Somewhere Else Entirely -127-

Garia needs to find out if the Beings will allow her to let Maralin in on the secret, but when she attempts to consult them she finds they have something much more complex to discuss. She receives a proposition which turns her entire existence upside down.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

127 - An Unexpected Proposal

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2015 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



The next few days proved busy for Garia, but also frustrating. There were meetings of the War Council and of the Council of the Two Worlds, both including the two Dukes and Maralin. There were live demonstrations of Sniper Rifles, Personal Pistols and Hand Grenades, although tiny consignments of each device had only recently begun to travel towards the Palarand troops currently camped in Forguland. There were also demonstrations of unarmed combat, quarterstaffs and sword techniques for small females. Also demonstrated for the benefit of the two Dukes were paper-making, typewriters, electric clocks and steam engines.

Bardanar returned home to review his own policies, in light of the discussions held with Robanar and Wallesan, but Garia's problem still persisted. She couldn't get in touch with the Beings. Finally, she cleared her diary one afternoon and set out to meditate her way back into the multiple dimensions where answers needed to be found.

"As before, Jenet. I just assumed that this would get easier as time went on but it is still a struggle."

"As you say, Milady. Fortunately Lanilla and I have some work to do on our wedding attire, so we will hide ourselves in the dressing room out of your sight and sound. Yet we will be nearby should you have need."

"That's fine, Jenet. I've begun to learn how to..." tune out, "... ignore external sounds a little better now but maybe you're right. I'm sorry, I don't know how long this might take."

"Shall I interrupt you, if there is need?"

Garia thought. "Normally I'd say no but this is an odd time, isn't it? If there's anything really urgent, then yes, of course. Otherwise, I think you'll have to use your judgement."

"As you desire, Milady."

Garia relaxed and focused on the flickering flames of the bedroom fire. Soon the usual noises heard in a large wooden building full of people began to fade and she attempted to direct her consciousness to a particular place.

* * *

Nurse: Greetings, hatchling! We have wondered why you did not come again.

Garia: I've tried, I really have. It doesn't help that I've had a lot to occupy my attention lately.

Nurse: We have noticed. You will find that your visits here will become easier as time passes. Please let me introduce you to some others of us.

Garia sensed that there were more Beings here, some she had not met before. Since she did not have an appointment, so to speak, she could not tell if their presence was for her benefit or for some other obscure operation the Beings had planned. She perceived that there were five other beings in the space around her, some of whom she recognized.

Two were those she had come to label the Monitors, the two she had originally met when she first found out how to enter this space. These were the ones she guessed had been appointed to watch over Anmar and she now thought that they had been some kind of marine creature, although the shape was not one she was familiar with. Were those legs or feelers or what? The other three -

Tentacles. Lots and lots of tentacles. There was some kind of body but it was hidden in the mass of writhing ends which spread out like those of some kind of sea anemone, although that did not have to mean the creature lived in a liquid environment.

Nurse: You are observing the Regional Director for this section of the galaxy. You should know that you are the first Solid for many millions of cycles to have been the subject of a full Galactic Council meeting.

Direct: Greetings, young one. Your presence and abilities are as extraordinary as Nurse has explained to us.

Garia: Um, thank you.

Nurse: Then we have our Co-ordinator, who manages matters within our immediate sector of the galaxy.

Garia saw a turtle-like creature with many stubby legs below a thick, rounded carapace. There was no head or tail but feathery antennae poked out of one end of the body. She wondered if it had originally come from a high-gravity world.

Co-ord: Be welcome here, child.

Garia: Thank you.

Nurse: Finally, we are joined by our Sector Integrator. She is responsible for ensuring that the progress made by our sector achieves the result we desire.

The Sector Integrator surprised Garia and not in a nice way. She was insectoid, and the shape of the body screamed merciless predator. It was all Garia could do to stay where she was and not bolt immediately.

