Zero Sum

05 Slipping Away (2019)

Story by Warrigal Mirriyuula

Bess stepped through the front door of the decaying house. There was dust everywhere, over everything. It had collected in drifts in all the corners and lay thickly on the floor; but there was no sign of footprints, no indication at all that any other person had been here for quite some time. 

The cornices; where what was left of the rusting pressed metal ceiling met the walls, were heavily cobwebbed. There were two rooms off the short hall at the front of the house. Bess shone the torch into the one on her right. 

There was an old iron bedstead with a rotting striped kapok mattress and equally rotten bedding. There was a dressing table, its timbers split and the mirror foxed to the point that only a small area in the middle reflected back the torch beam; and a wardrobe, door fallen off, with some clothing decayed to a few shreds, still managing to hang from the wooden hangers. There was a washstand with a bowl and a cracked jug. There were no shoes or boots to be seen, which Bess thought a little odd. Hansen had been wearing shoes when he was found, but surely a farmer would have at least one pair of good strong boots.

She shone the torch into the other room. It was full of junk. Old implements, tools, furniture, boxes of old newspapers and magazines. Maybe Hansen had been a hoarder.

Bess moved through to the living room. More dilapidated furniture set the scene though Bess thought the overstuffed lounge and chairs had a rather homey feel; under the dust and decay. She shone her torch slowly around the room, starting down near the skirting and slowly moving up and around the walls. There was nothing that stood out as interesting, out of the ordinary. 

As she continued to interrogate the room she saw a warped dust covered book sitting on a nest of three tables by one of the armchairs. She moved over to the chair, gave it a quick closer look and determined that, rotten and falling apart or not, it looked like you could sit in it without it collapsing, or disturbing anything that might later be important, and so she sat down. Standing her torch on its tail so that the beam, reflected off the ceiling, provided a low level of general illumination throughout the room; she dropped the Landcruiser keys and her phone on the table and picked up the book. 

It was a badly decayed, moth and mouse eaten edition of Joseph Conrad’s short stories titled “Twixt Land and Sea.”, the remains of a silken book mark lodged a few pages into what was left of a story called “The Secret Sharer.” 

Bess had read a few of Conrad’s novels and short stories; Heart of Darkness went without saying, but also The Rover, The Nigger of The Narcissus, and of course Nostromo and Lord Jim. She’d read a biography by a fellow called Gerkin; no that wasn’t right; Gurko, that was it. 

The general thrust of that literary life-story was that Conrad’s works were nothing less than a prescient look into the near future. It had made much of the modernist psychology of his characters and their many and various responses to the situations Conrad faced them with. Bess remembered seeing a television program on much the same theme. It had centred on Conrad’s novel “The Secret Agent”, and made the claim that this work was indeed “the first truly modern novel”. Bess couldn’t remember anything else about the show or any of its other conclusions. She’d mentally added the novel to the long list of other works she’d get round to after retirement.

“Twixt Land and Sea”, It was an odd collection so far from that sea and the foam, and a following wind. Out of place, and out of time too, Bess thought.

She flipped back to look at the publishing information. The flipping of the pages, some fragmenting and falling apart as they flipped, produced a cloud of paper and other dust. 

Bess dropped the book back onto the table trying to hold onto a giant sneeze gathering in the front of her face. It found her nose and she sneezed convulsively, three times. Her eyes teared up from the irritation of the dust and she dragged a little plastic envelope of tissues from one of her cargo pockets, wiped her eyes and blew her nose loudly, taking momentary satisfaction from the reverberant nasal raspberry in the quiet, hot house. 

She took the book up again. It had been published in 1912. This was a first edition, but literary mavens wouldn’t be squabbling over this decaying treasure. There wasn’t enough of any of the pages to be able to properly read the book, but she turned back to the marked story, found its beginning and began to read from the first fully visible line of print.

“…. as if abandoned forever by some nomad tribe of fishermen now gone to the other end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human habitation as far as the eye could reach.” 

The lines seemed strikingly apposite as Bess looked round the room, there being no sign of human habitation here either. Was the book an indication of Eric Hansen’s psyche, did it illuminate some heretofore unseen part of his character. She read on for a brief while before getting bored with interpolating the missing text. Putting the warped and decayed book down she thought she’d find a copy on the net. Gutenberg would have one.

Bess picked up her phone. There was one bar visible in the phone display, but it disappeared as she looked at it. 

