Islanders : Chapter Five

Chapter Five  Relations

Puzzlement, Daniel had seen many times on the faces of those he had rescued. Confusion, suspicion, even gratitude he had seen. Contempt, even if kindly and tolerant, he had not seen before. The Reverend Brightman had listened to Daniel’s description of himself, LeClerc and Mei Ling as time travelers plucking the doomed from out of history and bringing them into new lives in the future. He had seen the holoviewer presentation of the Empress watching the ship as it turned and plunged to the bottom of the river. When it ended he had turned to Daniel and had asked him, “are you saved.”

Papa had smiled when Alice had called their rescuers angels.

“No child, whatever they are, they are not angels. Even so they may be going about God’s work as many non-believers do.”

One of them, the Chinese woman, Mei Ling, Colin had not approved of. She was too assertive, too disrespectful of the proprieties. She was, he feared, an immoral woman. When Alice asked what that meant he told her that he would explain it when she was older. It was not that he was not grateful for their saving of their lives but such gratitude he reminded Alice should not allow them to blind themselves to certain unpleasant truths. His own foolishness had blinded him to his wife’s unfaithfulness. So they had fled Cobourg, he and Alice. He had told the neighbors that they would do God’s work in the wilds of Central Africa but it was not only God that had called Colin forth. The looks of pity and smirks of contempt in the faces of his neighbours had also helped

As for going deep into the future: stuff and nonsense. The Day of Judgement would have ensued long before any such estimate of time as that given by this Chinese woman. If given the choice of choosing of believing the messiah or her, he, Colin Brightman, would prefer the Messiah and so would his daughter. He reminded himself that even Satan was only God’s servant using only such power as god had granted him

“How many others from the empress,” he asked.

Daniel wondered if he were going to ask if they were saved.

“Twenty-seven.” The last, a young musician from Hamilton, they pulled out just minutes before the Norwegian freighter struck.

“Including us?”

“Yes.”

“Out of a thousand?”

“Yes.” Daniel looked down at his mug of cocoa. He waited for the coming accusation of failure.

Colin touched him on his shoulder. “You saved twenty-seven lives. Do not assume blames for lives you could not save. They are with God now. We thank you for our lives.”

Daniel nodded. “Thank you,” he muttered.

“When do we meet the others?” Colin asked.

“As soon as you like,” said Mei Ling. “but there is someone who would like to speak to you first.”

“Who?”

“My father. A hundred years after your ….. he developed the first working prototype of a time portal, a doorway between your time and ours.”

“China must be very proud of him.”

“My father is not Chinese. He is a Canadian like you.”

“I see.” There were a few Chinese in Canada. The government had failed to rid the land of them.

He had no quarrel with Chinese living in China. Once they abandoned their heathen superstitions and became good Protestants China could take its place among the civilized nations. However he just saw no reason for them to be in Canada, a white man’s country. A great part of the world’s problems Colin thought stemmed from people moving around too much.

“Why would he wish to speak to me?”

“You married an Elizabeth Foley?”

“Yes?”

“My father is her great nephew. His name is Mathew Foley.”

Colin blanched. “Dear God.”

***

He seemed so unFoleylike, a ancient wisp of a man bent over a bush of blue roses. Most Foleys being farmers took an interest in crops but flowers had never been considered to be a crop. However it was not only the doctor’s interest in roses that struck Daniel as being unFoleylike. He did wonder about the change color of the roses. They seemed unnatural somehow but then so did everything else here.

“You asked Mister Bishop to bring my daughter and me out of the Empress. May I ask why?”

The old man smiled. “We’re family, Colin.”

“Family? That was your only reason Doctor?”

“According to Mei Ling you don’t seem to approve of my name.”

“My apologies, doctor. The Foleys tend to recycle names. They are not a very imaginative lot. But Mathew….”

“You didn’t like Mathew Foley?”

“I knew him. If ever a soul was damned….”

“I’m afraid I have trouble with the idea of eternal punishment.”

As do most sinners thought Colin but he allowed the old man to ramble on.

“Are you implying that the sins of the fathers….?”

“No doctor. What I’m saying is what I learned as a minister in Kilmarnock, that the man that you were named after murdered his own children to keep his land. Your family’s wealth rests upon the blood of murdered infants.”

Mathew thought for a moment. “Well, most fortunes do.”

***

The village lay below him shrouded by a fresh coating of snow. A day’s travel by road by road and yet he had never been there before. He had heard of it in tales told of backwoodsmen. Kilmarnock where the most exciting event was watching grass grow. The people who lived in the village and the surrounding township were too ignorant and dull-minded to live anywhere else. He had been appointed to preside over the spiritual needs of the smallest segment of its population, the Methodists. Within that congregation no family held as much wealth as did the Foleys.

“Mathew always saw the Foleys as bordering upon destitution. Perhaps they had been once but when I first them they were among the wealthiest families in the township. The only true threat they faced were their own suspicions.”

Foley nodded.

“There are those who say I should have left you and your daughter to drown, that what I am doing threatens the very fabric of space and time.”

“Does it?” asked Colin.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Perhaps I am just being a Foley.”

He handed Colin a straw boater similar to the one he had seen in an ancient photograph. “Let’s go for a walk shall we? I’ll show you my garden.”

Colin’s concept of a garden extended to a quarter acre sown with potatoes carrots and tomatoes. Mathew’s garden extended over acres of hills interspersed by a tree-lined stream and a yellow brick road.

“I am a man of faith, not of science but I do know that you must have had a reason, apart from a distant ancestral claim to change the past.”

“Hardly an ancestral claim. You left no descendents, Colin. As for changing the past., your body and that of your daughter as well as hundreds of others were never found. How do you know that we changed anything?”

“Why did you come for us?”

“Curiousity. Seventy-five years after the empress sank, Elizabeth died in a hospital in Kingston. Her last two words were Colin and Alice. She never stopped loving you.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you want us?”

“My parents died when I was very young. I never learned anything about my family. You knew them, my

father’s ancestors?”

“Surely with your ability to cross time at will you could visit them yourself.”

“Not without risking interference with the past.”

“But don’t you do that anyway? That’s what this is all about? Satisfying your curiosity?”

“To some extent. Tell me about them.”

“My Uncle Joshua was a Methodist minister in Brockville. Becoming as minister like him was all that I ever wanted to do. At his urging I took out my school teaching certificate while studying to become a minister. First came to Kilmarnock in 1901 appointed as a school teacher by the province just an unimportant hamlet of passing interest only to its own inhabitants. Still it was close to home.”

“Is that when you first met Mathew Foley?”

“No. Not at the school. He had no children at the school and took no interest in education. I met him at chapel with his wife Margaret, a plain dull-minded woman but sincere in her beliefs. The chapel was an important part of her life. It was also at chapel that I met Elizabeth and her family.”

***

Mei Ling studied the readings of Colin’s body as Louise watched the two men stroll through the garden. He seems to be telling the truth,” said Mei Ling. Louise nodded but said nothing

“What do you think of him?” asked Mei Ling.

Louise shrugged. She had not objected in principle to retrieving survivors from the Empress but to do so just to satisfy a whim? “A man of his time. Colin. Abysmally ignorant. Hopelessly biased but he’s not unintelligent. By the standards of his time he has a good education. We should be able to make use of him. A community leader perhaps.”

“Not as a traveler?”

“No.”

***

As Mathew poured the tea, John began. “In October of 1913 Margaret Foley lay dying. She asked to see me. During those last few years of her life she had lived as a recluse rarely seeing anyone venturing out only to go to Chapel and to buy provisions. She refused visitors except for her lawyer, John Foley who lived in Toronto, and her physician, Doctor MacTavish. During the last few months of her life when she was too ill to travel, she took on a hired girl at the doctor’s insistence and added me to her list of visitors. I would go out to see her, alone as she insisted. On my last visit she told me about Mathew and her children.”

“She had given birth to four daughters. Each one had died shortly after birth. For years she had blamed herself. Then two decades after the last one had died, Mathew had told her the truth. Because they were girls he had smothered them, to protect the land. Then he told her that since she had failed to give him a son he planned to divorce her.”

“She killed him. She struck him over the head with a fire iron. Her rage gave her a strength that she would not have had otherwise. The land for which Mathew had killed her children in order to save she had willed to the church.”

“After her funeral I asked the doctor and constable what they knew about the matter. They confirmed what she had told me. Mathew Foley had murdered his own children. That was the family that I had married into. Your family.”

Mathew Foley. Every Sunday he would sit in his pew. A great heavy-set, long white beard his hands browned and calloused by decades in the fields, he reminded the young minister of an Old Testament prophet, Elijah perhaps with that same stern look of resolution. Disliked by most, hated by many, for over a third of a century Mathew had guided the Foley clan bringing it up from poverty to prosperity and relative respectability. His position as an elder in the chapel and front pew were testaments to his success. The young minister’s own courting and wedding of Elizabeth Foley, George Foley’s youngest daughter, had raised considerable comment within the township but not as much among the Methodists, another indication of how far the Foley family had risen.

Mathew had done his work well. The Foleys, if not wealthy had gained in respectability, at least in the eyes of the world outside of Kilmarnock. The extent of Foley landholdings in Lanark and in Northumberland Counties had helped persuade Colin’s family that the Foleys roughhewn as they were would make suitable in laws.

If the respectable families of the village, the McKays, MacTavishes and Campbells looked askance at the wedding, what did it matter? None of them were Methodists. So he had married his dark-haired beauty whose love for him had shown as fair as the Rose of Sharon.

The third of seven children, Colin had been sired by an engineer on a Kingston steamer had been a man rough in both and in manner, given to the use of both obscenities and a wide leather strap. His death in a boiler explosion just after Colin’s eighth birthday had left Colin’s mother distraught. Colin had been left with little more then a feeling of relief. Responsibility for the family now passed to the Reverend Joshua Brightman. Joshua, pious, gentle and patient seemed to, the young Colin to be everything his father had not been. From Joshua he had derived his own interest to become a minister. Always judge a person by what they are, not by they were, he had told him. So it had been with the Foleys. He had heard rumors about the family’s past. Who in Lanark County had not? Thieves and drunkards the Foleys had been called.

Within the small Methodist Meeting House such stories seemed to refer to earlier days two generations before. What family in the district, Methodist, Presbyterian or Romanist could claim to be without sin? What mattered was what they were now, not what they had been. So he had told Elizabeth. If they were somewhat crude in manner and lacking in education and wit, so be it. His parents had been that way. Honest y and a willingness to work hard were of much greater value. They appeared rough by the standards of Toronto or Montreal, so what? Did one go forth into the wilderness seeking a man clothed in soft raiment?

Colin had discussed the matter of Margaret Foley with the two physicians resident in the village Doctors Peter Mac Tavish and Jean Campbell. Both he had met in the course of his professional duties. Doctor MacTavish now in his eighties rarely ventured outside his sprawling red brick home on the shore of Lake Lomond, adjacent to the hospital.

He spoke, his voice shaded by a curious Central European accent that the people of Kilmarnock had long before ceased to notice. “Margaret is a woman who has known a great deal of suffering.”

Colin had nodded sympathetically. As a physician the doctor would have seen his share of suffering. “I understand that doctor, but is it true what she told me?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“And the family?”

“The family?”

“Did they know?”

The doctor shrugged. “Perhaps you should ask your father in law? They are your family now.”

“Did they know?”

“Mathew was their chieftain, the family head. They knew he would do anything to protect the land.”

“Did they know?” he asked Constable Thomas. Thomas sucked at his pipe. His dark eyes looked away from the minister. “When I was thirteen and my brother George Henry was nine we were sent here. In return for our passage we were hired out. My brother got sent out to the Foley homestead about forty miles north of here. Within less then a month, having been starved beaten and neglect he was dead. They knew, Mister Brightman. They knew.”

***

“For if a man gaineth the world and hath not charity it profiteth him not.”

As he spoke Colin looked out at the Foleys ranged in the front pews. Twenty years before, they had edged their way into the back seats. George Foley frowned as he always did in acknowledgement that any words spoken in chapel should be treated as a serious matter. Of understanding, Colin might as well have been speaking to the ocean. Had George known of Mathew’s crimes? How many other Foleys had known? Colin tried not to look at Elizabeth.

That night long after Elizabeth had fallen asleep he sat on the edge of their bed. He looked down at her breathing softly. He should not blame her for her family’s sins. He knew that then. He knew it even as he watched the walls of Quebec City fade. A mistake he told himself. He had made a terrible mistake. Not just because he longed for her physically but because he knew that she could not, would not have dome or approved of anything vile.

He had courted her during the fading of the winter, as the first green buds had begun to sprout. He had married her as the leaves had begun to flame. Years before Uncle Joshua had told him, “judge not a person by what he was but by what he is. He had done so with Elizabeth and with the Foleys.” Now he asked himself what kind of a man was George Foley.

“There have been rumors, sir.”

“Rumors?” asked George.

“Yes sir, concerning the way your brother Mathew was killed.”

“And what would those rumors be?”

“That he was murdered by Margaret.”

That stupid bitch had done worse than kill Mathew. She had taken land away from the Foleys. Not just a few acres of scrub but prime land worked by Foley hands for two generations. Bad as that was she had done something even worse. The wallet, the symbol of God’s protection over the Foley family she had given to the traitor John Foley. Only once before could he remember the Foleys being so threatened, when crazy Aunt Isabel left that Thomas brat to die in a barn. That had cost Daniel Foley his life but the family had kept the land. Mathew had defended the land had given himself to it and had held it. Margaret had undone thirty years of work.

To retain the land he had to secure his son-in-law’s support

He spoke of how while bringing the cows out to pasture he had found a brown leather wallet with fifty pounds in it. “The money in that wallet we used to buy our first bit of decent land. Like the ancient Israelites we suffered much but with God’s blessing we overcame. God extended his hand over us.”

“So anyone who opposes the Foleys…”

“Opposes God himself.”

The equanimity with which George spoke chilled Colin far more than the autumn rain. He remembered his uncle Joshua’s words. “Judge no man by what he was but by what he is” What kind of man is George Foley? Despite himself he smiled, “I didn’t know that you were a theologian.”

“Margaret was a generous woman.”

“She was that,” agreed Colin.”

“She left the church the richest land in the township.”

“And Mathew’s gold?”

Tiny traces of gold found on Mathew’s farm had once caused a small ripple of excitement in Kilmarnock. The ripples had faded during the years since Mathew’s death.

“Geologists claimed developing it was uneconomical.”

George shrugged. “Gold is gold. Margaret would like to see that used for the church.”

“I suppose that she would.”

“Working together maybe we could do a lot of good for the church?”

“Maybe we could.” He could see the gold shining through his father-in-law’s eyes but he could also see other things, blood, hate and fear. Fear of losing what he had, fear of going back to what his family had been. That evening Colin had had written to his uncle inquiring about a position in an African mission. He did not tell Elizabeth of his decision. She was his wife bound to obey him. He also feared that once told she would not be able to resist telling her father. As his wife however she did have the right to be told. After the letter arrived from Uncle Joshua confirming that he had been accepted did he tell her about what he had learned her family and about his decision to work in Africa.

Colin had hoped that confronted with the truth Elizabeth would share in his revulsion towards Mathew and George that she would embrace his future mission among the heathen.

She looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. “You’re running away, aren’t you? You are so ashamed of my family that you cannot bear to be in the same country with them. Go if you want,. Alice and I stay here.”

Perhaps Elizabeth had hoped that by returning to her father’s house she would bring her husband to his senses. If so, the plan died an early death. George would not have her. Her husband might be a lunatic but he remained her husband. “You wanted him in your bed. Now you stay with him.”

What else would George have said asked Colin. Even among her family a marriage vow remained a marriage vow. He could not at first understand her objections her accusation that he was forcing her to chose between her husband and her father. She had made that choice when she had married him.

