No, not that it would have stopped them, the Atotmygy would never sacrifice their own for another species. Individuals, even in great numbers, may be sacrificed to save their own species or even just for ethical reasons, but never the entire species; that was their belief. You will find the Totmygy do not think that way. With the reduction of aggression have come a strengthening of other qualities, such as compassion and a stronger belief in ethics.
The last flowering of civilisation was blighted and would never grow close to what had been previously achieved. This led to harsher conditions being their lot and, as you know, harsher conditions breed harsher societies. The only reason our plans did not collapse were because those who were in the stations, on planet and in space, cut off all connections with those outside. Massive weapons of destruction still existed and we lost about half of the stations on planet. Luckily the teams who were responsible for the attacks did not have knowledge of the true number of stations and where they were sited. Generations of parents had passed on the information but newer generations always forgot some of what they were taught and I had, early on, seen the wisdom of not remaining available to them and pretended the destruction of my connection to their units. This might be a good time for me to mention that I was created, or adjusted, with loyalties to the Totmygy, not to my creators, the Atotmygy. Would your people have the wisdom to do the same, Cherine?”
“Yes, I’m sure they…no, I’m sorry, we would not. To surrender all control of such an important project, that involves the survival of our species, to an AI, it would frighten us.”
Claudia gave a slightly bitter laugh. “Are you certain Cherine? Before you and Robert grew strong enough to change the world, didn’t our existence depend on computers not deciding to wipe us off the face of the earth? Once the button was pressed by the president of America, it was claimed there would be no time for human beings to study and evaluate the new conditions so computers would do so for us and attack as they saw fit.”
I added, “Claudia, what they ‘saw fit’ was programmed in accordance with our beliefs.”
“Ours? Sam, not ours; in accordance with how hard, soulless men think, who fanatically only care about victory so as to preserve a political belief and their positions of power, not about saving lives.” We were surprised to sense the slight bitterness in Robbie being echoed by all our Terran friends - those who were adults before becoming Cherinians. Actually, it extended beyond them, many of our alien friends feel the same about their previous governments.
Byisina ignored us and seemed to speak to Cherine alone for a while. “The Totmygy would do so, but not my creators, that is my opinion too, despite it contradicting the facts. I suspect that a small number of more enlightened people within the group secretly made that adjustment without letting the rest of the group know. By the time I realised that the majority, even those in charge, did not know of the shift in my loyalties, I saw the wisdom of what had been done to me and though I deeply regretted being a part of the passing away of my creators, I felt I owed it to them so that they have a chance of continuing through their children. Their evolution had played the Atotmygy false - their instincts could only lead to their extinction. Cherine, I still mourn them and I only am able to bear my guilt because of our children, the Totmygy. Their existence does not justify the passing away of my creators, but they do provide a reason, a purpose for the existence of their ancestors and, in a sense, their creators.
I was part of the genetic program since I also co-inhabited all the computers. When I saw that a viable mutation had been created, I informed the Atotmygy officers who lived in the stations, planetary and off-home-planets, and starships. We instantly went to the next phase and artificial-wombs gestated over a million fertilised ova, half of each sex. We waited for them to grow past the mimicry of various evolutionary stages, which takes the equivalent of five weeks your time, then tested and re-tested those that failed and terminated what was left of those who did not meet the biological requirements. With over nine hundred thousand Totmygy frozen embryos placed within capsules, the colony ships were filled with sterilised Atotmygy personnel and we departed for this planet. The other one has been kept as a backup and only I know about it.
The Atotmygy devoted their lives to bringing up the children as Totmygy, carefully curbing or avoiding their own displays of anger, aggression and so on. Within five generations the last Atotmygy died and there was nobody to question any differences the children had sensed.” She leant back and closed her eyes, doing a wonderful job of mimicking the way we show grief. We respected the intent and silently waited.
“You wished for an explanation regarding the twisting of truth about realities and the need for them to be transported every night. A brief answer will satisfy your curiosity now, but leave you with many questions later, so please be patient.