“Bugger, no 4G coverage..” She should have known. This was the back of Bourke. The NBN had a fancy ground station just out of Bourke and Bess had enjoyed fast download speeds in town, but out here she couldn’t even get a stable connection. It didn’t matter. She was feeling too restless and fidgety to read anyway. She looked at her watch; 10:37 and the seconds tick tocking toward midnight in the small LCD display. 

As Bess tried to relax in the dusty chair her mind wandered back to Conrad. 

The Pole had written in English, showing a command of the language absent from writers whose first language it was. Though he had never really mastered spoken English and kept a thick accent till his dying day. He was an orphan, an outsider, alien and alienated, even amongst those he considered his friends. 

He had been a lifelong witness of the human condition, his conjectures and conclusions on that almost infinite subject being the meat and potatoes of his writing. Bess had always believed that Conrad’s real subject was himself; a perhaps unconscious lifelong quest to reconcile his origins, his life and his work with what seemed a difficult and demanding day to day existence.

Bess acknowledged the similarities between her own and Conrad’s circumstances. 

She too was an orphan, also taken in by older and somewhat distant relatives. They’d been good to her, loved her in their way. They were generous and provided everything she could possibly need, particularly in the area of education, but she couldn’t say that she had ever fully loved them back. 

It wasn’t their fault. It was as if that capacity for loving one’s family had somehow been truncated in her, or perhaps broken by the circumstances of her parent’s death. Or maybe she had put it by, against the day when her parents might return; a childish dream she had clung onto for many years after their loss; and how she might show how true to them she had stayed, how much she loved them still; for Bess had always harboured a niggling doubt about how well she had shown her parents the deep love she held for them.

Her memories of her parents and grandparents were now a precious collection of carefully curated memories; memento mori, a life long whispered warning of the transience of existence, the chaos of life and the limits on action in the real world.

There hadn’t been a funeral, there being no bodies to ritually burn or bury, only a long memorial service attended by a lot of people she didn’t know talking about her parents in a way that made them seem strangers to her. She did remember clinging to Nana throughout the service, but she didn’t cry. 

Her Nana had thought that odd as she looked at the serious, intensely intelligent little girl, assuming that the whole thing must have been overwhelming to the nine year old. But Bess had begun to watch, to see what was beneath the obvious and everyday, finding refuge and release in seeing through to the patterns of things, how the world jostled and bumped, erupted and collapsed, gave and took away, just as with her parents. 

They’d died suddenly in a fiery car crash when the vehicle they were returning home to Bess in had failed to take a corner, left the road, becoming airborne out over a deep defile before crashing head on into the opposite side, tumbling to the bottom of the ravine and bursting into flames. The intensity of that fire had reduced everything organic in the vehicle to undifferentiated ash, and leaving Bess, an only child, with no parents and no bodies to bury and grieve over.

The events of those days had never really sunk into Bess’ consciousness. They seemed to blur together as though she’d had only half an eye on the mundane while her mind tried for solace in abstractions and speculations about her parents missing bodies and a possible future return. 

She remembered clearly the look on her maternal grandfather’s face when she had run to the door thinking the bell would be her parents. One look had told her all she needed to know. She was now alone, and it would always be that way. 

She half remembered fleeting images of the packing and readying for the move to Nana and Papa’s house. They were gone now too. 

They’d been a bit reluctant to allow Bess’ little blue Staffordshire bitch Eleanor to make the move with her. They weren’t dog people, but when it seemed that Bess’ little companion was the only thing holding her to the ground, they relented and Eleanor and Bess became inseparable in the ensuing years. Even Nana and Papa had come to love the little dog and one of Bess’ fondest memories was a just a picture in her mind of her Papa with Elli’s head in his lap while he read a book, one hand absently stroking Elli’s neck while she snored. 

The memories were rolling in, swamping Bess as she sat in the derelict chair; her Dad teaching her to swim at the local baths, his huge smile and his arms stretched out to pull her up from the water; school speech nights with her Mum sitting proudly in the front row, winking at her as she received the prize for arithmetic; family gatherings; hockey matches with papa barracking from the side lines; learning to fall in Judo class with her instructor Mr. Baldock; her attempts to realise in paint the shapes and puzzles of her life; fire and change always central elements; friends from school and her adult life and their seemingly endless capacity to find meaning and fulfilment in their relationships with her, and she with them. But since the accident, always that sense of being alone. Not lonely, but always, alone.   

