With the arrival of its Prophet the cult becomes more open, more visible, on Callisto.
Its adherents were never particularly secretive, and it was usually easy to spot them from the way they spoke to each other in front of the rest of us; but they are now more ready to be recognised as its members.
Mbuka himself, their Prophet, is very visible in the colony as the days pass. I don’t know what kind of work or duties he has, but he spends a lot of time in the central concourse, sitting at one of the tables there with some of his entourage, holding court. I suppose they consume enough for it to be worth the while of the café’s owner.
Ochre seems to be his colour. The first time I see him there he is dressed in long, flowing, ochre-coloured robes, and he has a soft round hat in ochre and black, shaped like a very short cylinder, like a screw-top lid. He has a change of clothes, because I see him on subsequent occasions wearing robes with some additional crimson in them; but ochre remains the dominant theme. I have never seen anything like it.
I don’t stop to listen, but I hear his voice as I cross the central concourse, consciously not looking over towards him. It is deep and vibrant, warm, and he has a strange kind of Earth accent that I haven’t heard before: not easy for me to understand, though I suppose one grows used to his diction.
The gymnasts all know him, especially the female, pretty ones. That is, of course they all know each other: they have all just spent months together on the ship from Earth; but they seem to feel a need to prolong that proximity, as I didn’t when I arrived on Callisto.
And wherever they are, in the café or around the colony, their appearance draws attention. The women are a sensation here. Colourful, attractive, flamboyant; short, flimsy dresses, or tightly fitting leggings; skimpy tops or low-cut shirts; far more extravagant and noticeable than my more sober, feminine yet business-like attire. What does Caris think now?
I don’t go that way every day, but when I do I always see several of them sitting with him, at the same table or at an adjacent one. There are male gymnasts there too, but the women are more noticeable. And he has a second category of companions at these tables: Callistoans, dressed in their standard Callistoan overalls, generally not staying very long, but enough of them to be a constant presence in the Prophet’s circle. I know most of them, by sight at least, and they are all from the higher levels of the colony’s hierarchy; some of them very senior indeed.
The first time I meet up with my sister I go and collect her from her quarters after work. They are in a whole new pod that has been constructed especially to house the visitors, and even the corridors look new and different as I walk down them for the first time. Pastel colours instead of uniform grey, and signs written in friendly letters to help one find one’s way.
Lucid Thought shares a small apartment with another gymnast, Elena from Azerbaidjan. I had to look that up. I’m surprised that they have to share. Such celebrities, and yet they don’t merit their own personal accommodation.
“Amy, I like it,” she says to me. “It’s nice to have a friendly face around. Especially when the day’s over and I’m not ready to go to bed yet.”
“I suppose,” I say.
I’m looking around her apartment, which is very similar to mine except that there are two tiny bedrooms. Elena is out.
“It’s very nice,” I say. I think it’s nicer than mine, in fact, for the same reasons as the corridor outside: newer, and more friendly colours.
“Would you like some juice before we go to your place?” Lucid Thought asks me. We’re in the kitchen.
“Yes, I would, actually, thank you,” I say. She goes to the fridge and opens it.
“Do you actually cook in here?” I ask her, looking around at the kitchen, which is also just like mine: everything along one wall, and just enough room to stand at the working top or the sink and prepare food.
“We haven’t done yet,” she replies. “Just tea. But I intend to, as soon as we can get some supplies. You know me and my fresh vegetables!” She smiles as she hands me the glass that she has just filled.
“Well, good luck with that on Callisto,” I say, and I take the glass from her.
Her face darkens.
“Amy, sarcasm is not an attractive trait,” she says.
My mouth sets, and I look away. There is a moment of silence. I raise the glass to my lips.
“Amy, I’m sorry,” she says. I look back at her. “I was wrong. Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.”
I regard her for a moment, and then I force myself to smile.
“No, let’s not,” I say, and I smile at her again. She reaches out and touches my arm.
“It was my fault,” she says. “I won’t do it again.”
We look into each other’s eyes, and smile, still.
But she has annoyed me. That was completely uncalled-for. What’s the matter with her?
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. I take another sip of my juice. “So what’s it like sharing with Elena?”
We go back into the sitting room while she tells me. There’s not much to say, of course, because they have only been here for a couple of days. They were friendly on the ship and decided there that they would share when they got to Callisto.
I sit on the sofa, and Lucid Thought sits down next to me, although there is an armchair available.
“We’re not competing,” she tells me, and the reason is because Elena is only competing in one discipline, with her partner, Serkan. Lucid Thought will take part in the team event, but her main focus is on her individual performances.
You’d think Elena might want to share with Serkan, but Lucid Thought corrects me.
“They’re not together like that,” she says.
Just as well, I suppose. Imagine if they quarrelled, or broke up.
She starts to tell me about what she has been doing since they all arrived, and she is still talking about it when we decide to get up and leave to go to my apartment. We walk down the corridors, and I explain the layout and where things are as we go. There really isn’t much to explain.
She knows the central square already, of course. The Prophet is not here now; he likes to sit here during the day.
“That’s the way to my office,” I tell her, pointing towards a gangway leading off into another pod. “We’re not going that way now, but I’ll take you to see it another time, if you like.”
“I’d love that,” she says.
We’re chattering quite happily now; that moment in her kitchen is forgotten. We reach my door at last and I let her precede me inside.
“I see what you mean,” she says. “It really is exactly like mine.”
“Pretty much.” I kick off my shoes, and after a moment my sister kicks hers off too, though I tell her she doesn’t have to. I put my handbag down on my desk.
“I need to go into the kitchen,” I tell her, “and get the meal ready. Do you want to sit down in here?”
“No, I’ll stand here and get in your way,” she says, and she smiles. She stands at the entrance to the kitchen leaning on the doorpost, and we carry on talking as I work. I’ve made a flan which I only need to take out of the fridge and warm up, and I’m going to make some salad to have with it.
“So who’s this Prophet?” I ask, once the flan is in the oven. “What’s he all about?” I am chopping up a carrot, one of the few fresh things that are available here, and I pause to glance at her. She considers me, and doesn’t answer immediately.
“He seems very popular,” I go on, and I start chopping again. “Was it like that on the ship?”
“He has many followers,” Lucid Thought says. “Most of those who were on the ship are his followers now.”
“Yes, including me.”
I open a container with some vegetables in brine and drain it through a sieve over the sink.
“Follow him where?” I ask.
She looks a little stern at that, and she says,
“He has shown us the Way of Movement. He has opened our eyes and made us aware. We follow him in that sense. But we all have our own way, and our own movement, and our own rest. Each sentient being in this universe has its own way and its own movement.”
That raises a number of questions, potentially, and I’m not sure which one to start with. “Each sentient being” – what does that imply? What other kinds of sentient being are there? “This universe”? “Our own way”? Way to where?
Or it doesn’t mean anything at all, or something utterly trivial. In one corner of my mind I am imagining Robert’s expression if he were listening to this.
“Have you been a follower for long?” I ask, and I send a gush of water through the sieve to rinse the vegetables.
“What do you think?” she asks, and I glance at her. I am bouncing the vegetables in the sieve to shake the water off them. It’s a slow process in Callistoan gravity.
“I think you’ve been one for a while,” I say. “It all sounds quite familiar, like a lot of the things you’ve been saying for a couple of years now. Was it when you first went to Earth?”
“Well done,” she says. “Yes, that’s when I first encountered the Way of Movement. It was when I was training at the academy in Australia. That’s where I was introduced to the Prophet.”
“Is that where he’s from?”
“No, of course not. But it’s where he’s based nowadays.”
I lose patience with my sieving and I take a saucepan lid, put it on top of the vegetables and shake it and the sieve vigorously together.
“So how did that happen? What was the connection with the academy?”
She contemplates me for a moment.
“You need to understand, Amy,” she begins, “that there is a deep connection between gymnastics and the Way of Movement. Athletics too. They are an example, and also an allegory in a higher sense.”
I put the sieve down on the draining board. The next thing to do is to take a salad bowl out of the cupboard and make the dressing.
“The Way of Movement teaches us to understand our own natural movement. First we perceive our movement, then we experience it, and finally we receive it. That is when it becomes rest, rest in movement.”
“And that’s what you do in gymnastics,” I say.
“Correct. That is exactly what we do. You can’t force anything in gymnastics, Amy. It has to be a natural movement of the body. If you try to force it, you’ll tense up, you’ll cramp, and in the end you’ll hurt yourself.”
“But you do things that a normal person can’t do,” I say. “And look at how strong you are.”
“That’s exactly the point, Amy!” Her face is lit up with enthusiasm. “That’s just what I mean. That’s why it’s an example. If you discover your true natural movement, if you move at rest in your natural movement, you can do what you never dreamed you’d be able to. I learned that years ago for the body, and it’s true for everything, Amy. It’s denying our natural movement that holds us back.”
True for everything. I think about that as I mix soya yoghurt into my salad dressing.
What does somebody like Suresh think is his natural movement?
