Prepare yourselves... it's the final chapter of...
True Tales from University: My Friend June from the Planet Xartex
No one saw me submerge my hand into Silas’ shoulder, but I wasn’t paying much attention to anyone else then. His innards were still warm, and for a frightening moment I dreaded that the unnatural glimmer had been nothing and I had just plunged my hand into a dead body for no good reason.
But the glimmer was real, and I wrapped my hand around a small ball, just bigger than my fist. It felt like hard jelly, morphing slowly in response to my fingers, like some kind of stress ball toy. I withdrew my blood soaked hand, and stared at the glowing blue orb.
Silas. You lying bastard.
Technically, he had never lied to me, about this at least. He had been lying when he’d said all that crap about the Xartexans being evil and wanting to take over the world. He just hadn’t said anything about being a Xartexan himself. No one had ever asked him if he was, so he never had to lie.
I wished heartily that souls could be destroyed, because right then I wanted to squeeze his soul and destroy him. In fact, my hand closed around him tightly and I squeezed with all my might. But the little blue ball just squeezed out the sides of my hand, and rebounded into a perfect sphere once I relented. Bastard!
‘I hope you’re happy with yourself,’ I hissed at him. ‘You had me grieving you for nothing. God damn it Silas. You had me thinking you hated Xartexans. You are one, damn it! You bastard.’
I didn’t feel anything, no psychic communications from the glowing ball. Perhaps I had to be Xartexan to feel those. I looked at the dead body beside me.
I felt full of hate. Well, it was perfectly easy to die protecting someone when you were immortal, wasn’t it? Bastard.
‘Excuse me. You’re going to have to hand that to me right now, please.’
I looked up. Standing above me, blocking out the light was a tall woman with straight, dark blonde hair. She looked late twenties or early thirties. She wore a long coat and was dressed warmly. She had a police badge.
I glared at her. ‘Do you know what this is?’ I hissed at her.
She could tell, by the way I said it, that I knew what I was talking about. And I knew, a split-second after I asked it, that this woman knew perfectly well what it was I was holding.
‘Yes, I do. Please, hand it over.’
‘Who are you?’ I demanded of her, still not handing the little soul over.
‘I’m the Xartexan agent in the central city police department. I’m responsible for covering any crimes that my fellow aliens are involved in. I saw Silas’ signal beep off, and so I could see that his body had expired somehow. Now, can you please hand him over? You’ll see him soon enough, in a few weeks time. We’ll get him a new body and everything.’
‘I don’t want him to have a new body,’ I growled at her. ‘Do you know what he was? He was the president of an Anti-Xartexan Club! You can’t let him go unpunished!’
The police detective sighed. ‘Look kid. Don’t you think I knew about that? He was a double agent. He was spreading lies about us in order to protect us. He was keeping tabs on dangerous elements of your society for your protection. He was one of the bravest agents I knew. Now please, hand him over.’
‘I’d rather throw him as far as I can,’ I hissed at her.
She sighed again, but remained calm. ‘Look. If you do that, I’m going to have to arrest you for obstruction of justice. As it is already, you and I are going to spend a lot of time together tonight, when I have to ask you about what happened here. So please, just make this easy for the both of us?’
Reality and reason had set in by now. I was quite over my shock and I was ready to cooperate. I handed the woman the soul, and got to my feet, noticing now the coldness of the blood on my knees. The team run by the detective were already working, arresting the two hooligans who had the bad luck to be caught, photographing the scene, the discarded weapons, and cordoning the area off. One came up to me and wrapped a rough grey blanket around me. It was very thoughtful of him. I was much more warm with it on.
‘I’m Detective Julie Lane,’ the woman beside me told me as she put the soul into a small can-shaped container.
‘I’m Louise Milligan,’ I told her, still in deep shock, though beginning to work my way out. ‘Can we get away from here?’ I was sick of the eyes on me and the metallic smell of blood.
‘Yes, yes we can,’ Detective Lane answered, and led me away through the park after giving brief instructions to her team. Moments later we were at her car. She opened the door for me and crossed over to her own door, taking the portable siren off the top of her car.
There was no music in her car as we drove to the city police station. She parked in a concrete parking building underneath and led me through the station, up to her office. ‘Is there someone you need to call?’ she asked me. ‘This interview won’t take very long.’