Standing on the stern of the Empress Colin hated that one word “even”.

Elizabeth’s brown eyes froze. “Once I was just your Elizabeth. My family did not matter. For the first time in my life I was Elizabeth. Now I am Elizabeth Foley, a Foley that you will grow to hate. And Alice? Will she become a Foley as well? Will you look for signs in her? Will you begin to hate her as you have begun to hate me?”

That night they made love with a passionate intensity that he had not felt in months. In the morning when he woke he found her gone. He awoke after the sun had risen. Beside him he found a note. On it she had written three words. “I am Elizabeth.”

She had taken thirty dollars, her clothes and her wedding ring. He thought of following her but he had to give Alice her breakfast and see her off to school. He then had the clear away the dishes and to prepare a sermon. Only after he had finished did he journey up to George Foley’s homestead to inquire about whether or not. When he arrived in the early evening George told her that he had not seen here. A week passed before a letter arrived that she was staying with cousins in Cobourg. There were two places she had decided that she would never go to. One was Africa. The other was Kilmarnock. If Colin wished to join her he would be welcome.

George had snorted. Who could accept a wife telling her husband where he could and could not live? Rubbish. “Give her a week. She’ll be back. “

To add force to his argument he wrote to his nephew Tom in Coburg urging him not to support the silly girl. Despite his dislike for the man Colin accepted his father-in –law’s advice and continued with his plans to work in Rhodesia.

Every night he would listen to Alice crying for her mother. Every night he would dream of her. He thought of going to Coburg but could not in good conscience so. That would be condoning what she had done. God had a mission for him. Bowing to his wife’s selfish desires would betray that mission. Anyway what kind of a woman would abandon her own child? In a way she was as cruel and as selfish as Mathew Foley had been. How could such a woman be fit to do God’s work?

Then the letter came. She had found work in a small shop in Coburg. Theyt could be happy there she had told him. Here the Foley name was just a name. She needed time to be by herself she told him. She would always be his wife and Alice’s mother.

He had written back telling her that Foley would mean even less in Rhodesia and that in doing God’s work she could hope to find redemption. He waited for an answer, an answer that never came.

“Did you love her?” Mathew asked.

“As much as I love Alice.”

“Then why didn’t you go to her and tell her that?”

Colin looked down at his hands. “Ever since I was young I had been taught not to trust my own feelings. In the sum of God’s creation, they meant nothing and could lead to damnation. In time perhaps we could have come back together.”

“Time that you never had. So you decided to leave?”

“Not at once. I …. I knew that I couldn’t stay. If I did I would be condoning the family’s acceptance of what Mathew had done.”

“But Elizabeth had even been born when those crimes had taken place. How could you hold her responsible?”

“I didn’t. I told myself that what ever had happened between Mathew and Margaret had been between them. How could the distant past come between Elizabeth and me That’s what I asked myself.”

“But it did.”

“Yes.”

“Did she know? Suppose she did? That would have meant that the evil within Mathew had spread through her. If it had infected Elizabeth it might touch Alice. I would not let Alice be touched by it,”

“I didn’t hold Elizabeth responsible but I did hold her family responsible. To look at them in chapel thinking what they might have known. To offer them comfort, to bless them. No. In good conscience I could not do that anymore. I resigned my post and applied for a position in Rhodesia as far away from them as I could think of. would bring Alice and Elizabeth. They would be safe there.”

“Fear made me run. In that fear I condemned myself and my own child. We can never go back can we?”

“No.”

“Elizabeth ….Was she happy?”

“As much as anyone is I suppose.. She had two other husbands and five other children. Yet your name and Alice’s were the last that she spoke.”

Three minutes passed. For that time Colin stared at the trees trying not to look at the old man or at the past. Then he coughed. “My deepest wish is to go back and apologize to her but I can’t do that, can I?”

“No.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Go forward. I would be pleased if you and your daughter were to be my guest for a few weeks. I may find myself in need of your …. advice.”

Advice? To serve as spiritual advisor to the most powerful man in this world; God must have been keeping him for a very special purpose. Colin smiled. “I would be honored sir.”

“Good. Excellent. We are establishing a new colony combining the survivors of the Titanic with those of the Empress. You could be of great use to us.”

Colin nodded. “Kilmarnock so I was told was established by a man who believed people were entitled to second chances. Perhaps that’s what this place is.”

“Perhaps.”

Colin smiled. Here lost somewhere in space and in time he could find God’s purpose for his life. Perhaps his losing of Elizabeth, his meeting of Mathew, his being taken here, all of it might be God’ plan and not simply the result of his own cowardice. He bowed his head and prayed.

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The Islanders : Chapter Four

Chapter Four : The Lighthouse Keeper

Gehlen focused on the rotating light. It stemmed from a dark tower rising above the land. The inspector assumed the tower to be a lighthouse. The tower not only gave him a place to aim for. It also indicated that whatever era he was in had succeeded in harnessing electricity, a comforting thought.  At least he had not been pitched back into some remote pre-industrial time. Again he asked himself what had happened. He wished that he had spent more time studying how the damned portal bands work. Had it been some outside interference, natural or human, or had been a simple failure on the part of the band?   Did it matter?  He was where ever he was. He would have to get his bearings and then try to see if there was any way of sending a message to Home.  Emergency numbers had been issued by Home for the use by agents stranded in times that allowed for the use of telephones. No one he had known had ever had to make use of one. Still there was a first time for everything. Expect the unexpected he told himself remembering his Grade Three Teacher.

When he had been nine years old his teacher had led him and his classmates on an excursion out to the glacier that covered Bouvet Island.  Although it was December the air still felt chilly compared to the warmth of the tunnels beneath the island’s surface.  “Always expect the unexpected” Mrs. Martinez had told them. She had led them to a small rise, bare of snow. Here protected from the wind they had basked in the sun, enjoying their first taste of a natural summer open top a sparkling blue sky. In the midst of a frozen waste they had found warmth.

His thoughts focussed upon the light he had stumbled across the house by accident. Gehlen had assumed that the keeper would have his house attached to the light. Aiming for the light he broke through the pine trees that fringed the shore to find himself in what seemed to be a clearing its edges marked by a split rail fence. Beyond the fence he could see a light gleaming from the black smudge of a building.

The building promised shelter but dare he take advantage of it? The occupant or occupants might not even speak English. He might be in Nazi controlled Europe or Stalinist Russia. Under such circumstances English would be the mark of the enemy. He wondered what to do. Staying where he was would risk coming down with pneumonia.

A crack of light appeared in the house as the door opened. What seemed to be a woman stood in the doorway as if expecting someone? Behind her music pilled out into the night. Although muffled by the rain Gehlen could pick up a woman’s voice crooning.

Skylark

Have you anything to say to me?

Won’t you tell me where my love can be?

Is there a meadow in the mist?

Where someone’s waiting to be kissed?

What the hell is a meadow in the mist wondered Gehlen.

The great light cut through the night illuminating the open door and the woman that stood there. Then it swept on.  The woman stepped back and the door closed.

Must be the lighthouse keeper’s wife waiting for her husband thought Gehlen. The song from its style was from the twentieth century, the thirties to the fifties. It had also been in English. Given that he now had a rough estimate of date and possibly of place, somewhere in North America. The music also indicated electricity. That might mean a telephone. He would knock on the door and ask to use the phone. What would he tell the woman? That he was lost? Where was he supposed to be going if he were lost? He did know that he had to do something. Knocking on the door would be better then just standing in the rain.

As he approached the house he could see that it was a one-story brick building. A farm perhaps. Probably run by the lighthouse keeper and his wife. He would ask to use the phone and pray that he did nothing to raise their suspicions.

He rapped on the wooden door. After his second knock it opened. The woman, her hair tied back in a bun, eyed him through a pair of wire-framed spectacles. Her skin browned by the wind and sun, she could anywhere between fifty and sixty years old.

“Excuse me, madam; I’m afraid that I’m lost. Could I make use of your telephone?”

The woman frowned. “We have no telephone here.”

Before Gehlen could reply she smiled. “You must be soaked Inspector. Come in and have some tea. I’ve been keeping it warm for you.”

Somewhere in the back of his mind Gehlen could hear Mrs. Martinez with her soft Castilian accent reminding him to expect the unexpected

“Do I know you,” he heard himself asking.

“Not yet. Come inside.”

Gehlen hesitated. The house smelled of a trap.

The woman seemed to sense his indecision. “I know that you have many questions to ask, inspector but believe me, the answers are not out there. Please.”

He stepped into a mudroom. A woollen coat, still damp, had been hung on a wooden peg. Below it stood a pair of high rubber boots.  That meant one of two things. Someone else was out or the woman lived alone.

***

For most of his life except for the time when he had travelled with Richard deep into the past, and an occasional visit to a settlement, Gehlen had been surrounded by synthetic materials. Perhaps that was what he found so disconcerting about the kitchen. It smelt of burning wood, of damp woollens and the faint scent of daffodils placed on the wooden table. On the wall next to the iron range he could see a calendar.  Beneath a picture of a mountain stream he could see the month, May 1937 courtesy of T. Eaton & Co; Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  A date, the twenty-fourth, had been circled.

“What day is it today,” he asked.

“May twenty-fourth.”

Eloise placed the plate of freshly baked cookies onto the table. Gehlen who had finished his second mug of tea and two slices of bread and strawberry jam was beginning to feel a little more civilised. He listened as the radio announcer discussed the Japanese incursion into China. As he listened he thought about Eloise.

Somewhere he had read a note about Eloise Miller the lighthouse keeper of Pigeon Island during the first half of the twentieth century.  Both Joanna Dzingira and Sean Mulcahey had referred to her as a possible time traveller. Joanna Dzingira had failed to find any evidence to support this. With the sudden change of power at Pitcairn and the subsequent flight no follow-up inquiries had ever been made. What irritated his professional pride however was the fact that she knew him and the fact that was coming while he knew next to nothing about her.

Eloise’s expectation of his coming had confirmed that his coming had not been accidental. Someone had sent him back to nineteen thirty-seven.

“Why am I here?” he asked.

She glanced that the portal around his right wrist. “Do they use those in your time?”

“Yes.  How did you know…?”

“That you were coming?”

“Yes.”

She smiled. “How do you know what you did yesterday? Do you want some more tea?”

“No thank you. So you are the lighthouse keeper?”

“From April to November, when the lake’s not frozen over. Have been for thirteen years.”

“There is no one else?”

“No.”

“What do you do over the winter?”

“Take care of the buildings. Keep an eye on the light.”

“It must be very lonely.”

“It should be, yes.”

Perhaps it was a trace of mockery in her voice that irritated him. Perhaps he was simply tired. Gehlen pushed his chair back and stood. “You told me that you would answer questions.”

Eloise’s smile faded. “Is that how you bullied Jane Christian?”

Gehlen blinked. Then he slumped down into his seat and looked away from the woman. Now he knew now why he was here.  The islanders had conspired with Benjamin and Louise to put him here. This would be his prison. “Retribution. That’s what this is about isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“What else could it be?”

“Absolution?  You asked for answers but are you willing to ask the right questions, inspector?”

He looked up at her, anger staining his voice. “That is my job.”

“All questions inspector?  Are you willing to go anywhere?”

“Yes.”

She nodded. “Yes. I think you are. Good.  Then put on your coat and follow me.”

“Where?”

“Where the answers are. At least some of them.”

Reason told Gehlen to stay in his seat. He knew nothing about this woman or about where she intended to take him. Reason had served Gehlen well. Why should he abandon it now?

“Perhaps you are not so willing, are you, inspector?”

Something in the way that she stressed his title that irritated Gehlen. “I’ll get my coat.”

The rain had become heavier. Gehlen turned up his collar. “Is it always like this?”

Eloise did not reply. He followed her to the barn behind the house.

***

Gehlen blinked. The bright sun seemed blinding after the darkness. He could hear the laughing of children and the soft thwack of something being struck. He could feel the warm caress of the sun upon his damp clothes. He opened his eyes.

Children playing…baseball. Yes. That was its name. He had never seen been played before he understood that it had been popular in North America from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries. Boys and girls wearing caps and strange outsized gloves stood about a field. Adults sat on benches watching and cheering for their favourite players. Behind him Gehlen could see the structure out of which he had stepped. A barn no longer, it resembled a garage for motor vehicles. The house was in the right place but it was no longer a simple brick farmhouse. Glass had replaced brick.

A hand touched his left shoulder.

“He’s waiting,” said Eloise.

The old man sat in an aluminium lawn chair. His faced shaded by a wide-brimmed hat he watched the game as he sipped a glass of iced tea.  An ice cooler and an empty chair sat beside him.

Gehlen walked over to him. The man did not look away from the game.

“Sit down inspector. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The man looked at him and smiled.

“Doctor… Foley?”

“Sit down. Care for an iced tea?”

“I thought that you were…”

“Dead? Of course I am, back where you came from. Best way to meet someone is after people think you’re dead. Fewer questions asked.”

A sudden shout from the crowd caused Foley to turn.

He clapped as the runner rounded the bases. Gehlen looked back at Eloise who was busy watching the game. Not knowing what else to do he sat.  “So why am I here?”

“Why indeed?  I understand that you deleted your family program from your computer. I don’t mean to intrude but may I ask why?”

“Why? Did I do something wrong?”

“No. I’m just curious. You could have made a home for yourself. Have done whatever you wanted with your house, your family. You chose to do nothing. Actually you chose to do more than more than nothing. You chose to remove them.”

“Better that than live a lie.”

Foley nodded. “Yes. I suppose that you’re right”

He picked up a small rectangular black box that lay on the cooler and pressed a button. The baseball players and the laughing crowd vanished in a spreading flurry of snow. From the warmth of the summer be plunged into a bitter cold.

Foley, his hands jammed into his pockets, walked towards the thickening snow. “Our records on the agency at Bouvet Island tell us that at the age of thirteen  the children were informed of their pasty, at least as much  as could be understood of their past. You’ve always denied knowing that, haven’t you, Inspector? Why?”

The snow had thickened in to a storm. Through the white whipping past his face Gehlen could see a column struggling through the piling drifts, Men women children, goods piled into horse carts and a few trucks trying to get. to the west, ahead of the advancing Russians. East Prussia. January1945.

They had told him, of his father and mother. Joachim and Marta. Proud Germans. Proud National Socialists. They had been among the first members of the party in East Prussia   Joachim a former sergeant in the Kaisar’s army, a failed leatherworker and innkeeper had risen to be a Gauleiter. Marta had borne nine children for her husband and for her Fueher. The oldest child Horst, had died at Stalingrad. The youngest, born in 1942 had been Heinrich

In Christmas of 1944 with the Russians in Warsaw and on the edge of East Prusia, Joachim had finished off his last bottle of French brandy drinking toasts to the Fuehrer and the victory that would come in the spring. The Russians he had told Marta and the children would be stopped in the snow as they had once .been stopped by Frederick the Great. Joachim himself had fought the Russians under the great Von Hindenburg and had helped stop them in Tannenberg. He had seen for himself how inferior they were, ugly semi-brutes in need of a Czar or Commissar to keep them in order.  So he had told the Volkstrum as he handed out Panzerfausts. These grandfathers and schoolboys would stop the Russian tanks and win the victory promised by the Fueher. Yet every new day brought the Russian guns nearer

On the second week of January with the Russians a mere twenty miles away he harangued the Volkstrum urging them to stand and delay the Russians for fatherland and fuehrer, an argument underlined by the hanging of three seventeen year old boys for attempted desertion. That night, Joachim piled his family, money and clothes into two cars and fled down the road to Konigsberg.