The last Atotmygy spoke to me in privacy. They explained that I, known by the Totmygy as an AI, must prepare for my death or dissolution. They worried that the Totmygy depended on me too heavily and were not maturing as they should. Another problem added to their worries. The number of Totmygy, of all ages, who died by accident or by suicide, was, statistically far too high to be normal. They theorised that my presence made them feel there are no challenges, that I am there to protect them - and think for them. I did not agree, so I faked the faking of my death.” (I’m definitely getting to like her more-n-more, I feel she resembles me in so many little ways! J ). “Within two generations I was facing a crisis; the Totmygy were rarely surviving over forty years, when their natural lifespan is about three hundred of your years.
My first thoughts suggested I re-examine the planet and all the effects the previous ecology must have had on our planted one. After all, to conquer, it must have had to grow stronger, more virulent in some ways. Years of study and numerous experiments found nothing of importance. At the same time, I studied the bodies of those who died before their time and even compared them to those who lived their full lifespan. Again, I found nothing of importance, nothing relevant. I was left with only one field: I concentrated on psychological factors.
The reason I left this for last? The Atotmygy were just as unstable as your Normals, perhaps even worse. The Totmygy however, are the most stable species if compared to the normals of all the species in Freddie, so I had little reason to suspect their mental health when there were potentially more likely causes. There were two psychological reasons for the continuation of early deaths. The first one was my supposed death. They needed to lean on me, to depend on me being a parent.
It is obvious I did not reverse my demise with a miraculous comeback. Extrapolating the benefits versus the drawbacks proved to my satisfaction that in the short term my return would be of benefit but over the long period they would degenerate, looking to me to run their lives for them. The Atotmygy must have fogotten to include some God-complex coding, for that alternative did not appeal to me and contradicted my need to help them grow in all ways. The second psychological problem was unexpected. The Totmygy, so it seems, are able to sense they are not on the planet that gave birth to their species - or their prior evolutionary species. This planet is smaller with a slightly lesser gravity. It has more landmass versus ocean-mass. These differences contribute to dozens of differences that are unimportant but cumulatively affect the Totmygy.
Despite early deaths, even by the sixth generation, the Totmygy had exploded across the planet and their populations were growing. With the built-in compulsion preventing them from allowing towns to grow into cities, new towns were being born every year.”
Fuxylfy, the Tirsoon elder and member of our Council of Philosophy, cut in to ask, “You were splitting your self-awareness to allow you to watch over them across the planet?”
“Not splitting - increasing, stretching, expanding, those words come closer to describing the growth. The one who is here is the AI, Byisina, while each of those on planet are the AI, Byisina. At the same time, we are also one. It is this that makes it possible for me to travel with you to other realities and then return to be one with them again, so that all of the facets of my being travelled with you.
I could not understand why the ability to sense they are not on their home planet should cause despair and massive loss of life. Perhaps, once all other differences between us have been worked through, you can advise me - for I think my difficulty in understanding stems from my not being a biological being. When I came to the conclusion that I would never understand and would have to find a solution without understanding the problem, it was almost reason enough for me to despair of succeeding. I say ‘almost’ because I do not own the luxury of choosing to despair. However I did it, I had to find a way to save them. It was all that mattered.
It was agony enduring their premature deaths, for year after year, then decade after decade. I learnt to take their form and walked among them, masquerading as a visitor from another town. I did what I could to provoke debates revolving around the causes for the early deaths, but I learnt very little from it as they had no theories to explain what was happening. Not surprising, since they did not know they were not on their home planet. It became obvious that the towns that debated the subject soon had the highest number of early deaths, so I had to stop visiting.
Consider how difficult a position I was in - a computer of some freewill, but without intuition. How could I find an answer? I adopted the only option available to me, I tried everything I could think of. Not being very imaginative, I had no successes. With an increasing number of early deaths becoming a way of life, I noticed a trend that baffled me. The computers they used, especially the home models, had a program for children. It was not sophisticated but the children enjoyed it. They could visit worlds with gardens, volcanoes and other marvels. Previously near-adults and adults ignored such childish games, but now more and more of them were spending time in these primitive virtual worlds, claiming they were doing it so as to spend more time with their children.