Integ: My Solid form disturbs you. It is a natural response by many species towards my kind and not without historical basis. All I can do is tell you that my Solid species occupies much the same position on my home world as yours does on your home world. For me to have Emerged means I am a rational being and I would not consider you to be food. I am no threat to you.

Garia [shakily]: If you say so. I believe you, but my body isn't so sure.

Direct: Young one, we are here together because of a chance remark you made on a previous visit. The Being you label Nurse again by chance has knowledge of your circumstances on your home world, the planet you label Earth.

At last! I might finally get to find out what is going on!

Direct: Indeed, but you may not like what we are here to propose to you. I ask you to listen to everything we have to tell you before you consider the proposal.

Garia: Wait, what? You have a proposal for me?

Direct: We do, and it is because of your unusual status as an Emerged Being who has been transferred that we are able to make this proposal to you. You are aware of us and will become more so as you mature. But that means our courses of action are not constrained the same way they would be if you had not Emerged. Nurse, if you would explain.

Nurse: First, I must spend some small cycles describing our history. It will not take long but it is essential for you to understand who and what we are and what we face in the future.

Garia: I understand.

Nurse [reciting]: Before the Universe existed, there was only void. There was no mass, no energy, no movement. Then, in an instant which some species of Solid label the Big Bang, the Universe began. Of course -

Garia listened with growing amazement at the story that Nurse told. It followed the classic pattern scientists had deduced on Earth but filled in the gaps with solid history. Where there were worlds, life evolved. Sometimes, life even evolved where there were not worlds. Civilizations rose and fell, worlds died and others were born in the stellar fires. Eventually, some civilizations matured to such a point that some of their members Emerged and discovered the Multidimensional nature of the Universe.

Technology, both Solid and Multidimensional, improved to such a state that it became possible to see some way into the future by measuring the energies and movements of every particle in an assigned area and then extrapolating forward. Prodigious calculating resources were required which could only be found by understanding other dimensions mathematically.

Of course, to begin with, their results were little better than Earth weather forecasts were, but over the ages their predictions became better and better. It eventually became possible to follow the evolution of the entire galaxy, although not in fine detail. Unfortunately, their forecasts faded away at a certain point in the future, due to outside influences they could not calculate. What clues they could obtain, however, indicated that the galaxy and all the beings in it, both Solid and Emerged, looked doomed.

Then a Being wondered what would happen if, and things changed again. By making artificial changes to the forecasts it became possible to alter the probability of the ending of the galaxy by a small amount. Successive changes offered a slim chance that a way might be found in the future to avoid annihilation.

The first attempts were done by direct interference with Solid civilizations and they were only partly successful. The idea of transference arose and, though expensive, it seemed to offer more hope of a successful outcome. Many blunders were made and many civilizations lost or corrupted before the appropriate methods were refined and protocols laid down. In addition, worlds were discovered which had no civilization or dominant species and a process of colonization was begun, one of those worlds being Anmar, another being... Earth. Somehow, by this time, Garia was not surprised to learn this.

Garia: Thank you. Some of what you said could be deduced in time but it was useful to hear what really happened. But a proposal was mentioned. What is it you want me to do?

Nurse: Hatchling, you present us with a unique opportunity. You are Emerged, you are a transferee and you have knowledge of two worlds, those you label Earth and Anmar. Because of your presence here, and due to the malfunction of the cloning mechanism -

First Monitor [interrupting]: We explained to you before, the mechanism did not malfunction. It did what it was programmed to do.

Second Monitor: The design is faulty. It does not take sufficient account of quantum variability. That is why this Solid was grown in the wrong mode.

Nurse [irritated]: The exact reason is not important. [To Garia] What is important is that, because of that... discrepancy, you have had a much larger effect than if you had been transferred in the expected mode. The probability of success is now so much greater that your personal identifier has been spoken of at Galactic Council meetings.

