The world turns. Darkness and light trade places, as it does in everyone's life.
Above, blue skies shine, either naked or dressed with cloud. Beyond those skies the colours diminish to tiny pinpricks, our only visible acknowledgements of the violent birthing and deaths of colossal stars or the incalculably vast energies of supernovae.
From down here, nothing is seen of black holes: though, like love, the evidence is unquestionably visible.
Nothing is seen of dark matter.
Or dark energy.
Or the vast and uncompromising multiverse that only now do we appreciate may not be as empty as we first believed.
As Maya, Leo and her grandmother spoke, the main door of the apartment block opened and a geometry of yellow light buttered the thin layer of fresh snow.
A figure entered the apartment. A female, slim and pretty, with a purposeful walk. She was here to meet someone called Neil to discuss renting an apartment. There wasn't much to discuss really, providing it was clean: she'd already decided she would take it. The door closed behind Tisha, the snow lost its yellow tint.
Later, a young family would arrive. Later still, a military man. Much later, others.
They'd all stay.
"Bobeshi! You too?" Maya leapt up and hugged her grandmother tightly. Tears ran down both their faces.
"I had a dream." Maya's grandmother said simply.
"So did I, Bobeshi."
"Was it a dream, though? Or was it a memory?"
"Let's not speak of it," Maya said. "Memories, dreams. Let's not speak of them."
The grandmother smiled: "Let's leave the memories to the past. We have the Now."
"And each other," said Leo.
"And each other," laughed Maya.
And in the corner of the room a pile of unsent letters slowly disappeared leaving no trace, as if they'd never been written.
As Leo read, his hand closed around Maya's hand, and she laid her head against his shoulder. It was good to feel him next to her: he'd only been gone a few days, but it had seemed like a lifetime. In truth, it had seemed like many lifetimes.
Only their breathing disturbed the silent grace of their togetherness until the bedroom door opened. An old lady stood there, her brightly lit face taking in the scene before her. She nodded approvingly, her indulgent, happy smile belying her ninety years.
"It's good you wrote to him, Maya," she said.
"Leo," she said, enjoying using his name.
He took the letter.
"My darling husband Leo," he read aloud.
"No, don't speak aloud, Leo," she pleaded. "I don't know why, but I know if you read aloud something terrible will happen."
His hand touched hers. "Terrible? What?"
"I don't know." She shook her head. "Memories will come alive. Fears will become reality. People will suffer. We will... I don't know, something awful will befall us, Leo."
"Aren't you being silly?" Leo chided his wife gently. "But... okay."
He laid the letter on the table and read quietly to himself. Maya sighed.
Her sight was terrible, she couldn't make out the words on the letter she held.
Then a cold tickle ran down her cheek and she remembered she'd been crying. She wiped her cheeks with her hands, taking care not to get tears on her letter.
When she dried her eyes the memories came flooding back - the letters to her husband, the table at which she sat, the lamp on the table. She heard herself say
"I promised I'd write you every week! I did! And you came back!"
"Let me see." The man's voice beside her was gentle and reassuring.
The apartment block stood dark against the blanched skin of a sky paling towards dawn. Sporadic birdsong flittered the last hour, the first notes of dawn's chorus, the opening chords of the day's overture.
As a counterpoint to the sounds of birds, deep bass rumblings came from nearby roads as vehicles passed more and more frequently.
Only one apartment was inhabited.
Only one window of the apartment was lit up. Seen from a distance the window was a tiny star, yellow and bright. Seen from a distance it was impossible to tell what was happening within. It was Maya's apartment.
The director laid down his script.
"Take a break, guys," he said.
He watched as the actors and actresses dropped, exhausted, to the floor.
He had so much respect for them. They had all learned so much and had put everything of themselves into it. They'd become their characters: they had denied their own histories and taken on the pasts of characters that never existed. They'd renounced, even disowned their own realities for imagined realities. And made those imagined realities real.
He closed his eyes.
When he opened them, they were gone.
It was almost like they had never been.
"We're alone, Daniel."
"The others left? Are we sure they've left?"
"I believe so."
"It's possible they haven't. But, more importantly, is the alien still here?"
"I don't believe it is, Daniel. If it ever was."
"I don't understand."
"Never mind, Daniel. It's not important, and I'm probably wrong. Are you leaving now?"
"No, you're leaving. Maya. I see you walking away."
"No, I'm not. It's you that's walking away."
"No, Maya, you are leaving."
"Am I leaving alone, Daniel?"
"Good. Goodbye, Daniel."
"I hope we all meet again."
"That's a good thought, Daniel. You are a good man."
The quiet woman closed her eyes. Here, in this darkness, her mind reached out, into her past, recalling events that flashed vividly, colourfully, before her eyes. She didn't need opened eyes to see what had already happened to her. It felt like her emotions had travelled into the past, so vividly did she see and feel her memories. Or were they memories? Perhaps, inside her, time had no authority. In the absence of any other reality, the one she now felt must be her only reality. She embraced it fully before moving on.