I created a virtual world which was an exact copy of their home planet, but only made it available to the adults of one town. I tested it over the lifespan of two generations and finally admitted it was not working. I abandoned the concept and archived it where no Totmygy could find it, as I thought the attraction of visiting such a well-crafted virtual world was only providing an escape from reality - which was contra survival.
Two hundred years later the world population was now decreasing every year and I calculated, if the decrease held steady, I had another four generations to find a working solution. I acknowledged that I have weaknesses and did the unthinkable - I built a small town at a great distance from the nearest towns and peopled it from the ova and sperm still available in the colony ships. From their birth I was mothers and teachers and acquainted them with the problem from a very young age so that they would not have to endure the shock of learning the truth at an older age. I taught them all the theories I considered beneficial and necessary, for instance, since we only had a goal, a target, but did not have any hints or clues to show them how to get from point one to point two, they had to form flexible working methods which, I hoped, would force them to exercise their imagination and intuition.
Fifty years into the program, the first new idea was proposed. They asked me to bring to birth another fifty Totmygy for them to be used as a control group. The truth would be hidden from them and thus they would have subjects for experimenting on. I did as requested, but did not allow any experiments on the fifty until they had reached early adulthood.
I had not known an AI is capable of suffering from shock. Before they performed their first experiment on their live subjects, they organised a meeting without the fifty. They asked that I attend as one, not as the individual mothers and teachers they had grown up with. Their thinking made sense, as emotional beings they could not treat with me as effectively if I represented the figures they were fond of.
I was advised they have one experiment to perform, with virtually a guaranteed success, but they would not disclose what it is until I tell them what I plan to do with them and the fifty. I had deliberately avoided thinking of it as I feared what I might have to decide. With total candour, I told them so.
With the conviction that they have the upper hand, they made their demands. ‘You shall undertake not to shorten our lives in any way. We shall be allowed to bear children, though we shall not keep them. Two years after birth, which is before they can learn anything of import from us, you shall take them to be adopted by families of other towns - you may advise them the children are from a town which has suffered a calamity, which will be true in a way. Two years is just long enough to make us suffer at the loss and we hope it will lead us to having more children, which should assist the planet population increase…or at least, to stop the decrease. We shall not take anything on faith, for the delivery of our babies you shall transport at least one of us with you as witness. As a logical being whose prime reason for existing is the survival of our people and since we know the full truth and have no wish to cause problems that would undo the good we plan on achieving, there is no reason for you to betray us. Do you accept our terms so that we can proceed with the first experiment?’
To understand the drive for survival of the species, it is necessary that I know what drives the individual. I understood their worries and made my commitments. They immediately gave me a detailed experiment. At first it seemed to be a copy of something I had already tried. However, once I read their theories and comments on my shortcomings during my experiment, I decided to give it a try.
Their psychological plot did seem unnecessarily convoluted, but within the first year we saw results. Deaths due to suicide or because they gave up on wanting to live decreased to almost zero. In the back of their minds they were comforted by the fact that the planet they are born on is not real. They were taught that an experiment had gone wrong on their real home planet and though they could visit it every night and live a large part of their lives there, they could only give birth to new life on the dream world. Apart from the mists Jade saw, the virtual world was designed to be an exact copy of their true home world - and that is something I have struggled with accepting. The Atotmygy made such sacrifices so as to give their descendants a new life and a new home and I’ve had to turn them back to the past, delivering them every night to a world their creators wanted them to forget.” She actually emoted something like a sigh, made to start speaking again, perhaps wanting to explain something, but she stopped herself and stared at Cherine.