“So do all the gymnasts go in for this?” I ask.
“A lot of us, now, yes. Many of us have become followers of the Way of Movement.”
“I’d never heard of it until recently.”
“No, well, we haven’t been very public about it. But maybe the time has come for a change.”
“With the championships coming up?”
She makes a non-committal expression.
Their Prophet is certainly being public. Hard to imagine anyone being more conspicuous.
“And did it all start in Australia?” I ask. “At the academy?”
“It didn’t start at the academy, of course not. But the Prophet has always had supporters there. It’s not just gymnasts who train at the academy.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Athletes too. And it’s the same thing for them. If you’re, I don’t know, a discus thrower, it’s all in the movement. You have to discover the natural movement for your body.”
“Isn’t that just technique?”
She gives me a slightly irritated look.
“At a superficial level, yes, you can call it that. But what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s an allegory for something higher. Human relationships, your spiritual development: levels where learned techniques won’t help you. Where your movement has to come from within; not be an imitation of something external; something learned.”
I’m thinking about Robert again, and what he would say about that.
I reach up and take two plates out of a cupboard.
“Could you take these into the other room, please?” I ask her. “Just a moment: these too.” I open a drawer and put knives and forks on to the plates. “Is water okay for you?”
“Yes, water’s perfect.”
She comes back empty handed; in the meantime I have run some water into a jug and I hand it to her with two tumblers to carry in too. I bring in the salad and then the flan with a large knife, and we are all ready.
Once we’re seated and eating our meal we change the subject. Lucid Thought wants to know all about my time here, and I find that I have quite a lot to tell her. I’ve told her a lot already, but it’s different when we’re face to face and she can put her questions and make her comments. It turns into a light-hearted, easy-going, friendly conversation. I mention Robert, but I don’t tell her about our latest encounter.
“You know those ladies who were talking to us at the welcome reception?” I say. “Vanessa, she’s the one who did most of the talking. She’s my boss’s wife.”
“I’ve been to her house a few times for dinner parties. Those other two ladies are usually there too. She’s been very nice to me, ever since my first day.”
I take a sip of water and begin to cut myself another morsel of flan.
“She’s putting on another dinner party next week, and wants to know whether you’d like to come too. Sorry.”
My sister beams at me.
“Amy, I’d love to come. I’d love to meet your friends, and be a part of your life here. It would be a privilege.”
Well, that feels a little over the top; but I’m glad she’s taking it well. I tell her the date, and she promises to check.
“So tell me about your boss,” she says. “What’s he like?”
“Dr Chan? He’s very nice.” I describe what the team is doing here, and what Dr Chan’s role is, and how I have been augmenting and supplementing his role with my own separate skill set. She listens with a little smile.
“You’re his right-hand woman,” she comments.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I am.” It’s true. It’s easy to see how there could be a place for me here after the exchange has opened and the Chans have gone back to Earth. Dr Chan has mentioned it more than once.
But I don’t talk about that. There are other aspects to staying here. It’s too complicated.
“When are you going up to the venue?” I ask. Training has already begun up there, but I know Lucid Thought hasn’t been there yet.
“The day after tomorrow,” she says. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“But you know what it looks like.”
“Oh yes. But I can’t wait to be really inside it, and train properly. I want space, Amy. Space! Space to move.”
“I can see that.”
“You should come up with me.”
“What? Me? Up there?”
“Is that allowed?”
“I don’t see why not. Would you like to?”
“I’d love to. Wow.”
“I’ll organise it. How free are you to make time?”
“I can find time. I just need to know about it a few days in advance.”
“Well, I wouldn’t take you up the first time anyway. But next week, maybe, or the week after? How does that sound?”
“That sounds awesome. Wow.”
That means another trip in a spacecraft. I hate taking off. But it’ll be worth it.
We talk about timing. The association has worked out a schedule, and the governor’s office has organised a number of spacecraft to be placed at its disposal, to shuttle people up there and down again. I’d heard about this before. There are sponsorship deals with various companies. Fuel is cheap; it’s made from water, and there is plenty of water inside Callisto; but still, the expense mounts up.
After our meal we sit and talk for a little while longer. Lucid Thought helps me to clear up, and then I make some tea and we take it into the sitting room to drink it and talk some more.
I walk her home at about nine. I take her a slightly different way, just to show her a bit more of the colony, though it all looks much the same when you see it for the first time, as I can well remember. Lucid Thought is very polite about it, and that makes me smile a little.
Elena is at home when we get there, and I say hello and shake her hand. She doesn’t really seem the type to be Lucid Thought’s friend. I suspect the reason they chose to share really is because they are not competing against each other.
I only stay long enough to say hello to Elena, and goodbye to her and to my sister. I’m glad we had this evening together. It was a good start. I feel content as I walk back to my own apartment, as if we have made progress.
The very next evening is my date with Robert, at last. I have been thinking about him a lot. I want to know what he thinks of me. What he thinks of that evening that we had, and what happened that evening. What it means to him; what I mean to him.
Do I mean anything at all to him? What does he want from me, and with me? Does he care?
What does he think of the fact that I got so unbelievably drunk?
I will definitely not do that again. I feel hot with embarrassment when I remember it, and what happened afterwards.
I’ve also been feeling a bit guilty about Dan, who is still sending me his chatty emails and video messages from Mars, after all this time. You have to admire his tenacity.
I tell myself it’s silly to feel guilty. I don’t owe Dan anything.
Robert wants me to meet him at his home this time. He’s described where it is, and I make my way there alone.
I have put in a good deal of effort to get ready. Not a hair is visible where it shouldn’t be; everything is trimmed and styled, nails, everything. I’m freshly bathed and creamed, and I’ve put on a subtle, pleasing scent that I brought with me from Mars and have never used. I’m wearing a skirt again, but a different one this time: more colourful, though still restrained compared to all those female gymnasts; and a low-cut blouse that actually does reveal a bit, more than I’ve done before on Callisto, apart from the welcome reception. Before I go out I decide to cover up with a jacket, and I’m glad of that decision as I walk along the corridors and gangways of the colony. I don’t know where Robert is going to take me, and I worry that I may regret my choice of blouse.
Robert has made an effort too. Usually he wears the same overalls as everyone else, but today he is wearing proper trousers with a crease, and a white button-up shirt with the neck open. It makes him look younger somehow.
He stands back to let me walk inside. His apartment is more spacious than mine. The entry area is a separate room, a proper hallway; beyond a door that is standing open is a wide room with broadly the same items of furniture as in mine, but in far more space. The dining table is set for two, and there is a single, tall candle in the middle of it, an electric one, whose bulb is glowing and flickering like a real flame. It’s so corny, I’m quite touched.
Robert offers to take my jacket. I consider for a fraction of a second and decide to keep it on. I think it goes better with this slightly formal situation.
There are sounds coming from what I presume is the kitchen; sounds of preparation of a meal. Of course Robert wouldn’t cook it himself.
Robert leads me to the table. He draws out a seat and pushes it forward again as I sit down on it, and he walks round the table and sits down himself. Out of the kitchen comes a man in a white jacket, carrying a tray with two tall glasses and an open bottle.
“Will you join me in a glass of champagne?” Robert asks me.
This is like an old film, a really ancient one. I can’t believe this. But I’m delighted by it; partly I’m amused, but at the same time I’m genuinely delighted by this ceremony.
The waiter pours me a glass, and then one for Robert. It takes him a few seconds, because he has to wait for the liquid to settle before he continues to pour.
I have had champagne before, on Mars, where it really is champagne wine, made from grapes. I don’t know what this is made from. I sip it thoughtfully. It’s not bad.
Robert sits back on his chair, glass in hand, and we talk, about nothing important. Small talk. He is relaxed and urbane, though his voice is as incisive and thrilling and energetic as ever. I sit quite demurely on my chair, wearing a friendly expression and doing my best to be charming in my conversation.
“Will you have another glass of champagne?” he asks.
“No, I won’t, thanks,” I say. “It’s very nice.” There are wineglasses on the table. I am determined to pace myself this evening.
The man in the white jacket has been waiting for us to be ready. He comes in and takes away our champagne glasses, and returns with the food, which he serves directly on to our plates from a large dish. There are grilled vegetables, slices of soya meat loaf, a choice of sauces and relishes, hot and cold, and a freshly baked bread roll for each of us. For Callisto this is pretty good.
As we sit and eat I take in what I can see around me. Beside the two doors that I know about, the entrance through which we came in and the kitchen, I can see four more doors leading off from this room. One must be a bathroom, and at least one must be a bedroom. What are the others? He lives here on his own. Has he always done?
After the main course there is a dessert, a preparation of processed fruits and pastry with powder sugar. The waiter brings back the champagne and the tall glasses, freshly washed. Robert explains that it goes better with the sweet dessert, and I believe him and take another glass. I sip from it very slowly.
Finally there is coffee, in two little cups. I very rarely drink coffee. I find it dehydrates me. But I drink this, and I drink some water along with it. My champagne glass is still half full.
