The room filled with questions.
"Can't we just get this over with?" Daniel asked, "One way or another?"
Maya repeated her thoughts from earlier. "Can't I see my Leo again?"
"Does that have to happen?" Tracey was adamant. "We go back as we were or I don't want - "
Harry interrupted: "Tracey, that would mean we'd be going back in time. That's impossible! Time travel's impossible! And even if it was possible, you could only go forwards in time, surely? I don't know..."
The alien shimmered. Bright blues and greens sparked off its surface. The overwhelming feeling was of happiness.
Tracey wiped her eyes. Her voice, when she eventually spoke, was calm, but firm and implacable.
"Then I'm not fucking going anywhere."
Images of new lives cascaded through their minds. New excitements, new loves, new places, new emotions, new-
"Stop it." Tracey ordered. "I'm not leaving Timmy. Or Rick. I don't want to leave them. I won't leave them. I would rather die." And in order to ensure the alien fully understood her: "I would honestly rather cease to exist if I can't exist without Timmy and Rick."
Tears filled Rick's eyes.
"I love you, you fool," he said.
Rick looked at her incredulously. Why'd she want to remember? On balance he'd love to forget most of what had happened. Surely that was best?
Some dreams you remember. For a time.
"Will we be different?" she shouted, her voice shaking, tears glistening. This wasn't the question she needed to ask either.
She hugged Timmy close to her, grabbed Rick's arm. She took a deep breath. "Will we still be together? Me, Rick, Timmy?"
Silence, apart from Harry who spoke as if he'd just uncovered a hidden secret: "No, I don't believe any of us will be together."
Now you understand. It is time to move on.
The colours surrounding them subdued. By degrees it appeared as if the light in the room slowly diminished. Silently the window shutters slowly opened, revealing different scenes to each of them. To one, a vast sunlit bay. To another, mountains; or streams; or a city at night; or children playing.
The door clicked and gently opened slightly. A sliver of bright light shone through it.
Tracey suddenly felt very frightened.
"Wait! Will we remember any of this?"
She was too terrified to ask the question she really wanted to ask.
"I'm happy to die," Maya said quietly, "See my Leo again. I've had a good life, I'm just a little sad for the child, poor bubula."
Tisha knelt down at Maya's knees.
"No, Maya, you don't understand. We're not dying." Tisha looked at the alien "Please make her understand that we're not waiting here to die."
Colours brindled bright in the human form, waves of energy emanated throughout the room.
No. You do not wait here to... die. You are here for this moment when you truly, fully understand.
Understand that you wait not to die, but to be reborn.
"Wish I bloody understood all this!" muttered Rick.
Tracey punched him gently on the arm. "If you don't understand, just accept," she explained.
"Okay then. I'm happy to die. I accept it," Rick felt calm though he wasn't entirely certain whether he was joking or not. "But I honestly just wish we'd get on with, er, with whatever we're supposed to be getting on with."
Tracey kissed him.
"I love you, you fool!" she said.
Rick put his arm around her.
Harry watched them all and wondered at the sense of peace and tranquillity that seemed to pervade them all.
Harry continued "Or maybe our friend here has somehow imbued us with calm. I don't know."
Rick didn't. "Or maybe we've just come to accept we are going to die. Or maybe dead already..."
It is correct that we do not understand your concept of death. That is because death cannot occur in our dimension free of space-time and it's entropy. Energy cannot be destroyed.
Your energy passes from one moment to another one moment. It does not have death one moment and be created again one moment.
You do not understand your energy persists.
"Have you noticed anything?" Harry asked Tisha and Daniel.
Tisha shook her head. The others looked around the room.
Daniel patrolled the room with his eyes. Studied the others. Then considered his sentried readiness for attack or defence.
Then he identified it.
The feeling. The emotion.
One by one he saw it in the others, too.
They way they stood, or sat. The way they interacted and spoke. Body language. Gestures. He saw it in others and saw it in himself.
"I'm not afraid anymore," he whispered to Harry. "We're all calm."
"I reckon," said Harry "We've learned to accept."
"Okay..." said Rick, "maybe I get it..."
His voice trailed off and he sat down beside Tracey who was holding a now sleeping Timmy. "But what's happening to us, what's all this about?" His arms raised upwards in a gesture of not knowing.
"And what's going to happen to him?" Tracey asked, looking down at her son, "What's going to happen to all of us?"
Maya sat down beside Tracey and her hand gently caressed Timmy's head.
"All we need is to know what's going to happen. To know our futures."
Those words again, cascading, illuminating
The future is now.
Harry's eyes glinted. A smile played on his lips and Tisha smiled in return, particularly when she attempted to move but he wouldn't release her hands.
"What are you thinking, Harry Danes?" Daniel asked.
Harry giggled, then abruptly stopped himself.
"I've no idea what's going on," he said, pointing at the alien, "But I believe this. They know of our concept of death, of course, but they don't really understand it. To them, all energy exists. They exist as energy. Energy exists. That is the be-all and end-all to them, because energy can neither be created nor destroyed."
Do not ask your Devil for reasons. He will lie to you. Do not ask God, for He will tell you the truth.