Garia: I get that. But what more can I do? I think I'm doing almost everything I can to help things along.

Nurse: There is another factor. I have knowledge of your circumstances before you left Earth. Understand, hatchling, we must select our transferees carefully and I was among those who made the selections. Usually we choose those at or near the point of death, since it is easier for us to sample the pattern matrix that way.

First: By pattern matrix I believe those of Earth use the term DNA, young one.

Garia: Yes, I figured it must be something like that. I was told that Maralin was about to die in a fire, and it is apparent from some of the artifacts we have found on Anmar that the people carrying them were thought to have died on Earth. I can understand why you might want to do it that way. Maralin has told me that he is happy to be here because he has had a second chance at life and he intends to make the most of it.

Nurse: Maralin is dead but you are not, hatchling. I must be careful what I reveal but there was something you call an 'accident' and your original body still lies in a coma on Earth. The expectation was that you would die, but there was a small probability that you would not and that is what transpired. We want you to go back to Earth and collect the knowledge you now know your Industrial Revolution will need here on Anmar. Once you have collected all you think necessary we will bring you back here.

Garia was stunned by the revelation, so much so that she almost lost her grip on the multidimensional space and began to slide back to the Solid world. It was only by realizing that and by making strenuous efforts that she was able to stay with the others.

Garia: I'm still alive there? You can send me back to my Earth body? I didn't think that was possible! I'm a clone, aren't I?

Nurse: It is not possible. It will be necessary to grow another body for you, near Earth, with the memories you have now, and substitute it for the existing body. That will require direct interference, but we have identified a way to do it without anyone realizing what has happened.

Garia: What happens then? How do I get back here?

Nurse: I have to be careful what I tell you. The same procedure would have to be followed again to return you here.

Garia: As a woman? I mean, in the alternate mode? In case you hadn't noticed, I'm due to be married shortly. I couldn't come back here as a man. I wouldn't want to.

Nurse: We would ensure that you reappear here substantially as you now appear to your fellow Solids. All that would be different is that you would have memories of your excursion and, of course, any items that you happened to bring with you.

Garia: Clever. What about - never mind. You've never done this before, I take it?

Nurse: We have never transferred anyone more than once. We have never had an Emerged transferee before, with memories of more than one world. We have never before attempted to replace someone who already existed. All these reasons make this an experimental operation.

Direct: Understand this, young one. We do not make this proposal to you frivolously. Before now the probability of the survival of the civilizations of the galaxy was barely 0.6, and that was only after your transfer to this world. If this operation is successful then the chances rise to 0.89. We cannot let that opportunity pass. It is a risk we feel obliged to consider seriously.

Garia: Oh, wow. You're right, it is too good an improvement to pass up, isn't it? All right, then I have to consider it. Only, what are the downsides? The problems? There's bound to be some.

Nurse: There are, of course, many potential problems in the task we propose. The immediate problem is one of time. The Earth body will only remain available for a limited period.

Garia was stunned all over again. This time, to learn that what had to be done had to be done soon or not at all.

No! Not now, of all times! Why does it have to be now?

Of course, if I have a body in a coma they'll not want to keep it going for ever.

Garia [appalled]: I'm about to get married. I can't run away and do this and leave everybody like this!

Direct: We understand. For the proposal to succeed it is necessary that you are mated but you would only have a small number of diurnal cycles together before you must leave. All factors have been considered. If there is a problem at any point in the process which cannot be solved immediately then there are alternative procedures which can be followed. We believe we have thought of everything.

Garia [furious]: Everything, right, like the fact I came out on Anmar in the wrong mode! What happens if I can't be brought back to Anmar for some reason?

Direct: We propose keeping your present body in stasis. This is possible, but only for a small number of cycles. Should anything irreversible happen, we would revive it and you would have the same memories as if you had never left Anmar. That would of course constitute a complete failure but we would be no worse off than we are now.

Garia: I can't take this in. I think I have to go away and think it over.