We are still sitting there, talking pleasantly, when the waiter has cleared everything away and comes back with a bottle of wine and two wineglasses, which he places on a low table in the living area of this room. It is time for him to take his leave. He’s not wearing his white jacket any more. Robert thanks him, rather absently, and, dismissed, he leaves us alone.
Robert now gets up and leads me to the living area, where there are two armchairs and a sofa around a low table on a carpet with an abstract pattern in red and black. I’m not sure where he wants me to sit. I choose the sofa, and Robert sits in one of the armchairs.
There is no music in the background; there hasn’t been all evening; and it’s interesting that I don’t feel that it’s missing. Our conversation is enough. In other circumstances the silence in the gaps in the conversation might be stark and oppressive; but not here. It’s not that Robert’s voice is musical; it really isn’t; but even when he’s not talking, the memory of it seems to be enough, and it doesn’t feel as though the silence is returning.
I am slightly uncomfortable at how easily we end up in his bed. Of course I expected that he would want sex. It feels as though he assumed there was no question that I would want it too. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
At least I’m aware of everything this time. I’m aware of how he stands up and approaches me, and takes my hand so that I stand up too. I’m aware of his hands sliding inside my jacket and caressing me through my blouse. I’m expecting him to want to kiss me, but he doesn’t want to stay like this, I think it must be because I am taller than he is. He takes my hand again and leads me to his bedroom, and in there his hands are all over me. He slips my jacket backwards over my shoulders, and while I am finishing the job of removing it he pushes my skirt up and slips a hand up underneath it.
I put my hands behind my back and unclasp my skirt. I’m still holding my jacket and have nowhere to put it. Robert fumbles with the buttons of my blouse and my skirt starts to slip down, but it doesn’t get very far because Robert is pressing up against me. I drop my jacket on the floor and start to unbutton his shirt, rather more efficiently than he is doing. My clothes are all ending up on the floor, something that I never do.
I have finished unbuttoning his shirt and now I slide my hands inside it, across his naked skin. Suddenly I am very aroused myself, or I realise that I am. This time he does want to kiss me, and he holds my head while his mouth is devouring my mouth, and his other hand is on the small of my back, pressing my body to him.
He takes a step back, and a deep breath, and undoes his belt and his trousers. He slides them down and steps out of them, and emerges with a hard and rampant erection. I haven’t much experience of penises, but this one strikes me as being of a good size.
I undo my bra and knickers, hoping that he has noticed them; they are black and lacy; and I am standing completely naked on the rug next to his bed. He comes up to me, naked too, and he takes my hand once again and climbs on to the bed with me. We are kneeling. He goes down on to one elbow, I go down on to the opposite elbow, facing him, and he impels me firmly on to my back. He passes a hand over both of my breasts, across their straining nipples, and then he lowers himself on to me, with one hand cupping and pressing my right breast and his face looming up towards mine to kiss me again, long and hungrily.
He is indeed very aroused, and it doesn’t take long. I hold his firm, hard body that lies on top of me and between my legs as his heart gradually beats more slowly and his breaths become longer, and his penis shrinks inside me.
His bathroom is larger than mine. I sit on the lavatory and survey it. There is even a bathtub, the first I have seen on Callisto, and there’s a cream-coloured rug on the floor beside it. The basin is larger than mine, and soft matching towels hang on rails next to the basin and above the bath.
I can’t help myself. I can’t help imagining what it would be like to live here.
Would we have separate rooms? It would be nice to have some space of my own. Less important, perhaps, if he’s away a lot. I’d like to see the other rooms.
I go back into the bedroom where Robert is leaning on one elbow, watching me enter. I’m still naked, and our clothes are still on the floor where they fell. I stoop down to start to pick them up, but Robert sits up and takes my hand, and pulls me gently back on to the bed. We lie down. I snuggle up to him, my head on his shoulder and my arm resting on his much paler chest. Robert pulls the cover over us, and there we lie.
I don’t really feel that I have any answers to my questions, to the questions that I had when I was getting ready to come here. He is being tender to me now, but I don’t know what it means. I don’t know whether he really cares for me.
To be honest, I’m not sure how much I care for him. It’s a fascination that I feel, and a vulnerability. And a feeling that this is a chain of events that I can imagine happening, continuing to happen, from today, and over the coming weeks, and months, and I don’t know how long.
It’s such a new feeling, to be lying here, my body next to his, so different. It’s been a long time since I was with a man; and it hasn’t happened very often anyway. Never with Dan. It’s nice.
Presumably not a new feeling for him.
And that thought reminds me, urgently, of my questions. What do I mean to him? Do I mean anything to him? What does it mean that we have had sex both times we have seen each other privately? Have I made myself too available?
Too late to do anything about that, if I have.
I don’t bring it up. I have enough sense not to do that. We talk about nothing, really, murmuring nothing as the time passes and our bodies lie stretched alongside each other, skin on skin.
He walks me home. I hesitate for a moment when he suggests it. Do I want people to see us together? But they’ve seen us together already. It won’t make a difference.
We get dressed and we walk down the gangways to the central square. Not shuffling as we did last time, when I was so drunk that I could hardly walk, but with that bounding low-gravity motion that is customary here, and not touching each other as we go.
A few people are crossing the central concourse when we get there; no one is staying there. We cross too, in silence, and reach my turning.
“Look, you don’t need to take me all the way home,” I say to him. “Thank you very much for keeping me company all this way.”
“I’ll take you home,” is all he says, and so we go down the gangway and pass the couple of corners between the central square and my apartment.
In fact I am glad he’s come all the way, because now there is no one here to see us, and as my door stands open and I stand in the doorway he hugs me one last time. I put my arms around him and press up close to him. My eyes are closed, and we stand motionless for a second or two. Don’t give your heart away too easily. Sound advice. Don’t know how sensible I’m going to be able to be.
I don’t know how sensible I am going to be. My door slides shut. It is quiet, peaceful, empty. I take off my clothes and lay them neatly where I always do, and I go into the bathroom and commence the process of getting ready for bed. Bed again; and I lie there on my narrow mattress under my single cover in the dark, gradually warming up and starting to feel drowsy, and my body remembers him, remembers his body, and how it felt beside me, and around me, and inside me. I put a hand on one of my breasts, imagining his hand, and that is how I fall asleep. Feeling a little bit worried that I am being silly and making a fool of myself.
It’s another very early start ten days later when I am due to go up to the venue with my sister.
We’re supposed to meet in the transit hall off the central concourse, but she has not arrived yet when I walk in. There are several people here already, gymnasts and others. I don’t know anyone, and feel awkward, like an intruder.
A man with a wide face and grizzled hair approaches me from one of the corners.
“You must be Amiable Friend,” he says.
I admit it, and he gives me his hand.
“I’m Mandy Nicolson,” he says. “Your sister told me to expect you.”
“Oh yes, I’m glad to meet you,” I say. I remember. He is Lucid Thought’s coach.
He smiles. “Will you come and sit with us?”
He leads me to a group of five or six, all women, on two rows of seating facing each other. Some of them have cups of what looks like tea. One of them stifles a huge yawn as he introduces me, and she lifts a hand for me to take.
“This is Sylvie Malvoisin,” Mandy says. She is very famous. She smiles graciously and returns to her tea.
“Amanda Pickles.” I don’t know her. “Giulietta Cortese,” another household name. “Ravinder Kaur.”
Ravinder gives me a beautiful smile.
“Wendy Lee. And Roberta Schoenfeld.”
Roberta is the only one who is not enchantingly beautiful in the face; but I have seen her perform her gymnastics, and she is breathtaking then.
I sit next to Mandy at the edge of this group and feel very much out of place, though Mandy is very friendly and does his best to put me at my ease.
Nobody is talking. It’s very early.
Two men walk in through the entrance, wearing plain, Callisto-style space suits. A stir goes through the people waiting.
“Our pilot and co-pilot,” Mandy explains. We all stand up and begin to shuffle towards the airlock behind the two Callistoans. Where is my sister?
Suddenly here she is. She hurries through the entrance with another woman and makes straight for us.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “Hi, Amy. Mandy, I’m so sorry. I arranged to come with Rachel, and she missed her alarm.”
“No harm done,” Mandy says. “Let’s go.”
People are moving into the airlock and fixing their helmets. I’m not sure whether there will be enough room for all of us, but in fact there is.
It is dark outside: Callistoan night. Breathtaking splendour of stars with nothing whatever to obscure them, as long as I look away from the light on the side of the colony behind us. I catch myself looking for Jupiter, because it had dominated the night sky the last time I saw it; in fact the only time I have ever seen the Callistoan night before; but I remember instantly that Jupiter is always on the other side of Callisto from here. Callisto orbits Jupiter with its back always turned towards it.
There is a whole fleet of buggies waiting to take us to the spacecraft. My sister and I sit with Wendy Lee on the back seat of one of them, and two men that I don’t know sit at the front with the driver. Mandy gets into a different buggy with Sylvie Malvoisin and his other charges.
