Chapter 5: Evolution
Tan woke to the sound of bird song. “What time is it?” thought Tan as he attempted to turn over onto his side. “Uhhrr..” He could barely move at all. “Where am I.” He stopped trying to move and focused on his senses. He slowly opened his eyes, just barely enough to see so as not to alert anything nearby. Wherever he was, it was just dimly lit but it was enough to send sharp pain throughout his head.
He shut them and listened instead. “Birds?” Yes he could hear birds. Not singing but a chirp every now and then, a fluttering of wings, a squawk. “Sounds nearby. All around.”
It was comfortably warm and “not too dry” he surmised, due to the fact that his skin was not itching. He gently and silently sniffed the air, then flicked the tip of his tongue out briefly. “Well birds, yes”, he knew from the samples he had collected so far. Definitely birds. And something else. “What was it? No...nothing. No idea!”
He tensed up, felt the restraints on his limbs. He tried to raise his head but failed. A frustrated sigh escaped his lips. “Drat!” he thought. He felt he was suddenly the centre of attention as if dozens of eyes were watching him.
He felt something cool brush his face and pause on his brow. Fingers? He wondered if he could feign sleep. What would that give him? A few moments only. He opened his eyes briefly and groaned, scrunching up his eyes. The fingers withdrew from his brow. He heard a trill followed by a movement of air as if a flock of birds was taking flight, lazily, and leaving. A few seconds later, fingers touched his left shoulder and he heard the trill again. This time it had a questioning tone. He peered carefully from slitted eyes and then opened his eyes fully. The lighting had been turned down so as to barely register. A dark fuzzy shape came into view briefly and then moved on.
Over the next few hours he drifted in and out of sleep. When he was conscious, he could hear the creature moving around carrying out some task or other. The light level must have been slowly increasing and Tan found he could make out more and more of the surroundings within his line of sight as he got back his focus. He tried to raise his head again. It was easier this time. “Oh well,” he thought, “here goes nothing.”
“Hello, I'm awake. Where am I?”
The bed? The table? Yes that would do for now. The table he was laid out on started to make adjustments to itself and Tan found himself being raised into a more elevated position. The creature or whatever it was came into view and paused in front of him. It made the trilling sound once again.
“I do not understand.” Tan began again, “Tan, my name is Tan.”
The figure turned away and made some movements at a console. “Adjustments” thought Tan. While it worked, Tan tried to take in its appearance. The only words he could find to describe it were “vague”, “indefinite”, “mist-like”, “shifting”. As to colour? What colour is mist? Well like that, with some sparkling as in sunlight playing over dew. Size? Taller than Tan, yes about a third taller. Solidity? Solidity wasn't something he usually felt he had to consider but in this case it was needed. Mist-like, foggy even. How could this be a living being. Wow! Maybe it wasn't. A ghost? No, not even storytellers could believe that.
It turned back to him and spoke again, “Tan, my name is Tan”, in what was a perfect reproduction of his own voice.
“Me, Tan,” Tan tried while trying to point at himself with a finger even though his arms were still restrained.
“Tan,” the mist creature said and pointed at him.
“Yes, Tan. Me. I am Tan.”
There was a pause while the creature seemed to assessing what had just passed. Tan thinking he could move things along nodded at the creature and said “You. You are? I Tan. You?”
The creature seemed to consider what he had asked and then turned back to the console. Tan heard a faint hiss, felt himself drifting back into sleep. “No, don’t. Who are you? Who are you?”
Chapter 6: Level Playing Field
Tan stood on a vast empty plain. In the distance he could see a strange figure. He had the strangest feeling that it was watching at him. As he looked, the figure seemed to be constantly changing from one indistinct form into another one. He began to walk towards the figure. With every step he made the figure seemed to recede from him. He shouted at it to wait but he could hear no sound.. He tried to get closer again but had no luck. He tried to run. That was no better. He could not tell if he was moving or not, even though he could see his legs raising and falling as if he were running. He could feel no air rushing past him. He stopped abruptly and almost fell over. He had to catch himself, find his balance. He must have been moving as he obviously had built up some momentum.
He sat on the ground to think.
The figure appeared to be waiting, it was not moving, but it was not helping, either.
“If I had my stone”, he thought, “I could try to slip over to it.”
He shut his eyes, trying to bring up the sense of otherness the stone gave off. “Just a small stone, it's all I need.”
The stone felt warm in his hand and he felt the familiar change in reference point, like he was teetering on a precipice. He gasped, opened his eyes and there it was. His stone, it was there, in his right hand.
“How? This is not real.”
He was still on the plain. He got to his feet and looked around him to see if anything had changed. There was the figure. It was closer but it seemed to be below him, as if the ground had developed a gradient. He could that it was no longer watching him. What was it looking at now? It was facing away from him and it was looking back up the slope. He turned to follow its gaze and saw himself looking down towards the figure.
"Is that me? Am I dreaming?"
Tan tried to attract the attention of the other Tan. Nothing. He waved, he tried shouting but there was still no sound. He tried to walk towards the figure, then towards the other him, himself. Still no luck. He looked around him. There was nothing he could throw except the stone in his hand. “The stone”, he thought, “try it again.”
