Incarnations III:







Near Future

Sex: No

Violence: No


Feed the Bard:

Incarnations I: The Chosen Road

Incarnations II: The Garden

'She's a bit strange,' said a student - an earnest girl with dark, curly hair and brown eyes. Her words were not said maliciously. They were simply an observation.

A couple of the others murmured agreement, then they quietly went on down the list of those who might be able to join their group for the extensive research project that they were going to undertake.

Aurelie McCleod was sitting at the next table. Like them she was taking advantage of this particularly beautiful room in the university's central science library. She had been reading and taking notes. She was trying to work out a way of creating a prismatic vortex out of minute crystals. The necessary mathematics was proving to be extremely complex. For a while, tired, she had simply sat back, letting her mind wander, knowing that she needed some rest or perhaps just some distance from the problem. Then she had listened to a little of the murmured conversation taking place a few yards from her.

She smiled as she considered the words of the brown-eyed girl. She knew who she was talking about of course. Everyone had spoken in such a way at some time or other about their highly accomplished, highly talented, extraordinary but undoubtedly odd classmate, Katrin Montagu.

Aurelie recalled Katrin walking down one of the stone corridors, where the bones of great thinkers and inquirers long dead had been buried, singing some cheerful song; and the smile she sometimes had for what did not appear to be there; and the fugues of thought that she sometimes went into that were so deep that others found they could not follow her. She remembered when Katrin had stood outside a lecture room one day, juggling a number of different objects with more skill than should have been possible - until she had seen the others watching her and had blushed and dropped everything. And then there were the long silences, the moroseness and apparent depression, soon followed by sudden delight and laughter in what others did not find amusing or interesting at all. She could be fascinated by what others thought of as simple while at other times she was obviously bored by what others thought of as extraordinary.

The other students had come to accept Katrin but did not pay her much attention. They talked to her when it was necessary for their projects and sometimes asked her for help - which she always gave willingly. But they did not include her in the friendships that they made, or invite her to social gatherings such as at the bars or tea-shops in winter, or at the great bonfires on summer nights.


At lunchtime the next day, Aurelie sat at a corner table in a café, eating good food and sipping from a large mug of coffee laced with cream and chocolate. Outside, large flakes of snow were falling thickly, settling upon the ground and deepening, though some of the flakes swirled along for a while before they came to rest. The heavy façades of the old, ornate granite buildings opposite, with their carved doorways and windows and the curious abstract images on their walls, were dusted with whiteness. The sky was grey-mauve and the temperature was falling.

Next to her meal were two books she had been reading, closed for now. She preferred to enjoy her food and focus fully upon it before turning her attention to her studies and focusing upon that.

At length she set aside her empty plate and cradled her mug of coffee. As she began to think about what she was working on, she considered as so often before that nothing at the university was merely academic, though much guidance could be given, if requested, to those who needed it. Everything was done with very clear aims. What she was trying to do would yield a new result, no matter whether she was successful or not. Such purposefulness in the studies of students and teachers seemed to permeate the books and architecture and even the walls of the great buildings. All who worked and studied there were so much more focused than most other people. It sometimes seemed an almost mystical thing: the quiet alertness, the calm openness, the respectfulness of everyone.

As Aurelie finished the last of her coffee, the main door to the café opened. She glanced up and saw that Katrin Montagu had entered and was stamping the snow from her boots. She was dressed in a padded blue coat that was rather worn, and padded cream winter leggings over her boots. Pulling back her hood, she shook free her long black hair. Then she walked across to a table against an adjacent wall. Dropping her bag on a chair, she removed her scarf and coat and put them over the back. After taking her wallet from a pocket, she walked over to the counter to place an order.

Aurelie watched, fascinated. There was a strength and grace about Katrin that she had noticed before and which she loved to watch. They spoke of extraordinary physical coordination and awareness that seemed somehow at odds with her rather curious way of dressing, as if she barely paid attention to that. Aurelie found her more than attractive and very intriguing.

As she returned to her table, Aurelie noticed that she was talking quietly to herself, apparently listing a long string of numbers at high speed. A slight sideways smile touched her lips as she did so.

For five minutes Aurelie stayed where she was. She opened one of her books but did not read a single sentence. Her attention kept returning to Katrin and the way she was eating a bowl of ice-cream with a gusto that seemed both amusing and singularly unlikely given how cold it was outside.

Making a decision, Aurelie put her books back in her bag, picked it and her coat up, and walked over to the table where Katrin was sitting. She stood there for a moment, thinking that Katrin would look up and acknowledge her; but she did not. Yet when Aurelie finally said 'Hi,' she glanced up at her before the syllable was even half formed.

Katrin smiled with what appeared to be a mixture of mischief and delight. 'Hi,' she replied. And Aurelie noticed as she had noticed so often before what an extraordinary colour her light blue eyes were. Ice-blue, brilliant blue, suggestive of clear oceans and reflected winter sunlight.