Direct: We understand. If you do this, then suddenly the many beings in the galaxy, Solid and Emerged, will have a future to look forward to.

Garia: Yes, but -

* * *

Her eyes flew open and she stared at the flickering flames with dismay. The thought of leaving Anmar, of losing Keren, overwhelmed her and she burst into tears. Jenet and Lanilla came running out from the dressing room.

"Milady! Whatever is wrong?"

They knelt down to comfort her from either side. She was too upset to speak, still surfacing from the trance. Jenet took a good look at Garia's face and came to a decision.

"Go and start some pel," she told Lanilla. "On your way back, find the Prince."

"As you wish, Jenet."

"My Lady," Jenet said gently to Garia, "You must rise. Let me help you to stand."

Jenet gently lifted Garia up and helped her to the settee, seating her and then sitting beside her so that she could continue to cuddle her.

"It was bad, Milady? You went to that other place, didn't you? Did they threaten you?"

The thought of Jenet getting confused because of her distress rallied Garia a little.

She shook her head. "It isn't that at all, Jenet. I was told everything. Unfortunately, the situation is bad, very bad, and they desperately need my help."

Garia snuggled closer to Jenet, wanting reassurance. She hadn't felt the need for a woman's comfort since she had been a little... boy. How could she possibly bear to leave this place now? Even with all the attacks, battles and conflicts with obstinate stick-in-the-muds Anmar was where she belonged and now they wanted her to leave it. She burst into tears again.

"There, there." Jenet's presence was warm and healing. "You are a wonder in our lands, where Kings and Dukes listen to your every word, and yet we forget you are still a young woman. You have had all this responsibility thrust upon you and it is too much for you."

"Jenet, I... They want me to..."

Garia's words dried up. She didn't even know how much she could tell anyone! Whatever she did was bound to be wrong, but a day would soon come when everybody would have to find out the truth... and unfortunately it would bring a Kingdom into crisis.

She hadn't thought of that, she had been too bound up in her own personal reactions. To lose Keren, now, when everything was going so well, and to think of the pain she would be causing him in turn, that was bad enough. She had overlooked the wider picture...

If she just disappeared, then Robanar would automatically assume she had been kidnapped and probably declare war on somebody. If he didn't do that, he'd tear the country apart looking for her and then start on the ones surrounding it.

On the other hand, if it appeared that she had died, then the country would go into mourning for a fairytale Princess - and nobody would be expecting her to come back.

"My Lady, you have time," Jenet soothed. "Once the shock is past, you will have time to reconsider what you have just learned. Mayhap things are never what they may seem at first."

"But that's just it! I don't have time! I -"

Garia stopped again, frustrated by the inability to decide who to tell and how much. Most of what she had just learned was way beyond Jenet's comprehension. Heck, some of it was beyond hers! Who could she possibly go to for advice? Maralin? She wasn't even sure she ought to be telling him about the Beings, let alone be discussing the fate of the galaxy with him. With a start she realized that Nurse had been so enthusiastic about his own project that Garia hadn't even mentioned speaking to Maralin when she was there.

She just sat there, miserable, comforted by Jenet's arms. The shock of leaving multidimensional space so abruptly had now receded and she was left with the emotional backlash of her own feelings. She had not really understood how much this marriage to Keren had meant to her, nor the depth of her own feelings for her adopted country and the extended family she had gathered around her.

Then there's Blackstone. How are they going to react to any of this?

The first visitor through the bedroom door was not Keren but Terys. Jenet promptly disentangled herself from Garia and stood and the Queen immediately took her place.

"Garia! What has happened? Lanilla said that you were distressed. Come to me, dear. Varna assists with the pel, they will not be long."

"Ma'am," explained Jenet, "Lady Garia meditated in here while Lanilla and I were in the dressing room. We came out when we heard a noise and found her upset."

