Tuesday, 16 October, 1888 — Minneapolis, Minnesota
In the moment that he turns the brass knob and begins to swing open the heavy door to his room, Tennen knows that someone is waiting for him inside. He begins to compose his mind for battle—as unlikely as that seems in a house that is even now half-filled with lordlings of the Filii Lucis—but as the door opens wider and he steps inside the room he perceives that violence will be unnecessary after all. The intruder is a woman, and she is not an assassin. As he walks in, she turns up the lamp and rises from one of the room’s plush chairs.
“Please do not be alarmed,” she says, rising. “My name is Landry. Josette Landry.”
The woman steps forward, offering her hand, which Tennen accepts briefly. As he touches her skin he knows: this woman has passed the Second Gate. She has defeated the second and final genetic clock that would otherwise cause baseline humans to die sometime between their fifth and ninth century. Of course such a status is required for attendance at this meeting, but there is something else in her aura that he cannot quite understand at first.
She is quite beautiful, even exotic. Black hair and dark eyes, and a fine structure of bones and muscles of the face. The name she has given is a masquerade name, of course. She attempts to appear as an American, but he can see from a thousand small clues—the choice of words, the way she uses her body and the muscles of her face—that she is, in fact, French, born no less than three hundred and no more than five hundred years ago. Why does she attempt to deceive him in this way? Because, even as she has said, she has studied him, and knows that he cares for the New World more than the Old. It is a typical characteristic of one of her age and achievement that such creatures believe they can suddenly do anything, deceive anyone. They do not, perhaps cannot understand what a gulf still stands between them and a true elder. Tennen knows this attitude well, since he once experienced it himself. But that was when Babylon was young. But as he touches her hand, Tennen perceives some additional secret, secondary to the obvious deception concerning her origins, difficult to isolate precisely because it is of lesser importance in her mind. But as he releases her hand, he sees it.
“Ah! You have not been invited to this gathering! My lady, you surprise me. You are talented indeed, but why take such a risk? There are many here who would look unkindly on such an intrusion.”
She cannot completely conceal her surprise at how quickly he has discovered her uninvited status, but even now she assigns little importance to it.
“My lord, I hope you are not one of them. You have been difficult to find, and difficult to approach until now. Yet I felt that we must speak.”
It is a very significant achievement to have merely entered this house undetected.
“You are not easy to find, my lord,” she replies. “But I have come here tonight, my lord, because I am a creature like you are.”
Hearing herself saying this, the woman is instantly abashed. Blinking, she looks down from his gaze.
“I mean—of course I do not mean that—” she impulsively nods her head in a vestigial bow—as no American would ever do—and blinks her eyes, frowning momentarily. “I of course do not mean to suggest that I am of your stature,” she says. “Only that—” she looks up at him directly again, making fearless eye contact, in the manner of an American, as Tennen now perceives that she has schooled herself to do. “I only mean that I have long stayed apart, as you have, my lord. I have avoided the hierarchies of the Nine, even as you have. Yet now you have come to their Great Meeting to join them.”
“That is widely known,” he nods. “But you, I think, have come for a different reason?”
“Yes.” She tries to answer simply and directly, but the subtle stresses in her expression proclaim anxiety. Is the woman anxious to be facing him? Or to be in this place? Tennen perceives that the answer, most likely, is both.
“Yes, because I believe I know why you have chosen to join them at last. I believe I know what you desire. I have come to learn whether I am correct.”
“But madam, I am sure you have mistaken me,” Tennen smiles. “I have no agenda other than service. If the Nine desire to increase the population and technology level of this world then I find myself in complete sympathy with such a project. I, as you must certainly know, have always been a modernizer.”
The dark-eyed woman gazes at him.
“I am not one of their spies,” she says quietly. “You would detect that easily. You say are a modernizer? Yes, that is true enough. But does that mean that you have come to subjugate yourself to the will of the Nine? I do not think so.”
She looks at him steadily now, her eyes burning with some kind of desire.
