Table of Contents
Chapter 10 appeared
in issue 129.
Chapter 11: Between the Lines
Toni woke with his alarm at five-thirty. He felt surprisingly refreshed after his long deep sleep, and he was now very hungry, but he had a grand plan! He was in the heart of the city, so he was determined to take a quick look at Florence, and then get some breakfast, before catching an early train to Venice ...
Soon after six o’clock he was ready to don his sunglasses, cap and waterproof. He picked up his rucksack, crept down the stairs, and left the sleeping hotel.
Then he was able to spend two almost perfect hours seeing the most celebrated sights of the magnificent city, with hardly another tourist in view, and only the build-up of rush-hour traffic to disturb him towards the end of his tour.
He wandered around each of the three great piazzas. He gazed in awe at the campanile and the dome of the cathedral. He was sad that he could not visit the treasures of the Uffizi Gallery at that early hour. He strolled across the Ponte Vecchio, then back again, marvelling at the details of its construction. And then he felt he must cross over and back once more, this time to absorb the glorious views it offered of the River Arno and the beautiful city.
Finally, accepting that he needed two weeks in Florence but was lucky to have had his two hours, he grabbed a coffee and a large pastry for breakfast, and was back at the station in time for the 0838 departure to Venice Santa Lucia, stopping at Bologna and Ferrara. There was not a policeman in sight.
* * *
Carla had been accompanying Toni, unseen, ever since he left his room. And she now continued to follow his tracks, just as before.
But she had decided to develop a technique for maintaining the same speed as the train at all times — by setting herself at a precise distance from a close part of it, and then commanding the Mater’s systems to maintain that distance exactly. Once that virtual tow-bar was perfected (and it shouldn’t take long), she would be able to set her speed to be precisely that of Toni, and perhaps then re-join him ...
The first leg of the journey took them to Bologna. Carla had already completed her trials, and the Mater was fully programmed. But Toni had been in a very full carriage for the previous hour, and there had been no question of joining him.
At Bologna, a large number of people disembarked, and only a few boarded the train — the rush hour had passed. Toni stood up as it pulled out of the station, and spent the next few minutes reconnoitring. At last he found some empty seats at the front of the very first carriage, with nobody else in the adjacent block or the one immediately behind. He took up a position by the window, facing forwards and hidden from the rest of the carriage, and crossed his fingers ...
Carla had been travelling alongside and watching his efforts through the windows. She was satisfied with the results ... this looked safe enough, at least until the next station. Still unseen, she passed into the front carriage, hovered in the vicinity of the seat next to him, and set her velocity to track Toni’s absolutely. Then, when her speed was stable, and he was looking away through the window, she re-made and quietly said, as she had in Bilbao, ‘Hola.’
‘Oh, hello Carla,’ Toni whispered. ‘It’s good to see you again.’
Carla smiled. ‘It’s good to hear your jokes again, Toni! But there’s no need to whisper ... I could have been sitting here all the time, as far as anyone else in the carriage knows.’
‘Of course you could.’
‘Now — I met up with Giuseppe again last night. We at last have some promising contacts to pursue.’
‘Oh, good,’ said Toni, not sure what else to say.
Carla rescued him from his familiar discomfort. ‘So, Toni, we have a little free time together at last. I am very happy to try and answer all your remaining questions.’
‘Ah, that’s great, Carla.’
‘But since we are not overlooked at the moment, and my Spanish is still rather thin, and we know you need and expect proper answers, I might have to invite Quo to help me. So if we need to engage with you at any point (don’t worry, I shan’t disappear — it will only be a gentle briefing), you will not object, will you?’
‘Of course not!’
‘Then go ahead with whatever questions you like ...’
‘All right — let’s take it from the top. Remind me: what happens immediately after the radimote has been created by those beams?’
‘Ah, a technical subject straight away, Toni! Just a moment ...’ And Carla reached over and took his head in her hands ...
Good morning, Toni.
‘Good morning, Quo.’
Well, Toni, we know that once the radimote is generated by our laser systems, it will then have to make a controlled glide to land, rather than simply descend from the initial positioning point ... because we cannot “hit” that point with perfect accuracy.
Of course, we aim at a location which visually interests us. But initial positioning errors are inevitable: they are caused by atmospheric conditions that cannot be fully predicted and allowed for. This means that there will normally be a very small variation in longitude and latitude between where the radimote is born and where we later bring it to land.
All our previous tests of this procedure worked well ... we proved the technology on Dome itself and, with simulated atmospheres, on several satellites and on two of our moons. The radimote always appeared within a few kilometres of our target point ... perfectly acceptable for the controlled glide which then followed in each case.
‘OK, Quo. So why did you come to Spain?’