"Meditated? Oh, the exercise she used to calm Eriana's temper? How, then, should this distress her so? I thought it provided tranquillity, not the opposite."

Jenet was cautious. She knew what Garia had been doing but she wasn't sure the Queen would understand.

"Ma'am, I could not say. It was something she had been trying for some few days without success."

"This is success? Then there is certainly something wrong. Garia, dear, shall you explain?"

"Ma'am, I'm not sure that I can." She tensed, then added, "...or that I should."

Terys thought that somebody who was really upset would probably say things that they might not otherwise mean so let that pass. She tried to reassure the tear-stained girl.

"Perhaps, my dear. If it is something to do with your meditation, then is there any other who you might consult?" Terys was unhappy that she could not help. "I'm not sure there is anyone else who knows of what you speak."

"It's... complicated, Ma'am. I don't think there's anyone who can help me with this one." Tears began running again. "I have to do it all by myself."

"Come here, dear." Terys gathered Garia to her bosom, as she had done on certain previous occasions. At those times a portion of the problem had been hormonal, so she quietly asked Jenet, "Kalikan?"

Jenet shook her head. "Recently, Ma'am, but she is finished now."

Garia lifted her head. "It's not Kalikan, Ma'am. My whole world has just been torn apart."

"Whatever do you mean, dear?"

Before Garia could temporize an answer Keren almost ran through the bedroom door.

"Garia? Oh, mother! What has happened?"

Garia took one look at Keren's concerned expression and burst into tears again.

All these kind people just want to help and I'm going to run out on them. It's not fair!

Keren knelt down in front of Garia. "It'll be okay, love. I'm not going to leave you. Whatever it is, I'll always be beside you to help."

For some reason this statement just appeared to make matters worse.

Through her tears, she managed to force out, "I meditated."

"Oh."

Keren saw and it turned him cold inside. Garia had been somewhat reticent concerning the Beings of late but he knew enough to guess that she had just learned something from them that had upset her greatly. Equally, he knew he couldn't find out what it was in front of his mother and assorted maids.

"Lanilla brings pel," he said. "Why don't we go into your sitting room to be ready when it comes? Garia?"

She nodded dumbly and he held out a hand to help her up. His touch triggered feelings of reassurance and when she stood she hugged him tightly. With an eyebrow raised, Terys rose behind her and then led the way into the sitting room, Keren supporting Garia as they followed his mother. This time, a gesture from Terys saw Garia seated on the settee beside Keren while the Queen took a chair.

The outer door opened and Lanilla came in bearing a tray followed by Varna with a plate of pastries. In short order Garia had a cup of steaming pel in her hands while Keren leaned forward for a pastry. She took a sip of the hot liquid and as usual it began to have the desired effect on her. She sagged back, now beginning to feel the effects of all the nervous energy she had just expended.

Terys asked, "Keren? What do you know of meditation? I thought that it was designed to calm the mind, it appears to have had the opposite effect on poor Garia. Is there some danger in this method we do not know?"

"Mother," he replied cautiously, "I don't think it is the meditation itself that is the problem. All I know is that it can put your mind in such a state that you can think differently, that there might be answers there that cannot be obtained another way." He hesitated before adding, "I cannot say what Garia may have been thinking, mother, while she was in that state. I think it would be best to leave her come to terms with it herself before she attempts to speak of it to another."

"I will stay with her until she recovers, Keren."

"Ah, I don't think there's any need for you to do that, mother. I can stay here with her instead."

Terys looked at her son with suspicion. "What were you doing when you were called? Should you not return, they will want to know what befell you here."

"Ah, no, mother. I was just passing the time with Merek and a couple of the Dukes' men, that's all. Nothing important."

Her instincts now thoroughly aroused, Terys said to him, "You know something, don't you? Something you're not telling me."

For Keren, it was the first time in his life that he had needed to face down his mother. He sighed.