“Many years I have spent studying you, my lord. Learning whatever is certainly known, and finding whatever I could that is that is more obscure and less certain. But it has been enough, I think, to see an image emerge that I suspect is known to no one else on this Earth, other than yourself. And, now, to me.” She leans forward by the slightest inclination.
“I say, my lord, that you are a builder. You have always been on the frontier, always at the forefront. After your youth in Sumeria, you first became powerful in early dynastic Egypt. You might have simply stopped there and enjoyed your wealth to this day! But you did not. Instead you went to Assyria, then Babylon. Later to Mykene, then Athens, finally Rome, and then—” she smiles. Tennen watches her silently. “After that time, I cannot say. But I suspect that you went north with the legions and stayed there after the fall of the western Empire.”
“And why would I travel to such a savage and uncomfortable place?”
“Because you saw the promise of future greatness there,” the woman answers. “The collapse of the Empire must have been difficult to navigate, and then the cultures of Europe were chaotic for centuries afterward. The Nine learned then that more advanced human cultures are not always easy to control. You must have learned it also. Yet a thousand years later, in the twelfth century, someone sent three expeditions of Knights Templar across the sea westward, to the continent that had been expressly forbidden by the Nine until the culmination of their plans.”
Tennen looks at her. “And what purpose could such expeditions serve?”
Staring at him she leans forward, no longer trying to conceal her enthusiasm.
“To have a place not ruled by these creature and all their works! To begin something new, in a new place, that might survive despite their stifling order!”
“Ah. A futile hope, then. Since they now rule all the Earth.”
“They do rule all the Earth,” the woman says, her gaze attempting to penetrate his every shield.
“Then you and I,” she says. “We will go beyond it.”
Remembering herself, the woman blinks and leans back in her chair, doing her best to lighten her countenance.
“I have brought you a gift, my lord,” she says. She smiles, fetchingly and mischievously. “Maybe the most dangerous object in the world.”
Leaning downward, she withdraws from her dark bag a book that glows in rich oranges, yellows, and reds. The cover is elaborately decorated, with the title inscribed in a large red circle at the center.
DE LA TERRE
“The Moon, my lord,” the woman whispers. “They are dreaming of going to the moon. That is the plan of the Nine. That is the reason you have come to offer them your services. Because you hope, with their help, to escape the very circles of the Earth. And finally to escape them also. Forever.”
Tennen stares at the woman for long seconds then looks down at the book., and takes it from her hand.
“This is very beautiful. Thank you.”
But after a moment he sets the book aside and, nodding to the woman, rises. Walking to his large room’s eastern window, Tennen draws aside the heavy curtain—and there is the moon, perhaps one night away from the full, already riding high in the clear night’s sky. Its silver light fills the room, mingling with the gold of the lamps.
Tennen looks at it for some time, and then, without turning, speaks in a low voice.
“I have seen that moon rise over the streets of Kesh during the Festival of the Sowing of Barley. I have seen it rise over the streets of Memphis at the Opening of the Year, and over the streets of Ninevah at the Start of Spring. In all that time I knew that it was not eternally unreachable, as the common man imagined. I knew that the true rulers of this world, they who have always stood behind the Pharaohs and the kings, they came hither from afar, even from the stars. And if they wished, they could return.”
Tennen turns to face Miss ‘Landry’.
“But of course they did not wish to return. Indeed in all the time they have ruled this world the Nine have shown not the slightest inclination to allow human activity to expand beyond it. Now?” He shrugs.
“Now the Nine have called this great meeting to announce their decision to guide this Earth into a future of high technology and high population. They pretend that we little ones are allowed to discuss and advise, but in fact the decision was made long ago. And what is the goal of such a world? It is two-fold. The large population will allow the harvest and storage of vast quantities of life. They will create stockpiles that will sustain them for hundreds of years if necessary.”
Tennen takes a breath, then turns to walk to the room’s bar where he pours two glasses of wine before returning to his mysterious guest.
“Please,” he says, setting a glass on her side table before resuming his own seat.