I nodded numbly and took the corded phone she offered. I called home. ‘Lou? Is that you?’ Leigh’s urgent voice came.
‘Yes, it’s me Leigh.’
‘Lou. What happened?’
‘Silas is dead. I’m at the police station now with the detective.’
‘Lou! Oh my God. What happened?’
‘We were attacked by hooligans. I’ll tell you what happened later. Would you mind coming down the station in the city to pick me up?’
‘Of course, of course Lou. I’ll see you soon.’
‘Thanks Leigh. Bye.’
The detective was making hot chocolate at a coffee machine just outside her door. A couple of minutes later she came back and offered me one of the cups. ‘Okay Louise. We’ll take it as slowly and easily as we can. I know this is a shock to you, and you didn’t realise Silas was an agent until just now. But I need you to tell me what happened tonight. What is your relation to Silas?’
I told her I was his girlfriend, and that he had taken me to the Anti-Xartexan Club that night. I had gotten mad at him because one of my friends was Xartexan. It surprised her to find out how I knew about Xartex. She had been at the meeting where I was discovered, but neither of us had seen each other’s faces. She hadn’t made the connection. I described to her the fight that Silas and I had outside the commons. She was surprised that he had a picture of June and the Commander on his phone. She was especially interested to know if I thought any of Silas’ attackers were from the AXC. I was pretty sure they weren’t. The AXC were all pretty interesting looking people, all fairly recognisable for different individual quirks. The hooligans had been a non-descript, hoodie-covered bunch. Besides, there wouldn’t have been any time or way for the AXC to sneak out behind us and attack us from across the park.
Julie was satisfied with my answers. The hooligans had to be interviewed, but it seemed clear that they had probably been intent on attacking me, and hadn’t expected Silas to come to my defence. ‘It’s a shame about the senseless violence on this planet.’
‘It’s a shame you don’t just take over the world,’ I told her bluntly.
She looked up at me, spinning her ballpoint pen in a calculating way. ‘Louise, we don’t take over planets. We’re scientists. Nothing has meaning to us other than finding souls like ours in the universe. Acquisition doesn’t matter to a species which doesn’t need food or land to thrive. Those things that Silas said were propaganda purposefully spread to put potential bad seeds and hardened conspiracy theorists on the wrong track.’
‘Then why was he trying to feed me this bullshit?’
‘I can’t speculate as to what his real motives were. I didn’t know him well enough. He was a Manipulator Agent, Louise. Those are rare in Xartex. It’s not in most Xartexans to act or deceive. But some souls can be so affected by things they seen and experienced that they can change enough, and learn.’ She looked out her window at the rainy cityscape. ‘Perhaps he was doing it to test you. To work out how much you knew about us. But anyway. I believe your friend has just arrived.’
‘What? How do you know?’
‘I’m in the Expansive Consciousness Experience, Louise. I can sense things. That’s why I’m in this job. Now, if you need to come back and give me any more information, make sure you don’t tell any other police officers what it’s about. My department is a secret. It’s only known to some very high up people. My human colleagues just believe we’re a normal part of the homicide unit.’
She personally escorted me out to the front door, and I gave her the blanket, heading out with my bloody knees showing. Leigh’s eyes were wide with fright as I got in. She wanted to hear it all, but I was tired and hungry. So we went and grabbed some burgers. In the joint, I told her everything that happened. Minus any reference to Xartex. I just said the argument had been about Silas hating June for some random reason.
‘You’re so calm,’ Leigh murmured, looking at me with a mix of admiration and worry. ‘God, Lou, I’m so sorry.’
‘Don’t worry Leigh. I’ll take tomorrow off. I’ll deal with my grief. I’m just really numb right now.’
We headed home, late at night. Leigh let me have the first shower, and I stripped the bloody leggings off my legs. His blood was still on my legs, caked into my pores. I scrubbed it off and cried loudly in the shower. Leigh had ice cream and hot chocolate ready once I was out.
Leigh disappeared early in the morning for a class. I stayed in bed.
The night before, the images of blood had been branded in my mind and had been almost impossible to get rid of. But somehow I managed to get to sleep. Now, though I saw my hand still digging within Silas’ corpse, I was distanced from the horrible images.
And I was angry.
