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NEAR FUTURE ch.1

NEAR FUTURE  copyrights Frankie Perussault all rights reserved

Chapter 1

JM was waiting for Greg at the Intercontinental.

Thirty years gone already!

He was 29 last time they met. He was over 60 now.

Greg was coming back from Laos. On internet he had found traces of his old friend JM he hadn't seen for such a long time and had asked him if he could come and stay with him for a while on his return to France.

- Greg old boy! you haven't changed!
- You haven't either! I bet you have marbles in your left pocket and a water revolver in you right one…
- Wrong! contraceptive sweets on the right and bubble tickets on the left.…
- Well, you know, I'm going to be completely lost in these parts of the world now. You'll have to explain.

All he had for luggage was an old backpack, no doubt the same one as when he left. On the pavement when leaving the terminal where Greg had arrived JM took a bip out of his pocket and his bubble arrived in front of them sliding its door to let them get in.

- Hop into my bubble, Greg, you're going to be pleased to meet Tara, my new girlfriend. She's super friendly, you'll see.
- What I can see at the moment is this thing you call your 'bubble'. Is it a taxi?
- No, not at all, it's my own bubble, a round and transparent kind of thing as you can see. It comes flat on the ground for us to get into and it'll take us wherever I want. Just watch: "3 Developers Street in CHX please"…
- Ah… so! you talk to it!

JM's bubble started noiselessly just off the ground to follow the stream of other bubbles. They were all leaving the Intercontinental. Further on it travelled higher off the ground, still following the line of other bubbles over the city streets where pedestrians below were ambling without paying any attention to these silent machines.

When they arrived to the given address the bubble left the two buddies in front of a small building and went to park on its own in an underground car park. Greg was bemused. He was realizing that his long stay away had made him miss a step in the escalator of progress. Dumb founded he entered JM's apartment.


                              °°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

The bottle of Armagnac was lying empty on the coffee table. JM had wanted to welcome his childhood buddy in the traditional old ways exchanging bits of past memories and showing off about the present, with coffee, liquor and macaroons.

The update between them had mainly been about the dazzling progress of those latest years. Greg wanted to know how it had all happened. He had listened to JM with great attention when explained how, in the first decade of the years 2000 in Europe, the bottle neck had exploded all at once and everything had tumbled into science fiction.

- You didn't live through that of course but I can tell you it was no fun. No jobs. Batches of people committing suicide. Long faces of those staying alive. Everything getting worse every day. A twilight of the gods if you see what I mean.
- I can well imagine! Us in Laos we lived quite simply…
- Yes, you didn't live through that. One day we heard that scientists found… yes, they did… they had finally found out how to avoid the effects of radioactivity of nuclear energy. Every media took up the information and it went viral with extra bits on whatever was now going to happen.
- You mean splitting the atom kernel was not dangerous anymore?
- Do you remember Chernobyl and Fukushima?
- Yes sure, especially the disaster at Fukushima in Japan because I was already planning to move to Asia at the time…
- Well, believe it or not, that was over. They now knew how to neutralize radioactivity.

At the beginnings of the 20s, he explained, this scientific breakthrough hurled Europe forward at the speed of light. Or nearly so. The craziest dreams came out of the architects and engineers drawers. Europe started believing in its brilliant future again.

- What about you, old boy, tell me a bit of your adventure. Thirty years in a life time, that's something. When did you leave?
- In 2013 exactly. Over there I settled in a small village in the north of the country between China and Burma. I thought I could do some field work on a forlorn people…
- Don't you regret you left?
- …and you, don't you regret you stayed? You've been force feeding me with your hallucinating progress for a couple of hours now. You could at least show some interest in my 'adventure' as you call it.
- OK, alright, let's change the subject! Another coffee?
- Yes, fine. What about Janine your wife? Your kids?
- Janine… We split when the eldest was 15. A painful experience I can tell you. Not glamorous at all. Court case, divorce, kids shared between us, the house sold… But I now live with Tara, a really friendly chick, very different.
- She's not here?
- No, she left me a message on the kitchen wall that I saw when we came in. She'll be back tomorrow… I mean today actually as it's 4am… Let's go and sleep, Greg. We'll resume our update tomorrow.