We positioned the Mater over the west coast of Africa, Toni, because we could see many cities to the north (in your Europe). There were several other possibilities, of course, across the oceans to the west and the east, but we simply had to select one, with little further information to guide us. We then chose the north coast of Spain as our target for the radimote, because it is almost exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. We guessed that the climate there should be moderate by Earth’s standards, compared with the planet’s extremes, which should make the area conducive to relatively comfortable living for the inhabitants. And, because it is a sea coast, we hoped it would be a fairly active example of a trading civilisation.
‘Explorers and natives, again, eh?’
Perhaps, Toni. Anyway, we finally targeted a large city and port located further along the coast from Bilbao.
‘Probably Santander,’ said Toni.
Yes, it was indeed Santander. We aimed a little to the south-east of the city, so that the radimote would not have to travel over a very large area of water ... it is much better to glide over land while selecting a final touchdown point!
‘So how did you end up in Bilbao? It’s seventy kilometres away!’
Do you remember a short, windy downpour, with some lightning, in Bilbao late last Sunday afternoon? Well, that bad weather had been over Santander two hours earlier, but we did not recognise it as such. We could see the area we were targeting quite clearly (and we can see through all types of cloud), and there were no obvious warning signs. But our initial transmission was dramatically affected by the electrical storm over to the west. We are sure the wind had some effect too, but we don’t know how. Anyway, the result was that the radimote ended up being generated many kilometres to the east of Santander, and some way south of the coast ... and was still being “pushed” eastwards by the weather.
‘So it was heading for Bilbao ...’
Exactly. We made a decision quite quickly to abandon the plan to land in Santander. The weather ahead to the east looked fine, at least for the time being, and we knew the other city was not too far away ... so we set off on a low level glide, and the radimote came to earth on its western outskirts.
‘So I only met Carla and got involved in your missions because of an accident of the weather!’
Everything is an accident, Toni.
‘I won’t try to resurrect my religion essays on free will and predestination, Quo!’
A good decision.
Then, after the storm had passed over Bilbao, the weather improved quickly that evening, and it was calm and very warm the next morning ... as you will recall.
‘It certainly was, Quo.’
Now, Toni, I know Carla wishes to take up the story herself ...
Carla moved her hands away from Toni’s head.
‘Yes, I do,’ she broke in quietly, in her usual limited but totally understandable own words. ‘I was very busy on Sunday evening, Toni, and all through the night and early the next morning! I was doing several things in parallel ...
‘My main task was to find an image to adopt, at least for the first few hours. I soon worked out the main differences between men and women, though I’m sure it’s more complex than that under the surface! Then it seemed quite natural to take on the guise of a female, for the purposes of the first involvement, as least. So I located several women who seemed to be very popular in the company they were keeping, and I learned and stored the image of one of them, and then moved off to the other side of the city ...
‘But when I eventually made myself visible in that image, and sat down at an outdoor café to practice my techniques and listen in to some of your language, I was repeatedly accosted by some rather undesirable characters! Fortunately, none of them tried to touch me. After the third of these approaches, since I was unable to say very much (I had learned hardly any Spanish by then), I just had to stand up and walk away. I tried it again a little later, after I had picked up a few more words, but the same thing happened. So I gave up practising — but I had learned something. That’s why, when you met me, I played those games with the camera and the jacket. I wanted everyone to believe I was already accompanied.’
‘You’re very smart, Carla.’
‘A girl soon learns, Toni!
‘And I also decided that perhaps I had not chosen an ideal image for the purpose of attracting someone like you. So I un-made, and spent most of the next few hours working on that challenge.
‘Lots of observation of individuals and couples was needed, in many places around the city — with some vocabulary learning on the side (but not much!). Finally, on Monday morning, I located a young woman who seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I watched her shopping, and I followed her until she went into a beauty salon ...
‘And then, Toni, I was ready to find you.’
‘How did you know where to look?’
‘Music is really important to us, Toni. It is almost as important as your food and drink, and the air that you breathe. That is why we seek out those who love music — we know that our involvement of them will go very smoothly, and that they will probably prove to be great supporters and Illuminators ...
‘So while I was seeking a suitable image, and learning some Spanish, I was also in search of music. I did not hear very much, in fact — perhaps Bilbao is not the ideal place for it on a Sunday night. Though I did discover the sounds of several beautiful church organs in the early evening! And some rather raucous noise in the bars of the old city ...
‘But in the morning, after I had found my ideal image, but was still un-made, I also discovered the music I was looking for — in the Bilbao Conservatorio. I wandered in and out of the practice rooms and the halls, and listened to many young people making glorious music, alone and in concert. This was perfect! Then I spotted a young man, in a space of his own, at a piano. I know now that it was the music of Beethoven that you were playing at that moment, Toni. I was very moved. Then, when you had finished that sonata, you went quickly into a slow, slinky piece of modern blues, and I could hear you singing quietly along with it! Incidentally, I heard that very song again a few hours later, in your living room ...