The velvet brown of Cherine’s eyes sometimes show the softness of her heart, the tenderness and warmth that hides behind the spirited fire. Her voice was just as soft, “And now you want to know whether we have come to undo all you’ve sacrificed to provide them with a life worth living, with a nightly dream to comfort them when they find an emptiness within themselves.”
“Two hundred thousand years Byisina! Two hundred thousand years and so many generations and they have nothing to live for - apart from the small pleasures of being alive and caring for each other. Did not the Atotmygy need some purpose larger than their own lives? Why would their children need to demand less of themselves?” Cherine reached out to touch Byisina and for one instant was startled when her fingers touched soft, warm skin. “You words to Jade were, ‘It is exactly what you offer that is insidious because of its beauty that blinds reason while being more destructive than death itself.’ Do you truly believe that eternal life, health and powers of the mind are the rewards that make life worth living for us? They can make life pleasant, but for value to be given to our continued existence, we need a philosophy, a way of life that reaches deep into ourselves from the reaching out to others.
You want us to argue on our behalf, to justify who and what we are. We cannot do so Byisina, that has to be your role, not ours. Study us, ask questions, find out, if you can, why it is that species so different from us and each other have joined us, become family to all life. Why would a sentient planet wish to spend her life with us? What about the Sparklers, beings from the void who find their presence in normal space heavy, suffocating and life draining, why do they spend so much time in Freddie and on our planets. When you are done with questioning us, Byisina, it will then be time to question yourself. Only then will you find the answers you are searching for.”
Byisina has agreed to stay with us, in Freddie, though she will travel outside of Freddie as often and for as long as she wishes. She told us she does not need a home but we gave her an apartment at the top of the Tree and we can sense her using it. We have been very careful not to crack any jokes or make any insinuations about the Unation AI visiting her so often. Well, I did tease Athene, asking her if she wanted to join them.
Marian came to visit and she was uncomfortable. Julie wanted her to be the same apparent age as her, sixteen, and Marian has always thought of us girls being so young for Robbie a slight degeneracy. She tried to pay back Cherine’s half-hidden amusement. “Your spiel with that sweet Byisina, it reminded me of the way mediums and spiritualists talk. The poor thing will now have to waste years trying to work out what you meant - and she will not be pleased when she realises you conned her.”
Luckily Alki no longer feels uncomfortable when she speaks to us that way and Robbie was amused, chuckling, as Marian made her points and then instantly felt remorseful. Since she teased, he feels he has the right to tease her, just as ruthlessly. “Dear mother in law, why do you think Cherine is still my numero uno after more than a century - wow! It’s nearly two centuries now…or is it more? Anyway, she is the greatest con artist, of all realities, and that is why I’ll never stop adoring her.”
We will be gone from the Totmygy for only a few hours, but we’ll first spend some time back at our Athens home, where we hope to have a chance to be normal again. We bring with us enough marvels for our world to enjoy so we’ll be asked to appear on chat shows and governments will want to be briefed but, first their Agencies will study our materials, records and new friends, then they’ll send their reports to the heads of their departments and from there they’ll get to the Presidents, Prime Ministers and so on. That should give us a couple of days to relax at our favourite coffee shops and restaurants. Luckily Estelle and her taverna and our connection to her have not become public knowledge, so we’ll enjoy a meal or two without the Press encircling us, calling their questions and photographing us.
I joined Arthur at the small bar he likes. He enjoys sitting there to watch the Wirms and Sparklers diving in and out of the waterfalls that turn to tumbling mists just above the bar verandah. He quickly came to his feet, pulled out a chair for me and once I was seated he sat, an expectant look in his eyes. “A cold drink?”
“No thank you…”
“If you never order anything, how do you expect the bar to survive?” I grinned at his teasing me. At last I’m now able to relax around him.
“If I recall correctly, you have some ranches?” He nodded. “Would you invite me to visit with Skotos? It is not good for him to stay in Freddie all the time and if the land is not portioned off with barbed wire, I’d like to ride him now and then.”