She sniffed and realised she had been crying. Only a little and not for any sense of loss or hardship suffered, but because it was all so human, so ineluctably beautiful and sad all at the same time. It had made her who and what she was.

Bess pulled out the tissues again and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “This is no way for me to meet my own secret sharer.” she thought, with not a little self deprecation, 

Eric Hansen’s face appeared suddenly in Bess’ mind’s eye. The vision startling her with its clarity and intensity, and again, just as it had seemed down at the dock, there was that look of anticipation and just a soupçon of trepidation. Bess shivered as if hit by a blast of cold air, though the temperature in the house was probably still in the thirties.

She looked at her watch again. It was almost midnight. She’d lost over an hour in her revery.

But the complex of emotions that had accompanied that revery disintegrated as she realised there was something moving about in the kitchen, a soft rattling noise amongst the crockery, the sound of small things dislodged, falling…, her hand went to her gun, but she had come unarmed. She sat forward, prepared; but for what?

“Bess are you there?” a deep kindly voice. 

Bess heart nearly jumped out of her shirt, and she saw a pale ultraviolet glow, just managing to mix with and then over power the dim light of the torch. It was emanating through the kitchen doorway.

Bess stood up in a rush and immediately went to the doorway and stepped through into the source of that light. She took two steps into the kitchen and stopped still, rooted to the spot.

What she saw next was both all too real and at once impossible. 

There was a line. Or sort of line, she couldn’t be sure, that ran across the floor, up the walls, across the ceiling and down the other wall to join up with itself, taking in everything in the room. The line was like the outline of a geometric plane intersecting with the reality of the room. It glowed across the floor, outlining the furniture, moving slowly across the space.

Everything on Bess’ side of the advancing line was as she had seen it when first she had entered the kitchen, but on the other side of that ultraviolet line everything was different. 

The kitchen was dissolving as if someone were working the kitchen in photoshop, decreasing it’s opacity. Emerging through that declining reality was the same kitchen, but now made new, or as new as it might once have been many years ago.

Walking through that new kitchen but somehow not yet quite part of the scene, as if dissolving in from an even more distant place, was Hansen, smiling and holding her in his gaze. 

“I’ll be with you in just a moment” Hansen said. His words, though somewhat confused by phasing and flanging effects, were unusually reassuring to Bess, but not quite believable as she watched him growing in size, his feet finally contacting the floor and himself becoming fully immersed in the new kitchen.

The line passed through Bess with an electric tingle she barely noticed, so astounded was she by what she was seeing.

At last Hansen was there, standing on the other side of the fresh clean formica topped table. The refreshed chairs, their aluminium armatures gleaming and their vinyl covers gayly coloured, matching the renewal of the dresser with its smooth shiny varnish and leaded craquelure glass, the now matching plates neatly stacked, the glasses gleaming.

The man shook his head slowly, his face crumpling a little as he dropped his head slightly to the side. “Its so good to see you again. Let me look at you.” and he did, shaking his head again as if amazed too by what hewas seeing.

Bess finally found her voice. “Hansen…., Eric Hansen, Professor Eric Hansen?”

“Hello Bess. Its been a long time”

“More than twenty years.” Bess smiled broadly at this apparition of her friend and former mentor, but she was more than a little confused by all that was happening. “I couldn’t understand how your name kept cropping up. I thought it must have been another Hansen; just a coincidence; the pictures didn’t look a bit like you, and I didn’t know what was going to happen here. I certainly didn’t expect you in the flesh. You are flesh, aren’t you?”

He smiled at her sweetly and Bess was shot back to her days at University and her year on the Quantum Consciousness course. His kindly voice and his smile immediately familiar again. Bess understood, though she couldn’t have known how, that Eric, if Eric this was, this “science fiction Hansen” with Hansen’s face, Hansen’s tall stature and penetrating, kind eyes, was no threat, that he was here to help her through whatever this was going to be, as he had always helped her in the past.

Bess eyes pricked with tears. She almost cried again, she was so happy to see Eric once more.

“Yes I’m flesh, including the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. And I should apologise for interfering in your case. I did put a tinsy winsy block on the prepared materials. Just so you wouldn’t think the two other Hansens were me.”

“I should have known.” Bess said testily, “The stochastics didn’t stack up. Too improbable and too obvious at the same time.”

“Forget it. You couldn’t have made the connection while the block was in. That was the point.”

“I’m not really getting all this. Do I understand by that, that you can interfere with my consciousness “at a distance?”

