Even as sleep began drifting away, Adas knew he was a happy man. As he awoke fully, he began to wallow in the reasons for his euphoria. He had just been appointed a senior analyst for the Council and, to make it even sweeter he had been scheduled, most unexpectedly, to be the point man for the next field trip. An adventure that everyone knew the Council themselves thought to be the most important one for a generation. All of this, however, faded into insignificance as he recalled that Eimaj (known universally as Tish, for some long-forgotten childhood reason) had called to his work pod to congratulate him. He only knew her from a few office get-togethers. From the first time he had seen her and listened to her bubbly good humour and kindness, he had been unable to banish her from his thoughts and dreams. During the third social occasion they both attended, they had been randomly chosen, as a forfeit, to sing a duet. He still cringed at the memory. She had a fine voice but his own was akin to the eyrie noise of an amorous whale. Even that disaster did not stop his daydreams. Most of those consisted of him being cool, and approaching her to ask if she would like to go on a date with him. In his saner moments he realised that such a reality was, for an impossibly shy creature like himself (with females anyway), a wishful thought too far.
The first twenty minutes out of bed were pandemonium: he jumped from the shower only for the mirror to tell him that his hair was still buried in shampoo. He burned the toast to a flaming crisp, forgot to put the herbs in the pot before pouring the water and tripped over his own forgotten shoelaces. Such personal incompetence would normally have disturbed him, but this time all he did was laugh, with the image of his dream beauty imprinted on his mind’s eye and seeming to laugh with him. As he rushed out of the apartment, he met his miserable, curmudgeonly neighbour, who seemed to be shocked by Adas’ cheerfully shouted “Good Morning”. As Adas bounded down the stairs, happily greeting everyone he met with the same cheerfulness, the old man leaned over the balcony watching him and for the first time in forty years, managed a smile.
Once out on the street he returned to relative normalcy, except for the continuing euphoria. About halfway to the council building he suddenly stopped dead. As he did, a child behind him, riding a toy of some sort, crashed into the back of his knees almost toppling him. He turned to face an irate bawling child and a very severe looking granny. ‘What’ … she started to speak but he interrupted her and said “I am so sorry. It was just that I suddenly realised that I’m in love.” She looked at him sourly for a moment and suddenly grinned. “I hope not with me”, she laughed, I have enough trouble with the partner I already have.” She walked away consoling the child who was directing malevolent glares at him even whilst being told that the adventure was worth an ice cream. “Idiot” Adas thought to himself, “I am in love. Why had I not realized that earlier? What sort of analyst am I? Oh! God, was that why people were smiling at him constantly? Were others aware of some sort of aura about him?” He walked past the Council, lost in his daydreams, until a colleague greeted him on her way in. Embarrassed, he waited a moment before retracing his steps, and then nearly walked past the building again.
Once he actually arrived, he began the climb down from his own cloud nine. It more or less disappeared except for the odd blast of joy, every two minutes or so, as he began what was to be an intensive few weeks’ work. He had to listen to the concerns of each and every Counsellor, brief both of the junior analysts on what the three of them needed to achieve and prepare his own plans. At last, when the preparations were all complete, it was with relieved satisfaction that he strolled down to the disembarking point in the courtyard.
As he approached, he realised that there were a group of people gathered to wish those leaving a speedy return. Although he could only see her back, he knew immediately that Tish was among them. She was talking to his youngest assistant. She turned and seeing him, smiled warmly. “Hi” she said, “I just came to wish you a successful trip.” “Thank you” was all he could manage in what he realised was a strangled voice. When she smiled and turned to go, he touched her arm and when she turned back with a quizzical look, he blurted “would you have dinner with me when I arrive back”. “Gladly,” she laughed, with raised eyebrows, “but only if you promise to tell me all about your trip and its results.” It wasn’t exactly an emotional acceptance, but nonetheless he floated aboard, immersed in his own joy and astonishment at his nerve. He remained completely oblivious to everything around him until someone told him the captains were expecting him. Composing himself as best he could, he ran up the companionway to the cockpit and introduced himself. The captain was older and with a mien that was a comfortable mix of friendliness and competence, perfect for settling the most nervous of passengers. The junior one was more exuberant but exuded a similar capability. Having got over the introductions they explained to him that as soon as they arrived at the destination, they would follow all of his instructions concerning the craft’s movements and positioning.