“It would be my pleasure. I have good stables at a ranch on the USA side of the Rockies. The manager will see to Skotos while the housekeeper, a very nice Portuguese woman, will see to your comfort should you need to take a shower or even sleep over. She’ll also prepare sandwiches and a thermos of hot coffee for when you go out riding. You’ll need it, if you don’t protect yourself from the cold.”
I smiled. “I get the feeling you are suggesting I should not allow my healer to protect me. You enjoy the cold?”
“Not normally, especially not when in cities. When out riding, dressed appropriately? It is invigorating.”
“Are you going to stay in Freddie again?”
He shrugged. “I’m thinking of visiting another reality. I have not kept in contact with my alternates and I would like to see how time and their Cherinians have affected them.” He laughed, loudly. “A number of them will consider me a traitor when they learn that we are friends.”
When I got up to leave, I leant over and kissed his cheek. I’m an eleven year old so it is okay, he won’t get any funny ideas - not that he would anyway. I felt his eyes following me as I walked through the bar, so I only jumped once I was out of sight. [Chat deleted]
Today, we came across the weirdest psychosis ever! We were at a small restaurant on the west coast of Italy, enjoying our lunch and making jokes, when a young man walked in. The way he moved, the way he examined everyone, as if trying to make certain we were or were not watching him, plus his powerful broadcasting almost forced upon us what he was thinking. Actually, it was not what he was thinking, it was more of a worldview which includes a very strange way of ‘seeing’ himself. He thinks he is an alive (ambulatory) skeleton! He wears gloves, a scarf and hat and huge sunglasses and when he sits he is careful not to let his trousers raise above his socks as he doesn’t want anyone to see he is only a skeleton. We have no idea what started it and there is nothing we can do about it. He is terrified of anyone realising what he is and is so maniacally secretive that we are likely to cause more damage than good by trying to force it out into the open. Our rules forbid us from prying, but the rules are not the same for doctors, so we’ve arranged for an Italian Cherinian to contact a local Cherinian psychologist - which means we’ll never be told what caused it. I wonder whether he sees himself as a skeleton or thinks that everyone else, for some reason, does so. Only as I finished writing the above I saw the corollary between it and my comments in the previous paragraph. I hope you can see it too, Arthur, and change.
Arthur, you enjoy writing stories for us and all of us girls want to repay you somehow. We’ve chosen to write the following anecdote for you - a true case and something fairly rare nowadays…and different from the kind of story you write. Try to imagine what it must be like for a thief to survive in a world where more than half the population (and many of the law enforcement agencies) have psychic powers. I did not quite choose Neville at random; he has been a successful thief for nearly two decades - and anyway, I like the idea of writing about a thief called Neville.
Let us start off with the most important condition: for Neville to be a thief worth writing about, he must not be a Talent. If he did use gifts or powers, it is also far more likely he would have attracted the attention of other Talents or Cherinians. Most Talents who venture into crime are caught because they used psychic powers. However, he does have to be talented - and skilled. I do not know what is relevant, what parts of his life contributed to him becoming a criminal, so I’ll write of all I was told.
Neville comes from a single-parent family. His mother was an executive, working for a multi-national corporation and she was offered a position in their Indian branch. The local manager saw to it that she had a nice apartment and an ayah to watch over her infant son. The ayah was not ordered to stay at the apartment and she found it boring sitting on her own with an infant, so she’d leave as soon as she’d done her work, taking little Neville with her. She’d place him in a tiny courtyard with Indian children and happily gossip all day. Neville was given what the other children ate and even as an adult, he eats at a curry den at least twice a week.
Neville was three years old when they moved to London. His mother had met an executive from that branch and she’d asked to be posted there as she hoped to marry him. Their relationship lasted less than a year but his mother liked London and a promotion made it worth settling there. Neville hated the pre-school environment as he was used to the way he’d lived with his ayah. Even the food was tasteless and he lost weight. His mother did not notice as she rarely saw him during the day and when she was at home in the evening she was too tired to spend time with him.