"Yes and no, mother. I know a little more and it is something I may not tell you without Garia's consent. I do not know what ails her today."

Terys's face showed disappointment, but it was the disappointment that her own son didn't trust her enough to tell her everything, as he had always done in the past. She put that down partly to the emotional state of everybody in the room but there was a residue of something else. Perhaps it was time to recognize that Keren was now his own man with his own life to live and his own secrets to hide.

"As you say," she said, lifting her own cup. "I shall not pry any further. Know, both of you, that the King and I stand ready to help whenever either of you shall have need of us."

The drinks were finished in an uncomfortable silence and then Terys stood to leave, gesturing with a hand that Keren and Garia should remain seated. They watched as she went through the outer door, taking Kenila and Varna with her, before breathing a sigh of relief.

Keren turned to Garia. "Can you tell me anything? I will understand if you cannot, but it pains me to see you looking like this. Jenet, a cloth for your mistress."

Her voice was almost a whisper. "I have learned a lot this afternoon," she said. "It has left me with an impossible choice, and one I can only make myself." She looked up. "Thank you, Jenet."

Lanilla was in the room, attending to the remains of the mid-afternoon drink, so he couldn't say anything more openly. Instead, he asked, "Is Palarand at risk?"

She frowned. "I don't think so, Keren. This is much more personal."

"I'm not going to guess it out of you because I know that will only upset and annoy you. If you need an ear to pour troubles into," he smiled, "or a shoulder to cry on, then I'll always be here for you. You know that."

The tears began again and she dabbed furiously at her eyes. Keren frowned. The clear implication was that he would not always be there for her, so what..? He put his arm around her shoulder.

"Just stay calm, my love. Things always look bad to begin with, once you are over the initial shock you may consider them in a more collected manner. I remember when the old King died, my grandfather... it was unexpected, a shock to us all, and we didn't know what to do. Oh, father did, of course, he just became King, but for a while the whole palace was in an uproar. After a very short while we all calmed down and tradition asserted itself. There are a whole lot of rules and regulations governing the death of a King, did you know that?"

She did not, but her concerns were more immediate. There was sense in what Keren said, but she had a certain urgency to her own situation that couldn't be delayed. However...

"Let's just sit for a while, can we? You're right, I need to do some thinking right now and I can't do that while I'm so upset."

"Anything, my love."

They simply sat in silence for a while, cuddling one another. Lanilla took away the drinks tray and when she returned, she and Jenet retreated to the dressing room to leave Garia and Keren in peace. Garia's mind was churning with the information she had absorbed and she needed to bring order to it all.

They want me to go back to Earth!

...And I'm not dead there, so they want to substitute me for the old me, who apparently is in a coma.

...And, from the sounds of it, not likely to revive. Or be around much longer.

Why can't they just drop me there like they did when I came here? I could go back any time if that was what they wanted.

...After we're married, and after I've given Keren an heir...

Not so simple. I'd have no ID, no background. In this day and age I'd have little chance of explaining myself. If I claimed to be me the DNA would presumably match, but it would cause too many questions I wouldn't be able to answer.

I'd have no cash either, no means to open a bank account and nothing to put in it. Substitution means that I can in theory carry on where I left off. I have to do it the way they planned.

But to leave now! What they ask is outrageous, it isn't fair!

...But I have to consider the bigger picture. A whole galaxy? Me?

...I have to put aside my own happiness to save a galaxy... How big-headed does that sound?

At some point she discovered that she had accepted that she would do as the Beings asked, if it were possible. She had lived in the palace long enough to understand the notions of honor and duty, and she had realized that, as the King had once said, sometimes duty meant doing uncomfortable things. That realization changed the trend of her thoughts, brought her mind back into focus.

I can't do this without telling anyone, that would be a complete disaster. I need to talk to them again to find out what I can tell and who I can tell it to.

The sun had gotten low enough to cause the room to darken before Garia stirred.

"Keren. I have to go meditate again."