‘So I resolved to make you my companion. I knew at once that our souls would entwine. When you left the building soon afterwards, and wandered down towards the square, I followed you ... all the way to the café.’
‘Yes, I would normally have gone straight home after my lecture and a bit of practice on the grand piano ... but I was thirsty, and the weather was perfect again after that storm ...’
‘And you ordered your beer, and then I came to you, Toni.’
‘But what did you do to make me follow you? That wasn’t like me at all ...’
‘I smiled, Toni. Twice.’
‘I know you did! But why ...?’
‘Toni, we are able to smile a very special sort of smile. It sets off an automatic response in the subject we wish to involve. He or she immediately wants to hear or sing their favourite music, and places all their confidence in the Finder, and becomes extremely malleable. We can then proceed with whatever engagement we desire.’
‘It sounds utterly supernatural to me, Carla.’
‘Really, Toni? For human males, are there no corresponding mental or physical reactions to the sight of another human who strongly attracts them ...?’
Toni went bright red, and had no answer. And then he saw Carla’s hands coming to embrace him once more, and heard Quo’s “voice” taking over again ...
But the music alone is not enough, Toni. The subject needs to feel extremely comfortable with the situation in general, or needs to be strongly motivated to be there. Otherwise there will be all sorts of unpredictable reactions. That is why it was necessary to begin your involvement when you were relaxing with your beer. And to complete it in the seclusion of your home, with the wonderful music that you chose ...
And the Finders are not mind-readers, in the way that real Domans are. They reflect the minds of their Handlers, no more, no less, and a Handler’s mission is to seek and select, to involve and engage, and to support the subject’s transferral and missioning.
The Handlers’ great learning ability allows them to rapidly appreciate the rich characteristics of an organism's behaviour. But they are observers and students; they cannot directly read human minds from afar. The process of transferral, and all that then needs to follow, can only be conducted using the specialised equipment held ready in the Mater.
But this does not prevent Handlers from having a fair degree of intuition. They can readily spot another smart student, and those, such as Carla, who possess a particular talent for music can often, unconsciously, be quite dramatically selective ...
‘So, Quo, back to my old questions. How can Carla see me?’
Well, by understanding you, Toni, we now know that our own faculty of vision uses a range of light frequencies that is a little different from yours. Fortunately, it allows us to see all that you can, and rather more. Incidentally, our colleagues presently exploring other new worlds may encounter bigger challenges in that area — there are so many unknowns when you plan a voyage like this!
So, we can send a low-energy spectrum of our visible light down one of those beams from the Mater. Those light waves spread out from the radimote in all directions, and bounce off all the objects they encounter. Some of the rays reflect immediately back to the radimote, and are transmitted onwards up the other beam to the Mater. This provides the visual input (or “sight”, as you call it), which is used by Carla the Handler for her continuous operations.
‘I see! And how can she hear me?’
In a similar way. Those light waves that come in to the radimote, from all around, are accompanied by concurrent sound waves. Those are also transmitted up to the Mater; so, to use your terms, the radimote serves as a powerful microphone. We “hear” them in the context of the visually observed activity which accompanies them. So our processing systems can learn quickly, though only in a rudimentary fashion, the meanings of words and phrases spoken by nearby local inhabitants. The Handler learns this in parallel, of course.
‘All right. But what about Carla’s ability to speak ...?’
All the sounds that have been learned, Toni, can be reproduced at will down the other beam from the Mater, resulting in an audio output at the radimote. Since this mimics the words and phrases that have been heard, with the same level of fidelity as the copying techniques used to present the radimote visually, it can appear to be speaking quite clearly and accurately, in the local language, and in a voice appropriate to the person whose image is being portrayed. You are correctly thinking of it as rather like ventriloquism.
Carla’s very first attempt at this, when she ordered those drinks at the café, went rather well, we feel; she had picked up that little Spanish phrase very nicely, a few hours before meeting you. She is learning quickly to speak much more fully with you, Toni, in all your languages. And her voice will no doubt soon become coloured by her emotions, just as her body language has already ...
‘Thank you, Quo,’ interrupted Carla politely. Then she gently took her hands away from Toni’s head, and spoke once more to her precious companion.
‘I think you now have all your answers, Toni.
‘And I want to add a personal thank-you for all you have done for us already ... and an apology. As you probably realise, this is Dome’s first voyage of discovery, and the first real use of the Mater and our new technologies. So we are all feeling rather nervous, and we have made several small mistakes. We’re sorry this has made things difficult for you. It’s all quite stressful for us too, and, believe me, it’s very tiring ...’
‘I believe you, Carla. I really do.’
They had stopped at Ferrara station. There were many people waiting on the platform outside their carriage. As several of them boarded and made their way down the aisle towards her, Carla sighed and said quickly ‘Close your eyes, Toni. I’ll see you in Venice.’
As soon as he had done what she asked, she un-made, moved out onto the platform, and waited for the train to depart.
To be continued ...