It’s a much more sedate drive than when Robert drove me, several weeks ago now. The buggies draw up in an arc near to the spacecraft which stands alone on a wide, flat area that looks as if it has been deliberately cleared and made smooth, though there are still clefts and craters in it.
The craft is in the style of the one that brought me down to Callisto months ago. It has a pointed nose, raked back, and a band of its wall wrapped around the front is transparent to allow the pilots to see out. Behind that the main body of the craft is squat and bulky, yet vaguely streamlined, even though quite obviously it is never going to be anywhere with an atmosphere dense enough for that to make any difference. It has no wings, though.
There is an entrance in the side, quite low down, and a stack of just three steps outside it. One by one we walk up those steps and into the cabin, which has rows of seats all the way down to the back and a narrow aisle running down the middle. My sister and I find seats next to each other about two thirds of the way down and we sit down, me by the window, and with our helmets still on.
It’s not until we have taken off and are well on our way that we are allowed to remove them. First the craft lifts off vertically; then the main thruster sets in at the back and we blast off across the surface of Callisto with an acceleration that presses me very hard against the back of my seat. It continues for quite some time, and by the time it has subsided enough for me to relax and turn my head to look out of the window, I can see most of the disc of Callisto below us, black in the starlight. We are in space.
There is an atmosphere of relaxed busyness in the cabin now. It is full of air and we have all removed our helmets, and people are chatting to each other, or reading or snoozing. Some stand up and move along the gangway, holding on to the back of a seat, perhaps, to talk with those sitting there. We are, as far as I can tell, already weightless. My sister chats across the aisle with two other gymnasts, and I sit and smile and listen. Mandy arrives after a while to see how we are doing, and chats with me for a bit; I tell him a little about myself and about why I am on Callisto, and I can see that a couple of people sitting nearby are listening.
Each of us has a pouch of food and drink in the pocket in front of us. I take mine out, because I’m feeling thirsty. It’s all of the weightless kind that we had on the second day of the ascent in the space elevator back on Mars: everything in tubes to be squeezed into one’s mouth. I have a tube of orange juice and I drink it all.
I feel the weariness creeping back upon me after that, as I sit and half-listen to my sister’s conversation. I lean back and close my eyes, and I then spend the greater part of the trip asleep. I think most of the passengers do the same thing, sooner or later.
It’s my sister who wakes me, gently shaking me and prodding me. I open my eyes and try to remember where I am. I seem to have tried to curl up in my sleep, inside my straps, and my head is leaning over towards Lucid Thought’s shoulder, though I don’t think it was resting on it.
“We’re here,” she says, and smiles at me.
I sit up and look out of the window. Outside is the blackness of space and the distant stars. I look for Jupiter, but I can’t see it. I’m curious to see it from here. The venue can’t be very far from Callisto, which means that logically we must still be behind Jupiter, from the Sun’s point of view, and we ought to be able to see the unilluminated side of Jupiter as a black disc blotting out the starry sky. But I can’t see it now. Maybe on the way back.
Ahead of us is the space station which has been constructed as the venue for the championships. I can’t see much of it from here, but I know that it’s basically a large sphere. There is a docking module on one side of it, and we are approaching that now. It’s open like a large square mouth, and I can see one edge of it as I crane to look ahead through the window, and behind it the sphere curving away into the blackness. Why can I see it if we’re behind Jupiter? The edge comes closer and grows, and finally crosses the window as our craft passes inside.
I know I am going to make an absolute fool of myself again in this weightless environment, in front of all these world-class experts in weightless gymnastics. It’s going to be worse than on the ship, because we’ll be weightless all day.
My sister and I put on our helmets and fasten them securely. We undo our straps and wait to stand up. She gets up first and moves a step backwards on the aisle to allow me to go ahead of her, which I do, cautiously, holding on to the seats on either side as I pass.
This time there is no crew member ready to steer me and turn me the right way up, but my sister helps. I hold on to her arm as we move out through the doorway and into the space beyond. We are in the interior of the docking module, which is brightly lit and is no more than a garage, really. At the far end I can see the blackness from which we entered: the module is open to space, and that makes me feel nervous, though I know that’s stupid.
The airlock is too small to take all of us at once. People are crowding inside in no particular order; my sister and I wait our turn in the space between the craft and the door of the airlock. There are rails to hold on to, making a kind of cage for us to wait in, but no platform or anything to stand on. There is no concept of standing here: we are in free fall.
Inside, the venue is one vast open space. In certain places along the sides there are areas, railed off like the cage by the airlock, where people can wait and watch; but otherwise it’s one huge spherical space. At intervals there are the bars and poles that I am familiar with from watching on screen; and the sides are marked with lines, crossing at right angles, and with letters and other symbols, for the gymnasts to orient themselves. When a gymnast comes out of her turn she has to know, and must be in no doubt, which way is up: because up and down are completely arbitrary concepts out here, and there is no objective way of telling the difference.
The airlock issues into one of these caged areas, and my sister leads me along the shell of the sphere, always inside the cage, to an area where Mandy has pitched camp and his gymnasts are gathering. They are stripping off their space suits and revealing their costumes underneath: plain training costumes for the moment. At the competition they will be much more florid.
“Keep your space suit on if you want,” Mandy says to me when I give him a querying look. “Up to you.” He has taken his off and is wearing grey slacks and a thin, tight jersey that shows his arm and chest muscles, and he is pulling on some moccasins.
“Put your helmet in here,” says my sister, and she points to a stack of pigeonholes of various sizes along the wall. “Things will float off if they’re not secured.”
“Oh, right, thanks.” I deposit my helmet inside one of them and draw a shutter half way across it, that is large enough to secure the contents of the pigeonhole, but small enough to allow one to see what they are. I decide to keep my space suit on.
“You’ll be all right here on your own?”
“Of course I shall,” I say. “This is what I’ve come for!”
She smiles, and finishes securing her own belongings. The other gymnasts are doing the same, or have done so, and some of them are making final adjustments to their clothing.
“All right, ladies,” Mandy says. “Let’s get warmed up.”
He passes outside the cage and pushes himself off into the open space of the sphere. His seven gymnasts follow him. They make for a bar several metres away, part of a larger structure, and hold on to it when they get there, clustering in a group around Mandy. Mandy directs them in what he wants them to do: they take each other by the hand in pairs and push against each other; they launch themselves at the bar from the cage at the side, swing round it and make for some other point where they can come to rest; they begin to carry out moves together that I recognise as standard elements in any team routine.
Elsewhere in the sphere other groups are doing their warm-up exercises too, and I hear the voices of their instructors calling to them. The groups are all ignoring each other for the moment, other than watching that they don’t obstruct one another, and their trainers appear to be taking care of that aspect. There are a few more hangers-on like me, a very few, at various spots in the caged areas, but almost everyone is out in the sphere, warming up.
I’m wondering how this is going to work. I thought they wanted to rehearse routines that other competitors are not supposed to see.
I see Sylvie Malvoisin doing a move of astonishing beauty and grace, around the bar and across to another, trapeze-shaped one, twisting like a screw and straightening up as she flies towards it and coming to rest there with a fluid, graceful turn. She does it almost absently and carries on there with her warming-up. Nobody pays any attention to what she has just done.
Over on the far side of the sphere is a team of male gymnasts, and I watch them in fascination for a while. They are much more athletic, and seem to be rehearsing their actual routine, as a team. I remember that there are obligatory parts and free parts, and this is probably their obligatory display. They are occupying a wide space, empty in the middle and surrounded by bars and frames of various forms, and they are crossing that central space at high speed, passing each other or catching each other’s hands as they fly und using each other’s momentum to change direction and perform acrobatic turns and twists and rolls, all at the same time.
Mandy’s gymnasts have finished their warm-up and it’s time for the next phase. Mandy wants to train with individual gymnasts now, and it seems he can’t do that with all seven at once. Most of them come back to our base in the cage and lounge about, paying little attention to what’s happening in the sphere. Wendy Lee comes and sits next to me, if you can call it sitting in this weightless situation.
“I’m only competing in the team event,” she explains to me. “I haven’t got a routine of my own to practise.”
We watch in silence as Amanda Pickles performs a complicated turn and Mandy and Lucid Thought look on.
“But he still coaches you on your own?” I ask after a few moments. She looks across at me.
“No, because Mandy is the artistic coach. We have other trainers for the technical side, and yes, my trainer does coach me on my own.”
“Is he here?” I ask. “Or she?”
“She. No; that is, she came to Callisto with us, but she hasn’t come up here today. We had a long technical session up here the other day.”
Mandy and my sister are talking to each other while Amanda solemnly performs another turn and twists into an outstretched position as she comes out of it. Mandy breaks off and has a word with her, gesturing with his hands and body to show her what he means. She goes back to where she was and begins to repeat what she was doing, while Mandy returns to talking with my sister. She is making various movements as she talks with him, spinning around the long axis of her body, or doing a kind of wiggle with her arms stretched above her head.