When Greg woke up he found himself spread out on the sofa under a down cover kindly provided by his buddy, his backpack lying dead at his feet. He sat up, shook his white mane, he did not remember a thing. Ah yes, that's it, I am at JM's. He lifted his dusty backpack and hug it tight, it was now his only link to his familiar life, over there in the village in a remote region of Laos. An intercontinental airline had brought him down to CHX. His best friend from his childhood years had welcome him at home. Thirty years away… as if he had been put in a freezer and was now being thawed.

He saw something like a message written on the wall: 'Greg, I had to run, make yourself at home, see you later JM'. Alright. He decided to explore the apartment.

Coming closer to the message on the wall he realized that it was a screen spread on it like wall paper. He touched it to see. On a low piece of wooden furniture looking like living room bookshelves he saw a small cordless keyboard left there carelessly. A bit further a bronze nude lounging on a shelf and another small cordless keyboard. He went into the kitchen hardly separated from the living room and found yet another small cordless keyboard on the kitchen table full of cereals boxes, a pack of butter, an open tin box filled with little sugar cubes… all had not changed, he thought to himself. Lifting the butter he read 'soft butter from Normandy'. He had missed the little sugar squares a lot at the beginning. He laughed out loud of his findings.

He lifted his nose from the table and saw another message written on the wall: 'Greg mate, make yourself at home, you'll find what you need for your breakfast on the table'. Alright. Yes, he was hungry but he was even more curious about this fancy  apartment. He went and touched the screen on the wall just to know.

At the far end of the kitchen was a closed door and right next to it a staircase going up. As he went up the stairs a flash back came to him… it was when he was a kid visiting one of the chateaux of king François Premier, a narrow stone staircase winding up. This one was not winding up. It came out on the roof of the building covered in gardens, small private gardens under a glass cover. He remained dumbstruck a moment giving himself time to integrate the information and to understand what it meant. The residents of this building apparently grew their own vegetables. You could feel the warm air, see the bright light and the very green vegetables. There were no tomatoes in JM's garden. Leeks and brussels sprouts. He bent down to pick some parsley and saw a snail. And he went back down.

He was happily having breakfast when the front door opened. In the door frame from far he saw the shape of a woman who was smiling. 'Tara', he thought.

In the door frame he had not seen her properly. When she came closer he realized that she was 'colored'. His wife too in Laos had a tanned skin labeled yellow. Tara was very different. She smiled and said:

- You're Greg, aren't you? JM told me about you. How are you?
- Very well thank you, just a bit disturbed.  
- Don't worry, you're jet lagged, it'll fade out…
- …plus 30 years away from this country. Your apartment is fun!
- Listen, on Sunday it's the anniversary of our getting together, JM and me. I'd like to surprise him. Let's go shopping, come on!
- Have you been together for a long time?
- We've lived together for three years… Ok, she said as she opened a small cupboard door in the wall.

She pulled out two big bags of food supplies placed on a goods elevator.

- It was delivered last night but you were far too busy chatting away to look after that, she added laughing. You see, there, with that small keyboard, I type my usual shopping list on the kitchen wall. I wait for JM to add his own and I send my order to the supermarket. The lift in the cupboard you see here is for the delivery of my supplies.
- What if your neighbors took them?
- Ah come on! This lift is private!

She grabbed Greg by the hand and pulled him outside. He tried to retrieve his hand but she resisted it and quickly dragged him to the staircase of the building. There was an elevator, she said, but the neighbors always stare at her and she'd rather avoid being stuck tight with them in the lift.

Outside, a stone throw away, a bubble bus sliding its door and taking fifteen people on began to levitate and slowly rise. Just like the day before with JM's bubble, the bus followed a long line of other bubble buses on a flow where no one overtook or crossed another vehicle.

- We'll get off at Pit-Baron, Tara said. I like it there.
- But where are the shops? Greg asked as he could only see vast fields of green wheat from his vantage point.
- Underneath! We call it the 'low-town'. You can spend a whole day there. You'll find all the shops you need out of hot or cold weather and away from electromagnetic fields.
- Ah!