“Entanglement working in the real world; but it was the first time, I’ve never interfered in your consciousness before. And now I’ve done it once and told you, I won’t ever be able to do it again. You’ve just become a little more than you were when you stepped through the front door.”

Suddenly there was a tumble in Bess’ mind; a chaotic, unjumbling tumble, a reorganisation of disparate, seemingly unrelated “stuff”, but now related, and leading to just one question.

“Is this about Mum and Dad?” 

The excited question, uttered before she had even thought about asking anything, had come from deep inside her psyche. From that place where the little girl Bess had been bore the pain of her parents loss every day of her life.

“There you go again! That’s the Bess of old. Those intuitive leaps, the integration and synthesis of seemingly unconnected things. You really are the business Bess. Amazing!” Eric shook his head and smiled happily. 

“Yes, we’ll be with them shortly, but first we’ve got to get you ready. Please sit.” he indicated the chair on Bess’ side of the table and smiled. Bess sat automatically, still trying to take in the fact that the Eric had said she would soon be with her parents. 

A grim vision of flames and mangled metal tore through Bess mind, but she knew it wasn’t that. Her parents had somehow survived! 

The little girl she had been, hanging on to an impossible hope, was to be completely vindicated, that forlorn hope rewarded at last. It was curious to realise this late in her life, in that very moment, that it had been that unconscious hope that had always sustained Bess through all the years of her singular adult life. 

Her rational adult had always known that she would never see them again, they were dead; and yet the little girl equally knew that it was inevitable that they would be rejoined. 

The continual resolution of that dynamic tension was no small part of the drive that had put Bess at the centre of some of the most complex and convoluted cases in the annals of NSW policing; that had led to her being chosen for The Hague and her other overseas secondments; why it was that when the body in the morgue disappeared, it was Bess that was recommended for the job, even though assigning a Super to that job looked like overkill. Or at least she had thought so prior to tonight’s sojourn here in the old “Hansen” house out the back of Bourke. 

The racing, jumbled and tumbling emotions, recollections and ideas in Bess’ mind suddenly snapped to a new question.

“Wait!” Bess then paused, collecting her thoughts.

Hansen was getting a few things from his pockets; a small hinged tin and a Zippo. He put them on the table and gave Bess his complete attention. 

“You said it was good to see me again. Its been more than twenty years. Just before I was off to The Hague. How can you have known that I’d be here tonight to see? And that entrance…Wow! That’s some party trick. I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. You wouldn’t care to fill me in on that would you, Wizard Hansen?

“Pretty neat, I agree; but surprisingly simple once you get the knack of it; However, that’s not what this is all about.”

Eric Hansen smiled as if he’d expected all this. “Its always like this at first, but you will see, you will understand what’s going on, why you’re here and your part in all this.” 

“What do you mean “at first”, and what’s this place got to do with me?” 

“This place is an accident of cosmological topology and ontology. This is where the discordance generates according to an irregular but generally reliable timetable. The first people to recognise its existence were the local aboriginal peoples. This was a powerful place for them, a place of visions.” Hansen paused to let that sink in, then went on. 

“The trick isn’t in this place, this is just the location of an exploitable resource, like gravity or electromagnetism. As for, “at first”, this is your first iteration. You’re plainly not up to speed with who and what you are, what you can do. Before this is over you and I are going to meet like this, the weird science kind of meeting, four times.”

“No the trick isn’t in this place. It’s getting you here on the fifteenth of February. That’s what all the unexplained dead bodies, disappearing footsteps and the other nonsense was about. The only real piece of information in the whole confection was the Geohash and the date. We knew that you’d work through the evidence, that you’d find it impossible to resolve, because it wasn’t designed to be resolved. You didn’t fail in that. In fact you succeeded. You would have to be here because “here, now” is the only auditable piece of evidence you had. Hansen paused, looking for the impact all this was having on Bess.

“But you are the body in the library, and old Eric Hansen. Biometrics confirmed that. Are you saying that you set that up just to ensnare me in the investigation?”

“That’s precisely what I’m saying and I’ve managed to pull the trick off a few times so far.” There was no pride in Hansen’s voice. He seemed more apologetic that he had been forced to deceive Bess with these false ensnaring clues. Hansen’s tone and kinesics  suggested an almost ineffable quality of caring and focus on Bess, like a favourite uncle dealing with a distressed child. Which was exactly what Bess was feeling, Perhaps not distressed but certainly confused.

