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Denizens: 32 - Parting

...Jonathan looked at them for a long moment, placed his hands on their shoulders, and said, “God be with you both, and deliver you safely home.” Then he hoisted his sack, and walked away across the flat landing area to the edge of the slope. He turned and waved, and was quickly out of sight.

The two remaining members of the Hermes team remained outside the ship for a long while, watching the spot where they had last seen their friend. He re-appeared, just for a moment, a tiny figure on the plain below. As they watched, he turned and raised a hand, then was lost to sight behind a small hill...

Jonathan says goodbye to his Hermes spaceship colleagues Cal and Karen and walks off to his appointment with Biblical history.

Master storyteller Brian William Neal convincingly weaves space and time into one of the most satisifying sci-fi novel you are ever likely to read. For earlier chapters of this magnicient tale please click on Denizens in the menu on his page.

They stayed on the island that would later become known as Guam for several days. None of them was particularly anxious to make any decisions about the next stage of their journey, and they still had not discussed what they were going to do after releasing the embryos. And the island was a pleasant place, a place where they could rest and allow old wounds to heal.

Cal and Karen went for long walks; Jonathan occasionally limped along with them, getting stronger every day, but most of the time he stayed in or near the ship. As far as they could tell, the island was uninhabited; they saw no one while they were there, and they appeared to have it to themselves. They all knew they could not stay indefinitely; there was little food on the island, and their stores would not last forever. Eventually, they knew they would have to move on, and find a place to settle, but they put off the decision, content for the moment to enjoy the peace and isolation.

Then one evening, quite unexpectedly, Jonathan brought up the subject. Cal had caught a large fish from the beach, and they roasted it over a fire, with some wild roots they had found. A squall moved across the island, and they retreated into the ship and ate their meal in one of the large rooms, sitting around an oval table on comfortable cushions. After they had finished, Jonathan topped up their glasses from their dwindling supply of wine, and said, “I think we have to talk about where we are going to go when we leave here.”

Cal and Karen looked at him with mild surprise. None of them had seemed in a hurry to leave; The two lovers had, in fact contemplated the possibility of Karen becoming pregnant here. They had certainly done nothing to inhibit the possibility, making love on their walks in a variety of interesting places, not to mention positions. But it was what Jonathan said next that made them sit up and stare at him in shock.

“I believe I may have discovered a way to return to our own time.”

The simple statement, delivered in Jonathan’s typical low-key manner, electrified the other two. They began to bombard him with questions, and he held up his hands to ward off the onslaught.

“Wait, wait, please,” he said, smiling. “I only said I may have found a way. I’m not sure it will work, and even if it is possible, it involves a great deal of risk, a terrible chance that not all of us might be willing to take.”

Intrigued, Cal and Karen asked him to explain, and Jonathan continued.

“The key to it is the cryogenic tanks. If they can preserve embryos like those of the creatures, they might be able to be used to freeze other, larger organisms. Such as a human being, for instance, in some sort of suspended animation.”

Cal stared at him. “Are you suggesting that we might be able to…just climb into the tanks and …”

“No, Cal,” interrupted Karen. “What about the ship? We couldn’t just leave it, to be found by who knows who.”

Jonathan nodded vigorously. “Yes, I agree. Therefore, we would have to hide it in a place where it wouldn’t be found for a very long time.”

The others began to question him again, and he protested. “I haven’t got it all worked out yet. I’ll have to examine the tanks to see if it’s even possible. If I may suggest, Cal, I think we should leave here and go to a place that I would like to see. Once there, I will work on the problem and, hopefully, answer all your questions.”

He would say no more on the subject, so the others agreed to his request and they lifted off the next morning. Jonathan gave Cal the course he wanted to follow, and they headed away from the island, traveling north-west.

They turned due west and crossed China in an hour, then climbed to fifty thousand feet and saw the wild magnificence of the Himalayas pass beneath them. Then they swept across Persia and Iraq, descending finally to land near what would one day be the Israel/Syria border, in the much fought over area of the Golan Heights.