“But the large population and the great wars that are planned have also been designed to allow the attainment of very high levels of technology. To what purpose?” He sips the wine and looks at it, as red as blood in the mixed light of lamp and moon.
“You are correct in assuming that you and I have made the same guess. Above all, the Nine fear the impending turn of the Great Year. Not they, nor, it seems, even their distant masters in the Celestial Realm fully understand what forces that strange event will unleash, nor how great will be the effects on the Earth.”
He looks at his guests, his eyes gleaming.
“So they will leave! They will create these colonies on the Moon, perhaps even on Mars, to be sure of continuing to have a functioning abode when these great events have at last ended.”
“Yet, we must remember: do they not still possess the secret of how they first arrived? Certainly. Why not, then, simply use that ability? If they could fly between the stars long ago, then surely they could fly to the moon today? Then why go to such great lengths to recreate an ability they already possess?”
Tennen’s gaze studies his visitor.
“Because they know that they would lose control of us!” the woman answers him. “They fear that if humans were allowed to use their star faring drive, then humans would learn its secret and escape to worlds beyond even the reach of the Nine. So they will orchestrate this entire project, vastly increasing the population of their slaves, greatly increasing industry and science, all so that humans can create their own way of traveling beyond the sky. And you can be sure that whatever arts they permit us to develop will be far inferior to their own, which they will continue to guard jealously.”
Placing her glass on the side-table the woman leans forward insistently.
“Jules Verne, the author of your book, envisioned his lunar travelers being shot from a great cannon and reaching the moon in four days. Only a fancy, certainly! But, my lord, I suspect that what the Nine permit us will be little advanced beyond such fancies! This is why, if you think to go along with the Nine in order to someday achieve your freedom, your hopes will cheat you!”
“Cheat me?” Tennen asks, surprised. “Madam, I have heard that the Solar System is a large place. I have even heard of the newly discovered planet Neptune which is three thousand million miles from the Earth. Surely not even the reach of the Nine could extend to such distances?”
“My lord,” the woman smiles. “Neptune was discovered forty years ago.”
“Ah.” Tennen shrugs.
“But my lord, please consider. If we are given ships that can travel to the moon in four days then the planet Neptune would require a voyage of a century. Whereas, if the Nine have ships that can cross from the nearest star in a century, then they are ten thousand times faster! You will still be in their cage.”
Tennen regards the woman, and sips from his wine.
“So. You have come to tell me that you see the same possibilities that I do—but in the next breath you show the vision to be a mirage. Then why have you come?”
“I have come, my lord,” the woman speaks quietly, her eyes shining, “because I understand something about this new world that you do not,” she says. “And that even the Nine do not. It is a concept of mathematics discovered more than a century ago by the mathematician De Moivre.
“Mathematics,” Tennen says. He has wondered more than once in the last few minutes whether he should simply execute his unusual visitor.
“Yes, lord. He called it the Normal Curve.“
“You know, of course, my lord,” she hurries on, “that if you were to measure any trait of human beings some would possess that trait to an unusual degree.”
“Yes. But the normal curve of De Moivre tells us how frequently unusually great ability will occur, regardless of which particular ability you care to seek. It tells us that, in a large population, perhaps two-thirds of all people will be within a range that we might consider ‘normal’.”
“This is reasonable.”
“Yes. But my lord,” the intense woman insists, “the mathematics suggests much beyond this. It tells us also that one in fifty will have twice that ability. And that one in one thousand will have thrice. That one in fifty thousand will have four times, that one in two million will have five times the normal ability.”
The dark eyed woman stares at him.
“And that one in five hundred millions will have six times the ability. In the physical sciences. The sciences that brought the Nine to this world.”
“Such a being, my lord, would surpass by far what you or I could ever hope to achieve.”
The woman remembers her drink, and takes a sip from it.
“And such a one might discover the deepest secret of the Nine.”
Tennen looks at her, his face revealing nothing.
“In today’s world, my lord, these mathematics suggest, there may already be one or two such.”