Joachim had envisioned a swift drive into Konigsberg where he would board a liner that would take him and the family to Hamburg., Once there he would be close to both Reichsfueher Himmler and the approaching American and British armies.  As he had packed Joachim had envisioned how the Fueher would  persuade the Americans and British to join with him in keeping the Bolshevik hordes out of Central Europe. Once again, bolstered by their former enemies, German armies would sweep to the Volga.

Morning found Joachim and his family cold and creeping east. Twenty-three miles away was the safety of Konigsberg. Blocking their road were thousands of refugees crammed into horse carts and trucks  A thousand years of German colonization east of the Oder hadended in this mob struggling to reach the west ahead of the advancing Russians  Joachim’s curses, threats and posturing gained him nothing more than indifferent glances. Finally Marta told him to get back into the car. He was letting in the cold. Two hours later they had advanced another half mile when a column of Russian tanks found them. The first target the Russian guns focussed on were Joachim’s two black Mercedes.

Stout as he was Joachim managed to reach the shelter of the birch trees as tank shells plunged into the mob of screaming refugees. Marta and the children he left to fend for themselves. Marta, burdened with little Heinrich, could not move as quickly as her husband. A shell fragment cut her down.

Four hours later after both Russians and refugees had gone, an agent found little Heinrich beneath his mother’s body, half-frozen, unconscious, but still alive.

“You kept your given name?” Foley asked.

The field faded. Again Heinrich could hear the calling of the players, the laughter from the crowd.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“At least it was real.   When I was told who my father was, what he had been, I was physically sick.”

“You are not afraid of living with the truth?”

“Is that why you brought me here?”

Foley smiled. “Partly.”

The snow cleared to show the familiar line of trees, the open field and the fence.  Foley looked at the trees for a moment and then placed the remote back on the cooler. “So let us talk of truth.  You left Pitcairn because you wanted to find out where we where and reveal it to the agency.”

“Yes.  That was what I told myself.”

“And now?”

“Much of what you are doing is good.”

“And yet you have doubts.”

“Yes. I feel as if I have exchanged one lie for another.”

“Why?”

Gehlen looked at the old man. He did not see an interrogator, merely someone who shared his interest in solving a puzzle.

“I am a policeman, doctor.  A man of faith will look at the dark and say “believe.” I can’t do that. If someone is not being open about themselves every instinct I have asks why.”

“I have not been open with you?”

“To some extent. I mean no disrespect doctor but you ask for trust when there are too many questions left unanswered.  Maybe others can accept that but I can’t.”

Foley smiled. “Perhaps you are a philosopher inspector.” He sipped at his iced tea. “I brought you here because I have been entertaining many of the same doubts that you have. Any scientist dislikes the dark. Just like a policeman, it’s our job to reveal the truth. Sometimes, just like a policeman we have to accept we will always be in the dark about certain things but that doesn’t mean that we have to like it.  Perhaps together, you and I, we can relieve some of this darkness.”

“You are proposing an alliance?”

“Precisely. But for that to work you must also be open with me. Agreed?”

Gehlen looked back at Eloise who stood waiting in front of the house. “And what of her? Eloise. Louise. Does she know this?”

“Of course. Besides, this is her residence as much as mine. It wouldn’t be polite to exclude her.”

“I’m supposed to investigate someone who knows that I’m investigating her.  Seems rather pointless.  So she is included in this so-called alliance?”

“Yes.”

“If all that you intend to do is to feed me the official truth then I’m not interested. I’m not a propagandist doctor.”

“I wouldn’t ask you if you were?”

“She mentioned absolution. Is that what you offer?”

Foley shook his head. “No one can offer that, except you.  Perhaps you’ll be able to find it. I know that I have. Are we agreed Inspector Gehlen?”

“I will need to know everything that you know about the elders, including Louise or Eloise or Margaret.”

Foley nodded. “Let’s go for a walk, shall we?” He reached into the cooler.  From it he took out a green plastic envelope. He shook off the moisture that clung to it “Memory recordings of my meetings withy Louise. I feel as if I am betraying an old friend,” said Foley.

“If she is your friend? Hopefully, that’s what she was.” Gehlen closed the envelope. “So now what?”

“We go for a walk.”

Foley waved at Eloise. “We’ll just be a minute my dear,” he told her.

He strolled off down the trail that led away from the house. It took them through the fields and trees to the shore.  There on a point of land built upon the granite foundations of the old lighthouse torn down almost a century before, rose an iron beacon.

Foley granted the beacon a resentful frown. “I wish that they could have had kept the old light.”

“Why didn’t they?”

“Too damned expensive for one thing and too remote. The government saw no further reason to maintain it. Bascombe didn’t want it either.  It would have drawn boaters and sightseers. Does seem a pity though.  A grand sight in its day. Seventy feet high it stood solid granite. You could see as far as the American side. Eloise must give you the grand tour some time.”

He patted the iron sides of the beacon. “Used to play here, Susan and I. Climb up and down it. Parents didn’t approve of it” he chuckled, “which added to the pleasure.”

He sat on the base of the concrete base of the beacon facing back towards the island.  “I think this must be my favourite place. Do you have a place like that inspector?”

Gehlen shrugged.

“That’s a pity.”

“When did you first know there was time portal on the island?”

“Louise told me.  She and I have shared more then fifty years together.  Without her there would have been no portal, no Home. We travelled through time and importantly, through life together. We saved thousands of lives and built new homes for them. In all those years I never knew her to say one unkind thing or do one cruel act. How many people can you say that of inspector?”

“Yet you don’t trust her. Otherwise why give me this envelope?”

“It’s not a question of my trusting her inspector. It’s a question of your trust and that of the colonists. That’s why I’ve brought you here. With every passing year her presence breeds increasing resentment and suspicion. largely unjustified Benjamin is aware of that and so is she.”

“So why doesn’t she tell us who she is?”

“You have to understand that is separated from us by a greater span of time then that which separates us from Australopithecus. Could we truly say that we understand our remote ancestors?”

“That is what she told you?”

“I have no reason not to believe her.” Then he smiled. “But then again you have no reason to believe her. An impasse inspecto, which is why you’re here.  To break that impasse.”

“So how do we break it doctor?”

“I wish I knew,” said Foley. “When it comes to the future, I’m as blind as anyone else. Find out the truth, Gehlen. After all, you are the professional. Find it. Whether good or bad, we have to know. There are over two hundred thousand people in the settlements that should know it. We owe it to them.”

“And Louise?”

“We owe it to her too.”

“You may. I don’t.” He could sense the doctor’s growing discomfort. “After that first meeting there is no record of your having met the other elders. Why is that?”

“Never a reason to. Louise always acted as a go between.”

“As she does today. You never thought of that as being odd?”

“Odd? No. Why would I? They would have thought of me as being hopelessly barbaric.”

“So there is no record of their existence apart from that one meeting?”

“One thing I like about you Gehlen, your unwillingness to take anything at face value.”

Time to change the subject Gehlen told himself. “Major Bascombe knew your parents?”

“Yes, but I don’t remember him, not personally. I was too young. I know of him through Louise.”

“Of course.” Louise, the former Mrs. Bascombe; everything seemed to lead back to Louise. “Your parents never suspected anything being odd about him?”

“Of course, but then they did with most people. Old family tradition.”

Gehlen frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t…”

Foley shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Inspector, I don’t want all that we have done to count for nothing. Good luck inspector.”

“When will I see you again?”

Foley looked at him, his eyes as tired as his words. “You won’t.  I’m sorry to say goodbye like this but its time for you to head back. One last thought. Every generation since the creation of the portal has been obsessed with the fear of the future coming back to threaten, every generation except one. ” He turned back towards the lake. “I’ve always liked the view here. Goodbye inspector.”

He turned and stared out over the lake. Gehlen left him there and walked back towards the house. As he reached the trees he paused and turned. The old man still sat his face still turned away from the land.  Gehlen thought that he should say something but not keep from thinking that any remark of his could desecrate the old man’s thoughts.  He had blundered once before with Jane Christian. Better just to keep silent and leave him in peace. He walked back to the house.

***

Experience had taught Gehlen that interpreting memory recordings was a tricky business. Like the old lie detectors of the twentieth century memories tended to be subjective, coloured by emotion and plagued with uncertainty. The mind recorded impressions did not always match with reality. As with dreams the observer would have to interpret the impression and look for what lay underneath. What Foley had given him were the recordings of his memories of the elders and Louise.  While of interest, by themselves they would be considered to be inconclusive without further testimony from other parties or any trace of physical evidence.

Foley began with his first meeting with Louise.  Gehlen sipped coffee and watched through Foley’s eyes as Louise introduced herself. He looked on as she and Foley dined and then met the elders. Gehlen had wished that he could have sped up the process but in doing so he might miss important clues. Patience, patience he had told himself.

At the end of supper in her tiny kitchen Eloise looked at her watch. “I have to check the light” She said.   “Did you want to come and see it?”

Gehlen, his thoughts on the recordings, shook his head.

“I think that perhaps you should.”

“Why?” asked Gehlen not looking up. “You’re the keeper. I’m not.”

Eloise buttoned the top of her coat. “The old man thought rather highly of you, did you know that?”

Gehlen nodded only half listening. He wished that the woman would go about her chores and leave him to concentrate on the recordings.

“He died two days after seeing you. Just thought you might be interested. He wants you to investigate Louise, doesn’t he?”

“Yes. Eloise.  Louise.  Margaret.  Which one is real?”

She smiled. “All of them. I have to see to the light. Anyway I thought you like to see the lighthouse. We shouldn’t be long.  I could use some help with the light,” she said. “That is my job isn’t it, seeing to the light.”

Gehlen  nodded. “Of course.”

***

The rain had stopped.   Gehlen looked up at the clearing sky.

“We’ll have to pick up some kerosene,” said Eloise. “For the light.”

“Kerosene?”

“It doesn’t work without fuel.”

“No. Of course not.” said Gehlen hoping that he did not sound too idiotic.

“If I didn’t take care of the light, they would send someone else, some one who might ask questions. As long as I can take care of it, the government leaves me alone.”

Gehlen nodded. Humour her, give her a hand with the light and then he could get back to examining the diskettes.  That might even lead to finding the way back. He pulled up his collar and followed Eloise.

She took him to a small conical shaped metal building next to the lighthouse. Here she kept the kerosene that fuelled the lamp.

I thought lighthouses had been electrified by now?”

“Some. Not all. We’re a little out of the way here.”

The iron stairs spiralled up leading towards the top platform of the tower. Gehlen stared up the stairway, a ten gallon canister of kerosene in his right hand.  “You go up there?”

“Twice a night, more often on a night such as this.”

The stairway led up to the lamp room perched at the top of the tower. The Fresnel lamp was a barrel -shaped glass drum.  Within its forty-inch inside diameter mounted upon rollers were two layers of prisms. The outer layer, curved datadioptic prisms curved around an inner player of dioptic prisms. A central drum of convex glass had been placed around the central lens’ waist.  Combined these different lens could collect ninety per cent of the lamp’s light and project it out in an intense horizontal beam.  Below the lamp burned the flame that created the light, a flame fed by kerosene.

.               As Gehlen filled the tank, Eloise kept an eye on the fuel indicator. Only when it read full was she satisfied.

 

“Now we can go,” she said.

 

“Where?”
“To find the answers inspector. That is what you want isn’t it?”

 

“Yes” Gehlen whispered.  He stepped out of the barn to hear the beating of copter blades. He looked up.

 

Two black helicopters swooped low over the trees. Eloise grabbed his hand and pulled him down to the ground.

 

A jet of flame shot out from under the leading copter.  He could hear a whoosh and then the ground

 

shook as the house exploded into flame.  The second copter settled on the ground. A group of men dressed in black

 

sweaters and helmets jumped out. Armed with rifles they ran towards the burning house.

 

“Friends of yours,” asked Eloise.

 

“The doctor…?”

“He left and so should we. We must get back to the portal.”

The attack helicopter hovered above the burning ruins of the house. Then it turned towards the outbuildings.

Eloise and Gehlen bolted into the barn slamming the door behind them.

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The Islanders : Chapter Three

Chapter Three: Changes

 Janet did have to admit that jogging on a Barbadian beach was a decided improvement over the main street of Campbellford in winter. No bikinis here though. That would have offended local nineteenth century sensibilities. A sailor’s white shirt and canvas trousers would have to serve. She could run all the way to Bridgetown if she wished.  They would not try to stop her. Why should they?

A perfect prison thought Janet as she looked out to the sea. Behind her rose the two story home belonging to Louise. No walls, except the normal iron and stone railing kept by any estate in Barbadoes   No bars. No guards. No need for them. She could walk out the gate anytime she wished. Then what? Here time itself kept the prison.

Janet could see a brig sailing out to sea.  She could wave at it. But what good would it do unless it could give her access to what Louise called a portal.

She had been hysterical when Louise had brought her over. Mei Ling had been waiting to sedate her. For days she had lain in semi-consciousness as her past life, or the sham of her past life had been stripped away. Then she had awakened here over a hundred years into the past. To a past in which everything that she had known had been a lie.

The Gleasons had been there, the two who had claimed to have been her parents.  At first she had understood nothing of what they had been trying to tell her. Their words she attributed to a misunderstanding caused by the sedatives.  It was not until the next day that she understood what they were saying. Then the Louise woman told her about what she had been, about Susan Foley.

***

Louise and Janet sat together on the verandah. Louise always liked to sit there in the evening to catch the breeze from the sea. Louise considered what she would say. Janet sat in glum silence refusing to consider herself to be anything else than a prisoner.

The first mistake we time travelers make, thought Louise, is thinking that we are different from the people we are living among. The second mistake we make is thinking that they are the same.

Mistress of time and Space. Some called her that. Able to go anywhere, do anything that she wished. Almost true, except that she could never spend too much time at any time or place. She would have to leave again, but first the matter of Susan Foley had to be settled.

“Your very earliest memory is of two large farm horses pulling a hay wagon.”

“My grandfather’s  farm. How do you know this?”

“I gave it to you. There was no farm. Just the memory.”

“So everything I know, believed in, is just a lie?”

“Not everything. There is Mathew.”

***

Louise poured Janet a cup of Earl Grey.  “They say he was a brilliant man, a great scientist. Perhaps he was. I don’t really care. History can determine that. I do know that he was a good friend. I’ll have you returned to the moment to when you were taken. You will remember nothing and you’ll be free to go on with your life. You won’t be bothered anymore. I promise you.”

Janet looked up at the stars glistening in the Barbadian sky. “Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“You play with human lives as if they are toys.”

“Do I?”

“Then when you’re bored you just forget about them.’.

“I wish I could.” She thought of Mathew. “Do you know that Mathew’s love for his sister, for you, changed the known laws of our universe. Susan never saw it. She was so obsessed with her own pain.  Susan or Janet.  Personally I wouldn’t have lifted a finger to save either one of you”

Janet turning away from her, stared at the sea. “But you did.”

“I could not have Mathew die thinking that he was a failure. In the end it doesn’t matter what I think of you or what you think of me. Right now the only thing that matters is that Mathew will die being able to say goodbye to his sister.”

“That is why you brought me here?”

“Yes.”.

“You want me to pretend that his sister has come back to him when you know whatever there was left of his sister you stripped away. Well I’m sorry, but I won’t lie to a sick old man.”

“Your principles forbid it?”

“You can say that. I know you must think it amusing.”

“No not amusing. Not at all. Survival requires a belief in something. Susan believed in nothing. That nothingness is what destroyed her. It’s just that I’ve seen so many principles thought to be eternal that people, especially young people, died for Then the next generations after them would die for another eternal set of principles. Do you want to know the three great consistent principles of youth throughout the ages? The three C’s  Conceit..Cynicism. Copulation.”

“Isn’t that rather unfair?”

“There is another C, not quite as universal as the others. Cruelty.”

“You do seem to go for sweeping generalities.”

“Then prove me wrong. Show me that something is more important than your precious principles.”