“You’ll forgive me if I take a moment to let all this fit together.”

“That’s what you do best, fit things together. Take all the time you want. We’ve got until about 5:30 before we have to leave.”

“Why 5:30?”

“High energy photonic density collapses the discordance. The door shuts.”

Bess pursed her lips and gave Hansen a look. 

“You mean sunrise.” Bess said. “Please assume I know nothing about physics or cosmology, which I don’t really. It might be better if you treated me like a child. I don’t need to hear how or why things happen, just what will happen.” 

This was becoming a bit overwhelming for Bess. What had been a simple if somewhat perverse investigation full of impossible imponderables had now reached the point where those imponderables had been explained away to nothing, and now, apparently, her entire existence was in play and she still had no clue just what it was that Eric was actually here for. She couldn’t even really be sure that this was Eric. She hadn’t seen him for over two decades and yet he somehow managed to look not only youthful, but younger than he had the last time she had seen him. 

Putting that queer observation aside; the earlier promise of meeting her parents again had established and maintained a tremor, a trembling in Bess that she found both unsettling and almost impossibly exciting, but she still couldn’t work out what the point of it all was.

Hansen might have been reading her mind.

“You’re the point of it all. Everything, all of this is for you, about you. You see Bess,” there was that intimate, caring voice again, “just as I am not really the Hansen you thought you knew, you’re not really the Bess Stafford you think you are.” 

“You are so much more and so very precious, and all of this has been about protecting you; that’s my job; and providing a place and time where you can become the best Bess you can be. You are about to discover the real you, whatever you think that may mean in this context. There’s no doubt about that, more real than I’ll ever be, or perhaps that should be “more realised”, and a time will come when all that you become will be able to return to the place where you were…,” Hansen paused, made a dismissive flicking gesture with his hands, “….born”, if that word even remotely describes the way you came into being.”

“So the whole QC course was what? Just another snare?”

“Oh no; the course is a genuine recruitment strategy. You won your place there just like the others. Only they didn’t turn out to be quite as spectacular as you. No the QC course is how we discover the ZPF individuals.”

“ZPF?”

“Zero Point Field. You’re a ZPF baby. We’ve managed to identify about thirty others like you since the course was instituted but none of them have what you have. The ZPF babies all carry at least one significant mutation that confers on them what might be called; by those that don’t enjoy these genetic upgrades; special abilities; super powers if you like. But we’ll get to that later when we’ve got a chance to relax and catch up.”

Relax and catch up; it sounded so simple and prosaic, like dropping round for a cup of tea and a biscuit; but the Zero Point Field? Bess only had a vague idea what that was. Something to do with quantum mechanics. Just what it might have to do with her would have to be added to the lengthening list of questions for later. That she would have to wait  to be inducted into these mysteries also implied that there was something doing before that. Something big?

“So I have these “super powers” do I?”

“Super, superer, superest; you are Superintendent Bess Superest!” Hansen smiled at his wordplay. “The thing is Bess, you weren’t meant to know until next time; Iteration Two, your next…., life(?); but something unexpected has come up and we’ve had to swing into action. We’re not completely sure of the course of action but its clear that some course is going to have to be taken and you will be at the very centre of that action.”

This was now descending into bad science fiction and Bess thought to get things back to what she could understand, what was actually going on here.

Hansenwasreading her mind.

“Let me ask you a few questions Bess. I think your own answers may enlighten you.” Hansen looked at Bess waiting on her permission.

“OK”, though Bess was now becoming a little impatient. Hansen had provided a great deal of “intelligence” since his materialisation in the kitchen but hardly any of it could be manipulated into a coherent whole. She twitched on the chair and shuffled her feet.

“How many languages do you speak Bess? Ever counted them?”

Oh, I don’t know. Eight, maybe ten. I’ve never really needed to do an inventory.

‘That’s a lot of languages for an ordinary copper, don’t you think? But, would it surprise you  that since you finished with university you have not just learnt but mastered twenty six languages. You speak twenty six languages just like a native born and raised in those tongues. How do you think you’ve achieved that?” 

“Have you ever had a language lesson in Greek, for example; yet you speak Greek like a native Athenian, and not just a native now, you also speak Koine Greek. Pericles would be able to understand you.”

How did Hansen know that. Bess hadn’t needed to speak Greek for years, decades; before she had even met Eric.