"Oh for Christ's sake!" Rick shouted, "Enough of this metaphysical shit!" He turned to the alien. "What's happening to us?"
Silence, eventually broken by the quiet woman:
"You're still studying us, aren't you?"
"We're going to wake up and this has all been a dream?"
"Are we dead? Are we waiting to proceed into the next life?" Tracey asked, hands covering her mouth as if she'd been afraid to ask.
There was no answer.
There was no emotion in the voice they heard within themselves. It simply stated a fact.
Kill your God and it will live within your heart for ever. There is only one way to truly destroy a God.
"No!" Harry shouted. He immediately understood the alien's implication. "Maya, there is a reason for this. God or no God, there is a reason! "
Maya sobbed. But this time she allowed Tisha to put her arm around her and offer her comfort.
Tisha whispered "Ask God 'Why?', Maya."
"I'd rather ask the Devil," Maya screamed into the room. She sounded sincere.
Maya spat out the word, her anger gave her trembling voice a razor's edge.
"God! No!" Her voice shook and she slammed her fist onto the table. "Does God no longer care? Perhaps he never did? Everything we've been through - " she leaned over the table, tears dripped onto her hands- "that poor child, my God's disowned that poor little child?"
Tisha moved towards her, but Maya pushed her away.
"God!" she shouted "For everything you've done, everything you've allowed to be done, you are dead to me!"
The alien moved silently close to her. Everyone heard its words.
Tisha spread her arms wide "If it's a waiting room. Why are we here?"
Tisha saw Maya's grandmother leave Maya, smile first at Maya, then at Tisha. Tisha tried to speak, but her words would not come. Yet in some way she understood why they were here.
Maya's grandmother frowned and shook her head, knowing Tisha's thoughts. No, Tisha wanted to yell, no, that can't be! But the grandmother smiled again and a wave of reassurance filled Tisha.
As Maya's grandmother slowly faded, Tisha found her voice.
"We've died, haven't we? We're here. Waiting here, waiting to pass on."
Rick strode to the door. He hadn't taken it in before. It was an old-fashioned wooden door. Dark wood, gleaming brass plate above a brass knob.
" No glass. Obviously," he said
Tracey appeared beside him.
"Nothing." The door rattled as he tried turning the knob. It budged but wouldn't give.
"This is a waiting room, yes? So this door must open."
He rattled it again. Sturdily made. But not so sturdy within the elaborately decorated panelled recesses that formed most of its top and bottom halves. One good kick should splinter it.
"Obviously," Rick repeated.
Time, as a series of... nows? Harry muttered.
"But -" Tisha grabbed Harry's hands. "That means no cause and effect... Yes, I understand... maybe. Like in a dream, thoughts have no true cause and effect..."
In your dreaming, correct. Or thought. One thought, unimpacted by your physical world. True thought, existing in its own right. Uninfluenced by the previous thoughts that exist in your dimension. Thought, or an idea, or a creative essence: it exists without need of time. In a dimension without time, it exists as pure energy.
"Energy." Harry frowned, "The eternal now. Neither created. Nor destroyed."
Words, phrases, images cascaded swiftly through their minds. Afterwards, though they agreed they'd all experienced something similar, they weren't certain of it.
One thing they did agree on:
the alien spoke to them
Only in your finite universe, where time and space are one, is time linear. Only there is there cause and effect, before and after.
In a dimension without space-time there is no entropy, decay does not exist. Time exists only as moments and there is no previous moment and there is no next moment.
This is difficult for you to comprehend. Do not try. Simply accept.
The reappearance of the orb as a globe of colour in the middle of the room surprised nobody. Indeed, Harry found it mildly amusing that though each of them did a double-take when it appeared, once they'd ascertained what it was, they ignored it, continued whatever it was they were doing. In his case, watching the others.
The orb floated to the corner of the room where its energies transformed it into a human shape again.
Harry was surprised to see Maya move quickly in front of the shape and point her finger at it.
"You," she said. "Explain."
"Why would they do that?" Tracey asked among the general hubbub of questions.
Daniel walked around the room, scrutinising everything. Harry walked to the shuttered window.
Tracey kissed Rick quickly, then smiled: "You can let me go now, Rick."
Slowly, tentatively, he helped her stand.
"I'm fine, now."
He wasn't convinced.
"Why put us back in time? Their experiment's done," Harry asked, "The alien's gone. They've finished with us."
Maya laid the newspaper on the desk. No one heeded the main headline
"Russia Wins Space Race"
and the subheading
" Sputnik 1 Launch Successful: October 4 Blast-Off On Schedule"
The transformation happened so fast, no one had moved. They all held the same position, clinging tightly to each other, disbelief written in their wide eyes, incomprehension in their open mouths.
Daniel, standing nearest to the desk, turned to look at the calendar and shook his head.
"1957" he said flatly.
The others looked at him, disbelieving in silence.
"4 October 1957," he said. "The date's circled."
Maya, her legs visibly weak and ungainly, retrieved the newspaper from on top of the filing cabinet.
"The date here is 7 October 1957. Do you think they've put us back in time?"