Much later when laughing they entered the apartment JM lifted his head:

- Here you are, you two! I was up to wondering if you hadn't been kidnapped by Aliens! Did you show him the whole damn low-town?
- No, only at Pit-Baron, that's where you find most big stores with a branch in our city quarter.

JM had to explain that this underground city under the wheat fields was actually connected with all the boutiques in town. There were no independent shops any more. 

- By the way just an idea, he said to Greg, you could probably find a job as a branch manager. It's well paid with plenty of bonuses. Which business sector do you have an interest in?

Greg shrugged his shoulders at JM's question. He did not see himself manager of anything at all and JM had not even bothered asking him why he had returned to France. The following day once Tara had gone out he tried another topic.

- It was really kind of your girlfriend to take me to visit the low-town. But people stare a lot at her maybe less for her skin color than for her rictus, a strange fixed grin when she laughs.
- Yes, it does upset people…
- How did you meet?
- You'll never believe me if I tell you!
- I am an ethnologist back from 30 years in a lost village in Asia. Nothing much surprises me. Go on, tell me.

JM started his story by telling Greg about a sudden immigration that had taken place a few years after he left. After the wave of immigrants from Africa who came to drown on the shores of the Mediterranean sea there had been a migration of a new type.

- Clusters of people were being found in clearings of the state domain forests, about  twenty people at a time. They had a green skin and were asking for asylum. The funny thing was less the color of their skin than the fact that they spoke French as their mother tongue. Only men and women 25 and 35 years old approximately. Well dressed, well fed but completely bushed.
- So that's true then! I vaguely heard of it but I thought at the time that it was a practical joke…
- …and moreover none of them remembered where they came from.

And JM launched into this story which he most likely had packed randomly in his sub-conscience. He began to describe the day when, three years before, he had seen Tara at a bubble bus stop being aggressed by a fellow a lot bigger than her. He had run to her rescue and had offered to the pretty Tara now delivered to take her in his carriage… well, his bubble actually. They had surfed in the air a while before going down to the low-town at Pit-Baron precisely. After walking around for a while in order to get to know each other a bit, they had come together to his apartment. She had not left ever since.

Silence weighed heavily for a few minutes. This story was asking more questions than it gave answers. Where did she come from really? 

- She's a lot younger than you, don't you care about that? Greg asked on a off-hand tone of voice.
- If that was the only thing! JM replied bursting out laughing. Would you believe, old man, we don't even know how old all these green immigrants are. They don't remember anything of their past or where they come from. What everyone is thinking is that they are Aliens left here to make a study of us the savage Earthlings…

This time Greg burst out laughing. The situation was comical. An ethnologist himself back from Asia, he was now facing his childhood buddy who was living with… an Alien ethnographer.

Thereupon entered Tara. She placed a pretty little parcel in front of JM.

- You make funny faces, she said as she perceived the abrupt stop in their conversation and their embarrassment.
- We were talking about you actually.

Inside the parcel under the red and green wrapping paper inside a pretty cardboard box and under the silky paper of the core wrapping emerged a knife. A very handsome pocket knife with the blade folded, a handle in steel chiseled with (arabesques) and their two names engraved, 'JM' on one side and 'Tara' on the other.

JM stood up slowly and hugged his partner tenderly. "Thank you for those three years of bliss, Tara, thank you so much" and he burst into tears.

Quite embarrassed Greg took refuge in the kitchen pretending to make coffee. Then quickly his trench coat on he mumbled that he had an errand and left without a noise.

Outside downstairs in the street he felt free and was quickly absorbed by swarming life. Nothing seemed to have changed after all: the same old city pedestrians hurrying or ambling on the cobbles of narrow streets between endless rows of boutiques with pretty shop windows. He decided to stroll with no aim, he would see where it took him! As usual he did not have a cent in his pocket.

The first thing he noticed was that the street was entirely occupied by pedestrians, not like it was when engine vehicles were driving through full speed brushing people aggressively in passing. All the streets were paved and fully filled with city dwellers on foot. Above them flows of private vehicles completely silent were flying in line level with the church steeples, sometimes hiding the sun to the people below.