“It’s all in how you launch yourself,” Wendy tells me. “Once you’ve pushed off, you’re committed, and there’s nothing you can do to change direction until you reach the next object.”
“Or gymnast,” I say.
Those male gymnasts are still not doing it right, and their trainer is becoming irritated and impatient. I can’t understand what he is saying, and I think he must be speaking a different language; it’s not just an unfamiliar accent. The other groups are ostentatiously ignoring them.
I hadn’t appreciated, from watching this kind of thing on screen, how quickly they move. One moment they are metres away on the other side of a wide empty space; then suddenly they are on top of you with their great muscular bodies, straining from exertion and concentration. It looks supremely difficult, and it feels as though this is a different kind of human being, that can do things the rest of us wouldn’t dream of attempting.
“I haven’t seen Amanda Pickles before,” I say to Wendy, switching my attention back to our own group.
“No? Well, I suppose it’s not very surprising. She’s our great new talent.”
I glance at her to see how she feels about that. I don’t detect any bad feeling.
“Is she very young?” I ask.
“Is she really?” So she was that much younger when she was selected to come on the long voyage to Callisto.
We observe her together. My sister is talking to her now, and Mandy is standing back watching them. I see Amanda’s enthusiastic, deferential face. They finish whatever they are discussing, and Amanda tries again.
“Very good!” I can hear my sister calling. “Now the twist – and – straight!”
Amanda turns in mid-flight to face the others with a broad smile, still travelling away from them. She grasps the bar behind her as she reaches it and propels herself back towards them.
“That was excellent,” says Mandy. The three of them gather together to confer.
After that Mandy seems to be finished with these two for now, although my sister hasn’t really done very much. I suppose it’s still to come. She and Amanda come back to the cage, and it’s the turn of Sylvie and Giulietta.
“How are you doing, Amy?” my sister asks. She’s in a good mood. It seems the day is going well.
She climbs into the cage. “Do you mind if I leave you alone for a little longer? I want to discuss something about the team event with Ravinder and Amanda. Wendy, can you come too?”
The sphere seems fuller than before. I’m guessing that another craft has arrived after ours and brought some more gymnasts. There are many more people in the caged areas now, who must be gymnasts waiting their turn, as our ladies are doing. Most of them are not watching, but chatting, or reading; standing, or lying, whatever you want to call it, in all sorts of orientations: some the same way up as me, others upside down from my point of view, or extended in some other random direction. It’s quite an odd sight.
Out in the main sphere, though, people make a point of orienting themselves in accordance with the markings on the sides. It has to be second nature.
I’m beginning to feel that the time is stretching somewhat. It’s very interesting to be here, there’s no doubt about it: to see them at work, preparing for the big event; not just my sister and her teammates, but the others too. And Wendy has been very friendly, and so was Mandy before that. But there is nothing for me to do, and there is nothing really happening: just gymnasts practising, as they have been for a couple of hours now.
But then a change does happen. I see Mandy glancing at his wrist device from time to time, and when the time that he is looking out for arrives he calls to Sylvie and Giulietta and they make their way back to the rest of us. Across the sphere the other trainers are doing the same thing with their performers.
Lucid Thought comes over to me.
“What’s going on?” I ask her.
“Individual sessions,” she says. “Come on. We all have to go over there.”
About a quarter of the way around the sphere from where we are, opposite the entrance, the whole side is covered with a flat electronic display screen: blank at the moment, but used during the competition to show names and scores and suchlike. I see people flying across the open spaces and disappearing behind it, and all around people are getting ready to move.
I am ready. I’m expecting us to move around inside the cage, passing from one strut to another, as we did when we arrived, and I make as if to start off that way.
My sister looks at me, rather scornfully, and then her expression changes and becomes more solicitous.
“I’ll help you,” she says. “Come out here.”
She waits for me beside the cage as I climb out.
“Just relax,” she says. She grips me firmly with both hands on the waist, crouches, and kicks off from the side of the cage.
I am startled, alarmed, and delighted, at how fast we are travelling.
“Wow!” I say, and I turn to her and laugh. She lets go of me and laughs back.
I look around us, and in all directions I see people converging on the screen. Lucid Thought is looking in front of us to where we are heading.
“I’ll slow you down,” she says. “Don’t be stiff when you arrive. Take the impact with your legs and arms, as if you were jumping down on to the ground.”
She takes hold of me and rearranges both of us so that she is travelling backwards in front of me, and I am leaning back so that I am travelling with my feet first; then she pushes back against me, which does indeed cause me to slow down. Presumably it causes her to speed up by the same amount, and she arrives first, carries out a practised landing and a roll, and is ready and waiting when I reach the edge of the sphere. I brace my legs against the side as she told me, and she catches me at the same time and helps me to stabilise.
I feel that my eyes are shining as I look at her, exhilarated and happy. She looks back at me, her face laughing, and she shepherds me into the space behind the screen, with one arm around me and the other hand holding on to me. I slip an arm around her waist.
It’s quite a large space behind the screen, narrow where we have entered it and much wider in the middle. It has the same struts and bars as the caged area where I have spent all day since we arrived, and people are filling up its various compartments. Mandy is already here with most of his gymnasts, and he smiles affectionately at us as we arrive where they are, still with our arms around each other’s waists.
“Are you hungry?” Lucid Thought asks me.
“Oh, my goodness, yes,” I say. “I’m starving!”
She smiles. “Well, let’s go and get some food. Do you mind waiting for a moment first? I just need to pop to the lavatory.”
“I don’t suppose you need to go.”
That was indeed the main reason why I chose to keep my space suit on, because I didn’t know how things would be organised in that regard.
I wonder how they work in zero gravity.
The food and drink are in those tubes again, and they are dispensed from an outlet not far from where we are. They do each have an individual taste, but to me it doesn’t feel like eating a meal, and the taste feels irrelevant. Maybe you can get more pleasure from it once you’re used to it.
“So what do you think of all this?” Lucid Thought asks me. We’ve brought our tubes back and we’re reclining with the others in one of those cages that are stacked on top of each other, or beside each other, depending on what you think of as up.
“There’s a lot of hanging about,” I say.
Lucid Thought smiles, and so do Wendy and Ravinder, who are listening.
“Well, nobody can do gymnastics all day,” she says.
“I suppose not. What is happening now, in fact?”
“Individual sessions. I told you. People are practising their individual routines, and the rest of us have to be behind here so that we can’t see what they’re going to do.”
“Ah, I see.”
“It’ll be my turn in, let’s see, about forty minutes. You can come and watch if you like.”
“I think we can trust you not to reveal anything to the competition!”
We all go out to watch when the time comes: all six of the other gymnasts and me. They are going to rehearse their team routine when Mandy has finished with Lucid Thought.
We make our way back to where we were before, and this time Wendy helps me to cross the open space. She doesn’t take me as quickly as Lucid Thought did.
Now my sister has the whole sphere to herself. I’ve seen this in the past, on screen. She is motionless by one of the horizontal bars high up, waiting to commence. Mandy is motionless too, at the edge, a long way from us, and we are all watching from inside our cage.
My sister grasps the bar with both hands and pulls herself on to it, and then after a moment she pushes herself off firmly with both feet into the open space in the centre. She straightens out, and is rotating very slowly along the long axis of her body as she flies, and then she changes her position fluidly to grasp the next bar and swing herself around it. As she leaves that bar she rolls in a somersault, then straightens again. She is still rotating, but more slowly; and now she arches her back and twists her body to one side, still rotating, and makes a kind of gesture or figure with her whole body which is probably very expressive, but I have no idea what it’s expressive of, because all this is taking place in complete silence. I’m puzzled, because I was expecting to hear the music that she is dancing to.
Wendy is watching me.
“Do you want to hear the soundtrack?” she asks, and offers me a set of headphones.
“Thank you very much.”
I take the headphones and put them on. The music has stopped, however, and so has Lucid Thought. Mandy is talking to her, and she is interrupting and agreeing with him that she hasn’t quite got it yet.
“Let’s do it again,” says Mandy.
Lucid Thought goes back to the bar where she was waiting before, and she hangs there next to it, in space, calm and patient and timeless.
The music begins again. I don’t know the piece. Ethereal, rather melancholy chords at first. My sister remains still as they sound, and then a moment in the music arrives when she stirs and pulls herself on to the bar. Even this preliminary movement fits into the music. She launches herself into space as a cascade of notes scatters itself across the canvas of those chords, and the mood shifts and becomes more energetic. Louder chords join, on brass instruments, and as she swings around the next bar ripples of lighter notes overlay those darker, more grounded tones. Her movements are making a lot more sense now.
Through my headphones I can hear Mandy commenting. This was much better, apparently.
The music becomes more exalted, and my sister is flying more quickly. She seems to pick up speed every time she reaches a bar and uses it to change direction and return towards the centre. As she crosses that space her body twists and stretches and turns and crouches and rolls, always uncurling just in time to grasp the next bar.
She breaks off. Mandy is talking to her about that last segment of her routine and he is making his way across the open space towards her. She waits for him by a long pole and they confer, with Mandy using his own very differently formed body to show her what he means.