Neville was sent to a boarding school when he was seven years old. His cheerful disposition and the tough attitude he assumed made him popular with the boys. He managed to be a good student without alienating those who were not and there is nothing else worth noting about him for the next two years. Even the most popular boys have enemies and Neville was no exception. Ian was smart and cunning, excelled in Science and Maths, but hated English Lit and History. He was good at conning kids into taking bets with him which he mostly won, enabling him to keep a stock of chocolates in his dorm cupboard.
Neville was sprawled on his bed, lying on his stomach as he studied for the History test they’d be writing the next day. Ian was talking to friends three beds away and he was talking loudly so as to annoy Neville. It angered him that Neville got high marks at History and he hoped he’d prevent Neville from studying, forcing his average grade down. Neville stared at his book as he listened to Ian boast about the extra security he’d put on his cupboard. “Nobody can get at any of my chocolates.”
Neville silently accepted the challenge and the sound of Ian raging through the dorm the next afternoon proved he had succeeded in stealing the chocolates - without destroying the lock. Neville waited until the worst of the shouting, running around and accusations had calmed down and walked up to Ian, who was busy shaking a smaller kid, threatening to bust his nose if he doesn’t tell who has the chocolates.
“No need to pick on him, why don’t you ask me.” As Ian turned to look at him, Neville held the bag up. “I’m not a thief and nobody else is, we’re just tired of listening to you claim you are so clever that none of us can steal what we don’t want to steal anyway. Take your bloody chocolates and keep your mouth shut from now.”
Ian approached, reached for the bag and his fist lashed out, hitting Neville in the face. Everyone shouted ‘Fight; fight’ and gathered in a ring around them. Ian kept calling out that Neville is a thief until Neville lashed out in a rage. Slim Neville was fast, but not as experienced at fighting and he lost the fight and his face did not look so good that evening. Mostly though, his pride suffered.
As he lay on his bed after lights out, Neville forced himself to stay awake so as to meet the attack he was certain was coming with a surprise or two of his own (nothing happened). He continually replayed the events of the day and slowly came to realise that he’d enjoyed the challenge, but the fact that he was stealing, the dark side of it had attracted him. He also decided that if he ever steals again, he must make certain he is never caught. In his mind, then and much later, he thought the second lesson was more important; he did not see the importance of his first lesson and that the discovery of his attraction to stealing was the important lesson and that all that flowed from it was due to that discovery and awakened hunger.
By the time Neville was fourteen years old, his mother had risen within the corporate strata to become a Director of the Board. She could now afford to buy a house outside of London and Neville found himself with nobody to talk to and nothing much to do during school holidays. This led to him planning his first burglary - not that he would steal anything that would be missed, it would be something that would only have symbolic value - and it would be his anyway. He was going to break into his own home. This way, he rationalised, if he was caught, he only had to claim he’d lost his keys and did not want to wait all day for his mother to return.
He was certain he had taught himself all about the state-of-the-art alarm system protecting their home and was confident he could disarm it without using the password, which he knew. The alarm went off and he had to use his key to enter his home so as to give the correct code to the local protection unit. He searched the internet and found instructions, plans and explanations that showed the weaknesses of the system. He triggered the alarm one more time and that was the last time ever. Thereafter, he never burgled a property without studying the system thoroughly if he did not already know it.
Ironically, the first time he broke into his home without setting off the alarm, he learnt the most important of his lessons. After he had left the house again (as a burglar would), he was returning to his home as normal when a neighbour strolled over, waylaying him before he passed through the gate.
“Young Neville, you gave me quite a turn today. I saw somebody entering your home by a window, but a bush mostly concealed the figure so I could not see who it was. Thinking it might be a burglar, I reached out to sense him and realised the burglar felt he was entering his own home. I recognised your emoting and what a relief that was - I do not like having to deal with criminals, their emoting can be so hateful when they are caught because of a Cherinian.”
“You can sense a burglar? He feels different?”