As JM had mentioned getting a job as manager of a branch boutique he entered one to see what it was like. He was politely welcome. He said he just wanted to have a look. He only wanted to see to understand. It was his professional tic. He came closer to the end part of the boutique where a screen on the wall seemed to show a catalogue. Several people were standing in front of it watching. He planted himself there too. Then the lady manager came to him and asked if he was looking for something in particular. He answered that he was looking for a good pullover and a scarf. It was March, he was cold and had forgotten what it was like.

- A pullover? We have very beautiful ones… for a gift?
- Not at all... for me.
- Come this way, said the manager-saleswoman-hostess.

She made him go into a small room where she quickly handled a small cordless keyboard and made to appear on the wall the various pullovers of the store brand name.

- That one? Look! It would suit you wonderfully.
- No, no red for me, thanks.
- This one then…

As he had nodded the picture of a pullover came up large on the back of a model looking like him. Bemused he confirmed his choice.

- We will have it here at the branch tomorrow morning, sir, unless you prefer to withdraw it at our store in the low-town.
- I see, I'll think about it, he replied and panic-stricken left the room and the shop hurridly.

Things had changed in a very subtle way. He will have to tell that to his son. By the way what day are we? He had made a phone appointment with his boy left in Laos for the Sunday night.

When he came out of the branch boutique where he had nearly bought a pullover, a small drizzle was falling. It did not seem to disturb the flying bubble vehicles above. Greg was surprised by that. He pulled his collar up. His hands deep in his pockets he walked faster. This city had once been his tramping ground before he left for Asia. He looked for 'rue Grande'… rue Molière… rue Victor Hugo… and ended up on the main square 'place de la République'. It made him smile to see the café in the corner where he had often hung about three decades ago.

Well yes, everything has changed and nothing has changed, he thought. He entered the café and sat somewhere aimlessly.

- Your order, sir?
- Rm, no, nothing thank you, I'm expecting a friend.

True, he could call JM with a mobile phone if he had one. Before he left in 2013 everyone walked with a mobile telephone in his hand stuck to his ear and talking loud in public at any time. Well, funny, nobody has a phone stuck to his ear…

- Excuse me sir, he said to someone who came sitting at the next table, where can I find a mobile?
- A mobile?… oh! you mean these old private phones from the beginning of the century?… in a garage sale perhaps.
- Really! Don't you use them anymore?
- Where are you arriving from quite frankly? These phones have been out of use for more than ten years when the flows for the bubbles were put in place. They said their radio waves were bad for you and they disturbed the flows of bubbles.
- Oh really!

When the waitress came with a coffee the man asked her to bring one to Greg too. The table neighbor was nosy. Where did this guy come from to ask for a mobile?

- Well, let's say I'm a ghost!
- You look healthy for a ghost.
- Thanks for the coffee… I'm back from Asia where I spent the last thirty years. I find CHX quite changed.
- …from Asia? Tell me about it, I'm keen to hear, I worked with the Chinese who set up businesses here, I know their mentality. They're the ones who implemented the Intercontinental Airport, you must have arrived that way, haven't you?
- Quite right, I came with the boomerang from Vientiane. I live in a village in the north of Laos.
- How does it feel to travel in that thing? Apparently it's not at all like a plane, not even like one of those great big jets as there were a few years back still.
- You're right, it felt very odd to travel in one of them. First of all you sit there as if in a space rocket with a seat harness and straps on your shoulders, your hips and even on your forehead. On the lift-off to the stratosphere the push is so enormous that you sink hard into your seat. I hope that'll improve because it's very uncomfortable. But the flight down is absolutely brilliant…
- …sorry to cut you off. From Vientiane you mean you have been sent to the stratosphere to come back down on CHX?
- Yes, that's it. From an Intercontinental airport to another, only one per country normally. There are two of them in China and two in North America, I think.
- Yes, and one in the south of Poland too.

Having finished drinking his coffee Greg said he had to go home, thanked for the coffee and left. JM and Tara were going to wonder where he was.