There were no settlements within fifty miles, and Cal put the ship down at night, near the edge of a high plateau that overlooked the desert below. In the morning, they left the ship and stepped out into the blazing heat. In the distance, off to the west, gleamed the silvery sparkle of the Sea of Galilee. With the sun hot on their backs, they looked out on a scene that would remain virtually unchanged over the next two thousand years.

They were silent for a moment, then Jonathan said, “Look at this place. So different from the place we just left, where we released the embryos. Will they survive, do you think?”

They stood, each of them deep in their thoughts, looking at the desert. The silence was a palpable thing, and then Jonathan spoke again.

“Denizens.” His voice was so quiet, the others were not certain he had spoken at all. Then Cal said, without turning around or taking his eyes off the scene before them, “What did you say, Jonathan?”

Jonathan watched the desert for a moment, then said, “Denizens, Cal. That’s what they are. It’s also what we are, too, in a way.”

Karen turned to face him, and said, “Denizens? That’s an odd term to use, Jonathan.”

The Englishman smiled. “Do either of you know what it means? The proper definition, I mean?”

Cal shrugged, and Karen said, “Well, I’ve always thought it meant an inhabitant of a certain part of the ocean, or something like that. You know, ‘denizens of the deep’.”

Jonathan nodded. “Yes, that’s what I imagine most people think. In point of fact, you’re only half right.” He paused and looked at the shimmering sand, the cracked, sun bleached rocks. “I once thought the same, until I had occasion to look the word up in a dictionary. The Oxford edition defines a denizen as ‘an inhabitant of a place, which is not native to that place.’ In other words, something that has moved in somewhere and made that place its home. I suppose that makes us denizens too, in a way.”

The others looked at him curiously, and he went on. “Well, here we are, in this place, this world, and I suppose we were once native to it. But in this time-line, we actually came here from another world. And that brings me to something else I have been considering. I think the similarity between us and ’tau’s people is too marked to be merely coincidence. Whether we originated there, or they here, I believe we are brothers. But I have another theory about that.” He paused thoughtfully, then went on.

“Remember how ’tau told us that all the other aliens to visit his world were non-human? He also told me that we were the only other race like his own that he knew of in the galaxy. Of course, if his people have met with fifteen others, not including us, then there are doubtless many more of which he does not know. Still, each of those other races would have met many others that ’tau would not known of, and as far as he knew, they hadn’t met any humans either. It would seem, therefore, a logical assumption that our kind is rare. It also follows that two rare species, so alike, would be related.”

They turned that thought over in their minds, then Karen said, “Why need there be only two? The galaxy is a big place, Jonathan. And we all noticed how ’tau’s people resembled humans of Middle Eastern extraction.”

Jonathan nodded. “What are you getting at, Karen?” he asked.

“Well,” she replied, “isn’t it possible that humans came from various parts of the galaxy to earth? I mean, look at the differences between our various races. Apart from those like ’tau’s people, what about the black races? Asians? Us, for that matter? Caucasians. I think there are too many differences between the races for us to have evolved from a single source.”

Jonathan nodded. “I agree. I have often held the belief that the earth was colonized. The theory of Evolution has always held, for me, a fatal flaw. It is the only scientific theory that has been accepted as fact even though incomplete.”

“You mean the so-called ‘missing link’,” said Karen.

“Yes,” replied Jonathan. “I have always thought that to accept a theory with such a huge hole in it, simply because it fits a lot of other theories, is rather unscientific. As though we were saying, ‘Well, there’s this big piece missing, but the rest of the idea is so elegant, there has to be something that fits. So we’ll just call it the missing link, and until we find it, we’ll accept the rest of the theory as fact’.”

Jonathan smiled. “A rather unscientific conclusion reached by otherwise sensible people, I always thought.”