When all this is done you will just let me leave?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know I won’t…”

“Tell people? Go to the authorities?” Louise shrugged. “You won’t because you didn’t. The complicated thing about time travel is not so much the technology but the philosophy.”

“It must be nice being so certain about everything.”

“Yes. It must.  Mathew and I chose a timeline for you where time travel had not been developed, where there was no famous Mathew Foley. I will just do that again. That’s all.”

“That’s all? I don’t know where to go. What to do.”

“I can’t choose your life for you. I did that before. I’m tired of it. As I said you can  go back to being Janet, but you must choose. What I will do is show you everything we have concerning Susan Foley. I will also give you as much time as you need to choose. One thing we have plenty of is time. Also as Mathew Foley’s sister you are entitled to part of his estate. That should establish your financial independence in whatever time you choose to settle. The rest is for you to decide.”

***

She looked down at the old man in the hospital bed. That withered fossil was her brother?  Mathew Foley. There lay the weak point of the woman’s scheme. With a few words Janet could shatter this woman’s scheme All she had to do was to tell the old man the truth.  She was not his sister. Yet as she considered the frail old man laboring for breath she asked herself, if that were the truth.

He looked up at her and he tried to smile. He mouthed one word. Susan.

The old man’s bony fingers clutched her sleeve. Janet knew what she should do. She should pull herself away from him. Then she would look into his failing eyes and tell him the truth.

She looked towards the door through which Mei Ling and Louise had left.

The man’s grip on her sleeve was so feeble. She could break it with the push of a finger. and yet that grip feeble as it was would haunt her for the rest of her days. She looked at the old man at the fear, pain and the love in his eyes. Janet knew then that this entire scheme had not been an attempt to twist history and time for power or some deluded political purpose. It had just been to allow this old man to die in peace.

She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “Forgive me, brother,” she said.

***

During the days that followed Janet spent much of her time going over the records pertaining  to the life of Susan Foley. Then just over a week after Mathew’s burial Janet asked Louise a question, a question that Louise had not expected.

“What ever happened to Paul?”

“Paul?”

Paul McKellar.”  In a few sentences she explained who he had been.

“I’m afraid that I don’t know him, but I could make enquiries.

Three hours later she handed him a thin folder.

“He went to Botswana in 2014.  He never returned to Canada. He spent the rest of his life working in Africa. From what I could gather, he died content. Not entirely I suppose. We all have our regrets.”

“Did he ever marry?”

“Yes. Yes, he married.  In her sad little life he was only one of  two people who ever saw anything in Susan that was worth trying to save. What it was, I don’t know. I never saw it.  Mathew did. Paul did. In all my years the most difficult thing I’ve had to understand was the human heart, its infinite capacity for both good and evil.” She looked up at Janet. “Go back to your world, little girl. You’ll be safe there.”

“I’m not a little girl.”

“No. You’re not a child. You’re just an infant. Go home.”

“What home?”

***

You do not have to do this Alicia had told him. Louise had told him the same thing. Logic lay with them.  She had not been his daughter. It had all been a sham that had served a useful purpose, a good purpose. but nothing more. So why did Dennis stand here on the beach waiting for her to come?

“Daddy. Tell them you’re my father.” She had begged him when Louise had told her that she was a stranger. She could still remember his sad little smile. “I wish I had been. Janet, how could I have been your father? You had been dead a half-century before I was born. This isn’t my time anymore then it is yours. We are all strangers here.”

Now on the beach he was saying something different. “You don’t have to go away.”

“Is that what you wanted to tell me?”

“You can come back to and be my daughter.”

“You already made that choice. Remember?”

Dennis nodded knowing that it would come to this. “One more thing. You have to make a choice too. Susan was loved. Bad as she was, she was loved. Her brother loved her and Paul loved her. At least they tried to.  But she could never see that.  Don’t make her mistake. I know that we can’t change the past but every so often we do get to give a person a second chance.”

“I thought that this was my second chance?”

“So did I. We were both wrong.”

That evening as she sat with Louise she told her what she had decided. “I can’t go back to being Susan. I wouldn’t want to even if I could. I can’t go back to Campbellford. I’d be living a lie. What ever I do, it has to be me. That much I know.”

Louise nodded. “Mathew told me many times, that if we can’t do anything else; at least, we can pay our debts. There is a life that you could choose that could be yours. It would not be easy, but then no life ever is. But it would be yours.”

***

A long time ago Paul had concluded that what ever it was that women wanted, he did not have it.  Pretending otherwise just made him look and act like an idiot.  If he had any doubts about that he had only to think of Susan.  He could see now that he had blundered his way into that disaster out of the belief that if he loved someone long enough that ultimately they would return that love. He had been too in love with the idea of loving someone to see the person that he was trying to love  He had realized that while standing in the departure terminal waiting for her to come to say goodbye knowing all the while that she would not be coming.  Well, he wouldn’t be making that mistake again.

He had been back to Canada once, on leave the first year after completing his first year. He had gone back to North Bay to see his parents. They had asked him about Africa and he had tried to explain about the dust and the heat, the poverty but above all about the warmth and dignity of the people. They had listened but did not understand. For them Africa was hunger , war and HIV. “When are you going to get a real teaching job?” his mother had asked

There had been an opening for a history teacher at the local secondary school, the same one that he had been a student in. At his mother’s urging he had applied for it and had been invited in for an appointment.

The panel of three men, experienced middle aged men, one a principal, one a vice-principal and the other a H.OD,  had leafed through the copies of his C.V.’s as he had told  them of working at the mission, often fifty students to a class, often without electricity in forty degrees centigrade heat.

He was about to begin to explain about the clinic for the students infected with HIV when the principle spoke.

“But what’s your Canadian experience?”

After being told that Paul had supply taught for three years in Toronto, the principle had frowned.  “You do realize that if you want to work you have to be mobile.”

Paul left for Botswana two weeks later. He had never been back to Canada.  An exile? No. Not so. He looked out over the passing yellow fields of maize Here he had come home. He did not feel that out of any romantic illusions. There had been nothing romantic about malaria, tick fever or amoebic dysentery.  What bound him to this obscure drought-stricken little country was that here not once had he ever felt useless or unwanted.

Through the white dust cloud following the Hiace streamed the strains of Stan’ Rogers “Make or Break Harbour.”

Paul leaned forward in his seat and with half an eye on the dust road before him turned up the CD player.

“How still lies the bay in the light western airs

  which blow from the crimson horizon

Once more we tack home

with a dry empty hold

   Saving gas with the breezes so fair.”

  He accepted that the song written about a dying fishing village seemed somewhat incongruous here in the plains of Botswana but what did it matter? In his first days he had ridden in public bus with Dolly Parton’s Rocky Top Tennessee blasting away. Stan seemed positively sedate compared to that.  One of the things he liked about Africa was that incongruities ceased to be incongruous here.

Fishing nets  hung to dry, are

forgotten grow rotten

  Forgotten, blow away”

As the song ended he went over the mental list of what he needed to pick up in Maun. Parts for the school generator. Chemicals for the lab. Ten sacks of fine mealie meal for the kitchen. Then his own personal needs had to be looked to; groceries mainly but he would also have a look at any new books and DVD’s .that might have come in. Last on the list was a note to pick up the new teacher at the lorry park, a Miss Janet Gleason.

She would be replacing Miss Olsen who had taught Fourth Form for five months. Deciding that Africa was not for her Miss Olsen had decided to go off skiing in New Zealand . How long would this new one last, he wondered. During the past six years he had seen so many come and so many go. They had come seeking an adventure, willing to accept the mission’s miserly wage. Each one had seemed to believe that he or she possessed that unique blend of talent and humanity that would uplift Africa.  Then he had watched them go, drained by the heat, the poverty and the vastness of Botswana. This one he suspected would be no different from the others.

Janet made two mistakes while waiting for her ride, mistakes common to any one new to Africa.  She bought an orange from a market woman.  AT first refreshing it left her mouth and hands sticky. She washed her hands at a public tap and then bought a coke .The second mistake, this only increased her thirst. A man, a white man clad in gray shorts, a white shirt, and a wide-brimmed khaki bush hat cane towards her. The hat brim and dark sunglasses concealed much of his face.

“Miss Gleason,” he asked.

“Yes.” She stood.

Paul held out a small cold bottle of Aquafina that he had taken out of the cooler at the back of the Hiace. “Pula” he smiled. “Welcome to Maun Miss Gleason.”

Janet looked out over the plain of yellow grass, bound only by the blue brightness of the cloudless sky.

He nodded in disapproval of her gaze. Three months thought Paul. That was what he gave this one before she packed up and left.

“Looks better after the rains.”

He did not sound very convincing..

“When do they come?”

“In about four months.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Six years. Place kind of grows on you.”

He led her through the milling market day crowd.  The dust-covered Hiace sat parked under an acacia tree.  Paul tossed the woman’s luggage into the back of the van.  They then drove out of the pounded red dust of the parking lot.

Now that the van had turned away from the sun, Paul removed his sunglasses and slipped them into his shirt pocket.

He had changed, thought Janet. He had been burned and scarred by the years and by other things. But she could see that one thing remained unchanged, the gentle patience of the eyes. It shone through the grime of the mirror. That, she knew, would never change. She shifted a little closer to him.

***

Thirty years had passed.  Paul passed away one warm spring day, sitting in his favourite chair while reading a newspaper.  They buried him the mission graveyard under the shade of an ancient Baobab.

The villagers came, the schoolchildren and  his fellow teachers.  There was one other mourner, Louise Miller.

“I am one of the family after all,” Louise smiled.  “What about Paul’s family?”

“In Canada? I never met them,” said Janet giving Louise a formal peck on her left cheek.  “They’ve probably forgotten about him.”  Then she added looking out over the crowd.  “They were his family.”  Then she looked back at “Louise.  “So why have you come?”

“To pay my respects to Paul and to ask you for a favour.”

Louise watched a tiny green gecko skitter across a wall.

“You never had children?”

“No. When I was young I had an abortion   After that I couldn’t.   Paul would have loved to have had children, but during all the years that we were together, he never blamed me.  Not once.  I have known one truly good man.”

“And your brother?”

“I never knew him. Both of us tried to escape, he into his books, I into my anger.  In doing so we lost each other.”

Louise placed her tea cup on the red mahogany table.  “What will you do now?”

Janet knew what she would not do.  She would not go back to Canada.  Grey skies.  Cold rain. No.  She knew no one there.  Here was her garden, her primary students, her friends and Paul.   “Stay here I suppose.  What else can I do?  I suppose that you have another choice?”

“Well you are a Foley.  I thought that you might to go into your brother’s business. ”

Susan smiled.  “His business was never mine.  This is my place.  I will stay here until my

dying day.”

Louise nodded.  That would be agreeable.

***

Louise watched the blizzard lash the window.  A storm like this she knew could last for days. Not that it mattered. . There was no one outside to be affected by it. Inside she was warm and if she got too bored there was always the portal.

She closed her eyes shutting out the waves of white. An aching tiredness filled her, something she had not felt since Mathew had died. Of course she had told no one of this. Louise, the imperturbable, the unmoveable: everyone had to believe that. It may irritate them but in the end that was what they drew their confidence from. Only Tom and Mathew had known anything else. Richard had guessed that she was not what she appeared. Anyway what did it matter? The pieces were in play nowWith any luck they would never guess at the game that they were playing.

For the first settlement she chose an island.  Not a large one like Borneo.  Not a tiny one like Pitcairn.  She chose one the size of Ireland, thirty miles off the western coast of a large continent. A moderate maritime climate, abundant rainfall and fertile soil, the site seemed promising.   Its position protected it from large predators and large scale migrations.  On the island the largest predator resembled a terrestial fox. In the centre of an island she found a valley, well water with good soil.  Tests showed the soil and water to be identical even on a microscopic level to that of earth.

Surrounding the valley was a deciduous forest, filled with trees that resembled oak and beech. There she sited the first settlement.  She did not give the prospective settlement a name.  That she would leave to the ones who would come later.

In a forest clearing beside a small spring she raised a .large green three-roomed tent brought in through the portal. Only after it was finished and stocked with supplies could she begin to bring through the first settlers.  Just before leaving she knelt down beside a large tree.  With a small penknife she dug a hole out of the ground.   Out of a jacket pocket she took out a small plastic vial and unscrewed the blue cap.  Into the little hole she had scooped out she poured the contents, a gray powder into the hole.  Louise covered the hole patting the sod back into place. She remained kneeling by the tree as if lost in thought.  Then she stood. The last remains of Thomas Bascombe having been interred she stepped back through the portal.

***

Alice awoke to the sound of birds.  That in itself was not unusual. What was unusual was the sound of the birds. The sound of their chirping seemed … different. But then …. everything seemed different. The wallpapered walls, the location of the window, the window itself and even the bed, none of them resembled those of the room that she had fallen asleep in.   The room seemed attractive, lace curtains, and fresh flowers placed by the window but it was not her room. She sat up and called for her father.  The room door opened.  An old woman stepped into the room.  Dressed in a white sweater and blue jeans, the woman her white hair tied back in a bun frowned and then told her that breakfast was ready.  Then, almost as an afterthought she added, “I’m Susan.  Susan Foley.”

“Like Doctor Foley?”

The woman was so old she thought, not old like her father was but old like Doctor Foley had been.

The woman granted a nominal smile. “Yes. Like Doctor Foley.”

“My father?  Where’s my father?”

“He’s not here, but he will be.  There are some clothes for you in the dresser.  Come. ” The woman’s voice while not unkind was determined.  Without a protest Alice rose.  The woman she surmised must be from Doctor Foley.

The girl should be screaming thought Susan as she watched Alice rise   Any normal person would. What had Matthew done to these people?  Perhaps it was Louise more than Matthew.  A manipulator that one.  Best she had ever known and she had known quite a few. At least Louise had not stuffed the child with lies about a past life.  Her memories, apart from the addition of some language and survival skills, had been left intact

“Where am I?”

Susan shrugged and pointed at a small door that led to a bathroom. “Shower and breakfast first.  Questions later.”

Somewhere, deep in her innermost being, Susan Foley still hated her brother.

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The Islanders : Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Susan

Every morning at six Janet Gleason would leave her one room bedroom apartment on Carlton Street and begin her morning jog.  The frigid January weather would not stop her run. Clad in red ski jacket with Trent University emblazoned on the back, her hair protected by a red and yellow toque, thick snow mitts and snow boots, she challenged the cold grey morning.

She jogged towards the great concrete arch that spanned the Trent River. A thick coat of frost clung to the black railing. She slowed and glanced down at the sidewalk and searched for ice. Not much point jogging if it resulted in a broken leg.  Her portable CD player let Dvorak’s New World Symphony flow through her mind. Soon she would be over the bridge.  She followed her usual route, a quick run down Main Street to the Federal Building and then back across the bridge to home.  Then shower, change, breakfast and then she would drive to her father’s store … Gleason’s Collectibles: Fine Antiques and Gifts.  With her parents away on holiday in Barbados she was now the entire staff, not that there was much business this time of year.  Between her concern for the ice the music a nd her thoughts about her parents and the store, Janet never noticed the man and woman that appeared at the atop of the arch. If she had she would have concluded that an old man and his daughter were out for the early morning air.  She passed the couple without looking at them.

.    Having crossed the bridge she continued down an empty Main Street.  Passing the Trent River Inn she ignored the street ignoring a red light.  Her mind told her that this was a silly, even dangerous thing to do but her legs told her not to break her stride.  There being no cars in sight she followed her legs.

She passed the great stone cross, the memorial to the district’s dead of the two world wars.  She did not give the memorial a glance.  Pointless deaths from pointless wars.

Louse looked down at the retreating woman.  It would be another ten or fifteen minutes before she would return.

“I’ve forgotten how cold it can get here,” said Matthew.