I got up and had a short shower, and washed my hair. Then I dressed in jeans and a really big, warm jumper. I wondered around the kitchen, randomly cleaning and doing any small household tasks I could think of that needed doing. Then the doorbell rang.
I opened the door. It was June. I shut the door in her face.
She stuck her leg in the door and hauled it open with her droid strength. ‘Get out, damn it!’ I yelled at her.
‘Louise! Let me in. Look. I bear gifts.’
She stuck her hand through the doorway. She was holding a slab of dark chocolate with creamy peppermint filling. My favourite. Damn that bitch for remembering.
I snatched it out of her hand and walked away from the door, letting her come in. I flopped down on the couch and angrily ripped the packaging open on the chocolate slab. Reluctantly I offered her a few squares of chocolate, and then I snapped off a decent portion for myself.
‘I’m sorry, Lou. I should have told you.’
‘Yes, June. You should have told me my boyfriend was an alien. That’s what a real friend would do.’
‘Lou, it’s more complicated that you know.’
‘You know what?’ I said bitterly. ‘I’m glad you’re here. I have a lot of questions for you now. Like how about this, June? Why wasn’t Silas at the meeting? Is he secret even to other aliens?’
June looked down at the ground and nibbled on her piece of chocolate. ‘Well, you see Lou, he was a secret agent. Not everyone knew about him. Detective Julie knew about him, obviously, and the Commander too. But I didn’t have the clearance to know about him, until this morning when I found out, and I explained the situation to the Commander, who filled me in. But I had an inkling.’ She breathed out a sigh and carried on reluctantly. ‘I recognised him as soon as I saw him and you together. We worked together once.’
I looked at her carefully. She was looking away. ‘Worked together,’ I repeated, keeping my voice even. I knew what she meant. There was something else there. Something she wasn’t saying. And I knew what it was.
‘So what. You guys are exes, or something?’
She sighed slowly, and nodded, wrapping her arms around her knees. ‘Yes. A very long time ago, we entered into a partnership that lasted a couple of millennia. We lived in several different bodies during that time, but we always made sure we were stationed together as an appropriate couple on whatever planet we were assigned to. But we changed each other. He made me wiser. I made him bitter.’
‘He learnt to act and manipulate,’ I said softly. ‘You did that to him?’
She chuckled bitterly, once. ‘You put it exactly the way I feel about it,’ she said sadly. ‘You should understand the situation well, as a human. You know when humans enter a relationship, after the initial period when everything seems perfect, there’s that point where the little things become irritating and you start asking each other for changes?’
I nodded slowly. Yes, I knew that part very well indeed. I had only just gotten up to that part with Silas.
‘Well, imagine that kind of thing happening to immortal people. I was hailed as the perfect agent by all Xartexan authorities. I was the golden girl, as you would say here. So, just as everyone else felt, he felt as if the golden girl could do no wrong. He felt as if all the problems in the relationship, and there were problems, of course, had to be his fault. I certainly didn’t help him to change his mind about this. He changed, trying to be my perfect soul mate. But no one can change something as big as that, Lou. Please, for the love of God, remember that. Your life is too short to go around trying to perfect yourself for someone else.’ A tear escaped her eye, and I put an arm around her, forgetting, for the moment, how mad I was at her and all aliens. ‘He learned to act and manipulate, because with me that was what he felt he had to do. By the time I realised I had changed him, it was too late. We broke up, with a terrible falling out. We both never wanted to work together again. I was still the Xartexan golden girl. My character had progressed through my relationship with Silas. Through losing him, I had become wiser and more accepting of others. Through him, I became an All Angel. And through me, he became a Manipulator. Which is sad, because, even though Manipulators are necessary in operations such as our one here on Earth, to be a Manipulator means being pretty much ostracised from normal Xartexan society.’
I looked down. I had never sensed any of this history from Silas. He had a history spanning back millennia before I was even born, and I had treated him as someone I was on even par with. But I had to, didn’t I? No one can ever afford to be below the other when it comes to relationships. At least I knew I couldn’t live like that. I needed equality. If he had been treating me like a pet, it was only because he was thousands of years my senior...
... and he probably saw me as pet. A dumb, soulless animal.
I grew angry with the aliens again. It made me so mad. ‘So... so what then. Was he going out with me to spite you? Were you two going to fight over me like some kind of pet?’