The darkness lightened. Maya watched her leave.
In the darkness they heard each other call.
There was no light, the dark was absolute. Like being trapped underground, without light. They called.
Maya called for Leo, Tracey for Timmy and Rick. They heard Timmy call for his mother, then his laughter as he found her and their three voices, playing together. Slowly, those voices faded, as if they moved away.
The darkness lightened.
Tisha and Harry called for each other, then both fell silent as they found one another. They, too, moved away. The darkness lightened further.
Daniel, alert and readied, didn't make a sound. Silent, he waited.
She finished speaking and immediately a darkness enclosed them. It came swiftly, but softly and gently. It happened in no time, because there was no time: it had neither beginning nor end. It simply was.
Maya was the first to reach out. She called for Leo, believing she had died, believing he was waiting. Then she called Tisha.
An alien voice sounded in her head.
Postulate: Love exists only where there is a potential for love to end, through decay or death. Greater research required.
And Tisha's voice: "Love's unseen, like energy. But the evidence of love is unquestionably visible."
Her words trailed off, as if, becoming suddenly aware of where she was she doubted the truth of them. Perhaps she'd got it wrong? But images from her life flooded over her and her eyes brimmed. Her cheeks coloured; and her head, which had lowered, rose again; her eyes again sought those of the others as words, not her own, glittered unexpectedly, and completely filled her mind.
To understand that dreams enhance life is a gift.
To know that life is the dream is to become the gift
She spoke them aloud then, and in the speaking, renewed her certainty.
"Or perhaps I've been shopping and now I'm finished. The crowd is too much for me and I wonder if I'm in a dream, but I'm not, this is reality, and this time I won't wake up frightened, and everyone jostles me so I cross a road and there's this squeal of brakes and a horrible horn of a bus right beside me and I turn to see the horrified face of a driver who cannot stop...
Before someone pulls me clear I don't think 'I want to go into another world' because there isn't another world.
But there is."
She held her fingertips to her head.
"When I'm dreaming I don't think 'This monster is going to kill me horribly, I don't like this dream, I want to be part of another world!' There isn't another world. I run. My legs are heavy and slow but I run. I'm still running when I wake up, hot, panicking.
"Or when I'm at the edge of a cliff and my foot slips. Then I'm trapped on a ledge twenty feet below, no escape but to eventually fall further to my death.
I never think 'I want to be in another world.'"
"I hated dreams," the quiet woman asserted, her voice stronger and louder than anyone had ever heard it. The direct contact made with her eyes, the head pushed slightly forward, the expressive hands, all showed she had something important to say.
Her voice and attitude took them all by surprise. They fell silent.
"I dream only fear. Then I awake with a start, my anxious heart pounding, my skin sweating. I lie there. I wait for my heart to slow, for the fear to drip away, and while this is happening, because this always happens, I think about the dream."
Something was wrong. Everyone knew it, but no one knew why.
Daniel reccied his apartment, Tracey walked to the window. Timmy ran to her, pulled her sleeve. "Home Mummy?" he pleaded.
Harry was thinking aloud: "So, essentially, time isn't linear and we can move in time providing our actions remain small enough not to cause any great disturbance- "
"Harry!" Tisha interrupted, "We're home!"
"Are we? I mean, back in time in our own dimension? And how can we tell?"
"Does it matter?" Tisha asked.
"Probably not," replied Harry, smiling. " We're together, at least Still feels unreal, dreamlike, though."
The room remained silent for a while. Harry reached for Tisha; they hugged. Tracey had stood with Rick, hugging him tightly, now she turned to pick up a waking Timmy.
The quiet woman smiled, bent closer to Tracey and kissed her on the cheek. Then she began laughing.
"It's over now, isn't it?" she laughed, turning to face the alien. "Your experiment? It's finished."
This study is complete.
The room disappeared.
Daniel's apartment was as they'd remembered it: a place for everything, and everything in its place.
Except they all felt out of place, as if they shouldn't be there.
Now imagine your time as a vast ocean. Your action - throwing the stone into it - will create ripples. But those ripples, however huge at first, will lessen as they spread throughout the waters of time. Until, at the oceans edge, more likely before,, there is no evidence they ever existed.
Understand, your time is a vast ocean, acted on by forces much stronger than those of these physical dimensions. Your actions and consequences are comparatively nothing.
We have been here, studied you, many times in what you call your past and future.
Tracey laughed. "Then you can take us back...?"
You believe you cannot travel in time because if you go back in time your actions will alter the future, possibly even resulting in you not existing.
Rick blinked. "What?"
Imagine time is a pool and an action is throwing a stone into it. Even the tiniest action, the tiniest stone, causes ripples. The ripples- the consequences of your actions- are huge at first but lessen as the ripples spread, as they move through time. But the whole pool feels your actions' consequences: at the edge, the tiny waves are still seen.
But your time is not a small pool.