“I must get you home.” Louise could feel the shivering of his body and the wheezing of his voice.  “You should not have come.”

He nodded his head but did not look away from the approaching runner.  “A fine woman.  A fine woman.”

“Yes,” said Louise.  She should not have brought him her but he had insisted.  “Come Matthew. It’s time to go. Please.”

A gust of wind sent dry snow swirling in front of Janet.  The frigid blast stung her face. Rising in front of her was the bridge’s great arch.   A delivery truck topped the bridge.  As it descended she could see a woman standing alone on top of the bridge.

For the third time Louise told herself that she was making a mistake.  It would be better, much better, just to leave things as they were.  Yet … after all these years she could not forget that she had lied to win Matthew’s support.  The driving force behind his building of the time portal   had been to save his sister, the one thing that he could not and should not do.  According to the records of her time Susan Foley had died a drug addicted  prostitute stabbed to death, her body thrown into a trash container by an unknown killer.  The Susan Foley that Matthew had loved could not be restored to him.  The woman that they had rescued had nothing in her left of his sister.  Louise had known that long before meeting Matthew.  Yet she had allowed him to keep believing that he could save his sister so that she could get what she had wanted from him.  Now he lay dying;her  lover, student, teacher, friend.

Liar she called herself.

Since she had been very young Louise had understood certain basic facts about herself.  She was a creature of logic, prizing efficiency and fact.  Yet, buried beneath her jacket and sweater she could feel the cold weight of the firestone.  There had to be something else.  She had seen that belief shimmering in Richard’s eyes.   She watched as the runner approached the bridge.  There were times when she hatred what she had to do. This was not one of those times.

The woman was gone when Janet reached the bridge.  She did not notice the envelope until almost at the top of the arch.  Green with gold trim the envelope had been taped to the bridge railing.  Janet would probably have left it there except that printed on it in large black letters was her name.  She slowed and then stopped.  Could someone be playing a practical joke on her?  Then, curiosity overcoming caution, she plucked it off the railing.

Inside she found a short note.

Meet me at the Trent River Inn Coffee Shop at 7 A.M.

Nothing more. Try as she might Janet could find no sign of a signature on either paper or letter.  She surmised from the neatness and delicacy of the handwriting that it was a woman’s hand but the identity of the writer eluded her.  Why would someone pick such an odd means of trying to communicate? Best to ignore it. Stuffing the letter into a pocket of her parka she resumed her jogging.

Mummified remains of bass, trout and pickerel shared the walls of the cafe with reproductions of old posters devoted to pedaling a carbonated drink. Bowing to Mathew’s insistence Louise had tried it once. Once had been enough. She looked out the window at the street. Janet might not come. She might have jogged past the envelope without seeing it. She might have seen it and decided to ignore it. A gust of wind might have blown it free of the bridge. The mights multiplied with each moment that crept past.

 Is this what it came down to she asked herself. All her training, her years of experience and she remained as ignorant as a band of Neanderthals huddled in a cave terrified of the noises in the dark. Unwarranted interference? Of course it was. It had always been that.

Dennis and Alicia Gleason, both retired mainlander agents had not wanted to be Janet’s parents. Mathew and Louise had insisted.  Out of respect for Mathew the two had been reluctant to refuse outright. . Mathew and Louise would provide memories, documents and knowledge. All the Gleasons would have to provide would be a home and a name.

Dennis and Alicia had listened to the proposal and then after a moment’s silence had begun to raise several questions. The first one he always used when faced with an unfamiliar situation. So, what’s in it for us?”

Within a few minutes Dennis had raised another point. “Childhood friends, people who knew her?” Dennis protested. “You can’t just make them up. What if she wants to look them up sometime?”

“You moved around a lot.  You spent a great deal of time overseas. People lose track of each other. It happens.”

Inwardly Louise could only agree with him that over a long period of time this would not work.  But she only had to make it work for a short while. The four of them, the Gleasons, Mathew and she had sat around the Gleason’s dining table to develop the means by which Susan Foley could be transformed into Janet Gleason.

Implanting false memories consisted of two stages. The first was the creation of the event and implanting it. “Fairly simple” said Louise. “The difficult part is giving the false memory a sense of depth. The reason why dreams fall apart under examination is that they have no sense of being part of a greater whole.  We must make her believe that what she remembers is part of an actual life.”

“How do you do that,” asked Dennis.

“By using the same tool that nature uses, time.”

“Neighbours and friends” asked Alicia. “Won’t they consider the sudden appearance of a daughter rather strange.”

Louise flicked a fly off her napkin. “You’ve only just settled here yourselves. They know nothing of your background. Why shouldn’t you have a daughter?”

For years Alicia had watched the administrators and agents of the agency go about their important missions, while she, a simple clerk had sat at her desk. They had always seemed so certain about themselves and their work. . Mathew and Louise reminded her of that sense of confidence .seemed to “Will time convince us that this stranger is our daughter?”

Louise shrugged. “It may. We can of course implant memories in you to help strengthen your belief. It is important that you make the first days with you seem as real and as natural as possible.”

Mathew said nothing.

Alicia looked down at the brown earthenware mug between her fingers. She should have known better than to think that one could retire from this business. “Not being content to meddle with one person’s mind, you wish to do it with others.”

“That was always part of our work? You know that.”

“It was never part of mine.”

“Saving lives was.”

“Yes.” Maybe the agency had a point when it had warned against meddling. She looked at Dennis.

Dennis was leaning back in his chair his eyes half-closed in thought.  Many years before, he had walked the streets of ancient Rome. Now advancing arthritis made it difficult for him to walk down to the local corner store.  “I always wanted to have a daughter.”

“Until they take her away,” said Alicia. She had been the one who had come up with the name of Janet. “My mother’s name” she had told them. The others had agreed.

Janet woke. Her skin was aware of the gentle warm weight of soft clean blankets. Her eyes watered from the white light filling her bedroom. She stretched and turned under the blankets. Such a strange dream. An old man, a very old man had kept calling her Susan. Again and again she had repeated that her name was Janet. The old man did not seem to hear her. Odd the dreams one has. Her mother and father had been there, They had told the old man her name was Janet. The man had not listened .Susan he had said, again and again.

As she opened her eyes the dream faded giving way to more practical needs.  Rubbing her eyes with her right hand she shuffled towards the bathroom.  As the water streamed down over her face she groped for the soap to find her hand touching the tiled wall.  She felt along the wall until she reached the soap container three feet to the left of where she thought it would be.  Assuming that her morning grogginess was the cause of the confusion Janet checked to her right .Finding the soap she resumed her shower.

Janet rubbed away the white mist coating the mirror. As she dried her hair she considered the day that lay before her. Mom planned to go into Belleville for shopping. She would go with her more out of a sense of duty then out of any real desire to buy anything

Her hair no longer damp she switched off the hairdryer. As she placed the dryer on the counter Janet looked at the face in the mirror. The dream she had of the old man had receded and now was almost forgotten.

***

Louise touched the small package wrapped in green paper. She thought of her first meeting with Mathew. She had been so confident almost arrogant. Now? Then she had been offering to give him a life. Now she would be trying to destroy a life. She had asked Dennis and Alicia to join her thinking that it might be easier for Janet.  She had not received a reply.

At seven minutes past seven Janet entered the café. No longer clad in a jogging suit she had dressed for the shop.  Whoever she found waiting for her, if there was anyone, would not change the fact that she had to be at the shop within the next half hour.

She took a quick look about. Apart from Agnes Smedly who ran the lunchroom the only other person there was a middle-aged woman in a black overcoat sipping a cup of tea.  She strode over to the woman and dropped the envelope on the table. She then pulled back the hood of her parka revealing close-cropped black hair.  Small diamond studs decorated her ear lobes. Alicia had told Louise that Janet was not overly fond of jewelry.  That disinterest extended to books, to art,   to music, to travel and apparently even to sex. Sports, children, her home, these seemed to be Janet’s overriding interests; very different from Susan Foley. How much of that difference had resulted from the removal of memories or from a deep-seated reaction to what she had once been. There was no way of knowing.

Knowing that if she were wrong she would both look and sound ridiculous Janet asked, “Excuse me. You left this for me?”

Louise nodded. “You’re late. Would you like some tea?”

Janet found the woman’s casualness to be the oddest part of this odd situation. “I don’t know who you are or what you want but I have to be at work in thirty minutes. Would you tell me what this is all about beginning with who you are.”

That at least reminded Louise of Mathew. “Of course.”  She stood and extended her right hand. “Louise. Louise Bascombe. I have had other names but that one seems most appropriate. I have come a long way to see you Miss Gleason. A very long way.  Tell me.  Do you enjoy your life?”

“Yes I do. Very much.”  But what  did that have to do with the woman?

Louise nodded. Mathew would be glad to hear that. Teaching had been his choice for Janet Once the choice had been made all Louise had to do was to insert the proper information into the proper computer banks, implant the appropriate memories and print off the necessary documents. The problem was not what had lain behind but what lay ahead. Mathew had believed her because he had longed to know that time travel; was possible. Susan Foley and Janet Gleason had no interest in time travel. The Gleasons had done nothing to discourage this disinterest. If Louise were to raise the notion Janet would consider her to be mad.

Somehow she would have to make Janet aware of her past.  The grown woman, Janet Gleason was only seven months old.   Her new life had begun at the sound of an alarm clock. An unconscious form had been placed into a bed in the Gleason’s home, a room filled with memoirs of an unlived life. With the ringing of the alarm, Susan Foley had awakened to a new life.

Revealing herself to Mathew had been simplicity itself compared to revealing herself to Janet. The best way thing to do would be to let Janet discover the truth herself with just a little nudge to move her onto the trail. “Good.” She handed Janet the package. “This is for you. Look at it when you are alone in a secure place.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to the ladies. I won’t be long.”

“I only have a few minutes. If you could just tell me what this is about.”

“Soon. Soon.” She nodded rose and then walked off towards the ladies room.

Ten minutes passed. Janet looked at her watch. She could not risk waiting any longer. Should she leave the woman a note? As she waited she had fingered the package. It felt heavy. Flat and square in shape, it reminded her of her portable CD player. Jane decided to tell this Miss Bascombe that she was going.

In the small ladies room she found the two stalls to be empty. She stepped out of the bathroom and glanced at the end of the hallway to see if there was another exit. The hallway ended in a solid wall. Puzzled she stepped back out into the dining room.

“Agnes, the lady who was having tea, did she go out the back way?”

Agnes looked up from her newspaper.  “Can’t do that without going through the kitchen.. I would have seen here. Anyway she paid her bill.”

“But… she must have.”

Agnes shrugged and went back to her paper

Not knowing what else to do Janet packet picked up the package and left.  Later that morning as she wiped a display of silver spoons she considered the strange woman. Had she been a lunatic? Possible. But what had she done? She had delivered a package and then somehow had left. Probably she had slipped out through the kitchen without Agnes noticing it. Strange yes, but not insane. As for the package itself she would investigate that when she got home.

That afternoon as the day darkened she sped home in her cheery red Mazda GLC. As she waited at a red light  she glanced at her briefcase. Under it lay the package she had received from the Louise woman.

After she had returned to her apartment Janet made herself a cup of tea. She turned on the radio and to the mellifluous voice of Joachim Goethe.  As she listened she changed into blue jeans and white shirt. Then Janet prepared her supper popping a  Dinner- Lite  tray of roast pork into the microwave. As she ate her phone buzzed.  David was calling to ask about the weekend. They chatted for almost twenty minutes. After supper she showered and pout on her pajamas robe and slippers. Cross legged she sat on her bed and dried her hair. Only after she had switched off her hair dryer did Janet open the package.

A rectangular metal box, it was ten centimetres long, six centimetres wide and four centimetres thick. There seemed to be a small round lens in front. On  top was  black keypad of nine white numbers and twenty-six white letters and. two dials, the left black, the right red. There were no wires, no sign of a battery case or solar cells.

She touched the black dial. Nothing happened. She touched the red. A small beam shot out of the lens striking off the wall of her kitchen. The wall disappeared. Instead of a wall she saw a street scene. Billowing gusts of snow whipped pedestrians as they hurried down a street. A red streetcar rattled by.  A new form of video machine thought. The images seemed so three dimensional

“It’s a window.” said a voice. Janet turned to see Louise sitting on the edge of her bed. The blankets were dampening from the melting snow on the woman’s white overcoat. “I’m sorry for intruding but a long time from now I learned that the only way most people can understand something is to experience it themselves, something like learning to ride a bicycle I suppose. Do you see the woman standing on the corner?”

Janet glanced at a woman in a shabby green woolen overcoat edged with synthetic fur. She seemed to be walking back and forth as if waiting for someone. A black pick up truck slowed and stopped. A window lowered and the woman began talking to the occupant. Something about the woman seemed familiar to Janet but most of her interest remained with the woman sitting on her bed.

“How did you get in here?”

“I did say that I would be seeing you soon. How did I get in here .The door is still locked See for yourself.  Shouldn’t the question be how did you get here?””

“I’m going to call the police immediately unless you leave. I don’t know who you are or what you want but if you …”

“The police.” The woman smiled. “We wouldn’t want to bother them, would we?” She was gone the only sign that she had ever been the dampness on Janet’s blankets.

Janet was still trying to absorb the woman’s sudden disappearance when she felt a sudden chill. A gust of snow stung her face.

“A window can also be a point of entry.” Louise held out an overcoat to her. The warm comfortable bedroom was now a lamp lit street down which the winter wind gusted.

***

  There were times when, standing on the corner late at night waiting for a customer, even after all these years that Susan would think of Paul.  She always considered that odd almost as odd as Paul had been. Why should it be he that lingered in her mind? All the others, Howard, her husband of a year.and after that  a stream of boyfriends and johns none of them  would she  think of here  on this cold street. Why Paul?

She had slept with him three times. She had johns more regular then that. The sex had been nothing exceptional. God knows she had known far better more experienced lovers. Why him?

At seventeen despite or because of her brother’s objections, she had left school, dumping her books in the garbage bin on the way out.  Three days later she had married her boyfriend Howard, a part time carpenter and fulltime drug dealer. To her marriage had meant drugs, sex, freedom from teachers and her brother, and money from welfare. Four months later she had found herself pregnant.  Howard had told her to get rid of it or he would leave her. She did. Five months later Howard drove off to look for work out west leaving her with forty dollars in the bank and two months unpaid rent. The police picked her up three days later on suspicion of drug dealing. Mathew had paid her bail. Howard, she had never heard from again.

She had met Paul at the basement of Saint Andrews Presbyterian during the free Christmas dinner a year after Howard had left. Between welfare and turning an occasional trick she felt that she was getting by. Occasionally she would write attempts at verse in a notebook .A poetess she called herself.

I lock my brother’s door behind me

                And vomit on the steps.

                 I stand beside my mother’s grave

                And spit upon her name.

  Paul had been serving as a volunteer helping to serve free Christmas dinner to the street people that inhabited Yonge Street. Apart from doing volunteer work at the church heal so worked as a supply teacher for the school board. It did not he admitted to Susan allow him to live in luxury least of all in Toronto but he earned enough for his needs.

Susan was twenty-m two. A year before she had inherited half of her parent’s estate, four hundred thousand dollars. It had taken her nine months to go through it. Drugs, alcohol, parties, a constant stream of bed partners most of whom had soon disappeared with thousands. First class tickets to Europe and Asia. Then it was gone and she was back on the street in Toronto begging for change, selling her body to who ever was interested. Her securing of social assistance at least allowed her an occasional  respite from prostitution.