"What? Are you sure that is wise?"

"The meditation, yes. I was told a lot of things earlier and the shock meant I missed some important items out. Before I can tell anything to anybody I have to go and get some particular answers and make some particular conditions."

"Conditions! You go to war?"

She gave him a wan smile. "I'm trying to avoid what might become another war, I think. Will you let me? You can come watch if you like. I don't think this visit will be as bad as the last one but I'll be happier if you're nearby."

Keren was tense. The situation was bad enough but she was going somewhere he couldn't follow, couldn't protect her - if she needed protection. Though she had described the place where she went, he had no way to even imagine such a space and couldn't think what it might be like to be there. He felt helpless.

He gave a sharp nod. "If you are sure."

They walked through and told the maids what Garia intended. Jenet objected but it was plain that Garia had unfinished business. Keren sat on the bedroom settee in such a position that he wouldn't be in her line of vision. She carefully arranged herself on the floor and stared at the fire, almost embers now. It had been forgotten in the drama of the afternoon.

* * *

Nurse: You return, hatchling! We observed your anguish but could do nothing to help you.

Garia: I had to come back. There are things that must be decided between us before I agree to anything.

Nurse: We expected as much.

Garia: It has occurred to me that, just like the last time, you don't actually need my consent to do this, do you? You could just yank me out of Anmar and put me back on Earth. That's just the reverse of what you did before, isn't it?

Nurse: It is not so, hatchling. Almost nothing in the proposal has ever been attempted before. For example, a transferee has never been transferred again. We have never needed to replace a Solid with a clone before.

Garia: I guess not. You just leave us on a mountain, in a ditch or on a beach, I suppose, and let us get on with it.

Nurse: It must be so, since no transferee before yourself has ever had knowledge of us or the overall plan. That has always been taken into account in our calculations.

Garia: But now, you have someone who is Emerged. How do you calculate that?

Nurse: Hatchling, we cannot. But the others are still nearby. You should ask your questions of those who have authority to answer.

Garia turned to find that the others were gathered some distance away, past some of the strange, semi-transparent multidimensional devices. Though she willed herself to move, she could not change position by as much as the width of an atom. Nurse did something and essentially carried Garia towards the others, who greeted her.

Direct: You have questions.

Garia: Yes, among other things. First, I have met another transferee called Maralin. As I understand it, he is not actually part of your Great Plan but was transferred to try and find out what the problem was with the cloning mechanism.

Direct [aside]: Co-ordinator, is this so?

Co-ord: It is, Director. However, this transfer has itself resulted in a change to the probability of success of the Great Plan, and in our favor. That is why the transfer protocols have been adjusted and the projection parameters widened.

Direct: Yes, of course. [To Garia] Continue.

Garia: I want to know how much about the multidimensional universe I can tell to Maralin. I am frustrated by having to keep secrets all the time and I'm afraid I might let slip something I should not. Even something that seems innocent might change the future in ways I can't predict.

Direct: It is a problem for us, young one. The predictions we make are based only on the evolution of the Solid portion of the galaxy, since that is where the danger will be. Fully Emerged Beings do not normally affect the Solid galaxy in measurable ways. Even your conversations with us cannot be entered into the probability matrix, not directly.

Garia: Oh. Then I shouldn't say anything?

Direct: That is not what I said, young one. But this would only be the first step, would it not?

Garia: What do you - yes, you're right. That's another thing I realized. I can't just disappear off the face of Anmar, can I? That will cause all kinds of problems. Some people other than Maralin have to know what is going on here. I owe it to my fellow Solids to tell them what will happen and that I will eventually return.

Direct: That is factored into the projections, young one.

Garia: I think it goes further than that, actually. It has occurred to me that, some time in the future, the Solids will have to learn the truth about your existence and what will happen to the galaxy. I don't think they will all find out or be told everything, but some Solids are going to need to know some part of it.