There are certain standard actions, rolls and the like, which give a gymnast high technical marks if she can pull them off, or he, and one of the challenges in putting a routine together is to fit in as many of these standards as possible, while preserving the artistic integrity of the routine. You need both scores to be high, the technical and the artistic, if you want to win.
Neither of them is satisfied with how Lucid Thought is doing this particular action. She repeats it a couple of times, and I can’t see anything wrong with it, but they are not happy. Mandy is patient and calm; Lucid Thought is trying to be patient, but she is frustrated, and I can hear that she is annoyed with herself.
“I’ll work on it,” she says finally. “I’ll work on it on my own.”
“All right,” says Mandy. “Let’s move on. I really liked how you came out of the twist in the next bit.”
She doesn’t comment on that remark. She must realise why he made it.
Before she can carry on she has to pick up speed again, and she pushes off towards another pole, swings round it and comes back towards the centre. As she approaches, the music starts again; I suppose Mandy must be controlling it; and the movements of her body and the timing of her encounters with each bar already fit perfectly into the music. It is remarkable how she can do that, without needing to go back and start the whole routine again.
My mind starts to wander, and I am thinking about the appeal of the Way of Movement to a person like my sister. She said that most of the people who came on the ship were among its adherents by now, and it sounds as if there was some kind of group dynamic in play on board that ship; but evidently there was some overlap before that; the cult had a foothold, at least, in the academy back on Earth; it sounds as though gymnasts and athletes have a predisposition to be susceptible to it.
Is it a way, I wonder, of deriving some significance, some wider meaning, for something that, if you look at it dispassionately, is meaningless in itself?
She works so hard at her gymnastics; she subordinates, sacrifices, everything to it: the way she lives, what she eats and drinks, how she behaves, what the rest of her life after her career is going to look like; utter dedication and devotion; and what she does, what they all do, is incredibly impressive, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s also completely pointless.
How can I express it? It doesn’t create anything that wasn’t there before. It doesn’t make anybody’s life easier, or more efficient, or more successful. It’s nice to watch; but when you’ve watched it, it’s over, and everything is just the same as it was before.
Does she know that, in her heart, does she feel it, and is that why she likes the Way of Movement; because if that is right, what she does isn’t pointless after all?
I’m thinking about that again when, hours later, we are on our way back to Callisto. In the meantime the team has rehearsed its routine; we all had to go back in again while other people practised; then out again for more individual sessions, first with Giulietta, then with Sylvie; then back behind the screen for hours more hanging about until, finally, it’s time to go. I retrieve my helmet from where I had stowed it, the others put on their spacesuits again, and we cross the sphere to where a crowd is gathering at the door to the airlock.
My sister and I sit in almost the same places on the way back. Again she lets me sit by the window.
“You should sleep,” she says.
“I know.” Down there it’s late. It will be almost morning, Callisto time, when we arrive back home. Maybe time for the briefest of lie-downs in my own bed; then shower, get changed, have some breakfast, and out to the office. The gymnasts have it easier: they have a day off tomorrow.
“I will sleep when things settle down a bit,” I tell her.
The craft is moving out of the docking module. I watch through the window as the starry sky unfolds. I think it’s a different view to the one we had when we came; I suppose the sphere must have rotated imperceptibly while we were inside it; and as the craft rolls and turns to point itself in the right direction for the homeward journey, Jupiter slides into view from above. But it’s not a black disc as I had thought, as Mars was the night we left; it’s a crescent, shining on one side and dark in between the horns of the crescent. And it’s as huge and as dominant in the sky as it was the time I went to Mount Henrietta with Robert, except that, that time, practically its whole disc was visible.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” my sister says. I turn my head and see her looking past me through the window.
I remind myself that she had never seen Jupiter before she came here. This is something that’s new for both of us.
“It’s amazing,” I agree. Jupiter passes out of view and all I can see now is stars again.
“I mean, it’s just a ball of stuff with the Sun shining on it. Big deal,” I say. “When you think about it.”
I look at her again, and she raises her eyebrows.
“Is that really what you think?”
I settle back in my seat. “Well, logically, yes,” I say. “Yes, it is very impressive. Obviously I can see that. I’m not blind to that. But what is it, really, when you think about it? It’s just an object, a big ball of gas, or whatever Jupiter is made of; obeying physical laws, going around the Sun and doing whatever a planet does.”
She has that look again, of considering me.
“We don’t believe that anything is ever just obeying physical laws,” she says. Why not? “Amy, everything has its own path. Everything in the universe, from the tiniest atom to the largest star.”
“Or galaxy, yes. All these things move according to their own natural movement, on their own natural path, and the natural movement is to be at rest in movement. Did you know that a sub-atomic particle always has energy?”
Since when does my sister know anything about sub-atomic particles?
“At its lowest energy level, it always has energy. Even when it’s at rest and can’t go any lower, it still has energy, and it’s still moving.”
So what, I am thinking, and it seems to be showing in my face.
“Well, these are just simple things, and their movement is simple. Although even their movement is mysterious. We can’t understand it with everyday logic.”
Her eyes are beginning to shine with enthusiasm.
“We are much more complex than those particles, and science will never be able to explain why we do what we do. But, Amy, this is the wonderful thing: that we have a natural movement too. And we can understand it, and recognise it: not through science, but through other senses. Other ways of knowing.”
“What other ways?” This sounds very strange.
“Amy, humankind has always had other ways of knowing, since time immemorial. You use them yourself. How do you know when somebody loves you? Not through science. How do you recognise beauty? How do we know what movements to make to the music, in our gymnastics? How does somebody compose the music in the first place?”
“All right: what do these other ways of knowing tell you?”
“We can’t translate it into words. If it could be said in words, there would be no need of these other ways.”
“Can you translate my gymnastics into words? Of course not. But you know what it means. You see a dance, from beginning to end, and you hear the music, and you know how it all belongs together in one artistic whole. But if you try to explain it, if you try to translate it into everyday language, you destroy it. It exists on its own plane.”
“All right, so you can’t explain it in words. Can you explain why it’s important to know it?”
“Because finding our own natural movement is the key! You understand that I’m not just talking about movements of the body?”
“Yes, I’ve got that.”
“The body is just an example. One that’s particularly easy to understand. For me, anyway.”
“We have certain things that we do to help us concentrate on our natural movement. It’s about freeing ourselves from those things that are keeping us away from it, and finding our natural movement inside ourselves. Some of those methods involve the body; but not everybody finds the same methods useful. Whatever works best for each individual.”
“I can’t really imagine what that means, to find your natural movement inside yourself.”
“You have to experience it!” she tells me. “First perceive it, then experience it. Only then do you receive it, and truly understand.”
“But what do you understand? I know: you can’t explain it.”
“We can hint at it,” she says. “Let me tell you what it feels like to do a dance routine. Not so much when I’m competing, because I have to concentrate so hard; but when I’m working on a routine, with Mandy, or on my own.”
“Yes. I hear the music, through my headphones, and I have the whole piece of music in my head; you know, the whole arc of it, architecturally, as a concept. From beginning to end.”
“And as I make my movements I feel how they are attuned to that concept. Or I realise that they’re not attuned and I’ll have to change them. Do you see what I mean? And the end result of all that work is a dance routine that is perfectly attuned to the piece of music, and when I do the dance, I feel at one with the music.”
“Well. We have various techniques: some of them involve movements of the body, some of them don’t: they’re more contemplative, or whatever. But the point of them, of all of them, is that they enable us to feel attuned, just like my dance.”
“Attuned to what?”
“Exactly!” She beams at me. “We feel attuned, we feel at one; that’s what we are experiencing. And we believe, we know, that it’s something real. We are at one with a real entity. We sometimes call it the cosmic consciousness; but that’s just a word.”
Two words, I don’t say, because I don’t want to annoy her.
Suddenly I remember the meditative dance that I did with Ella, way back, on the ship from Mars. Is that the sort of thing she’s talking about? But she is still speaking.
“It could stop there; because that experience of being at one is so fulfilling, so marvellous, that you might feel you don’t need any more. But when you’ve truly received this, you want to go back, into life, and you realise that you’re always at one, wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing. As long as you are at rest in your natural movement.”
I think about this. She stops and lets me think.
“But what makes you think it’s a real thing?” I ask. “I can see, I think, that it would be a satisfying feeling, to feel that you’re in touch with something cosmic. But why do you believe that you actually are? What makes you think that this cosmic consciousness actually exists?”
“We’re part of a long tradition, Amy,” she says, “that goes far back, to time immemorial. Through the ages people have known this, and taught this, and passed it on.”
“But how did they know?”
“The same way as we do. They’re not passing on knowledge. Or, that is, they pass on the knowledge of the path. We have to travel that path ourselves, and the wisdom that is found at the end of the path, that we always find ourselves.”
“I thought you were always on the path, and never reached the end. I thought that was the whole point.”