‘I tried to warn you, Lou, without giving him away. I wasn’t allowed to give him away. It was only luck that you discovered who he was. I’m sorry it had to happen that way. I can’t say for sure what his motives were. I don’t know if the thing between you was real or not. I don’t have the right to comment on something like that.’
‘I thought you knew everything, June. Everything about everyone.’
She laughed bitterly, and hugged me. ‘Then you have to change your mind, Lou. I’m a living creature just like you. And nothing in this universe is perfect. All the questions that you humans have about the universe... you think we have answered them, don’t you? But you’re wrong. We’ve been around far longer than you, and we’ve travelled far and wide. But the further we go, the more questions we get. Not answers. Questions.’
I rubbed her back gently and felt myself growing much wiser. So I was right all along. Xartexans weren’t some kind of heavenly being above us all. They were the observers. And just like the rest of us lowly beings, they didn’t have all the answers.
‘But you have more answers than I do, June. So tell me. What do I do now?’
‘Tell me all of it. From the beginning of your relationship.’
I told her all about my dates with Silas, and how he had got more and more possessive, gradually. I told her about yesterday’s meeting with the Anti-Xartexan Club and the horrible conclusion to the night. She listened calmly, rubbing my back and giving me a hug whenever I teared up.
‘So where do I go now, June?’
June sucked on a piece of chocolate thoughtfully. Wrapped up, hugging her legs, she looked more childish than ancient now. I didn’t feel so intimidated by her anymore. I felt like I could be on an even playing ground. ‘Well,’ she said eventually, ‘It’s going to take some time before Silas can get a new body. You see, since they are partly organic, they have to be grown. Once he comes back, he’ll probably seek you out, and you two will have to sort out your differences. Whether you stay together or break up.’
‘But I thought you said he was bad,’ I reminded her.
She sighed, and smiled a kind of embarrassed smile. ‘Lou, even the most ancient of souls can be subjective and nasty sometimes. He’s not truly bad. He has as much potential for goodness as anyone else in the universe. It’s just that he is a Manipulator. But everyone deserves somebody to love, don’t they? So there must be someone out there for him. Maybe you two will work out. Or not. But it’s not something for me to interfere with. That would only increase the animosity between Silas and I.’
I considered her words. I wasn’t sure if I would or even could stay with Silas. He had been a pain, and he had made me so angry. I would surely punch him next time I saw him – if I recognised him. But I knew it was a fresh wound, and my feelings would change with time. ‘And what about us, June?’
‘Us? What do you mean?’
‘Are we still friends?’ I looked up at her, struggling to meet her eyes. She hadn’t been able to read my mind and see the doubt that had entered it since the night before. But she knew I was hurt, and I was taking it out on the aliens.
‘Of course Lou. Could you ever doubt it?’
I hung out with June a little more after that, learning everything I could about Xartex and its natives. But also, I just enjoyed her company, in the way I used to before I knew her secret. She hadn’t changed. She never did change, at least not in my short lifetime. Perhaps she would change from the All Angel. But according to the book she had lent me, the All Angelic Experience was the very highest point a Xartexan could reach. Perhaps no one had yet been able to graduate above it. Who could say? Not me. I’d hardly live a century, as much as the thought pissed me off.
But it was easy to forget these things with June. I went back to class again. Thankfully not many people knew about Silas and me, so I didn’t have to put up with condolences for a guy who wasn’t truly dead. Leigh was very surprised by my quick recovery, but she couldn’t find any chink in my armour, as if she suspected my resolve was just a ruse. It truly wasn’t, but of course I couldn’t tell her why I was okay.
I almost forgot he existed, with all the time that passed. I spent a lot of time with June. I passed that semester’s exams and prepared for my final semester of my Bachelor of Science degree.
Yet, though he had fled my mind for those two months, I recognised him as soon as he came back.
I was sitting down outside the main science building, on the benches, skimming through an astrophysics text book. I looked up for a brief moment, the low, bright sun catching my eyes and dazing me for a moment. I let my eyes drift to ground level. A tall boy was coming towards me across the quad, hands in his skinny jean pockets. His eyes were on me. They were green. I could see that even from here. His hair was strawberry blonde and messy, in need of a haircut. He looked about my age, maybe younger.