Karen thought for a moment, looking out over the plains to the shimmering horizon beyond. “So you agree it’s possible that the human race is actually several races of the same....species or whatever, all related, who came to earth from different parts of the galaxy?

Jonathan shrugged. “If you don’t accept evolution, as I don’t, then we had to come from somewhere. As a theory, it has the advantage of not having any demonstrable flaws.”

Cal moved back into the shade of the ship. “This is getting too cerebral for me. If it’s all the same to you guys, I say we go back inside the ship and decide what we’re going to do in the here and now.”

Jonathan smiled. “Very well, Cal. Let’s all go back inside and have a nice cup of tea or whatever we’ve got left in our stores. But as far as I’m concerned, no discussion is necessary. I’ve already decided what I’m going to do, and I know that neither of you will want to come with me.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Karen.

Jonathan limped over to them, placed a hand on their shoulders and said, “My friends, if you search your hearts, you will know that whatever you do, and wherever you go, I will not be coming with you. I am already where I belong, and this is not the place for you.”

Karen gripped his thin, delicate wrist. “No!” she cried. “We won’t leave you here!” She turned to Cal. “Tell him! If he stays, we all stay!”

Cal looked at Jonathan, saying nothing. The Englishman smiled and placed his hands on both of Karen’s shoulders. He spoke gently to her as she stood, head bowed, shaking it slowly from side to side.

“Karen, you know it doesn’t make any sense for all of us to stay here. Neither you nor Cal is as equipped for this time and place as I am. You have no knowledge of the language or the customs, while I am reasonably familiar with both.” He continued as she raised her head, the tears filling her eyes.

“Don’t you see, this is what I’ve longed for all of my life. I have no place in the world we left, and only one person who will miss me. And believe me, if he were here, he’d do the same thing. And if I went back, he’d never forgive me for not staying.”

Karen had begun to regain control of herself, and Jonathan stepped away from her and gestured at the panorama before them. “Just look at it! he exclaimed. “The Holy Land! This is the place where it all happened! Or,” he continued with a smile, “where it all will happen. I may even, if I am spared, get to see the coming of our Lord! My best estimates put that wondrous occasion at more than thirty years away yet, but I hope to be around to see it. To see for myself what I have only hitherto read of in books and texts so old, and passed down so many times, that only a fool would fail to question their reliability.”

He quieted then, and went on in a softer voice. “And in the words of our beloved comrade, who also died that we might live, I may be just a bloody sky pilot, but I hope I am not a fool.”

They laughed together, remembering Bill and his irreverent ways, then Jonathan said, “There is one other thing, but please don’t think this is the reason I have decided to stay, because it isn’t. However, there are only two cryogenic chambers; one of us must remain here, in any case.”

Before the others could comment, he said, “So it all works out perfectly. You want to go, and I want to stay. Almost makes you believe in a higher power, doesn’t it?” Then, with a smile at them both, he turned and walked up the ramp and into the ship.

During the next few weeks, Cal and Karen saw little of the Englishman. He kept to his quarters for most of the time, saying he had a lot of preparing to do before he left. On one or two occasions that they did meet, they tried to persuade him to find another solution, but Jonathan was adamant.

“I believe I have been healed for a purpose,” he told them, on one of their rare meetings.

“And not just by the technology of an alien race. I see the hand of God in this. I am becoming increasingly certain that I have been saved from the life of a cripple to do His work. There is a task for me here. I feel it most strongly.”

He would say no more on the matter, nor would he be swayed. Still he stayed with them, reluctant to take his final leave. They were the only link to his former life, and he knew, as did they, that the parting, when it came, would be hard.

Then one day, more than a month since they had landed in the heights, Cal and Karen were outside the ship, sitting in its shadow enjoying a simple lunch, when Jonathan appeared at the bottom of the ramp. Just for a moment, they barely recognized him. They had not seen him in more than a week; his hair and beard had been allowed to grow, and he was dressed in a simple white robe made from one of the blankets from the Hermes. On his feet he wore a pair of rope sandals he had made himself from some of the fiber plants growing nearby, and he carried a small sack on a strap over his shoulder. He walked down the ramp and stood before them, and they knew he had come to say goodbye.