Adas settled into a workaholic role with the other analysts very quickly, with only the rare bolt of a Tish image intruding. When they arrived, their tasks became even more intense, with the gathering of as much information as possible in the time available. Eventually, they arrived at the most crucial part of the mission — to eavesdrop on a global climate conference. They collected all the information they could and were just waiting for Adas to listen to the joint communique of decisions agreed when the captain advised him that a squadron of jets was on a course that would pass close to them. He reminded Adas that their standing orders were to avoid being sighted, if at all possible. Adas, concentrating on his machines, acknowledged but replied, “we have to hold, shouldn’t be long”. A few minutes later the captain advised that they had been spotted and shortly after there was a series of unearthly roars as six jets flew within feet, above and below them. Adas kept concentrating. A few minutes later the captain announced, with just a tinge of concern, that the jets were regrouping above them and discussing whether to arm their weapons. Adas stayed silent. A couple of tense minutes later the captain announced ‘weapons armed’ and almost immediately, “weapons fired.” As he said it, Adas held up his hand to delay: and then, within a few seconds, sang out, “we have it all. Go.”
It was only when he left his machines and joined the captains that he realised how nerve jangling it had been for them. The senior captain was mopping her brow, and although the younger one seemed as ebullient as ever, her face was white with shock. “Wait until we tell Tish what you did to us”, she said. “Do you realise how close that was.” Adas looked at her blankly until the senior one sensing the reason for his confusion, added kindly, “Her father is one of us and we watched you saying goodbye at the boarding gate.” She smiled and added, “we are on your side.” She explained to him that their intense worry was not that they were in serious danger from the rockets but rather that minor damage might occur which would necessitate changing the return route. The older one explained, “navigating through space time curves is akin to playing five-dimensional chess. There is a whole department at the Council to calculate our best route. If we cannot meet the beginning point, we are both well trained to calculate a new one but might arrive home a couple of months late, because we must use the pedestrian route – no shortcuts. We have no way of communicating so our families would suffer a fraught time.” Eventually, they shared a bottle of wine, the women to recover from the tension, and Adas just to wallow in talking about Tish and her family until, happy and confused, perhaps even a little tipsy, he set off to sleep and to enjoy his nightly sweet dreams.
For the following ten days, neither he nor his two assistants had time for anything other than preparing and polishing their report, and even after their arrival they had to survive an intense week of debriefing and explaining their conclusions and recommendations. Finally, they were free. Returning to his own pod, Adas found a welcome home note from Tish together with an invitation to dinner, as promised, that very evening at Amelie’s Restaurant. Later, a taxi deposited Adas, shaking like a bag of jelly, outside the restaurant and he stumbled in. Tish was sitting just inside the door. She jumped up with a cheery welcome, kissed him on the cheek and hoped he would like the drink she had already ordered for him.
They were barely seated when she asked to be told all about the trip. “If you are allowed to tell me,” she added. “Oh yes,’” he answered, “this Council has a loathing of secrets; they are all too well aware that being privy to such secrets can create a sense of self-importance, even among themselves.” He told her about the journey itself; about the pilots and the fact that they knew her father and herself. He finished with a very mild version of the scary bit with the jets and the information they were gathering. When he explained the instructions about being invisible, she asked, “what do they think we are and what do they call us?” He blushed and replied, “I can’t tell you that, the word they use is too rude in our language.’ “Come on, I am not a child”, she answered, “I probably know more bad language than you do.” He hesitated, then grabbed a napkin and wrote down UAP’s and passed it to her. As she looked at it her face took on the coloration of a particularly spectacular sunset. Then she burst out laughing. Aware of the faces turning towards them, he quickly explained that, in English, it just meant Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Interspersed with her hilarity she said, “well, that is a secret that the Council will have, perforce, to keep.” He answered that it would have suited better if they had stuck with their old word – UFO’s.