He sat on the ground and, cupping the stone in his hands, tried to empty his mind of thoughts. He felt the land shift and felt himself slide. This was different, there was no library, he was in … no place .. he pulled back out. He found himself in a vast steep sided bowl, a depression. In the centre was the figure still looking back up at the other Tan. Tan was nearer still to the figure but he seemed to be seeing the tableau from a different side, a different angle. He looked across the bowl and saw yet another Tan, at a somewhat higher elevation. This second Tan seemed to be fainter than the first Tan. What Tan did that make him? He looked at his hands. He could see through them and the stone he still held. “Fainter?”
Should this bother him? What did his training tell him? “Nothing.”
"No, not nothing." There was something, a talk he gone to, what was it about? What was the title? "The quantum world view? True, false and maybe? Yes. That had made them all laugh. There was definitely a lot of maybe going on here out on the ... plain. The quantum plain?" Tan smiled to himself.
"This is getting me nowhere."
Should he try again with the stone. How much fainter could he get and still be Tan?
He sat still and watched the others.
Tan felt time pass but nothing changed on the plain. Shadows did not lengthen or shorten. "Wait a second. Shadows? Were there any?" Did he have one? He looked and found none. This place is not real, he was certain.
“If only I could contact the other me’s”, Tan thought. “The stone. Yes, normally, but it’s far from normal.” He looked at the stone in his left hand. It looked the same as it always did, yet, he knew it could not be his stone. It flickered. What was that? It had glowed briefly, like a flame. Was someone trying to contact him. He looked over to the other Tans. The second Tan was seated, facing towards the first Tan, his cupped hands before him. The first Tan was standing but looking at something in his hand.
Tan suddenly understood. “OK, if this was going to happen, so be it”. He gripped the stone firmly and shutting his eyes, spoke his own name aloud.
He felt the sky above wheel about his head, heard his name called. The voice seemed familiar.
“Yes”, he said.
He opened his eyes. He was standing within touching distance of the shifting figure, which was looking away from him, scanning the distant plain. Tan touched it tentatively. The figure turned, solidifying, and. looked him in the eye.
“Snake!” Tan gasped, shrinking back.
Chapter 7: The Den
As Davy approached the line of cottages, he kept a watch for any signs of activity. He could hear the sound of music. Someone’s radio was turned up too loud. Gina’s mum was probably out again. He came to a halt and dismounted his bike.
“We will have to be quiet from here,” he said to Li, “no flying and definitely no talking.”
Li remained silent, taking in everything. Davy was not sure he understood but his silence was sufficient. He walked slowly, pushing his bike along beside him, keeping as low a profile as he could. The alley leading behind the cottages looked deserted. “OK, this is it.”
They'd made it! Just ahead, he could see the gate leading to his back garden. No one had seen them. There had been no "hallo’s" and no questions. As he reached for the catch to open the gate, a scrabbling of claws announced the arrival of ‘the Rascal’. Li squawked in surprise, fluttered his wings and resettled himself . The cat made a faint growl but made no other move. Li eyed it with interest.
“Hello, you rascal,” Davy said, stroking the cat under its chin. “Li, meet the Rascal.”
Li hopped down from Davy’s shoulder, along his arm and, before either Davy or the cat could react, lunged forward and plucked a beak full of fur. The cat hissed and was gone, swearing as it went.
“What was that about?” Davy asked the bird. Li, untroubled, busied himself grooming his breast feathers. Then he looked up at Davy and cocked his head. “So you can look after yourself, can you?”
Davy offered his arm up to the handlebar and Li hopped from Davy’s wrist. Davy opened the gate and wheeled the bike through. He made his way to the garden shed, half hidden by an apple tree. Li took off and glided up to an overhanging branch. Davy leaned the bike against the shed wall and, taking a small key from his pocket, unlocked the padlock, and opened the door. Over the door was a hand painted sign saying “Davy’s Den”.
Chapter 8: Home
“Dad, there’s something I’ve got to show you.”
“OK, what is it?” Josh said looking up from his paperwork.
“Not here, it’s in my den,” replied Davy, looking worried.
“Right. Better go look now. These figures are going to be bothering me most of the night.”
As they made their way out of the house, Davy did his best to pave the way without giving too much away. “I made some really interesting recordings this morning. I want you to hear them, well one really.”
“You could have brought your player up to house, couldn’t you?”
“Well, that wasn’t the only thing,” said Davy as they reached the shed. He carefully unlocked the door and paused before opening it. “Don’t be angry, I can take care of it. It was lost.”
“What have..” responded his dad as the door swung open, “a cat, you’ve found a cat.”
“No, it’s a … just a kitten,” said a surprised Davy, as a young looking cat, peered at them both from shelf. Davy scanned the interior. He could see no bird or any trace of feathers. He went over to the cat and stroked it carefully. It responded like it knew him. He leant closer and the cat started to purr. It sounded just like it was saying “Davy” quietly. Davy smothered a gasp.
“Where did you find it?”
“It found me when I went back to the shack for my equipment. It turned up in the clearing.”
“Well, you will have to put some posters out in case its owners are looking for it. Until then it’s your responsibility. You had better get down to the shop and get something for it to eat.”
“Can it come indoors?”
“Make sure its house trained first!”
“OK, I’ll go to the shop and then I’ll bring up my recorder for later.”
Josh disappeared back along the garden path, shaking his head and smiling to himself.
Davy pulled out his chair and sat down. “What is going on?” he asked when the cat jumped down from the shelf onto the desk and started to nudge Davy’s elbow.
“Li … Rascal!” said the cat. “Li!”
“Li, right. A talking bird was bad enough. Talking cats, it’s mad!”
“Davy talking, Li talking. Mad. OK.”
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