The last thing she was expecting was Paul’s asking her to join him for a cup of tea. Sex, yes she would have understood that, but tea?  She had not been asked out for a date since High School

Two weeks later as they sat in the local Starbucks she had suggested that they make love. Then, Paul told her that at twenty-nine he had never slept with a woman before. Liar she had thought. She had heard that line so many times before. Yet the clumsiness of his lovemaking and his profuse apologies more then half-convinced that he had been speaking the truth.  When it was over she had asked him why he had remained alone for so long. He had shrugged and had said that there had been his studies, lack of money and reluctance to force himself upon anyone.

Why had he not just applied for welfare she asked him. He shook his head.

“They give you money. You give them your soul. No thanks.”

The fourth week after they had become lovers, as they lay together in bed  in Paul’s one-room apartment, Susan had told Paul about Howard and  about how he had left her.

“He sounds like a piece of human garbage” Paul had muttered. Then he fell asleep

As the night crept by Susan had brooded on that remark. An hour after Paul had fallen asleep she rose, dressed, took twenty dollars out of his wallet and left. On the subway ride back to her cubbyhole Susan continued to consider the meaning of Paul’s statement. On the surface it seemed a simple expression of sympathy but as she considered it became much more. If he thought that about Howard what did he think abut her?  All relationships were based upon control. If there was to be a long term relationship between herself and Paul it would be upon her terms. Once he had realized that and settled into his rightful place then she would allow him to be part of her life. But fist she would have to show him that she, not he, was in control. She would have to hurt him, not too much, just enough to teach him. Then she would consider restoring him to her bed.

At their next meeting she had told him that if he wanted to, he could be a friend, nothing more. Something had flickered through his eyes, disappointment, confusion. That she had expected What she had not expected was for him to smile, nod his said and say in a soft voice, “sure, of course.”

She told him that things were moving too fast. Better for them both to think things over, to have a little more room between themselves..

His easy agreement strengthened the suspicion that Susan had, that he had been planted by the cops or by her brother to spy on her. Why else would he stick around once the sex had been removed?

In some way she reminded her of Mathew the way he would keep prattling on about the importance of education, when he could barely afford to make ends meet.  He even managed to persuade her to sign up for a creative writing course at Ryerson. She paid for the tuition with the money that he had given her. She went to one class got bored and decided not to go back. The tuition she got refunded and spent on a new winter coat.,.

One thing she did know. Whoever put the least into a relationship while extracting the most was the one who remained in control. It had always worked that way with her boyfriends. It should work with Paul.

In some ways it did. He kept giving. She kept taking.  Dinner invitations, gifts, assistance around the apartment and someone to talk to on the phone in the depth of night; these were all hers. In return she gave him a little bit of her time.

All of these were satisfactory in their way but he never seemed to grasp the essential point of her displeasure. He never recanted his statement about Howard, not that she ever asked him too. Why should she?  He should have guessed that something was wrong. He should have told her that he knew that he had offended her and that he begged for her forgiveness. She would have granted it and have taken him back into her bed. He never asked.

As the months passed it became clearer to her that something was very wrong with the man. Any sensible person would have left her and found a girl friend. Maybe he was incapable of it. Too weak. When they went out, she would often spend time talking to other men leaving him sitting alone at the table. Instead of rousing him into some kind of jealous rage, he would just pick at his food and say nothing.

Almost two years had passed. He would not recant. He would not go away. The sexual passion he once had for her seemed to have ebbed away. When he told her that he been offered a teaching position in some African country she had greeted the news almost with relief. He would be gone for two years. Every week her would try to send a letter. She had nodded. As she did so she thought of calling a guy who had given her his number the last time she and Paul had been out together.

He called her the night before he left and said that he would miss her.  Would she see him off at the airport? She said that she would but the flight was early and she woke late.

Two weeks; later she got a postcard from Amsterdam. After that, nothing., No letter from Africa ever came The two years went by.  Paul never called. She thought of trying to contact the agency that he was working for but she had misplaced the number and name.

The men she called drifted away after a few weeks. Drugs and prostitution interrupted by short prison terms became the staples of her life.  Ten years after Paul left she came across his name in a telephone directory. She wrote to him asking him where he was and telling him about how she was thinking of hiring a private detective to find him.  The words were crammed together on both sides of a single piece of paper to save postage.  A month later the letter came back. Some one had scribbled “wrong address” on the envelope.

The woman on the corner turned and looked at Janet. Janet realized that she was looking at herself.

Louise touched her left arm ” A long time ago I learned that even if one cannot understand the impossible one can still learn to accept it.”

Janet struck her face then screamed and ran down the street, forgetting that on her feet were her bedroom slippers not the best thing to bear wearing on an icy Toronto street.

Janet had always disliked Toronto. She had thought it to be too big, too crowded and too expensive. Her father had once told her that any city over a hundred thousand in population

became too uncomfortable to live in.  Unlike many of her friends she had never had any great desire to leave the hills and rivers she had always known. When she had last gone there with her father she could not wait to go back home. Now everything in her being told her to get away from her as quickly as possible..

The strange woman standing at the corner turned to look at her. Susan was not in a good mood. She had almost concluded a deal with a John when a police cruiser had passed by. The cops had looked in their direction. The John had sped away ignoring Susan’s frantic reduction in price. Only when she resumed her search for other customers did she seethe two women.

As she watched Janet try to flee Louise knew that it was time to end this. She wished that she could.

Susan had seen the scene before. Some junkie off her head.  She assumed her to be a new one from the freshness of her looks.  Those she would lose fast enough. An older woman stood at the other end. The younger  woman’s lover? Who cares. With any luck the junkie might pass out close to where Susan stood. A couple of minutes would give her a chance to check the junkie’s pockets. With any luck she could find enough to get out of this damn cold

For the first time in a very long time luck seemed to drop into Susan’s life. The young woman in her panic failed to see a streak of ice. She slipped and sprawled upon the sidewalk. Susan curled her cold fingers around a small knife that she kept in her coat pocket and with a eye open for a police cruiser walked towards the fallen woman.. It was only then that she saw the fuzzy blue bedroom slippers.

Louise knew that Janet could not recognize Susan but Susan recognize Janet? She might ridicule her brother’s theories but she knew of them.

Ignoring the knife Louise bent over the sobbing Janet.  “Look at her, Susan. Don’t you recognize her?”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“A friend of your brother.”

“A friend?” The bitch was sniffing after his money. She laughed. “That idiot wouldn’t know what to do with a woman if he fell over one.” Matthew and his stupid theories. The money that he had wasted on them he should have given to her. She would not be standing here on this shitty corner. She’d have a nice place.   She could receive her clients there.  Charge top prices.

Louise lowered her head.  All those years, Matthew believing in what his sister had never been. Louise knew that beneath Susan’s clothes was a body worn to a skeleton by too much heroin and too little food. Whatever life her eyes once had, the years long since had burned away.

“He was right you know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She is what you could have been.”

Susan’s reply was as venomous as it was as it was automatic.  She aimed it at both of them.  “Fucking cunts.”

Susan had first been called that by a schoolmate when she was twelve.  She had hated the words and reserved them for women she disliked, which included every woman in her life.  She looked down at the two.  The older woman ignored.  But something about her, innocence…weakness about the younger attracted her, peeping out through the fog. The woman reminded her of someone that she had known once. The face …. The way that she moved.

“It’s cold” Janet whimpered.

“It’s always cold” said Louise.  She helped Janet up to her feet.   Janet winced from a twisted ankle.

Susan lowered her knife.  “You better get Looney-tunes there home before she freezes.”

“Looney-tunes” asked Louise.  “Oh yes. The animated cartoons you used to watch with Matthew.  He told

me that after the age of five you never laughed at the cartoons.”

Susan frowned.  That sounded like Matthew. He could never keep his mouth shut about anything.  “So what’s that to you?  You his shrink?”

The woman ignored the question.  “And you Susan? Where do you go?”

“Fuck off.”  Susan thrust her hands deeper into her pockets their lining riddled with holes and turned away. A moment later she looked back.  The two women were gone.  She stood alone on the empty sidewalk shrouded by the falling snow.

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The Islanders

The Islanders  :  Chapter One

     The Outsiders

 

The twenty-four hour diner held two customers. The young Chinese woman sat in a corner booth sipping a cappuccino. Four tables away sat another young woman nursing a cup of brown tea. Although the diner was warm the woman still wore her overcoat and sat with her shoulders hunched in an attempt to retain heat. A smear of cheap mascara did little to hide the hunger lurking in her eyes. Skeletal fingers clutched the handle of the mug.

Just another junkie thought Mei Ling as she spooned the cream off her cappuccino. What more had she expected? Yet she could not help feeling a little disappointed. She noticed the frilled cuffs that concealed the woman’s wrists. A good way to hide scars, at least some scars.

From a radio in the back of the room a voice screamed above a thumping of electric guitars. The rumbling of a passing bus drifted into the restaurant. In an hour the street would be filled with people going to work but not her. She would stagger back to a cheap hotel room to a needle and welcome oblivion.

Mei Ling placed a five-dollar note on the table. She then picked up her purse and opened it. She took out a fifty-dollar note and wadded it between fine tapering fingers. She then rose, careful to brush out any wrinkles in her two piece black suit.

As she passed the woman seated at the table she dropped the fifty-dollar note next to the cup of tea.

“Come with me.”

The woman looked up. For the first time she saw a shorthaired Chinese woman in an expensive suit.

A lez she thought. “You got another fifty?”

One more Robert Borden dropped onto the table.

The woman stubbed out her cigarette and pocketed the money. Whoever the lez was she had money. With any luck she could rip her off for more. “So where are we going?”

“My place.”

“Yeah, where’s that?”

“Does it matter?”

“I might have to catch a bus back.”

“No you won’t.”

The yellow MG reassured her. There would only be the two of them. No unpleasant surprises. It also meant money. As she settled into the bucket seat she fantasised herself being at the wheel. If she could rip off the car Lester could keep her supplied with smack for a month. No more asking for money from her stupid brother.

“Would you like some music,” the woman asked her.

She shrugged. “Whatever.”

Mei Ling punched in a cassette. Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desire filled the car.

“I’ve always liked that,” said Mei Ling.

“Yeah?” The woman settled her head against the seat. Mathew liked that, She had a vague sense of having liked it once before the dope. “We going or not?”

“Of course.”

Mei Ling turned the ignition.

The woman looked out the window at the grey emptiness of the parking lot. The pavement moved, shivering in the frigid night air. Have to get more sleep she thought. A faint humming filled her ears. Her stomach twisted. Then the pavement vanished.

The car sat in a small clearing surrounded by pine trees. She blinked. The trees remained. Across the open field a groundhog waddled. Beside her she heard a car door open. As it opened her ears caught the sound of waves beating against rocks.

Mei Ling stood outside the car speaking into a tiny cell phone. She nodded and smiled as she noticed the woman looking at her. Pocketing the phone she then stepped away from the car into nothingness.

“Shit.”

The woman gawked at the empty space. Her numbed fingers fumbled with the latch as she tried to open the door. The sight of a woman disappearing into air, of a world vanishing was too large to grasp but what truly terrified her to was the silence. Her life had been marked by sound, television, radio, Walkman, traffic, people, and all the incessant, comforting racket of modern life. Here, wherever here was, she could hear the waves, birds and herself.

She pressed her hand against her ears to shut out the silence. Whimpering she slid down deeper into the bucket seat of the car curling against its soft leather.

“Susan?”

Ignoring the voice she reached for her purse for the needle that would bring oblivion.

“You won’t find it there.”

She looked up to see him. Seated beside her was her brother. “Mathew?”

The stranger/brother smiled. “Yes, Susan. Your brother, Susan, please come with me.”

“Bastard!”  She flung herself against him. to find herself striking air. Screams alternated with whimpering and weeping.

Mathew knew the sounds. He had heard them so many times before. Mei Ling touched his left his arm. “Come away, father.”

***

The sanitation workers found the body when they emptied the bin. Wrapped in a black plastic bag it dropped into the truck as they tilted the bin. The autopsy revealed three stab wounds, one to the left breast, another to the right lung and another to the heart. Fingerprints confirmed the corpse to be Susan Foley, prostitute, petty thief, heroin addict. Her one known relation was informed. Doctor Foley travelled to Toronto, identified the body and took it home to Kingston for burial.  The murderer was never found. Within a year the case had been buried in the files of the police department.

***

  Mei LIng held him back. “It’s not safe, father.”

“She’s my sister.” Mathew looked at the woman her voice  his voice   muffled by the window

“No. She’s not.  The only relation she has is with that damned drug. She will never be your sister until we clean it out of her.  The only thing she feels for you and for anyone else is hate. You know that.”

The sleeping gas began to seep up from the floor of the car. Soon it would envelop Susan ending the cries.

Mathew pressed his hand against the window and then he turned away.

***

She floated in a womb filled with Luke-warm water. Umbilical cords carried nutrients, air and blood into her.  Other tubes carried away her waste products.  Smaller cables were attached to her shaven scalp. For Susan Foster time had stopped.  She dreamed dreams as warm as the water that sustained her. Her mind lived, dreaming dreams of gentle people loving her, keeping away the pain.

“Is this wise?”asked Mathew.

“Wise? Maybe not.”said Louise.  “Necessary, yes.”

“I wanted my sister.”

The man had waited so long.  During all the decades that had passed since meeting him in Kingston, through all their travels and work the one thing Mathew had wanted most was to regain his sister, the one thing he could never have.

“Mathew you know that what you want doesn’t matter.   What matters is what she needs.”

“Yes. I know.”

Her earliest memory would be of two great farm horses.  They plodded down the road in front of her house pulling a hay wagon that towered above her.

“Why the horses?” Mathew asked Louise.

“They represent gentleness, strength, trust.  Those are things that she needs.”

“Sounds rather naive.”

“This is what a four-year-old is. Naïve. Depth is the problem.” Louise continued. “Memories have to be laid on in layers much like a fine oil painting.”

“And the old memories?”

“Buried like an ancient nightmare.”

“But still there.  Will the new memories hold?”

“What is the past but memory? The old memories will seem like a nightmare, intimations of a past life but nothing more.”

“Are you certain?”

Louise touched his hand. “Even if I were proven wrong, how could her new life be any worse than her old?”

More layers of memory were added. Parents and brother, at home in a valley, life in a small city. Girlhood faded into womanhood. A love of poetry and music, an interest in astronomy and in philosophy, the things Susan had been stripped of by the nightmares of her life.  As the days passed Susan continued to float in her watery womb.

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Islands in Time : Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen : Beginnings

 Gehlen leaned back against the back of the couch. He closed his eyes for a moment and then resumed.

“The three of us, Joanna, Sean and I went to see him leave.  We stood at the quayside watching them load the boat.  It was large by Sumerian standards ten metres long by three amidships. Made of cedar it would be broken up in Ur and sold, the cedar planking being more valuable then the boat. There was a great central sail but no oars. If the wind failed the river current would still carry it south.”

“Richard stood at the bow He led a large party. Marduk’s daughter Sarai was accompanied by one maidservant and six bodyguards, Marduk’s finest men. Any thief would be reluctant to attack such a party.  Richard carried  Marna.  She was well enough to walk but neither wished to be separated. ”

“In our Sumerian gear I assumed that Richard would not recognize us but he did. As the ship slipped into the current he turned towards us and raised a hand.  We watched until the ship disappeared. He never did return to Kish. After the festival of Inanna, Richard married Sarai and settled in Ur. There he found work as a healer and as a teacher.  To the people he knew he talked of a god of justice, of mercy and of compassion. Even more, he lived a life based upon that belief, a life that proved to those who knew him that such a god could live among them. They remembered him, his life and his teachings.  In the millennia that passed his name was lost but out of the memories of those who had known him grew the God of Abraham, of Moses, of Jesus, of Mohammed and ultimately our modern concepts of justice and humanity. Not a bad legacy. That’s all there is to say.”

He put the empty bottle down on the table and placed his left hand on his right wrist.

“Not quite,” said Mary.  “There was an assassination of Sargon of Akkad. It’s been recorded.”