Tara opened the door without a word. The living room was in a state of mess like a great bazaar on field days. She grabbed Greg's hand and pulled him resolutely towards the door at the back of the kitchen, that door next to the staircase to the garden that he had been too shy to open when he explored the apartment.

That door was now wide open and led to the night area. JM welcome his old friend with real joy:

- We cleared a bedroom for you, mate, it's no proper hospitality to let you sleep on the sofa… so here you are, this is your bedroom!

Greg marveled and managed to pull his hand out from Tara's.

- Well you see, JM went on, we have three bedrooms normally, ours here, the other one to the right I use as my office and the smallest but nicest one here we used as a closet. That's the job! What do you think of it?
- Thank you, it's wonderful, thanks you two, I don't know what to say, just wonderful…
- Fine, now I have to explain to you how all things work. The small cordless keyboard lying around is to write on the wall, on all the walls of the house, the one in the kitchen if you want to add something on the shopping list, in the living room if you want to leave a message before going out, and so on. But if you want to connect on internet you sit in front of this screen here or else you use this iPad here. Let me know if the bed is alright. The down duvet is the one you had on the sofa. If you feel cold, say it, we'll find something else for you.

Greg thanked once more. He dared not look at Tara who had gripped his hand so tightly that he was still feeling the imprint.

- My son will call me on Sunday night here. It will be Monday morning for him. We arranged that before I left. I gave him your phone number. He is with his mother in Vientiane at the moment…
- Oh!… about the telephone, the number I gave you before you left is the apartment's phone number. It rings on every phone in the house, you grab the one you like… this one here if you want and you sit wherever you like.
- By the way I heard at the café just before that you don't use mobiles any longer. Is that so?
- Mobile phones were taken out some ten years ago, that's right, because of the waves that disturbed the flows for bubbles… talking of bubbles how would you like to go surfing in the air?

They decided to 'go surfing in the air' as the expression went to mean 'traveling in a bubble without precise destination'. They would take a tour above the city for Greg to admire the progress achieved in the last decades.  

During the morning JM initiated his childhood buddy to the driving of a bubble. He handed him a bip and told him to press on the left button.

- Just wait, the bubble will come out of the underground car park. It will be waiting for us downstairs in front of the building.
- What if someone else took it?
- Of course not, stupid, you need the bip to slide the door open… Ok, follow me, we go down now.

Downstairs in the street the bubble was indeed in front of the building sliding its door open. JM asked Greg to press the right hand button of the bip.

- Brilliant! he said playing like a child with a remote controlled toy.
- Hang on Greg, don't be silly, you have to give it instructions, it doesn't work on telepathy. As it only reacts to my voice, I'm going to put it on manual and you'll drive. Type on this keyboard where you want to go.
- Where are we going?
- …rmm …a down town surf …write that.

The round and transparent vehicle, flat underneath, closed its door, started to levitate and rose without a sound to go and 'take up a flow'. That is what JM called it.

- Do you recognize the place, Greg? Look here… 'place de la République', the covered market … we're going to travel real close to the church steeple. Look here, look at the steeple!
- Fabulous, I can nearly touch it. It's wonderful.
- There isn't much traffic, we're only 15 bubbles on this flow at the moment but you should see it at peak time!
- Yes, I saw that yesterday, it blocks the sun.

JM felt like making Greg understand the new town planning that had inspired the city development. He explained that the traffic in the air and the idea of a low-town had both happened at the same time. The bubbles could only fly at a certain height, just above the buildings. Sky scrapers and other such like buildings had been completely out of the question.

- Ah yes, true, Greg interrupted, where is the one and only high rise building there was in this city once?
- Razed to the ground, mate! You'll only find 5 story buildings now. So then someone got the idea of building an underground shopping mall in the Canadian fashion. And one thing from another an entire whole city was built below. But not any old how.   

And while the bubble was taking them surfing in the air above the center of the city JM unfolded a map and showed Greg a street map on three levels.

