Chapter z

PAUL

“Are you ready?”

In the middle of the Australian bush, as evening fell, two people who had only just met faced a new future together.

Sitting on the rickety bench, and shattered after her kidnap ordeal, Laura presently began to cry – at first rather quietly and forlornly, but then in great sobs, as if she could no longer bear the dreadful weight of all her own knowledge and experience.

Paul sat down beside her, glancing at her tearstained face, and a little at a loss as to how to help.  “Oh dear,” he said.  “I didn’t mean to have quite such an effect with my revelation.”

She shook her head, trying to smile.

“Oh it’s not you, of course not.  It’s so wonderful to have found you, and I’m so grateful to you for saving me!”

“What, then?  I hope you’re not going to say we have to part for some reason.  Surely we can stay together for a while at least, see where things take us.”

“Paul – darling.”  The word slipped out of its own accord, and it seemed appropriate, although they had only known each other for such a short time.  “I don’t want to ever be parted from you, believe me.  You can’t imagine what this means to me, to know that I’m not alone!”

“I can image it,” said Paul, taking her hand.  “Because it means the same to me.”

They kissed again, and it felt very right, very right indeed.

“So why the tears?” Paul asked, wiping Laura’s cheek with his thumb.

She kissed his hand.  “It’s because of the awful irony of it all!  Of what I’ve discovered outside of this world.  All those beautiful planets, all those amazing people.  Such a wealth of variety, such an abundance of life!  And yet each of them is so isolated.  Each of us has to pass aeons in ignorance of our neighbours.”  She paused for breath, then continued passionately.  “It’s heart-breaking that all those civilisations can’t somehow get together, and share their knowledge and their history, and learn about each other, and gain something!”  She looked into his ees.  “For me to have seen it all, but to be powerless in the face of it.  Not to have been the one who could unite them – it’s tragic.”

There was a long silence, while some final inhibitions were put aside and a big decision was made.

“Laura,” said Paul, suddenly standing up and pulling her up with him, for this moment seemed too important to experience in a casual fashion.  “Don’t you ever think that maybe you’ve given up too easily?  That you haven’t exhausted all the possibilities, when it comes to communication with these alien peoples?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Laura said, and shook her head.  “I’ve tried for years now and it comes to nothing.  There’s no way around it.”

A slow and sly smile broke out on Paul’s face, getting very gradually broader.  He was enjoying his moment.

“Why do you think it was so, so important for me to find you?”

“I – well isn’t it because – I thought you’d already – ?”

“My dear girl,” Paul said, studying Laura’s face carefully so he didn’t miss her reaction.  “Just because YOU can’t make objects move with the power of your mind…” he was holding both her hands in his now, “…doesn’t mean that NO-ONE can.”

She stared at him, not sure what he was saying.

He gripped her wrists so that her hands were both resting flat, palms upwards, and then took a step back, letting her go.  Scanning around him, it seemed he found what he was looking for, and following his gaze, Laura saw a small leafless stick lying alone on the dusty ground, a few inches long and rather thin.

All of a sudden the stick rose from the ground and hovered for a moment in the air, before slowly completing a smooth trajectory from the ground to Laura’s open left palm.  There it deposited itself gently, making her start as she felt its tiny but real weight in her hand.

There was a long silence.

And then Paul said,   “Imagine it’s a pencil.”

Laura’s face lit up with the most gigantic smile.  She threw her arms around Paul and they danced around each other, so excited.

“Do you realise what this means?”

“Yes!”

“The fate of the universe has changed!”

“Maybe so.”

“What’s the first thing we should say?”

“Well, ‘hello’, I suppose.”

Once they had calmed down, they walked a little way away from the hut so they could watch the sun setting in the distance.  It was spectacular, turning the evening sky into a tumult of pink and red.

Tomorrow would be a very different day.

Laura gripped Paul’s hand tightly, happier than she had ever felt in her life.

She gave a big sigh and then said, “Right, are you ready?”

“For what?” Paul asked, his eyes turning from the sunset, to her excited face.

“To come with me to Pretonia.”

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