She leans forward.
“But in the world that the Nine mean to bring us, there will be ten, or twelve, or sixteen.”
“I see, yes. If the theory holds true. And?”
“And I, with your help, will find one of them. And I will teach him. And I will give you the deepest secret of the Nine. The secret of how they flew between the stars.”
Tennen looks at her. Dark eyes, young but brilliant. He looks at her. The lamplight flickers on her hair and in her eyes.
“You believe you can do this thing,” he says. “With humans.”
“I believe I can. With your help.”
He looks at the red wine for long moments before at last tasting it and raising his eyes again to the woman.
“What help would you need?”
“First, I need access to whatever documents exist concerning the sciences of the Nine that are not hidden. There may be some scrap, some clue however remote that I can find to set my students on the right path. But perhaps more importantly, I need to become invisible to the agents of the Nine. I will haunt the schools of the northeast coast of this country until I find one, something small but high in quality, where I will settle. There I will wait and watch and seek for the one I hope to find. Or it may be that the first one will only start the process and then find his own student, whom I will also encourage in his turn. I need that school, indeed that whole area to become invisible to the agents of the Nine: their observers, shepherds, and informers.”
Tennen frowns. “You say ‘the observers and shepherds of the Nine’, but of course it is the lieutenants that control such agents. The northeast is Raim’s territory.”
“But if you accept service with Naberius—?”
“If I am offered a position by the lord Naberius,” Tennen corrects her, smiling thinly, “even then, no. He will not replace a lieutenant, but will carve out a new area here in the Midwest from the lands most sparsely ruled, currently, by Orias and Amiethon. If that happens the northeast will be far from my control. Yet, Raim seems not especially—” he smiles, “diligent. Such a thing might be accomplished without attracting undue attention.”
“However,” Tennen continues, “You must know that academia is watched most carefully. All publications are scrutinized. I must imagine that any journal paper containing the merest hint of a movement in this direction above all would be quickly noticed and suppressed.”
“Oh, we will not publish, my lord. I would not dream of it. No, if my students make any work public it will only be lesser work to lull any censors. They will learn to keep any real advances very private indeed.”
Tennen drinks more wine. He looks at the woman who has visited him, and sees what she is. A being who has passed the Second Gate but recently, and now believes that she can do anything.
Was I ever so young?, he wonders. And knows that he was. And so idealistic?
And knows that he was.
She is simple, yet powerful. It is no small thing to have come to his rooms undetected. And she has told him things here that have resonated with his thought. She has taught him things.
What if she could indeed do what she says? It would be the most dangerous project that he has ever entered into. And the greatest.
Tomorrow, Tennen knows that he will begin the process, in his own way, of interviewing for a job with Naberius of the Nine. This is why he came here. This is why he has submitted himself to their power.
But what if he could accomplish this thing, that the young but brilliant creature before him has offered?
He has taken risks before. Indeed, for five thousand years he has only taken risks.
And he has always won.
He looks into her dark eyes.
“Nothing is decided yet,” he says. “But if all goes as I suspect,” he takes a breath, “you will have what you ask.”
The woman smiles, doing her best to control herself, but her every emotion plain upon her face for any being who can read it.
“We will do this thing, my lord. I will do this thing. With your help. And we will be free.”
An then, rising from her chair, she translates from the room—with remarkable skill! Even sitting a few feet from her, Tennen can barely feel the backwash of her departure. How could one so young have learned such skill?
But he remembers what she taught him about normal curves, and he smiles.
Standing, Tennen walks to the room’s bar, and pours himself whiskey.
“Teo,” he says, bringing a communication window into view.
“My lord.” Teo’s face appears in the window.
“I have just had a visitor. I would like you and your people to find whatever you can about her.”
“Yes, my lord,” Teo’s strong face nods, and his face disappears.
Tennen watches the empty air, then rises to walk to the room’s tall window.
“But I do not think you will find her,” he say quietly.
Outside in the night air, the moon is shining bright, and almost full.