- It's quite like the wheel of a cart. Here the axle, i.e. down town. From there you find the spokes and on the outside the rim and the tyre.
- Sure, this isn't new, CHX has always been like that, a spoke straight to Levroux, another one straight to Vatan, another one to Argenton and still another to La Chatre.
- Yes but what's new, JM retorted, is that the space between the spokes is used for agriculture…
- Sorry but that's not new either, Greg cut in.
- Hold on, let me finish. In the space between the axle and the rim an underground city was built. On the top you can still see the spokes, the straight roads and the fields, farms in the midst of farm land and even forests.
- Oh I see!

Greg was bluffed. He would have loved to take a tour of the low-town but since Tara must be there, he did not mentioned it. After a long hour of surfing in the air  the two men made it back to the flat.

Late Sunday night Greg was expecting his phone call from Vientiane. Tara had not come home.

When the phone rang Greg jumped and grabbed the telephone on the coffee table in the living room as if it was a buoy. Yes! Greg talking, Toinou, is it you?

And then the flow of words held back since he left his home in Laos started flowing freely in the dialect of his village. At the other end his son Antwahn had so much to tell him too.

It was one o'clock a.m. in France. Tara had not yet come home.

Greg was speaking loud in laotian completely oblivious to his immediate surroundings. When he hung up he saw his childhood buddy next to him, aged, with drawn features, subdued.

- She hasn't come home, JM said in a dull voice.
- Don't worry, not the other day either, she did come home the next day…
- Yes but this time she didn't tell me anything.

Slumped on the sofa the two men  felt suddenly very old and tired. For different reasons. Since their encounter at the Intercontinental airport a few days ago they could have believed each one for himself that they were still 29 like the last time they had been together. But tonight in 2045 the years weighted heavily on their shoulders.

- What did your son say?
- Nothing, all is well, I'll tell you later. I miss them terribly much. I wonder why I came back actually…
- …Do you thing she would have been in trouble? JM interrupted, obsessed by Tara's absence.
- Maybe not. Phone the police and report her missing if that can make you feel better.

JM called the police and reported Tara missing. He was told to come to the police station in the morning if she had not turned up meanwhile.

- Sit down, the police officer said nicely but with authority. Did your Tara mentioned having any problem before she disappeared?
- No, none.
- When she left where was she heading for?
- The low-town at Pit-Baron, this is where we met…
- We can trace her back until yesterday afternoon but at Pit-Etrechet completely at the opposite…
- You traced her back?! JM roared, suddenly reassured.
- Listen sir, we have been tracking all the green immigrants since their incidental arrival some years ago. At the moment they are slowly disappearing one after the other. It is no wonder if your Tara's gone missing. 

JM sat up straight on his chair.

- You have tracked Tara in the last three years, have you? he asked flabbergasted.
- No, since she arrived in CHX with a group of about ten other greens we found in the domain forest. We still don't know where they come from and what they're doing here. And now they are disappearing one after the other without leaving any trail behind…
- Alright thank you Officer. I'm going to wait for her at home.

He stood up abruptly, grabbed Greg in the hall of the police station and led him outside with force. He was unrecognizable. They walked home without exchanging a word.

Silence was overwhelming in the apartment. Slumped on the sofa JM sat up at the slightest noise he could perceive in the corridor. Greg was sitting in front of him in the old armchair. His old friend's distress was disturbing him. He had his own problems too and until now JM had not shown much of an interest for his life. Why did he have to be hostage to this story with this woman now? He felt like disappearing, running  to the airport to sit in the next boomerang for Asia.

- Tell me JM, that day you saw Tara being aggressed by a fellow at the bubble bus stop, do you remember who it was?
- Why do you ask that?
- I'm only trying to understand, that's all…
- Yes I do, it was a beefy guy, he kept hitting her.
- What color of skin?
- A Green.

The machine to infer conclusions from various facts started going in Greg's head. He had suspected it the very first time JM had mentioned his meeting with Tara.