I was frozen for a little while. His eyes didn’t leave me. I knew that look. There was no mistaking the familiar way he had looked at me. I had never met this guy. And I didn’t want to.
I stood up, slamming my book closed and walked away at a perpendicular angle from him, towards crowds – not, as I had done before, to the park. I’d never go that way again.
‘Get lost! I’m not talking to you!’
‘Louise, come on!’
I turned around a slapped him as he caught up with me. There were some shocked looks and gasps of surprise from some onlookers. I turned away and kept walking.
He caught up again and I didn’t look at him. ‘Louise, please. I did it in your defence.’
‘I wouldn’t have been in there if it weren’t for you,’ I replied, still not looking at him, walking along as if I wasn’t been followed. ‘If you hadn’t chased me, I would have had time to think and I wouldn’t have walked into the park. And also, if you hadn’t taken me to your stupid club, then I wouldn’t know your secret. How would you feel if I told your dumb club what you really are?’
‘You wouldn’t,’ he said with certainty. ‘You can’t, and you know what would happen if you did.’ He sighed and grabbed my hand. ‘Lulu, I did it for you. They would have hurt you. I’m immortal, you’re not. I have to protect you.’
‘I don’t want your protection.’
‘Lou, I’ll stay with you. It’s all I want to do. You’re young now, but your life is just one precious blink of the eye to me. I want to savour every moment with you. Don’t you realise what you have here? I can change my body. I can be anything you want. I can grow old with you, or I can stay forever young. If you want a different body I can change it. If you want me to be a woman, even, I could do that too!’
‘I don’t want any of that!’ I hissed at him. I was getting tired of being stared at now. I dragged Silas – or whatever his name was now – to a small garden between buildings, where there was a bench, where we hopefully wouldn’t be disturbed. I sat him down and reluctantly sat down beside him. ‘Now look. I’m still really pissed off at you. You should have told me. And you shouldn’t have tried to keep me away from June just because you two used to be together.’ He rolled his eyes and huffed, sounding angry. ‘Yes, that’s right. She told me about you guys. Now I don’t care if you’re a Manipulator, all right? Practically everyone on Earth is a Manipulator by nature. But I’ll tell you this much. I won’t be manipulated by you, Silas.’
‘How have I manipulated you?’ he cried out, looking both angry and desperate to prove me wrong.
‘Just before you died you were getting really irritating. I told you about it, I told you I didn’t want to be treated as a pet.’
‘A pet?’ he practically spat. ‘When have I ever done that?’
‘You always do it. You say you want to protect me, because you’re immortal, because you can. But you just want to own me. You’ve were buying me things all the time, and even in your body language, you were acting like you owned me. I’m not your pet.’
‘You’ve been talking to June, haven’t you? All that body language bullshit –‘
‘It’s not bullshit. You’re a Manipulator, and you know what body language means. You use it to your advantage. You know it’s true.’
‘I still resent you thinking I treat you like a pet.’
‘You do, Silas, and I resent it.’
‘Well have you ever thought that, maybe, as a human, you deserve to be treated as a pet?!’
I froze for a moment. His face changed from angry to regretful. A slow, poisonous smile spread across my lips. The Manipulator had just been Manipulated.
‘So. It’s true. That is how you feel.’
‘No. No, Louise, I just said it in the heat of the moment...’
‘I don’t believe that,’ I said, standing, and putting my hands on my hips. I turned to him, smirking. ‘You’ve had millennia to think about your stance towards other life forms. And though you may have kept it secret until now, I just found it out. You think you are superior, don’t you? I mean, of course you do.’ He didn’t respond, so I kept taunting. ‘Well I won’t stand for it. Just because Xartexans are immortal doesn’t make them superior. You are just as clueless as we are as to what the meaning of life is. You’re just like us: searching for some meaning in the universe. You know what I think? Even if you find another species with immortal souls, you won’t find your answer. Because those beings will be just as confused as you are.’
‘Shut up!’ he cried out, standing too. I folded my arms. ‘You don’t know anything about us, human. It’s fine, coming from you, all this crap about souls. You don’t know anything about souls. You haven’t got one.’
