a tale in weekly parts
You can see the full story so far at this link.
The youngsters weren’t outside when Al and Madge left the restaurant.
“Where have they gone?” Madge asked through the sobs that hadn’t yet abated after her earlier outburst.
“They’re at home, waiting for us,” her husband replied.
“How do you know that?”
“I just know, right?”
“We’ll talk at home,” Al said with finality.
They drove home in silence, inching their way through the revellers who were still spilling out of restaurants and bars and into the already-crowded roadway.
Back at the house, Alex, Alice and the two dogs were in deep and animated conversation. Ixus, whose link with the Eddies was the strongest and the most profound, was extrapolating from the information she had gained from her last interaction with their universe-wide partners, and attempting to put flesh on the concepts they had imparted. Although the more intelligent of the two dogs, and maybe because of his greater intellect, Chav was unable to take the word of the Eddies on simple faith; he needed to question everything, to have hard evidence of the things they were saying. So penetrating and perceptive was the dogs’ conversation, that Alex and Alice confined themselves to the role of an audience; not taking part in the discussion, but listening intently and, yes, learning from the animals’ wisdom.
Just when the dogs were close to homing in on the substance of the situation that they were being placed into, they heard the car approaching and clammed up. The door opened. Al and Madge entered the room.
“Why didn’t you wait for us?” Madge asked.
“Sorry, Mum,” Alex replied, “we needed some time alone to think things through.”
“What’s to think through?”
“Didn’t Dad tell you on your way home?”
“No he didn’t,” she said, pointedly, “he has told me nothing. Although, after a quarter of a century married to him, perhaps I shouldn’t have expected anything different.”
Alice looked up, her eyebrows raised. “A quarter of a century? When’s your silver anniversary?”
“Next Thursday,” Al said.
“Well done for remembering, Dad. What’ve you got planned?”
“Nothing, Alice. What with all this lot, I just haven’t got around to sorting anything out.”
“Leave that with us, Dad. Alex and I will come up with something.”
The two youngsters visibly shimmered and started giggling.
“What?” Madge asked.
“You’ll find out,” Alice said, “next Thursday. Just keep the day clear, both of you.”
“Have you planned something?” Al asked, “Is that why you shimmered.”
“Like we said to Mum: you’ll find out next Thursday.”
“Okay, you’ve got me interested,” Madge said, “now what’s all this other secrecy about? What’s Albert got up his sleeve for you?”
“Are you sure you want to know?” Alex asked.
“Of course I want to know. I’m your mother; I want to know what you’re involved in.”
“Okay. Sis, you start, I’ll go make some tea. I think Mum’ll need it.”
“Mum,” Alice said, “I should sit down if I were you. We’re going to have to tell you things that no human being has a right to know.”
“But you’re human, aren’t you?”
“Only mostly, Mum. Don’t forget, we’re part bitek, too, which is why we know this stuff.”
Madge sat on the sofa. Al sat at her side and took her hand, while the two dogs laid at their feet. Alice paced the room as she spoke. The dogs looked up at Alice, afraid that she might tell her mother too much, and scare her even more than she was already.
“Go on, then,” Madge said, impatiently shaking her legs, pivoted on the balls of her feet.
“I’d rather wait until Alex get back with the… oh, here he is now. Thanks Alex. Can you give Mum her cup of tea then sit with them, please?”
Alex complied with his sister’s request, handing tea to both parents, then parking himself alongside them with a can of soft drink.
“Okay, Mum; here’s the thing. At some time in the future—”
“But you don’t know when,” Madge interrupted.
“Mum, this will go much better if you don’t interrupt.”
“As I was saying. At some indeterminate date in the future, the human race will wipe itself out in a global nuclear holocaust. The war will be triggered by some event, as yet unknown, but that has not yet happened. Albert is moving backward and forward through a whole host of possible timelines trying to find out exactly when this war starts, and what the root cause of it is. When he knows that, our job, Alex and I, possibly with help from the dogs—”
“I’m sorry,” Madge blurted out, “did you say the dogs? What does all this have to do with them?”
Al leaned over to her and said, quietly, into her ear, “Chav and Ixus are special, too. Sorry; I should have told you before.”
“Well, I never,” Madge said, a note of exasperation in her voice. “Go on, Alice.”
“Alex and I, possibly with help from out two very special dogs, will prevent the trigger from being pulled, and so prevent the war from taking place.”
“And save the human race from destroying itself?”
“Yes, Mum. That’s our job. That’s what the universe is expecting of us.”
“What do you mean, the universe is expecting it of you?”
“Okay. Seventy percent of the universe is made up of what scientists call dark matter. They have no idea what it is, what it’s for or anything about it. We do. The entities that make up this so-called dark matter are sentient, sub-atomic intelligences. They are what’s behind bitek, and all that makes us special is from them. We know them as the Eddies.”
“And they what, speak to you?”
“So you hear voices. I’m sure there’s a treatment for that.”
“No, Mum, it’s not a mental illness; they really exist.”
“The kids are right, love,” Al said. “I know. They sometimes speak to me, and to the dogs.”
“That’s it. I’m in a house full of… AAAAARRRRRGGGHH!”
“What?” Alex asked.
“I just had an image of something,” Madge muttered, her voice quaking uncontrollably, “something enormous; something unthinkably vast, and totally empty, yet somehow crammed full. I was in the middle of it; so small… so very small…” Her voice trailed off.
“Now would be a good time to drink your tea,” Al suggested. “Correct me if I’m wrong, kids, but I think Mum has just seen the seventy percent, and her place in the universe.”
“I think so, too,” Alex said.
The family sat in silence, giving Madge the time and space to come to terms with what she had seen. Finally, after some minutes, Madge spoke. Her voice filled with awe, reverence and respect. “That’s a very important job you’ve been given, and too much responsibility for two children to carry.”
“We’re not children, Mum. We can do this.”
“I believe you,” Madge said, “one thing though…”
“What?” Alice asked.
“Don’t ever let those, what did you call them – Eddies come near me again. My mind can’t take it.”
“Okay, Mum. I’ll tell them.”
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Al said. “You said that in the future, mankind will destroy itself in this horrible way. You didn’t say might, you said will.”
“And how certain are you that this will happen. Surely, the future is just that; it hasn’t happened yet. Or is this just another of Albert’s weird things with time.”
“Let me explain, Dad,” Alex said.
“I wish someone would.”
“If you see a lorry careering down the road, its driver unconscious through drink, how certain are you that it will hit a wall in its path?”
“One hundred percent, I should say.”
“But that’s in the future; it hasn’t happened yet.”
“True, but unless something intervenes, which is highly unlikely to happen, the accident will happen,” Al said.
“But what if you could go a little into the past and persuade him not to call in to the pub for a drink on his way home?”
“I think I get it; then you could prevent the accident happening.”
“Exactly. We do it all the time with preventive medicine, inoculations, health education, safety training and so on. What we need to do is find out what the underlying cause of this war is, and stop it from happening.”
“How are you going to do that?” Madge asked.
“We’ll tell you when we know what we’re dealing with,” Alice responded.