“Yes there was, but not in this timeline”

“So who killed Sargon?” she asked.

“Richard, but not ours. Another timeline, another Richard.”

“But how did they cross over into another timeline?”

“Sam was the controller.  He fixed the setting.”

“But the excavation of the child’s grave?”

“They just followed Sam’s settings.”

“Then the child Joanna brought out?”

“Was from our timeline.”

“So there were two?”

“Yes.  Probably more.”

“More?”  Mary rose and turned towards the window. She clasped her hands behind her back.  “How many more?”

“God knows. I don’t.”

“So how did Habib know?”

Gehlen sipped the last of the whiskey. “The agency is finished.  It is fighting a war it lost five thousand years ago. When it understands that it will die.”

Mary turned.

“Not today” he said.  “Not tomorrow.  Bureaucracies tend to perpetuate themselves long after they have lost any reason to exist. But it will die. When it does I’ll be waiting for you.”

The air around Gehlen began to shimmer.

Mary started towards him.  “Heinrich . . . Don’t”

“I’m sorry . . .”

She reached out to him to grasp empty air.

***

Richard felt the breeze from the north.  The sail above him filled out. The ship scudded south passing farms and villages.  He watched the life passing by on the river, the ploughing of fields, washing of clothes and the playing of children.  Some things would never change.  He remembered his three friends waving him goodbye. Friendship was another thing that would never change.

Marna sat on the deck watching a gray-bearded sailor carve a flute. As Richard watched them Sarai placed a hand on his back and asked him what he was thinking. He would miss being able to express himself in English but how could he tell her that.  He smiled “Sometimes, the gods are kind.”

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Islands : Chapter Thirteen

    Chapter Thirteen  :   Marna

The servant considered what it was that the barbarian wanted to steal. “You think that the lord Marduk sees any beggar?”

The stranger held up a silver ring in front of the overseer’s round face.  “I am not a beggar. Your lord knows me.”

The fat bald-headed servant grunted.  “Does he? What name shall I give?”

“Tiamet of the Annukim.”

Marduk sat on a bench in his garden beneath the shade of a date tree.  He sipped wine from a cup of beaten gold and listened as his daughter Sarai strummed a harp and sang a song that she had composed to Inanna.  She was fourteen.  Time to find a husband for her thought Marduk.  Perhaps he could even find one from a noble family. He would mention it to Sharrumkin.

She stopped in mid-verse.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“I can’t think of the next word, father.”

“Sing it again, child.  It may come to you.”

He could see old Shubad, the doorkeeper hurrying towards him.

“Well?”

“Pardon my lord, but there is a visitor at the door.  He says that you know him.”

“Does this visitor have a name?”

“Tiamat of the Annukim.”

Marduk had taught himself to never act surprised.  He placed his cup on the bench. After a moment he spoke. “Let him enter.”

Yes, it was the wanderer. He did not care for the way that the man looked down at him. Only Sharrumkin would dare to look at him in such a way.

He raised his cup and sipped. “Where are my slaves?”

“They are not mine to return Lord Marduk.  They belong to the gods.”

“I do not care for liars or blasphemers.”

“Neither do I.”

Marduk stopped in mid-sip. Any man who dared to call him a liar would die, but was that what the young man had said?

“You say that you are of the Annukim?”

“Yes.”

“Then you are a liar as well as a thief.  The Annukim have been dead since time beyond knowing,”

“No, my lord, not dead.  They just went away. They taught man the way of living in cities, the way of writing.  When they were no longer needed they left traveling beyond the sea to the land of Dilmun.”

“So you have come from Dilmun. You said that you were in the land of the great river? You are not even a very good liar.” He turned back to his wine to find his daughter staring at the young man. “Sarai, bring some wine and barley cakes.  He may be a liar and a thief but he is still our guest.”

Tiamet waited for the girl to leave. “Do you let your guests stand?”

“Some.”  If the young man rose to the bait, displaying anger at the attack upon his honour Sharrumkin would have the right to strike him, but no anger came.  The man continued to look at him, waiting.

“ What do you want?” Marduk asked.

“To show you something.”

He reached inside his robe.  As he did so, Marduk slipped his right hand closer to the hilt of his dagger.  He stopped as Tiamet drew out a small leather pouch.  From out of it he drew the same pendant that he placed around his mother’s neck. He dropped it onto the bench next to Marduk.

“Perhaps, he said, softly, “you do not remember.  Too many villages, too many dead?”

Marduk felt the heavy weight of the stone and remembered. “I know the pendent. The child lived?”

“Yes.”

Marduk nodded.  “Good. You still have not explained why you took my slaves.”

“The woman was the boy’s mother, the girl his sister.  I promised him that I would help them if I could.”

Marduk shrugged. ”The slaves are nothing, but a promise, that is everything.  Perhaps I may choose to forgive you. Perhaps not. Sit.”

He pointed at the bench upon which Sarai had sat.  “So what do you want of me, Tiamet of the Annukim? Is this also part of your promise to the child?”

“No.  I have come for a different reason.  The villages that you burned, have you told your children of them?”

“Of course.”

“You feel no shame?”

Marduk frowned. “Shame? What is shame? If we do not bleed those savages, they will grow stronger.  Some year, when they are strong enough they will come south and do to us what we do to them. When these people that you feel pity for, burn our cities, will you then feel pity for us?”

“You fear them because they are different from you.”

Marduk shook his head. “No. I fear them because they are not different from us. Every man kills.  Every man prays to the gods.  That is me.  You have never killed?”

“No.”

“Someday you will.”

“That is not the way of my people,”

“No? Then they are truly wise, or foolish. Perhaps both.”

“Perhaps.”

****

 Gehlen glanced out of the window at the waters of Kingston harbour. A small sailing dinghy bobbed through the waves. “Richard was too young.  He couldn’t understand that sometimes showing mercy is the worst thing that you can do.  Just because someone is a victim or loses does not always make them a good person.  Before people are brought Home, preparations are made. We try to ensure that they be settled into surroundings similar to those from which they came, to make the transition easier.  But it’s more than just a matter of physical surroundings. We have to understand how their cultures work.  In taking people out of the Irish famine or Black Death we were dealing with recorded times, cultures studied in depth. Of Richard’s people, we knew nothing.  There had been some archaeological records of the buildings but nothing of the culture. We believe that  they were Semite, possibly proto-Amoritic, somewhat like the Ugaritic that was Sargon’s own tongue. There was some consideration of going back and examining it but other priorities came first. Except for Richard the village was not that important to us.”

“He was supposed to examine Sumeria at the beginnings of Sargon’s rule.  He persuaded Benjamin to allow him to follow the slave column in the hope of finding castoffs.  Instead he walked into it and snatched his mother and sister.  So he comes through the portal with a woman and a little girl. To understand them we had was to crack their language.  Some we had gathered from Richard’s own memories and his recording of the slaves in the column.  Our knowledge was enough to give us greetings but littler more than that. Understanding the language well enough to grasp their psychology was beyond us.”

“The first act of the elders was to put them into quarantine, sedating them.  They then searched for any historical ramifications. As far as we could tell there were none.  Even so, Benjamin should have sent them back but his entire nature was opposed to that as it was opposed to punishing Richard. So once they were released from the hospital they were transported to the home that Richard and Joanna had made for them, based upon a village longhouse, comparable in technology to the society from which they had come.”

“The young think that love will conquer all. Rubbish. It can’t even conquer itself. Richard was so convinced that having saved what had survived of his family he could then begin to understand them.  What he could not know in his first fumbling attempts to communicate with his mother was that between them lay six thousand years of social evolution.”

“To begin with Marna assumed that Richard was her husband, not her son. She could understand being taken by the Gods, but a boy was a boy. A man was a man. To her only three days had passed since the sacking of the village. Now she was to believe that her small son was a grown man? She found it much simpler to grasp the concept of her husband having been taken by the gods.  Richard had a devil of a time trying to convince her that her husband, Baram, was dead.  Having convinced her of that Richard was not prepared for what came next. Marna went into mourning.”

“We think of mourning as a very civilized affair.  To Marna’s people mourning meant pain. The greater the emotional pain, the greater the physical pain.  Here was a woman lost in a world she could not hope to understand, stripped of her home, husband and two sons. For all intents and purposes she could not see Richard as her son.  She gave vent to her grief in the only way she knew.”

“Richard found her in the field behind her house.  With the edge of a flint knife she had sliced her face and had cut her wrists. She had also cut off her right digit finger. Amidst the blood she had sat wailing a song of mourning.  Despite our best efforts she died four hours later.She had willed herself to die.  Only then did we learn from his sister Napthali that in their village there were no widows.  She also told us that the souls of Baram and her son, Enkil would not rest until their killers were dead.  Every time Richard attempted to speak to her she would ask for the head of Marduk, the man who had led the raid on the village. Eventually she refused to see him, denouncing him as a coward and as a traitor.”

“Richard admitted to me that bringing them home had been a mistake but he could not undo it The worst part he told me, was that Napthali was right.  Simple justice did demand punishment.  I tried to point out that such punishment was far too late. ”

“Anyway you didn’t even know them,” I pointed out.

“They knew me and they loved me. That must be worth something.”

“Two days later he crossed into Sumeria to research Sargon of Akkad.  I saw him the evening before he left. He requested me to look in upon Napthali.  The Pequod had agreed to take her in until he returned.  She liked the Pequod.  Their village reminded her of home.”

“There was something about Richard’s appearance that made me uncomfortable. He had grown a beard which in itself was neither unusual nor suspicious.  Almost all adult males of the Sumerian period except priests wore beards. What bothered me was that his appearance reminded me of someone.  You know how it is when you try to think of someone and you cannot identify him.  For the rest of the evening deep into the night I worried about it. Eventually I gave it up and went to bed.  I’ve found that if you want to find something, sometimes you shouldn’t look for it.  Then it will come of its own accord.”

“I woke up in the early morning the memory of where I had seen that face before fixed in my mind.  But I had to confirm it, to be certain.  Decades before a recording had been made of the Habib expedition to Kish.  On it had been filmed the festival of Inanna.  Inadvertently the members had recorded the assassination of Sargon the Great.””

“Mary frowned. “But Sargon wasn’t assassinated?”

“Not on our time- line.”

“But there are no alternate time-lines” said John.

“So where did the recording come from?”

“A fake,” Mary shrugged.

“That’s what I thought until I spoke to Sean Mulcahey and Joanna Dzingira and saw Richard firing a dart at Sargon’s neck.  I suppose they could have staged it to discredit the agency, but what if they hadn’t?”

Mary thought for a moment.  “But if there are alternate time-lines, each with their own history then what happens in their history cannot affect ours, so why would it matter?”

Gehlen closed his eyes. “It matters because Richard matters. In the end that’s the only thing that matters, the people we care for.”

I phoned Benjamin Dzingira and told him what I knew, including visual comparison of Richard and the young man in the recording. He told me he would contact the portal and have Richard stopped.  We arranged a meeting in his office with Louise, Joanna, Sean, Richard, and myself. Usually such a meeting would be held by holographic projection but not this one.

I received the first bad news while in the underground shuttle. Richard had already gone through the portal before Benjamin could give out the order to stop him.  Louise gave us the second piece of bad news.  She had a small piece of data left to her by Foster, which had once belonged to Jane Christian. She in turn had gotten it from Sam Habib. Somehow Sam had worked out that between Jane and Foley there had existed a means of communication, probably by way of Louise in Kingston.  One of the bits of data passed on by Sam was a DNA analysis taken when the agency was investigating whom the assassin might have been. Incredible as it may sound they took blood samples of almost the entire population of Kish.  They were looking for a match from those in our modern files.  They found one.

He projected the two samples.  They were indeed identical. There was only one problem.  “The sample had been taken from someone who had been dead for over five thousand years.”

“Then it wasn’t an anomaly?” asked John

“Yes it was. The sample had been taken from a person who was dead before the assassination.”

Mary and John looked at one another.

“Furthermore,” Gehlen continued,  “it had been taken from a child, a boy killed by lions.”

***

Gehlen slept.  Mary crossed the room and picked up the phone.  She ordered breakfast for three.

“Do you believe him, “ asked John.

“What reason does he have to lie?”

“To protect himself.  I don’t know.”

“If he is telling the truth the agency will confirm it.”

“If not?”

“The agency will confirm that as well.”

.                                                                               ***

Just before eleven Gehlen awoke.  Ignoring the breakfast Mary had ordered for him,  he poured himself a glass of Scotch from a miniature Glenlivet bottle in the room fridge.

“Do you think that’s wise,” she asked.

Gehlen ignored her. Then he began again. “They sent three of us to bring him back, Joanna, Sean and myself. We should have, upon reflection, arranged to be there when he arrived but we had to prove that he was up to any unwarranted interference. Better we thought, to follow and to accumulate evidence.  We knew for an historical certainty that he was in the crowd in front of the Ziggurat.  We knew that he was in Marduk’s house.  What we did not know was what happened after that. ”

If we were on another timeline, to interfere with his assassination of Sharrumkin would be equivalent to interfering with John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln. If we were not? All that we could do would be to observe until after the blood sampling.  Then we could move in. And then? After that it would be Richard who would decide. If he would return peacefully, fine. That was Joanna’s hope.  Mine too I suppose but if not, well I have been trained by the agency to enforce the time-line, haven’t I?

Kish was not what you would call an attractive city, even by Sumerian standards.  Compared to the cities of the south it was a raw frontier settlement  Sanitation was non-existent. There were no public gardens. The streets were narrow and filthy. Everything was compressed within the city walls.  Only around the ziggurut and within the walled palaces of the rich could you find any feeling of space.

Joanna, who had been to Kish before and who had learned Sumerian and a smattering of Akkadian served as my guide.  I acted the typical rural bumpkin awed by the big city, which was not too far from the truth. I had not been in a settlement that large in years.  We shouldered our way through people and animals towards the city centre.  City manners have not changed much over the years. The smells have improved a bit but not much else. The houses of the rich could be found towards the southern edge of the city closer to the river

***

Marduk wiped the wine from his beard. “So Tiamet of the Annukim, what exactly do you want of me?”

“I had thought of killing you.”

Marduk snorted “The dung heaps hold the heads of those who tried.  I do not think you would be that stupid. Do you hate me that much?”

“Yes.  I do.”

“Well, you have courage. Leave now and I’ll let you live. A mistake I know.”

“I have not finished. More than you I hate Sharrumkin.”

“You do nothing by halves.  Why don’t I just take your head to him?”

“Because as much as I hate him, I know that he is right.”

“Right? About what.”

“The cities have to be united. He is the only man who can do it.”

“You speak of the ensi’s cupbearer.  A cupbearer is not a king.”

“Not yet, but he will be.  He will unite the cities and the land of the two rivers will once more become great.  That is his destiny and yours. I can help give it to him and to you.”

“You are a sorcerer?”

“Let us say I know things.  Take my head and you will never know what is inside.”

“If you’re lying?”

“My head will still be here waiting for you.”

Marduk nodded. “The city is filled with young ambitious men. Why should I need you?”

The young man bent down. He traced a line in the dust. He then drew another line.

“This is the land of the two rivers.  Here. By the sea is Ur.  Up here is Akkad.”

Despite himself Marduk grew interested.  “So?”

“To the north is the great sea.” He drew another line.

“I have heard of it. Many have.”

The line swung west.

“Here is the land of Egypt. This is their river.”

The line ran south.

Marduk nodded. “I know this from the caravans.”

“Do you know the mountains of the south from where the river runs? Do you also know how you and the Egyptians are both similar? You are both people of great rivers.  By uniting the lands along their river they have become a great kingdom. Sharrumkin wishes to do the same with the people of the two rivers. But you have one advantage the Egyptians don’t.”

“That is?”

Sarai returned with the food and drink.  Both men ignored her.