“Well, that’s true, and it shows you’ve been paying attention!” She smiles at me. “We have a limited range of movements, that’s the reality, and we do them again and again; in different combinations, but always repeating. We reach enlightenment through the repetition.”
I take a breath. I think I have suddenly grasped what she was talking about earlier.
“Like Jupiter,” I say. “Always on the same path around the Sun.”
She beams again. “Very good,” she says. “Very, very good. Like every planet, and every star, every sub-atomic particle, everything in the universe.”
I start to get an ominous feeling.
“So when you say that nothing is ever just obeying physical laws,” I begin, and I stop.
“Yes?” She waits with eager anticipation. I seem to be a star pupil.
“You mean that every planet on its orbit, or, I don’t know, every molecule buzzing around somewhere, everything, is, at the same time – attuned?”
“Exactly, Amy! You’ve got it. That’s the mystery. Everything there is, whatever level, is part of everything, and it’s all part of the cosmic consciousness, just as long as it’s at rest in its natural movement.”
I look at her in silence.
This sounds utterly batty; and I’m worried now.
I’m used to my sister having batty ideas, but I think she is going to expect me to share them, now that she has explained them to me.
This feels like a turning point; a moment of decision.
I decide to fudge it.
“I’ll have to reflect on that,” I say.
We’ve both done a lot since she arrived here, in fact longer than that, to overcome our resentment of each other and somehow be sisters. Like normal people.
I don’t want this to get in the way.
She smiles and settles back in her own seat.
“It’s a lot to get used to,” she agrees. “And anyway: you haven’t experienced it. It’s no good me just telling you about it. That can help you perceive it; but that’s only the first step.”
“Yes, I see that,” I say.
“Amy, I’m really glad you came up with us today. I’m sorry it’s been a bit boring for you.”
“Oh, it hasn’t been boring at all,” I protest. I catch her eye. “Well, all right: some of the time it was. Same for you, though.”
“Yes. There’s a lot of hanging about.”
We exchange smiles.
“You really should try to sleep, Amy. Take your chance while you’ve got it.”
“Yes, you’re right. I will.”
“Good night, Amy.”
“Sleep well, big sis.”
I smile as I close my eyes, and it really doesn’t take long until I drift off.
We’re crossing the central concourse a few days later, and it’s full of people. It’s the weekend. Lucid Thought has been to the gym with me, to see me working out and, no surprise, to give me a few hints on how to do it better; and now we are going back to my apartment, where at some point I am going to make us some dinner.
“Oh, let’s go to the café,” she says, and gestures towards it. As usual their Prophet is sitting there with his entourage, and there are some empty seats.
“Yes, come on. I want to introduce you.”
“I don’t want to be introduced.”
“Oh, come on! Don’t be a wuss!”
“I’m not a wuss.” I’m tired, and I want to sit down and relax, and I’m not in the mood for polite conversation with strangers.
But she’s already moving towards the café, and I can’t stop her now.
He is sitting there in his ochre robes and his hat like an African king. It is slightly incongruous that he’s actually sitting at an outside table of an ordinary café.
He watches us as we approach. I only catch up with my sister when she arrives before him. He is motionless: at rest; but alert. His eyes are fixed on my sister’s face, and she drops her eyes and looks at the ground in front of him.
“Prophet,” she says. “Good afternoon. This is my sister, Amiable Friend.”
He turns his head and looks straight at me. His face, hardly darker than mine, or hers, is still motionless, but it’s not at all a blank expression, or stern or unfriendly. There is good humour in it, and power, and self-belief. His eyes rivet mine.
“So you are my Lucy’s sister,” he says, and his voice is deep and vibrant and impossible to ignore. “I have heard of you.”
I look across at my sister. I am truly shocked. Nobody ever calls her Lucy. Ever.
She is watching him and doesn’t catch my eye. I turn my eyes back to him.
“You have been on Callisto longer than we have,” he states. “My Lucy has told me. You are very important.”
“Oh –”. I make a self-deprecating gesture.
“Your way has led you here, and so has ours, and now they have joined. Our ways are entwined.”
He pauses, still looking at me. I don’t know what to say to that.
“May you find serenity on your path,” he says.
“Er – thank you.”
Suddenly his body moves, and he makes an expansive gesture.
“Take a seat, Miss Amiable Friend, with your sister, and join us.” It is a command.
There are some empty seats at a table very nearby, just out of his direct line of sight when he looks straight ahead. I exchange glances with my sister, and she backs away towards them. I follow her.
One man is sitting at that table. I know him by sight: I think he works in the governor’s office. We greet him, quietly, and take our seats. The Prophet’s deep, rich voice continues again, but he is talking to someone else now. Presumably he is resuming the conversation that he was holding before.
A waiter approaches, discreetly, and my sister and I consult in whispers what to do. I don’t really want anything, but I can’t sit here and not eat or drink. I decide to go for a hot chocolate. As she says, calories don’t count during the first thirty minutes after exercise. He’ll have to bring it quickly, though.
I look around at who else is here. There are four female gymnasts, I don’t know them personally, adorning the two tables on either side of the Prophet, and two male gymnasts along with some more people from their party: presumably officials of the association or something like that. And the rest are Callistoans, and it is they that the Prophet is talking to at the moment, sitting at his table and at the one directly in front of him, and facing him to converse with him. It’s interesting, because they don’t seem to be making small talk; they seem to be discussing serious matters, about the management of the colony.
My hot chocolate arrives and I start to drink it. It cools down very quickly in these wide cups.
Henri Mbuka. I’ve been trying to remember his name. I’m damned if I’m going to call him “Prophet” as my sister did. Mr Mbuka, that’s what I’ll say, if the need arises.
Nobody else is talking. If they are not talking with him, they don’t talk at all. They sit quietly, listening, and wait to be addressed. My sister too. Once we have settled what we are going to drink, she doesn’t say another word, even to me. And consequently I don’t feel that I can speak either.
It’s very strange. What was the point of introducing me?
The minutes pass, I have finished my warm chocolate, and my sister has nearly finished her tea. What next? Do we get up and go?
My sister gives no sign of wanting to make a move. She watches and listens, and so do I. The gymnasts on either side of him watch him too, all with the same rapt expression. The Callistoans are less obviously adoring, but they too are very attentive, and obsequious.
He has finished his discussion of this topic, and his voice ceases. In the quiet his face turns, and he looks straight towards us.
“My Lucy, and Lucy’s sister,” he says, and his voice carries easily to us. “Come and talk to me.”
We exchange glances, and we stand up and approach him. Two Callistoans at his table vacate their seats and move away, we take their places, and our audience commences.
This time it is small talk. He asks me about myself: what I am doing here, how I am living here, how long I expect to be staying. I don’t tell him about the possibility of leaving my firm and staying on with Shanghai Exchanges, because that’s not agreed yet and it would be inappropriate to discuss it in public.
I tell him about our trip up to the competition venue, and that leads on to our talking about space. I find myself telling him about the day bar and the night bar on the ship and, with a pang, about the time Ella showed me my home on her screen. And about the various times I have seen Jupiter: from the ship, and from Mount Henrietta, and most recently with my sister. Like her, he makes a comment about Jupiter’s path, and I remind myself that this is the man who has told my sister all that nonsense.
It’s a good thing that I do remember that, because all this time I can feel how I am reacting to him: his power, his magnetism, his charisma, the thrill of his voice and his physical presence.
I don’t want to be part of his female fan club. That’s an obnoxious idea.
But I know exactly how they feel. I see their faces as they gaze at him, and I know exactly what is going on inside them.
I ought to be immune to it: I’m in a relationship with someone else, of sorts, and I am highly critical of his ideas; and yet I feel it. These women have no such protection, and they have been exposed to him all the way here from Earth: months and months of it, at close quarters, with that self-reinforcing group dynamic. No wonder they’ve capitulated.
Is it true of my sister as well? I don’t want to believe it.
She is sitting quietly, listening, with a little smile on her face; watching me, mainly, rather than him, and without that embarrassingly adoring expression.
After a few minutes the Prophet dismisses us. He does it quite charmingly, but unmistakably. Our time is over. The two of us stand up and murmur our farewells, and we back away. As we turn to resume our walk to my apartment he has already turned to someone else and is talking again on another matter. Another audience has started.
As the weeks pass and the championships approach it becomes more and more apparent, even to an outsider like me, how deeply embedded in Callistoan society the Prophet and his Way of Movement are. It must have been the case, to a certain extent, even before he arrived; but now he is here, they have become more open, less secretive, and one is frequently surprised to learn, yet again, that someone is an adherent of the Way of whom one would never have suspected it.
Robert is worried, I realise one day to my surprise, and alarm. We are lying in his bed and have just had sex; as usual it didn’t take long, and we now have plenty of time before I ought to go home.
You can never stop him talking for long. He’s lying on his back talking towards the ceiling in his piercing, resonant voice, loud enough to address a meeting; I lie with my head on his chest, so that one ear is covered and the other is out of the path of the sound. As always a laugh is never far away in his voice; and yet it’s not that he sees a joke in everything, far from it; it’s an expression of the energy and dynamism that runs through him all the time.