Karen burst into tears and threw her arms around him. He held her for a moment, then gently disengaged himself from her grasp. He smiled at them both, and it seemed that a different man stood before them, someone who was at once an old friend, but also a stranger. There was an air of greatness about him, a tangible charisma, and he seemed like someone they had heard of or read about in books.

“Don’t be sad, my friends.” he said. “This is my place, this is where I belong. I have been brushing up on my Aramaic, and I believe I am sufficiently fluent in it to get by. At worst, people will think I am from other parts. As you can see, I haven’t shaved or cut my hair for quite a while, since before we left ’tau’s world, in fact. A clean-shaven, short haired man would be in quite a bit of trouble in this place now. The Romans may rule here, but the laws of Moses are the only laws the people really care about. If I didn’t look like this, I would probably be considered a blasphemer, and that wouldn’t do at all.”

Cal indicated the small sack Jonathan was carrying. “What’s in there?”

“Oh, just a few books I managed to salvage from the Hermes. As well as a few scientific instruments. Don’t worry, I’ll keep them well hidden.”

Karen said, “But where will you go, how will you live?”

“I plan to set myself up as a healer,” he replied, “using the rudimentary knowledge I gained by reading some of Karen’s medical textbooks on the long months on the Hermes. Also, I shall spread the word of God, but cautiously at first, until I have established where in time I am.” He chuckled as a thought struck him. “I shall have to be careful there. I don’t want to usurp any of the prophets who might be around at this time. Nor do I want to, er, upstage Our Lord, as it were, before He even gets here.”

They smiled with him, and he went on. “There is one thing I would like you to do for me, if and when you get back to the twenty-first century.” He reached into the sack and brought out an envelope. “If you can, I would like you to look up a Father Sean Driscoll, of the parish of North Hinksey, near Oxford, and give him this. If you could do that…” His voice broke, and they embraced, the three of them standing in the shadow of the alien ship, surrounded by the desert.

Finally, they let each other go. Cal wiped his eyes and held up the envelope. “Consider it done,” he said.

Jonathan looked at them for a long moment, placed his hands on their shoulders, and said, “God be with you both, and deliver you safely home.” Then he hoisted his sack, and walked away across the flat landing area to the edge of the slope. He turned and waved, and was quickly out of sight.

The two remaining members of the Hermes team remained outside the ship for a long while, watching the spot where they had last seen their friend. He re-appeared, just for a moment, a tiny figure on the plain below. As they watched, he turned and raised a hand, then was lost to sight behind a small hill.

Cal and Karen stood, arms around each other, watching the place where Jonathan had gone. The sun sank to the horizon, huge and orange, and they went back inside the ship, out of the chill of the approaching desert night. Cal sealed the entrance, and by unspoken agreement they made their way to the bridge. Cal sat in the pilot’s seat, while Karen took the co-pilot’s chair where Bill should have been, amusing them all with his dry humor. Now they were only two, and they sat with their thoughts, until Karen broke the silence.

“I want to go now please, Cal.”

The American nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. There’s nothing for us here, not now.”

They continued to stare through the view screen at the sand and the sky as the first stars began to appear, and Karen asked, “Do you think he’ll be all right?” Before Cal could answer, she went on. “Oh, I know he’ll survive. No one would harm that lovely man. What I mean is, do you think he’ll be all right?”

Cal nodded slowly, “I think so. It was what he wanted, after all.” Cal looked out at the darkening desert again, then turned and smiled at the woman next to him. “Yeah,” he said, reaching out and taking her hand. “I think he’s going to be just fine.”

Karen smiled back at him, then withdrew her hand and wiped her eyes. “All right then. Now, what about us? Where are we going, and what are we doing? Any ideas about that?”