Direct: That point will be far into the future, young one. It need not concern you.

Garia: But I think you have it all wrong, if you don't mind me saying so. What you're basically doing with the galaxy is the same as what you tried to do small-scale on Anmar. You're trying to get people advanced enough without them realizing that they are improving themselves so that they can fight a war for you.

Direct: The conflict will be theirs as well as ours. The existence of all is at stake.

Garia: I don't dispute that. What I'm saying is that if you tell them what is going on, the developments will come much faster. It's what happens in wartime. People are always ready to defend what is dear to them.

Nurse: I agree, hatchling. Director, there are many examples from Earth's history where even the threat of war has hastened developments of all kinds.

Director [taken aback]: If we agreed to this, it would mean a major change in policy. I do not think we could manage that without many greater cycles of research and evaluation.

Garia: But there might be a simpler way. This is what I propose.

Garia outlined her ideas and the assembled Beings listened attentively. As might be expected, there were objections and complications but a compromise was eventually agreed between them all.

Direct: As you have explained to us, there seems to be little external risk in what you propose. I will authorize this variation in the regulations, but only for the planet Anmar and for the present. Once you return, we will consider if the regulations require adjustment for the longer term. Nurse, I am changing your assignment. You will report directly to me as my monitor with special responsibility for the region where these people reside. In addition, since it was your proposal, you will manage the progress of this young one as she travels to Earth and returns. I will find another to continue your original studies on Earth.

Nurse: As you wish, Director.

Direct: Integrator, you must observe this operation most carefully. If it is successful, then it will be necessary to re-run the calculations for the whole of your sector. We can expect large variations in the predicted results.

Integ: As you wish, Director.

First: What of us, Director?

Direct: You should follow the plan as before. If your duties require you to interact with those for whom Nurse is now responsible, take your questions to him.

Garia: What about Maralin?

Nurse: Since it appears that your King and his Duke are about to collaborate, there seems little point in hiding the truth from him if you are to tell them. Tell him as much as you think fit.

Garia: Thank you.

Direct: You show surprising imagination for one so young. Perhaps those on the Council have become too old to manage matters efficiently.

Garia: I just have a different point of view, that's all. And when I was younger I read a great deal of science fiction.

Direct: Science fiction?

Nurse: I detect that our hatchling is slipping away, Director. Let me explain, if I can, what Science Fiction might be...

* * *

"Garia! What happened just then?"

"Huh?"

She turned and looked groggily at Keren. He rose and came to help her to her feet, her joints stiff from her enforced stillness. The room was in almost total darkness by now, the only light coming from lanterns in the adjoining rooms.

"Um, what? What did you see?"

"I'm not sure... It's not like anything I can describe. A kind of brief shimmer, perhaps." He looked into her face. "Are you okay? Was it dangerous?"

She smiled at him, which relieved him somewhat. "There's never any danger where I go, Keren. At least, nobody there seems bothered about anything that we might think of as dangerous. What time is it?

"It must be time to go down for the evening meal," he replied.

"Oh! And I haven't changed!"

Jenet and Lanilla came out of the dressing room, anxious, but when they saw Garia's smile they relaxed.

"It's okay," she told them. "There were things I had to find out and I think I've done more than that. Jenet, can I go down looking like this?"

"Well, it is not customary, Milady, but it is something that occurs occasionally, when for example someone arrives late."

"Like when Terinar arrived as a Messenger, perhaps."

"Just so, Milady. If His Highness is ready, then we may go."

"Aye, Jenet," Keren agreed. "I am hungry and, judging by appearances, your mistress will be hungry too. Let us go down at once."

Garia stuck her hand through Keren's arm. "Oh, good! Keren, I'll need to ask your father for a special meeting, as soon as possible. I have been given permission to tell him, and a select group of others including you, exactly what the Beings are and what they are planning to do." She grimaced. "You're not going to like it. Neither is anybody else."



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