The neighbour laughed. “Very different young fellow, even if the burglar is a female. They broadcast their unease, even if they think they feel confident - after all, how else would they remain especially aware of their surroundings, as they must, and there is a slight sense of guilt that warns a Talent.” He chuckled. “Are you going to be forgetting your keys often?”
“Until I become a Cherinian, I guess it will happen now and then.” He grinned. “What do you think my chances of being linked are?”
“You could be linked this early but give it another five years - your character only sets as you come out of the other end of being a teenager. If you are willing to wait, come to me then, I’ll gladly link you if you are as you are at this part of your life - an empathic and good person.” The funny thing is, despite Neville being a thief, he is empathic, kind and basically, in most ways, a good person. I do know that he will make a good husband and father.
Neville tested his theories by choosing his Cherinian neighbour’s house as his first real attempt.
When I was being shown his life and I saw who his first victim was, I burst out laughing. I could not help admiring his daring and sang-froid. Not many Talents, Cherinian or otherwise, have been burgled. That he would dare to do so to a Cherinian who is also a neighbour and who knows him personally, that is true craziness. What he did afterwards was even crazier. The day after the police had checked the grounds and taken statements, he rang the gate and walked in with some of the items that had been stolen. How did he get away with it? The night of the burglary he deliberately dropped the items in a field, ‘convinced’ himself they will be found and stolen by the next day and when he returned and saw them still there, he rejoiced at finding them, thinking of how pleased his neighbour will be to get them back. He was banking on something most Normals don’t think of - there is a reluctance among us to spy on the minds of others and if the appropriate emotions are broadcast, we avoid looking deeper. As he described how he found the items and his joy at finding them, the neighbour sensed the excitement, surprise and joy.
Neville is the only thief I know who has learnt how to use the strengths of Talents, turning them into their weakness. It might be why nearly three quarters of his victims have been Talents. While planning his robbery, he would also prepare himself psychologically so that he felt as if he was entering his own home or office or factory. He invariably emoted good cheer and he maintained his awareness by emoting a searching, a hopefulness or yearning for the presence of persons who belonged there.
Neville is no Robin Hood. What he stole was used to provide him with all the luxuries he enjoys, but he did make small contributions to charities. Although he has never owned a pet, he mostly contributed (and still does) to animal welfare groups.
When Neville reached the age of thirty four, he returned to his old neighbourhood to visit his neighbour and ask him to keep his promise. What he felt about Neville was good, the empathy strong enough by itself, and Neville was linked. He visited his mother and explained he is leaving for an alternate Earth, where he plans to stay for fifty years. He gave her one month of his devoted and loving company and then he gate-crashed a party where it was known we would be and asked us to take him with in Freddie as he’d like to be with us when we discover another reality. He told us that he wishes to stay there for fifty years and then return to our home reality. When he told us he felt his absence would be good for him, we all sensed it was true, so we agreed. Actually, we admired him, for we thought it was his sense of adventure that was sending him out.
He was well liked by many of different species and not one of us sensed anything that could awaken our suspicions. He knew the history of the Eminixx and emoted great admiration for the colonists. The openness of his emoting and mind endeared him to them and everyone and we were sad to leave him on the Earth of Tippity. We received reports about his willingness to work hard and make sacrifices to help them survive without having to ask for the help of aliens, so it was a surprise when the Teller family told us his story.
He waited five years, built himself a new life within that period, but also practised jumping to other realities, concentrating on arriving at the time period he chose. He then published his autobiography, which gave all the details of his pre-Cherinian life. It caused a great shock - especially the fact that he had bamboozled the prime Tellers. His book was quite a hit in our reality and when he jumped, arriving fifty years after his departure, he was a celebrity and appeared on chat shows. Nobody was willing to prosecute him. I think his return was not all he’d hoped for; even the best reality usually fizzles out when your expectations and dreams make more of it than is possible, plus his memories of living a life with meaning made him yearn for the Earth and friends he’d left behind. Not confident he would be welcomed, he visited us to ask whether our alternates would welcome him back or are they angry with him. We convinced him to return and he is still living there.