He’s like that subatomic particle that always has energy, even when it’s resting.
But this time, through all the good humour and vitality, I can hear that he is worried, and that makes me wonder what it means.
He has never had any time for the cult, though he hasn’t called it that for a while, nor has he made any secret of his derision for its beliefs, to the extent he knows what they are. It seems he is now worried that this will harm him in his business dealings; and that tells me a lot about the cult’s position and status in the colony, or at least about what Robert thinks that position and that status are.
I get a different feeling at work. Nobody there is worried about what they have said in the past, not as far as I can tell; and in any case almost all of them are from Earth and are expecting to go back when the exchange opens, or not long after. But it makes us conscious that we are a group set apart; not from here, not really belonging, an alien implant in the Callistoan organism, that is not a part of it and has no influence on its inner workings.
There is a meeting one day during those weeks of waiting. Robert and I both attend, and so does Vladimir.
We are at the offices of Solar Wind Inc., a trading company with a local outpost here. Robert and Vladimir are both already there when I arrive, on time, at eleven a.m. precisely.
They all rise as I am shown into the room, and I shake their hands, one after the other. The Solar Wind people are all Callistoans.
“Miss Amiable Friend,” says Vladimir once we are all sitting down, “we have some questions with respect to the prospectus.”
The flotation of their joint venture is active again, for the time being. Both of them have been distracted by other projects from time to time, and their enthusiasm for the flotation has waxed and waned as other sources of finance have successively seemed less, then more attractive; but for the moment they are driving it forward again.
“We have an agreement with Solar Wind,” Vladimir continues, “to take all the produce of the Mount Henrietta mine.”
One of the other men interrupts with a protest.
“We don’t have an agreement yet,” he points out.
“Well, that’s true,” says Vladimir. “We have agreed heads of terms, and we’re negotiating in good faith for a long-form agreement.”
“Correct,” says the man, and they nod to each other.
The heads of terms summarise the most important aspects of the later long-form agreement, assuming those negotiations are successful and that agreement is actually signed.
“So the idea is,” Vladimir goes on, “that we pre-sell all the mine’s produce, as of today, before it has been extracted, to Solar Wind. Solar Wind agree to take it all, however much it is, and whatever it is exactly, and they will sell it on the market. If they sell it for more than the agreed minimum price, we get a share of the upside; if they sell it for less, any losses stay with them.”
“So you have an assured level of income,” I interject, “which you can use to estimate the company’s profitability post-flotation.”
“Exactly,” says Vladimir, and he exchanges a glance with the man who spoke before.
And their questions relate to disclosing all this in the prospectus.
Vladimir is, obviously, keen to describe the arrangement with Solar Wind in detail and prominently. If they do actually execute a binding agreement, I can see how it will greatly assist in finding investors for the company’s shares. Their return will become far more secure and calculable.
On the other hand they haven’t got that binding agreement yet, so they will need to be very careful how they describe the current status; and what the Solar Wind representatives are particularly concerned about is their own company being named in the prospectus and any liability it may thereby incur.
None of them are lawyers, but Solar Wind has a legal department back on Earth. I’m getting the impression that they haven’t communicated with them yet.
These are questions that I am very well prepared to answer. This is right at the centre of my area of expertise.
I explain the legal position: the disclosure requirements, the implications for liability, both for the issuer of the prospectus and for Solar Wind, if it is named or identifiable.
Vladimir listens respectfully, but he seems to feel that my advice is too conservative.
“The fact is,” he says, “even though we’re still negotiating the long-form agreement, everybody expects that it will be signed.”
“But you haven’t signed it yet,” I reply. “That’s all I’m saying. There is that uncertainty.”
“But that’s no different from any other uncertainty,” he says. “This is business. Nothing is ever certain.”
“Well, that’s fine,” I tell him. “As long as that is made clear in the prospectus.”
This is not as difficult as Vladimir seems to believe. I think he’s over-estimating how conservative my advice actually is.
“Say something like ‘Management expects’,” I tell them. “As long as the reader realises that it might not happen, you’re okay.”
“So can we still include these projections?”
Vladimir has brought a set of figures with him, modelling the company’s performance if the base price applies, and alternatively if Solar Wind can get a better price and the company shares in the upside.
“Oh, yes, of course,” I reply. “It just has to be made clear what assumptions it’s based on.”
It’s striking how quiet Robert is today. Normally he would be dominating the meeting, perhaps getting up and striding about, interjecting his thoughts as they come to him and driving the discussion with his energy and his enthusiasm.
Instead he is sitting quietly and listening. He has hardly said a word since I arrived.
Vladimir is satisfied, and now he turns to the Solar Wind people to talk about how this cooperation between their two companies might develop in future.
This is definitely not a matter for the prospectus, it seems to me: much too vague. But I don’t stop them, or try to guide the conversation back to more relevant subjects. They are not paying for my time, as they would be if I were here for my law firm, rather than for Shanghai Exchanges.
I’m not really following everything they are saying, and at first this doesn’t surprise me. Presumably they have been having lots of discussions that I haven’t been privy to. Why should I expect to know what they are talking about?
As they talk I begin to realise that this topic is embedded in a wider context. It’s not just about these two companies and what they might do together. There seems to be a wider vision, for Callisto’s economy as a whole, and I’m surprised to find them discussing it here. They seem to be conscious that their plans are part of a wider plan, a more general scheme, and they refer repeatedly to some “committee”. I have no idea what body this is, what it’s for or who sits on it.
Robert and I are the silent ones. I catch his eye while the others are talking; his expression doesn’t alter, but he has a resigned, even defeated air about him, and that more than anything else brings home to me how much has suddenly changed here on Callisto. It’s as if Vladimir and the Solar Wind people are all on the same side, and Robert is not.
Does he know about the committee? I can’t tell.
They’re not even pretending any more, I realise. They’re not even going through the motions of pretending that the cult is a secret society, of acting in a separate, parallel play of their own. Theirs is the real play, the only play, and we are extras who are not needed at the moment, waiting until our contribution is required again.
Schemes are being devised, plans drawn up, without our knowledge; events are being shaped and diverted into courses that have been prepared without our participation. We only find out when they deign to tell us. I don’t know what part Vladimir plays in this, but he clearly has one, of some kind. He is privy to this knowledge, some of it, at least.
There is a strange, subdued atmosphere at the Chans’ apartment one evening shortly after the meeting with Solar Wind. I am there for a dinner party once again. This time my sister is not with me; she came that one time, in fact Vanessa rearranged the date to make it possible for her to come, and she was a great success; but there hasn’t been a repeat.
This time it’s the two Chans, me, and a number of their friends, either from Earth like themselves, or Callistoans who are not a part of the Way of Movement. Conversation is less animated than usual around the dinner table, and there are frequent silences. Nobody says very much about the situation, and if somebody does, the response is generally to gaze into space with an expression that says I know, but what can you do?
Dr Chan takes me aside at one point during the evening, when dinner itself is over.
“How do you feel now about what we have been discussing?” he asks me. “About joining Shanghai Exchanges?”
I give him a sober look.
“Honestly,” I say, “I’m not sure. It was very tempting. I think I was expecting it to happen. But now – “
“Exactly,” says Dr Chan.
I’ve corresponded with Digby Rollins about it, and he was understanding and supportive, and said it was up to me. If I do join the client permanently, and my old firm wants to set up some kind of presence on Callisto, it will be good for them to have a friend here in me.
“I haven’t handed in my notice,” I tell him. “Obviously I need to make up my mind soon.”
“Well,” says Dr Chan, “I can see that you’re thinking about it, and that’s good.”
“What would you do, Dr Chan?”
He looks at me in silence.
“It’s very difficult to give you any advice,” he says finally. “I would be nervous about committing myself in these circumstances.”
And that is the closest he gets to telling me to turn the offer down and go back to Mars.
The fact is that we can all see very clearly by now that, in effect, the cult is running Callisto. Even the governor is part of it. The Prophet is spending less time in the open on the central concourse, and I hear that this is because he is having secluded meetings with high officials and entrepreneurs. I surmise that this is the Committee that Vladimir and the Solar Wind people were talking about recently. We don’t know what is discussed at those meetings, there are no reports, nobody seems to feel accountable; but we can guess, and it feels sinister and worrying. The rest of us, the excluded ones, are feeling beleaguered, surrounded, threatened.
I’m not a political person at all, but even I am wondering what is going to happen next. Especially after the championships are over.
There is just one positive thing that I notice during that strange time, and that is that Mr Silva isn’t saying “yes” as much as he used to when he talks to me. Maybe it was a sign of nervousness, and this shows that he feels more comfortable with me now. If so, I’m glad.
I’m still exchanging emails with Dan, at fairly long intervals, and with my parents. I never say anything about this situation. Partly because it’s a long story; it would be an effort to describe it and make them understand. And partly it’s because I’m wondering about my messages being intercepted and read. It’s a mark of the times that I don’t feel that I am being paranoid.