I slugged him one, and he wasn’t expecting it. It probably hurt my hand more than it hurt him, but he backed up and tripped to the ground in surprise. I stood over him. ‘Oh really? You don’t think I have a soul?!’
‘I know you don’t have one!’ he roared back. ‘Your violent actions right now prove that you’re nothing but a dumb animal!’
I kicked him, not giving a damn about his proof or whatever. ‘Oh really, Silas? So what you’re saying is, you want to stay with me for the rest of my life, even though I have no soul? Do you want to fornicate with a dumb animal, Silas? Are you into bestiality like that?’
‘It’s not bestiality,’ he said, scrambling up, staying a small distance from me, defensively. ‘You’re human, and I have a human body.’
‘But you think of me just as a pet, not your equal. You think just because I have no physical soul that I am soulless.’
‘It’s scientifically proven!’
‘Damn your science! I have a soul. I think about things deeply. The things you say hurt me. I feel, I love, I hate, I think, I experience, I remember. You cannot negate those things. You can’t feel superior to that. All your immortality has done to you is corrupted your soul. I can see now why Xartexans hate you.’
His words were cold and quiet as he spoke. ‘You know nothing about Xartexans, you Yalathon bitch. I don’t know what June sees in you. She’s the oldest soul in the universe. She could spend time with any of the wisest people on this worthless planet, but instead she wastes her time with you! A mere girl! A mess of hormones and angst. I don’t know what I ever saw in you.’
He turned to walk away from me. I was frozen again, but I managed to say, quietly, ‘What did you say?’
He swung around and glared at me. ‘Which part? I’ll happily repeat any of the scathing truths to you, earthling.’
I dismissed his venom. I was too caught up in what he had said before. ‘What did you say about June? The oldest...’
‘Yes, June is the oldest soul in the universe. Didn’t she tell you that?’ He glared at me, tipped his head sideways, and growled. ‘Ha. Maybe she thought you were too dumb for that information. But there it is for you, Louise.’ He put as much spite into my name as he could. ‘I wouldn’t be alive if not for her. She’s like the Eve to our Adam, for our entire race. You don’t even deserve to call her your friend.’
He walked away, and I was glad for that. I never wanted to see him again. I hated him. He had said the thing which hurt me most in the whole world. I had no soul. It made me want to die, just thinking those words. I pushed the tears back into my eyes with my fingers, a little habit I hadn’t performed since I was a child.
It couldn’t be true. But the guy I had been dating had just said it.
Another part of me knew the problem really was his and not mine. After all, he was the truly awful one, if he believed all of his mortal lovers, in the thousands of years he had lived, were all soulless. How could he say any of them were soulless? Had they not loved him? Had they not sacrificed for him, compromised things in their own lives to be with him? And yet he thought of them as mere pets. In my mind he was no better than someone who performed bestiality.
No wonder he and June hadn’t lasted.
Speak of the devil. As if she had seen the whole exchange, June came up the garden path now and sat beside me on the bench. ‘Lou, are you okay?’
‘I just saw Silas.’
‘Oh. But why are you crying?’
‘I was right, June. I knew it, always, deep inside.’
‘He thought of me as a pet. He said I had no soul.’
I realised I was talking about this to the wrong person. June had a soul, and no doubt she believed, just as Silas did, that I was soulless creature. But she leant over and hugged me anyway.
‘He has no right to say that, Lou. I hope now you see how twisted an individual he is.’
‘He must never have truly loved anyone, if he can think that about them.’
‘You’ve got it exactly right there, Lou,’ June said, smiling proudly at me. ‘I didn’t want to comment before, but he can’t love. Even before me, he was twisted. He got into relationships with members of other sentient species. He would be good to them, that much was for sure. He would protect them, always, and provide for them. He would make them feel loved. But he didn’t truly love them with all his soul. How could he, and yet let go of them when they died?’
‘But... but you let go of the ones you love....’
‘But I’ve developed along different lines from Silas. I’ve accepted the cycle of life. Silas can’t. It would destroy him if he did.’
I looked at June, worried. ‘What happens to crazy souls? Souls can go crazy, right?’