“I had Greek neighbours in Glebe when I was at uni. The wife used to make me baclava and the husband kept a nanny-goat in his little back yard. He used to walk her like a dog. She was a hit with the kids from the local primary school up the road. They were always dropping round to feed her treats like apple and carrots.”

“He and his wife didn’t speak much English, but they were so sweet to me and I used to drop in most days after lectures. I guess I just learnt from them.”

“Yes, but how Bess? By osmosis?”

Hansen let that hang there between them as Bess began to wonder about her languages. Hansen pressed on.

“You play chess don’t you?”

“Yes. I suppose I used to play more often than I do these days; but yes, I play chess.”

“Can you remember ever losing a game?”

“How can I possibly be expected to remember every game of chess I’ve ever played?”

“Your chess game reflects the ability of your opponent, but you’ve never lost a game, not once since you were a child and your mother taught you to play; and if you played Garry Kasparov you’d beat him too. Its what you do, and as for remembering; you could remember every detail of every moment of your life if you put your mind to it. That’s also one of your abilities.”

The situation had now become completely unanchored from reality, at least any reality Bess had ever known. If it had been anyone else other than Hansen she’d have called “crap” and put an end to this. But then, maybe not. That entrance still had her completely bamboozled and she was now beginning to feel a little fearful. It wasn’t every day that you met an apparition of your old Uni mentor claiming to be some kind of godfather figure, not to mention a continuing intimate acquaintance of your dead parents with knowledge of your own true nature.

“And your smile Bess; have you ever wondered just why it is that people seem unable to look away, and why do you think that in all those interrogations of the good, the bad and the ugly, people seem to experience a kind of psychic meltdown when they try to lie to you? Remember the Serbian, Stankic? Ever wondered about that?”

Bess had to admit to herself that she hadn’t wondered about Stankic’ confession. It had been a harrowing enough experience just to get it from him. It had left Bess feeling sullied and somehow violated, not unlike Stankic’ victims. 

Having extracted the confession, she had left it to others to tidy the transcript and shepherd it through the court process. Her court appearance as the Interviewing Officer had been read mostly from her personal notes. She’d had no stomach for actually remembering Stankic’ crimes as she had imagined them during the interrogation. 

It did seem strange, now that she put her mind to it, but it had always been that way for her, right from the very beginning. As a small girl her parents had always praised her smile, saying it always made people happy. 

She had consciously learned to deploy that smile to encourage the people around her to treat her with respect, to take her seriously, to like her. In all those years it had never once occurred to her that there might be something metaphysical about her smile. 

It was absurd, but given what was happening here tonight Bess decided that she would have to take it all at face value. It wasn’t going to fit any pattern from her previous experience but she did believe that there must be a coherent pattern to all this. She just had to discern it. As Hansen had said, it was what she did.

Bess slumped a little in the kitchen chair. “Just tell me who and what I am, preferably in terms I can understand.” Bess smiled at Hansen.

“See, you’re doing it now!”

“I am aren’t I?” Bess said with a quiet uncertain awe in her voice. 

When she’d smiled at Hansen she had glimpsed into him, seen his nature. She had seen the shapes and patterns of the man’s mind, had seen that he was a kind of construct, made up of parts, many, many parts; and all those parts served one purpose. That sole purpose was to look out for and look after Bess. She saw that Hansen’s reason for being was herself; but perhaps more interestingly, she had seen herself, again and again in situations she had no memory of. How could Hansen have memories of Bess she didn’t have herself? 

“Are we some species of fallen angel?” It wasn’t a serious question, Bess had never really cottoned on to religion; but Hansen certainly wasn’t human in any currently acceptable interpretation of the word; and being able to spontaneously read the internal structure of a person’s personality, to see their character laid out as if schematised, to feel their emotions, see into their memory; well that was something else again.  

“No we’re no angels. Certainly not. We aren’t that different from everyone else on the planet. We’re just a bit more…., what is it the kids say these days? We’re just a bit more “woke” than most.”

“No, you’re human and I’m human just like you, with all that entails. I have my quirks and oddnesses, my compulsions and addictions, my structural failings and personal faults, flaws and phobias, just like you. But just like you I can choose to rise above those flaws, I have my better angels to follow. I have free agency here in the material world. 

I could, for instance, decide that I no longer wanted my association with you and your….,” that pause again, “….family.” Hansen looked at Bess, his face conveying the absurdity of any such decision on his part. “But I know that’s not who I am. I am as you see me. Thisis what Ido.”