- So then she was aggressed by a fellow of her own ethnic group in broad daylight at a bus stop. You fell in the trap head on… you, the valorous knight champion of pretty damsels...
- Stop it Greg, stop it…
- You listen to me rather. It could have been arranged precisely so that you get friendly with Tara.
- What do you mean?
- I must confess to something. Since the beginning I've felt that she was recording everything she saw and heard like an ethnologist who takes note of what is very obvious to others, like me in Laos at the beginning.
- Yes and what then?
- She could have slipped inside your home to do some ethnographic study or to spy.
- What's the difference?
- For an ethnographic study you collect information for the sake of knowledge. In spying it's used… against you in general.

JM slumped a bit more into the sofa. He did not want to hear what Greg was saying. What was this fellow doing here anyway, why had he come back?

In his right pocket he had the knife, delicately chiseled and engraved in their two names, evidence that Tara loved him passionately. Holding the knife tight in his hand he pulled it out of his pocket and showed it to Greg.

- That is spying perhaps?

Just as he was opening his hand the knife produced a white glow as if it was radioactive. The two men gapped. 

- Tara! Tara! can you hear me? JM started to howl.

And then nothing. The knife was off. JM looked at it carefully, Tara's name engraved on the right and his own name engraved on the left. He took it in both hands and opened the blade slowly.

- See the symbol, look here JM, your two names on each side of the blade as if to mean a split between you two, a break off. She has meant to leave a message to you with this knife.

JM shrugged his shoulders, stood up all of a sudden and went towards the bedrooms. He slammed the door of the living room behind him. No, it was impossible, he thought.

- You know what? JM said coming out of the bedroom after a minute.
- What?…
- Let's go to the forest where the green immigrants were found ten years ago.
- You know where Tara was found, do you? Did she tell you? Greg asked.
- No, she never told me. I never asked for details. The news media said: 'in a clearing of the state domain forest'.
- Rather vague…
- Come on, let's go!
- Now I recognize you here JM. You may not have changed so much after all… shall we take the slings with us?!

JM laughed right out at the recollection of their mischievous deeds when they were kids. He took a magnetic waves detector and one for radioactivity just in case. They used bicycles leaving the bubble in the car park no avoid arousing suspicion. He held tight in his hand the engraved knife Tara had given him as a present.

When they arrived at the edge of the forest they left the bikes padlocked to a tree. They started walking in the midst of tall big oaks along the straight track used by the foresters looking after and exploiting the forest. It was raining. In close contact with nature Greg began to live life to the full again like an animal just out of his cage. Yes indeed, he thought, my son should come and see this forest. He even started making plans other than running back to the airport. Lost in his thoughts he had forgotten JM who was calling him softly.     

- Look, look at this!

He was showing the knife on his open hand shining and emitting a weird kind of light. Greg walked back a few steps and forgot about Laos.

- She's transmitting a signal… but how do we know what she means?
- Let's walk slowly straight on… oh no! the light is off.
- That way then.
- Great, perfect! JM cried out unable to hide his joy.

Following the knife's instructions going on or off they entered a thicket walking slowly under the rain. Spring could be felt from the smell of the undergrowth and from the clear green fluff that was slowly growing on the trees. Birds were singing non stop at the top of their voices. Sheer happiness.

After walking for an hour they made it to a clearing that they did not know. They were no longer sure where they were.

- Alright now what? Greg asked.
- We wait. She might turn up.

Greg had serious doubts about that. But well, his buddy was madly in love totally submerged by this girl, it gave him a sixth sense perhaps. We shall see.

After about thirty minutes standing under the rain listening to the birds chirping Greg suggested they had better leave or else THEY would be reported missing!

Soaked to the bones they came out of the forest after a long walk back way out of their point of departure.

- Never mind, we'll come and get the bikes another day. We'll take the bubble bus. Say that we went to pick mushrooms if you are asked questions…
- Who on earth could ask me questions?…
- The caretaker. In fact she wonders who you are. With your moron looks she has surely classified you as a clearings immigrant!

Despite their failure JM  felt exhilarated. It was now beyond doubt that the knife Tara had given him was a means of communication with her. She had planned it that way when she gave him this present. Thus, in a way, they were still 'together'... He would see her again.

End of chapter 1

The original French text can be read under WeLoveWords here:
http://welovewords.com/collections/futur-proche
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