She nodded solemnly. ‘Of course. Not every mind can handle eternity on this physical plane. If one of us goes insane for one reason or another, we have no choice but to lock them up. There’s one planet in this galaxy. It’s not unlike your human visions of hell. The denizens of that planet are in charge of making sure that the bad souls never escape their prison. We try to treat them, and to entertain them even if they can never be cured. It’s a sad, sad story. But it has made me even more sure of something.’ She held my eyes now, and tried to impress the meaning to me. ‘This can’t be the final destination, Lou. Our immortality is surely not Nature’s last word. Surely, such imperfect beings as us cannot be the be all and end all.’
I myself had come to that realisation too. I had thought June was perfect, before. The perfect All Angel. But even she was flawed. Nothing in this universe could be perfect. But that, in itself, was a perfect truth and ideal. If we were perfect, what would be the point of the universe?
The universe, in all its long existence. How much had June seen? I remembered what Silas had told me only half an hour ago. June is the oldest soul in the universe. I looked at her, hardly able to believe it of the young girl beside me, with the crazy green hair.
‘June. How old are you?’
She looked at me and knew that I already knew the answer. ‘The oldest,’ she told me simply. She looked down at the ground.
‘What was there before you?’
She hadn’t expected that question, and raised her eyes again. ‘Before me? Not many people ask me that.’ She looked down again, and there was sadness in her eyes. ‘My story is not unlike a great story of your planet. We started off as only two. I was one of a pair. I don’t know how we came into being. But we came into being at the same time. Before us, our parents had been the primitive Xartexans. They were a social species, looking not unlike the modern Xartexans, but lacking in language. My equal was born. He and I began talking together. Actually talking. We invented language, together. The others tried to understand us, but they couldn’t quite understand the abstract concepts we could. He and I had children. Our brood understood us and communicated amongst one another. They would breed with other Xartexans, once they became adults, and the offspring could understand language too, even if one of the parents couldn’t. We worked out that there was something in our family that gave us the potential. So my children bred as far as they could, and my mate and I made more children, to spread the thing that was language.
‘But it was not to last. One of our children, one of our first, was killed while hunting. His corpse was brought back to the clan, and we burnt it on a pyre, as was our custom. But out of the ashes rose the beautiful blue orb that was his soul.
‘My mate... he was too rash. Once he saw the soul, and saw that it could communicate with us and it couldn’t be destroyed... he wanted to be one too. So he ripped open his chest, and we saw the soul there. Then, it vanished before our eyes, and he died.’ Tears spilled over the rim of her eyes, and I held her gently. ‘That was when we realised suicide could not help us free our souls. We had to die naturally, or not by our own hands. Others in the clan died. Those who had no language died and no souls came from them. I lived to see some of my many children die and rise as souls. I died too, and rose again. And that is the early history of our species in the modern form. I lived through the years, chronicling history for my race, helping them improve their lives. I mediated between warring parties. I advanced technology. I dreamed, and I found other species on other planets. I was the one who pushed for the race to leave the planet. I made it everyone’s desire to find others like us.’ She spoke as if she were guilty. What did she have to feel guilty about?
I patted her back. ‘I think anyone would have done that, June. If I had found myself in your position, I would definitely have wanted to explore the universe. And I’m sure the search for the meaning of life is something every sentient species has in common with each other. I’m so glad I met you. You give me hope. Hope for what, I don’t know. But if you’re immortal, then there must be something else in the universe, something that none of us have worked out yet. Some higher meaning, or plane. I’m certain of it.’
‘I get more and more uncertain of it the longer I live,’ June said sadly. ‘I fear I may lose my mind one of these days. But I keep going, because there is always a new horizon for me to explore. My life is surely only as long as the universe has things to throw at me.’
‘Definitely,’ I replied. I was in awe of her again. Who was I to hug this ancient, immortal being, and comfort her? How could she possibly be comforted by a little soulless creature? ‘June,’ I started, uncertainly, ‘Why are you my friend?’
She looked surprised at the question. ‘Why am I your friend?’ she repeated. She shook her head, and looked amazed. ‘I don’t know. Does anyone ever know the answer to a question like that?’
‘I don’t know. It’s not that hard a question.’
‘Well, if we can’t articulate in language the answer to a simple question like that, how could we ever hope to find the meaning of life?’
I smiled, and shrugged. I felt good. But maybe it was easy to feel good, knowing my life had a definite end, and I would never have the great burdens that were on June’s soul. ‘I don’t know. Maybe they have the same answer.’