When she settled down, she asked him to explain the details of what he had discovered and what the Council had decided. He told her that there had been a fair amount of disagreement, but that the majority of Councillors had decided to fast forward the introduction, the intervention stage, from forty years to next year. Primarily because so many were appalled by the pictures they had seen of the results of the only case they had discovered where their help had come too late. He explained that he and the other analysts had strongly recommended such an acceleration. “Why?” she interrupted. “Because they are not going to make it,” he replied passionately. “They are lovely people in general, but they have allowed greed to overcome their better nature. They have totally accepted the idea that economics is about wealth and that wealth will be enough to solve all of their social problems. They seem to be persuaded that riches and virtue are inextricably linked. There are endless decent leaders trying to do what is right, but they are constantly being ground down by the power of the greedy ones. They all seem bewildered by social media, to such an extent that, for the benefit of the companies running it, they allow the cowardly abomination of anonymous free speech. They fail completely to recognize that this leads to societies without truth, with endless conspiracy theories, blatantly lying political leaders, and confusion everywhere. Their religions are quite decent, and could help to sort out the approaching danger, but the main churches are totally trapped in antiquated male dominance, which results in too many of their guides being completely obsessed with gender and sex, to the exclusion of all else.” Adas stopped for a minute and then said with a smile “some of them seem aware that women are the root cause of all evils.” Tish just raised her eyebrows, smiled, and waited patiently for him to continue his normal conversation. While he was being passionate, the only person he had noticed besides his loved one, was a young girl sitting with her family at another table who was staring intently at him. She was smiling enigmatically and, for some reason, he thought that she was somehow trying to encourage him, which was obviously a ridiculous figment of his own imagination. He glanced again, and felt no surprise to find that her look remained the same.
Trying to forget her, he continued to describe the planet he had just visited that was in such terrible danger. “Quite a lot of it is democratic but the divisions between the various groups have become so rank that many seem to have forgotten the very meaning of the word. They have far too many, supposedly elected, dictators but when anybody tries to correct their ruthless or troublemaking behaviour, commerce raises its ugly head and objects. It is as if business and profit were more important than society itself. Their laws in some parts are reasonably advanced, but it is so complicated that I will limit myself to just two examples of many that I found both moving and appalling. In their principal democracy, the Supreme Court recently took a seemingly casual decision to continue to allow minors, minors! convicted of heinous crimes, to be sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole. The majority who voted to continue such an obscenity profess their allegiance to a religion called Christianity, which is exclusively about love and forgiveness. They get around this limitation by attaching a pre-Christian document to the actual beliefs of Christianity because the older document allows them more room for harshness and rules. In the other state with an unbroken democratic history, they have disowned a girl of fifteen, who made a grievous mistake in joining a foreign terrorist group, undoubtedly groomed by older, extremist members of her community. Using very doubtful legalisms, the state has deprived her of citizenship, leaving her to rot in a hellhole of camp, thousands of miles from her home and family. Both examples suggest an enormous regression from humanitarianism. A return to their own standards of two hundred years ago. What I was waiting for at the last minute, which caused us so much danger but needed to be heard, was the closing agreement of the conference on climate change and biodiversity loss. It was disappointing: completely anodyne. Nobody was willing to risk a big enough leap to stave off disaster.” They did decide to take some actions, although not nearly enough. They even agreed to a protocol that they were all going to sign but to us it was patently what some of them call a British protocol. That is one that is signed with much diplomatic pomp but when the issues agreed within its context start to impinge on their own electorate, they announce that it was never meant to be taken seriously. Unless we take action, they are doomed.”
Tish interrupted him to ask if the necessary introduction of ourselves would be dangerous. “Yes” he replied, “but the Council have been planning it for years. The sort of attitude that we will have to deal with is expressed even in their own science fiction and movies. Despite depicting a Civilisation that has overcome the ultra-complex physics of space travel, their stories continue to have space battleships, fighter jets and guns of all sorts. Our first task will be to persuade them that, perforce, we come in peace as we have long rid ourselves of armaments of any sort.”
He paused to sip his wine and then realised how he had been ranting. Tish seemed rapt, but that might just be politeness. He was confused about what he should do next, so he simply stared at her. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the young girl with the enigmatic expression. She was intense and nodding feverishly at him, as if telling him what to do. Abruptly, he sat up straight and blurted, “Tish, will you partner me?” and then sat back appalled at his own effrontery. Tish stared long and hard at him and finally said, “Adas, that is a profound question – the kind that requires serious thought and time.” Embarrassed, and hardly knowing what to do, he said in almost a whisper, “how much time’. She smiled and replied, “at least two nanoseconds, and I have already used them up at the party, when I sang and you tried to”. He stared at her – lost. Tish leaned forward and took his hand. “Adas, you will have to learn my sense of humour – that was a yes” and she leaned over the table and kissed him on the mouth. For the rest of his life all he could ever remember of that night was that magical kiss, the precursor of millions, and the glimpse he had of the young girl behind Tish, grinning widely and pumping her fist in the air.