Читать онлайн «Moonseed»
Mike started; he hadn’t been hiding, but it wasn’t obvious how the speaker could have spotted him. But here he was, waving a skinny arm at Mike.
‘Come and join us. You’re very welcome. Everyone’s welcome to listen.’
Mike would have backed off, but there was Jane, waving at him. So he nodded at the story-teller, and stepped cautiously through the pyjama party circle, and crouched in the damp grass close to Jane. She was wearing a bottle-green necklace he hadn’t seen before.
‘I’ve got something for you,’ he whispered.
She raised a forefinger to her lips to shush him.
‘… Now you can see why I took the call-sign I did: Bran.’ The kid looked around his flock; some were nodding, but others looked a little confused.
‘Think about it,’ Bran said. ‘The pillars of gold, the birds singing – the sort of lurid detail you’d expect after three thousand years of retelling. But what about the replenished food and drink? What does that sound like, to you, but replicator technology?’ He opened his hands, rested them on the back of his folded legs, and looked around the group, nodding persuasively. ‘Just like Star Trek. Right? And what about the women that just happened to be available for every man? Were they just hanging around, waiting for visitors? Isn’t it more likely that these were some kind of constructs – what we might call holograms, or even androids?
‘Which is why, of course, we find all that sci-fi stuff so easy to accept. Because it’s not part of our future – it’s part of our past.’
Jane leaned to Mike and whispered, ‘Here comes Einstein.’
‘Wait and see.’
‘What is this?’
‘A staff meeting of Egress Hatch,’ Jane hissed back. ‘Morning prayers.’
‘Egress Hatch? That new cult?’ He’d heard pub talk about this; the cult had come out of nowhere to gather, apparently, a couple of thousand adherents in a month. But then, since Venus, it seemed as if the whole human race was splintering into cults and enclaves and pressure groups … He studied his sister. ‘What are you doing here?’
She frowned. ‘I think I know him.’ She pointed at Bran.
‘… And, of course, the clinching element in the whole story is the time lag. A century passing on Earth for a year of the travellers’ time! It’s just the twin paradox of relativity – the time dilation effect suffered by every interstellar traveller up to, but not including, Captain Kirk – foreshadowed in a story first told three thousand years before Einstein was born. Now, how can that be? …’
‘I told you,’ Jane whispered.
Bran’s sermon was a mish-mash. The underlying theology seemed to be Celtic, but it was mixed in with a bit of New Age, a bit of post-millennial anxiety, a lot of sci-fi stuff about UFOs.
‘… Our faith is rooted in that of the Celts. But this was the native religion of Britain and Western Europe, before it was suppressed by the conquering Romans, three thousand years ago, and then absorbed by Christianity, and so emasculated. Now, we’re reclaiming it …’
Mike straightened up to speak; he could feel Jane plucking at his sleeve, but he ignored her.
‘So what’s that got to do with spacemen?’
Bran smiled. ‘The old religion, long buried, is a memory of an even older human experience. It’s only now, in our modern age, we can make sense of it. Look – have you ever had the feeling that your conscious self is sitting somewhere inside you? Like an inner person in a vehicle, looking out on the world and controlling the actions of your body –’
‘Like the Wizard of Oz?’
That got him a laugh from the outer fringe. Bran laughed along with them. ‘Something like that. Well, that’s a common feeling –’
‘A common illusion –’
‘Because it’s based in reality.’ Bran patted his rib cage. ‘These are not our true bodies. This is not our native world. We believe that we are from somewhere else, and we’re destined to return.’
Intrigued despite himself, Mike asked, ‘So what are we doing here?’
‘We are on an EVA, as the astronauts would say: an extravehicular activity. And these, our bodies, are like spacesuits we put on to preserve us here, on this alien world. We were an away team, so to speak. Or our remote ancestors were. But, long ago, we forgot what we were doing here. We forgot how to get back. Do you see?’
‘You’re speaking by analogy,’ Mike said.
Jane covered her mouth with her hand. ‘Mike, for God’s sake –’
‘You can prove anything by analogy.’
‘But,’ Bran said mildly, ‘I don’t need to prove anything. It’s simply an expression of our common experience. The lost legend of the ship – the place we came from – transmuted into myth, even as we went native … Listen: our brains, the electrical impulses that flow through them, have nothing to do with us. Any more than the computer processors in an astronaut’s spacesuit are in any way part of her …’
‘Jesus,’ Mike said. ‘He’s a crack-pot.’
‘He’s Hamish Macrae,’ Jane whispered.
She told him about the kid in the Cordley Road lift shaft, Jack’s friend.
‘And suddenly,’ Jane said, ‘he’s Bran. I saw his picture in the paper. I just wanted to see what he was up to. He’s clever. I’ll give him that.’
‘He’s just working through what happened to his brother. He’s crazy.’
She eyed him. ‘We’re all crazy, Mike. We always have been. At the end of the second millennium we were all just as crazy as at the start. We all believe something. And it’s all started up again thanks to Venus. Funny lights in the sky … My view is, if you’re going to spout craziness, it might as well be something harmless. At least Bran and his people don’t hassle anyone else. Unlike some I could mention.’ She told him about the American who’d disrupted her lunch yesterday. ‘I think he was with the oil people. Arsehole.’
Mike frowned. ‘What did he look like?’
‘Tall. Skinny. In a T-shirt, of course. Wild-eyed, hairy.’
Henry. ‘You’re sure he was with the oil companies?’
‘No, I’m not sure. Why?’
She fingered her bottle-green necklace. ‘The arrogant arsehole paid for this with dollars, in cash. As if we’re the fifty-first state already.’
‘But you’re wearing it. Did he give it to you?’
She looked defensive. ‘Well, he had bought it. If I’d put the necklace back in the stock I’d never have reconciled the books –’
‘Of course not.’
She studied him suspiciously. ‘Why are you so interested? Do you know this guy?’
He shrugged. ‘How could I?’
A shadow fell across them. Mike looked up.
The leader of the pyjama people, Bran, was standing over them. Looking beyond Bran, Mike saw the various groups had broken up; the pyjama people were standing in a knot, talking quietly.
‘You were persuasive,’ Bran said to Mike with a rueful good humour.
‘Come to our Belenus festival.’
‘May Day. We’ll hold it here, on the Seat.’
‘Will there be replicator food and a woman for every man?’
Bran laughed. ‘No, but there will be spectacle. And oatcakes. Mustn’t forget the oatcakes.’
‘Do I have to wear pyjamas?’
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