“The Egyptians are trapped by their river.  It is a line that runs through a desert and it leads to the sea. You are not.”  Tiamet pointed at the north.” Whoever controls the north opens a door to both Egypt and to the land of the two rivers.”

“There is nothing up there except savages.”

“For now yes, but think, Marduk, a few villages made Sharrumkin and you rich.  Imagine what settling cities there would do? ”

Marduk stared at the map.  Yes he could see how the north would give control of the trade routes to Sumer.  Caravans of gold, ivory and slaves would flow into the cities of the south. Then he looked up at his daughter. “Serve our guest. We have much to discuss.“

***

Gehlen sipped his whiskey. “I am not certain how he persuaded Marduk to take him into his household. Marduk was no fool.  He was illiterate and by our standards woefully ignorant, but ignorance is not the same as stupidity.  However he did it, Richard became part of Marduk’s household.”

“Why didn’t you just take him,” asked Mary.

“Because one does not just take.  First of all, Marduk’s home like most of upper class Sumeria is very difficult to enter.  We could land a copter on his roof but that would have been somewhat obvious.  Materializing inside his home was considered, but where?  From the records of the Habib expeditions we had some understanding of where he might be but we would have to take him alone, and Sumerians are almost never alone.  The concept of privacy was never part of Sumerian life.  That was something that Joanna Dzingira and Sean Mulcahy made clear to me.  We would have to watch the house waiting for the moment when we could get to Richard with some guarantee of not being disturbed. Another thing, Sumerian homes did not have windows that we could see through.”

Marduk’s compound was four solid walls of glazed tile entered only by one wooden gate.  If we knocked on the door, who were we supposed to ask for?  We didn’t even know what name Richard would be using.  The only thing we could do was to take turns loitering by the gate and wait for him to appear.

The days passed before we saw him.  He came out accompanied by Marduk himself, followed by a train of servants and bully boys. There was a young woman with them, Marduk’s daughter. Training or no training Sean and I were not going to rush that mob. We just followed at a discrete distance hoping that our beards and cloaks would keep us from being recognized.

They were on their way to see Sharrumkin who lived a few houses away.  If Marduk’s home was difficult to penetrate Sharrumkin’s was even harder.  The guards of his home were the elite of his followers, young, well-fed and completely devoted to him. We could only watch Marduk’s people enter and the gate close behind them.

***

The slave pen lay not far from the city gate squeezed between the cattle and sheep markets on one side and fruit and vegetable stalls on another. Thirty naked slaves sat on the bare ground, roped to stakes. There were no shelters. Their excrement littered the ground.  Every morning they would wake and begin the long wait

Richard followed Marduk as he wandered through the stalls.  Politics not marketing was  Marduk’s concern.  He chatted with the merchants, most of whom he knew by name. He spent a few minutes with each discussing the quality of their merchandise, the chance of future profits and conditions within the city.

As Marduk chatted Richard allowed his eyes to drift over the market. His thoughts were with the previous day’s meeting with Sharrumkin.  As much as he hated the cup-bearer, Richard had to admit that the man was impressive.

Sharrumkin had been sitting speaking with his son Ramsui,and with  an old man, Aqqi the fisherman. The first thing that struck Tiamet about the cup-bearer was his size. At just under two metres he towered above everyone else in the room. Size by itself however did not explain how completely he dominated everyone in the room.  To him ruling came as natural as drinking beer or eating bread. With a look he took in Marduk and his party. Rising from his stool he embraced Marduk and bade his guests welcome.  Marduk whispered to him  and Sharrumkin looked at the young  stranger.

“So you are Tiamet.” His voice was quiet, stating a fact accepted by all but nothing more.  Without changing his tone he then added,  “Marduk says that you hate me. Is that so?”

Richard looked at the man’s burnt bearded face. He thought of the burnt village and of his mother. “Yes.”

Sharrumkin nodded.  “ You are honest. Many hate me but they will not say it.  Why do you?”

“I don’t like slave dealers.  I don’t like dead villages.”

The cup-bearer placed his right hand on the golden hilt of his bronze hilt.  “Very few do. Your name is Tiamet.  That is a word from my mother’s tongue, he that comes from the sea.  Perhaps we share the same blood?”

“Perhaps.”

Sharrumkin turned to Marduk.  “Come into the garden old friend and we will talk.” He placed a hand on Aqqi’s right shoulder. “Father, come with us. Ramsui, have food and drink brought for our guests.”

The three strolled through the date palms. Marduk glanced towards a trunk from which were suspended three heads, thieves who had attempted to raid Sharrumkin’s column.

“Why should I not put his head there Marduk?”

“Because he could be useful, lord.”

“Could he?  Explain.”

“He knows much of foreign lands and peoples and I sense that he knows far more.”

“This is a man who hates me.”

“Hate can change, especially honest hate.”

Sharrumkin grunted. “Sometimes.  What do you think, father?”

Aqqi spoke slowly as was his custom.  “I think that in the days to come you may need bright young men, even those who hate you.  After that, you may reconsider his usefulness.”

Sharrumkin nodded. “What does he want Marduk?”

“He knows of your dream to unite the cities. He believes it to be wise.”

“How does he know that? It is known only among us.”

“I don’t know. I did not tell him. He must have guessed it.”

“Hmm. I don’t like that.  If he guessed it, how many others could.”

Sharrumkin thought for a moment. The two other men waited.

“If he is willing to serve me and to keep his silence I will accept him, for now.”

***

She sat amidst the stench of her own filth oblivious to the smell and to the blows of the slave dealer’s staff. She had not eaten that morning. Her breakfast of barley porridge had been snatched away by another slave. She had seen only her mother sold two days before to a silver merchant from Ur. The staff continued to beat against her back, the blows as distant as the forgotten breakfast.

“Look up girl,” Lugul commanded.  He wrenched the girl’s face up and smiled at the customer. “Not too bad looking, eh sir?” The one- eyed slave dealer leered.

Richard feeling ill, turned away.  He had recognized the girl sitting in a far corner of the slave pen.  She had been one of the captives in the column.  The sight of her caused him to stop.   The slave dealer sensing a possible customer dragged the child towards him.

Marduk had looked back to see him eyeing the slaves.  He was about to tell him that there was no need to purchase any.  He had more then enough. If Tiamet wanted a bedmate he would offer one of his girls for free. Why spend good silver?

“I know her,” Richard murmured. Marduk took a closer look at the child squatting in the pen. He recognized her as one he had brought out of the village.

“She will die that one. Why waste your silver?”

Richard looked at him. “Do you always insist upon finishing what you started?”

Habit brought Marduk’s hand to his sword hilt. Then the hand fell away. “I’ll talk to the dealer,” he said. “Perhaps I can get a good price for her.”

Lugul writhed in mock pain. “Ten pieces of copper, lord?  Have pity.”

“In another day or two she will be dead.  How much will you get for her then?”

Tiamet wrapped the child in his woolen cloak and carried her back to Marduk’s house.

Gehlen shook his head. “Sean and I watched from across the square. It was such a blatant violation from both the viewpoint of the agency and of Home that neither of us could believe it at first.  That one impulsive act could have catastrophic consequences unless . . .”

“Unless what,” Mary asked.

“As I watched I wondered for the first time whether or not this was all meant to happen.”
Mary sniffed. “Nonsense.”

“Is it?  Perhaps I had been away from the agency too long.”

***

Marduk looked up at the full moon.  From their homes the gods looked down upon men.  He wondered what they were thinking of their creation or if they ever thought of them at all.

Sarai’s harp trickled through his mind. Across the garden on the other side of the pond, Tiamet sat with his little slave girl.  He had called the creature Marna.  The healer was drawing pictures in the dust, telling the child their names.  She remained as unseeing as when he purchased her. A waste of good copper thought Marduk.  Even so, he did not begrudge the man his new toy. As quietly as he could he walked over to them.

“Do you think she hears you?”

Tiamet put aside his annoyance at being interrupted.  “Yes. It is trust she needs to learn, not hearing.”

“Perhaps.”  Marduk squatted beside Tiamet.  “It is not good to interfere with the ways of the gods.”

“What is the way of the gods?”

“Many years ago I was a young fool like you.  I was so certain that I knew.  That boy I released from the village, he had a mark on his face.  Do you remember it?”

“I remember.”

“My first born had such a mark. A little girl, I buried her under the gate as a gift to the gods.”

“You have given them many children, Marduk.  Do you wish to give them this one?”

“No. What I mean to say is that in doing so we can pay them no greater honour then to give them what we love the most. We are just men. The gods are greater than us as strong cities are greater than smaller cities. If the weak pay us tribute we will protect them. In return for honouring the gods, they protect us and give us wealth.  As it is with men, so it is with the gods. That is me.”

“Do your gods love you, Marduk?  Do they show you mercy and compassion?”

Marduk shook his head. “We do not ask for it.”

“Perhaps you should. A god who cannot love is not a god, not for me.”

“Well, different people have different gods. Ours have made us a great people.”

Tiamet looked at the little girl. “Why don’t you ask her how great you are?  Gods do not create men. We create Gods. That is why they act like us.”

Marduk frowned. “Surely you must believe in the gods. “

“I believe in gods that are gods, not in gods that just reflect ourselves.”

“You are angry with me?”

“Yes. I am. I know I am supposed to respect your ways but I cannot respect a god that demands a child’s blood.”

“But I have to.”

“Why?”

Marduk looked down at the ground. “Otherwise I will die.” He then stared at the trees for a moment  “I had a talk with the slave dealer.  The girl’s mother he sold to a silver merchant from Ur. The merchant left by boat for Ur yesterday.  I have a message to send to an old friend there. If you wish you could deliver the message and if you happen to come across the merchant, perhaps you could negotiate a fair price for the woman.  The dealer sold her for four pieces of silver.  I will give you eight.”

Tiamet thought of Shannukin.  The best chance to kill Sharrumkin would be at the festival of Inanna,  “I cannot go to Ur.”

“Why not?”

“I . . . I do not know the city.”

“So there are things you do not know.  I will send servants who know the city.  Also, Sarai.”

“Sarai?”

“Yes. She has been to Ur before and she will enjoy the voyage. You will be back in time for the festival of Inanna.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because it is my wish.  I will not force you to go if you do not wish to.”

“Of course I will go, but you have not told me why you wish to do this?”

Marduk rose. “I do not have to tell you everything, Tiamet. Sleep well.”

***

The tiny windowless cubicle suffocated him.  As he lay on his reed mat he wished he could sleep on the roof as did many of the people during the summer heat but he knew he could not take the risk. They were looking for him. He turned his thoughts to the little girl, Marna.  He had named her that after his mother. What her actual name was he did not know.  Deep within his pouch he had stored some medicines, nothing more elaborate then aspirin, a few antibiotics and salt and sugar tablets. Yet here they seemed wondrous.  He had given antibiotics and sugar and salt tablets to treat the dehydration, but it was her spirit that was most in need of help. Old Marduk had hit upon the best chance for a cure.  He considered the man.

He hated him. Every time he saw him he saw the dead village, the bodies left to the animals.  He remembered his mother, her keening of her death song as her life flowed out of her. Justice demanded the man’s death, but he had also seen him with his daughter and sons, talking with the old gardener, listening in respectful silence as the old servant discussed which plants were doing well.  Above everything he felt an overwhelming desire to leave this time, to go back to the time that he had made his own.

Take the girl to Ur.  Marduk had struck upon the best way to cure her.  Give her back her mother. Richard could remove the fever and cope with the dehydration but he could not give her back her will to live. Only her mother could do that. Take her to Ur, yes. But somewhere along the way she would die.  To make her strong enough for the trip would require more then what he could give her, more than what every healer in Kish could give her. He would have to take her Home.  Perhaps they might even allow her to stay.  And Sharrumkin?  He would leave Sharrumkin to the judgement of the gods.

***

“Sometimes,” Gehlen mused,  “there is no understanding of anything.  Richard knew that once back we would never let him out again.  We would not have imprisoned him. The elders have not had prisons for millenia.  Some of the settlements have a few but for us, no. However he knew that once back we would never let him near the portal again.  By turning his back on his chance to kill Sharrumkin he would betray his mother’s memory.  Even so, he brought her across.  So now he stood guilty of another violation.”

“They rushed the little girl to the infirmary. Richard they told to go home to wait for the council’s decision.  He asked to wait beside the girl.  His wish was granted. We were then called back.”

***

“That is she?”

Louise Miller’s voice spoke out of the dark of his thoughts.  Richard sat up in the chair beside Marna’s hospital bed. “Yes.”

Louise looked at him for a moment and then back down at the child.

“We can not allow her to remain here.”

“I know that I should have followed procedure.”

“That would have been a refreshing change, but we would still not have allowed her to remain.”

“But she has no one.”

“She has you.”

“So I can take care of her?”

“Yes but not here.”

The air beside Marna’s bed began to shimmer.

Louise scooped Marna up in her arms and carried her into the light.

“Richard leapt up.  “Wait.”  He dashed towards the light. It vanished leaving behind it an empty room.

***

As Louise settled the sleeping girl on her mat, Richard asked, “why can’t you let her stay?”

Louise smiled. “You never have understood, have you?”

“I thought Home was a haven.”

“It is but not for everyone.  Not for her and now not for you. You are to stay here.”

“I will never leave this time?”

“Never is a very long time, Richard.”

He nodded. “That is my punishment.  I understand, but why punish her?”

Louise smiled. “You don’t understand, Richard. No one is punishing anyone.  Staying here is your reward.  It is where you should be.”

“Why me?”

“Why? Because inside you lives something that told you that saving this child is the most important thing that you can do, more important than some primitive concept of revenge.  I come from a time more remote from you than this.  Do you not think that in the years between you and I generations have not continued to evolve, to think, to question?  We possess the power to save the lives of millions of our fellow human beings.  Do you truly believe that because of a theory we would refuse?  So we help.  We help in two ways.  We reach into the past and save those lives that we can.  But there is another way. Some, as did missionaries of old give of themselves, going back to live the lives of the past, helping those that they can by simply living with them. My Tom was one.”

“Tom?”

“Major Thomas Bascombe. Yes, he was about your age when he enlisted in the Canadian army at the outbreak of the Second World War.  Forty years later they detected a brain tumour.  A simple enough operation in my time but not in his. Rather than reveal who we were, he chose to die.  He could have left of course, have returned to the future, but he had been part of that time for so long. It had become his home. There are so many others. You will be one. You will be here at the beginning, guiding and teaching as many others have done.  You will tell Marna and Sarai of a god of justice and mercy.  They will tell their children. Their children will tell theirs through generation after generation.  The tales will become distorted and twisted, as tales often do, but will never be forgotten.  For that, you will be remembered and honoured.” She smiled. “At least for a while.”

“Will I meet any others like me.”

“No. There are no others here. That is why you are so important.”

“Jane Christian. Was she one of us?”

“In a way, although she never knew it.  Sam Habib  knew it.”

“Habib? But he . . .”

Do you truly think we would ever allow the portal to be controlled by barbarians. Just as with Tom, Sam could not be saved without creating an anomaly. So he chose to die with a woman who would not leave him. .Remember them. Honour them.  So you will teach that child  and others, not by imparting strange technology but by simply living. Do you understand now?”

“We are the Annukim.”

“Yes.”

Richard looked down at the little girl. “But why her? Why is she so important?”

“Someday she will marry and have a child.  That child will have a child who in turn will have a child. So it will go on for generations. Out of her line will come a man who will leave the city of Ur and go into the wilderness in search of a god, a god of justice, taught to him by his forefathers. ”

“Abraham?”

“That was why Sam wanted you. We have mended her body.  You will mend her soul. Goodbye Richard, Tiamet of the Annukim. Salaam Aleicham.”

She kissed his forehead. The light vanished leaving Richard in the dark with Marna.

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