Cal picked up one of the charts and spread it on the console before them. “I think so. This is the map of the Pacific we followed when we found the place to release the embryos. Remember what Jonathan said? If we’re going to use the cryogenic tanks, we have to find a place to hide the ship where it won’t be found for a long time, hopefully not until our own time. Now, what would guarantee that?”

Karen thought for a moment. “Somewhere inaccessible enough that the technology required to reach it won’t be developed until our time, or close to it.”

Cal grinned at her. “Attagirl!” and stabbed a finger on the map. “Right there!”

Karen looked where he was pointing, and said, puzzled, “But there’s nothing there. I don’t understand, what is it?”

Cal grinned again. “That, my dear, is somewhere where they won’t find us until we want them to.”

*

The silver surface of the ship shimmered in the reflected sunlight from the water below as Cal brought them lower on the anti-grav motors. The alien ship settled on to the surface of the ocean and Cal re-engaged the drive motors, taking them under the waves and down.

The huge chasm was clearly visible in the ship’s lights and he dove straight into it without slowing; down they went, until all life had been left behind. Finally, he brought the ship to a stop in a natural hollow at the bottom of the narrow trench. Then he shut down the engines; they could see the reddish glow reflected in the terrain outside the ship, and they watched it for a few moments. Then Cal turned to Karen.

“Well, here we are. You still want to do this?”

Karen nodded firmly. “It’s our only chance to get home.” She left her chair and came to where he was standing, looking out through the forward screen. “You and I couldn’t survive in this time, the way Jonathan will. We’d be among strangers, and probably last about five minutes. I’d rather take this chance and fail, than stay and die here.”

Cal nodded, and looked around him at the ship. “The stuff that this is made of....what was it called, Kivvex? Anyway, it will protect us from the pressure at this depth,” he said. “According to what ’tau said, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to stay here quite safely, for as long as we have to.”

Cal looked at her for a moment, then drew her to him. He kissed her lightly on her lips and held her. “I love you, Karen,” he said.

Karen smiled into his eyes, and said, “And I love you, Cal Ferguson.”

They kissed again, and he took her hand. “O.K. then. Let’s do it.”

They left the bridge and made their way to the cryogenic room. The tanks sat side by side; Jonathan had rigged them so that they could be operated literally at the touch of a control. Quickly, Cal and Karen removed their clothing. They were not sure what to expect, or what was going to happen, although they had experimented with the tanks as best they could. They had caught a small, rat-like mammal, and had placed it in one of the tanks. When they had activated the system, the creature had fallen into a comatose state so closely resembling death that they could not tell whether it was alive or not.

After three weeks, they had deactivated the tank, and the creature had awoken almost immediately. It was alive and well, and appeared to have suffered no ill-effects. They, of course, would be in the tanks far longer than the rat, but it had been the best test they could devise, given the time available. At least they knew the system worked; now they would find out if it worked on them.

They held each other for a moment, then Cal helped Karen into the first tank. They had lined the bottom of each tank with a sleeping pad cut in half lengthwise; it wasn’t much, but it would do. Jonathan had connected an anti-grav unit to the cryogenic system so that their bodies would be free from the degenerating effects of gravity during their long sleep. He had also said that ’tau had assured him that the cryo-process would prevent their muscles from atrophying.

Cal set the tanks for an indefinite cycle; someone else would have to deactivate them, otherwise the two would sleep on. Given the ship’s apparent indestructibility, and the fact that it drew its power from the earth’s magnetic field, if they went undiscovered they might conceivably sleep forever.

Cal touched the control that activated the units and quickly entered the second tank, then lay down and made himself comfortable. He relaxed as the weightlessness took hold, and glanced sideways at Karen, visible through the clear sides of the tanks. They had time to smile at each other, then felt the numbing sensation of the cryogenic unit taking over their life support.

The lights in the room went out, and Cal felt himself drifting away. His last thought was that he almost wouldn’t mind if it didn’t work. The sensation really was quite pleasant. Could certainly think of a lot of worse ways to….

***

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