'I was wondering if I could join you,' Aurelie said. 'If you don't mind my company that is, or if you're not busy thinking about something.'

'Just thinking about the probable patterns of nitrogen bubbles in this ice-cream,' Katrin replied. 'Please join me,' she continued, and gestured to the chair opposite her with her spoon.

'Thanks.' Aurelie sat and regarded her across the small table. She looked into eyes that were curiously still, then which lit up of a sudden as she smiled.

'Oh,' Katrin said. Then, quite unexpectedly: 'You are remarkably beautiful.'

The statement took Aurelie so much by surprise that she found herself blushing. 'You . . . too. We do look a little different to most, don't we?' she said.

Katrin nodded. 'Certainly.' She looked serious for a moment. 'And you know, the other students . . . and the teachers and researchers too . . . think I'm weird.' She said the words quite matter of factly, then grinned, still looking into Aurelie's eyes.

Aurelie could not help but chuckle. Smiling widely, she returned Katrin's gaze.

'Would you like some ice-cream?' Katrin asked after a little while. She seemed almost shy when she said the words, speaking softly and looking away for a moment.

'Thank you. I'll try a little. What is it?' And Katrin told her as she picked up a second spoon so that she could eat some.

Conversation flowed then, and for the following two hours they simply talked. Aurelie realised that she was completely drawn in by Katrin's words and quite captivated by her. As well as that, she thought that she had never felt quite so free, so unjudged, so utterly accepted by anyone. She felt a sense of freedom to be completely herself in Katrin's company. She felt a sense that she was in a safe place and that nothing could hurt her.

Being here with Katrin could not have been more different to the overriding sense of oppression, restrictions and control that had defined much of her early life. She remembered the constant disapproval of her parents, the constant disapproval of her schoolteachers, the way they only wished her to be obedient, to fit the tasks and appearances they wanted her to, and where nothing else was tolerated.

And then, as they talked onwards, Aurelie felt a deep startlement when it suddenly came home to her that Katrin seemed to be as fascinated by her as she was by Katrin.

'You are quite charming,' Katrin said just a moment later.

Aurelie blinked, and smiled, and blushed again. She had an almost irresistible urge to reach out and take Katrin's hands and hold them.

A few more minutes passed and then, finally, they both had to leave. Obligations regarding their studies called them.

'Would you like to meet tomorrow?' Aurelie asked. She felt a mixture of self-consciousness but also ease in asking the question. She knew that Katrin could never think her foolish for asking and that there was no risk in being open and revealing a little of her heart and her wishes. Still, emotions surged within her at the awareness of how excited she felt to be in her company and how excited she was at the thought of seeing her again.

Strange, she thought, how very right this seems. Not just good, but something more, like a memory finally being recalled and marvelled at after decades of forgetfulness.

'I would like that,' Katrin said. 'Are you free after lunch?'

Aurelie nodded.

'In fact, let's meet for lunch, if that's possible?'

Again Aurelie nodded, and this time smiled widely. 'How about here?' she suggested. 'I like the soups and the spiced fish.'

'And I like the ice-cream.'


Aurelie chose her clothes carefully the next day and spent quite a long time standing in front of the tall mirror in the room that had been hers since she had first come to the university. It had heavy stone walls, deep windows of leaded glass, a deep red and deep blue carpet, and reed scrolls upon the walls in colours that she liked. The many shelves were filled with books. Her desk and sizeable table were scattered with papers and diagrams. The bed, the cupboards and the door to the bathroom were opposite the door to the corridor.

She smiled as she realised she was adjusting her blonde hair for the third time - not really necessary since it was quite short. She felt a pleasant sensation in stomach that was both warm and strange - anticipation mostly. She was glad and slightly surprised that she did not feel more nervous. The confidence and comfort she felt came from Katrin, she was sure, and not from some inner confidence. Katrin just liked her, and did not expect her to act in any way other than genuine.

And I'm attracted to the strangest person in the university, Aurelie mused, and the thought made her smile again.


Lunch went even better than she had hoped. She loved listening to Katrin talking of all kinds of things - weird humorous ideas she had about patterns of behaviour that they and other students had that reflected the shapes of different animals - and she had a great deal of scientific observation to back up her crazy claim - or gentle reflections upon Aurelie's few words about her poor relationship with her family; or amazing stories of bizarre games she had played as a child, such as one involving fruit.

'I was about four years old I guess,' Katrin explained. 'I was trying to work out if it was possible to prove that I was the only person in the world that was not telepathic and that everyone else had made a secret agreement never to reveal their telepathy to me. I imagined some violet berries to be people I liked, some red apples to be people I disliked, and some oranges to represent abstract concepts. I had quite a few fantasies. It was fun. I think all the pieces of fruit found happiness in the end, after long struggles.'

Aurelie stared at her, shook her head and chuckled. Then she told Katrin some rather curious stories of her own. 'I think my parents thought I might be an alien child,' she said.

'Well, yes, your gaze is more unusual and more beautiful than any human's eyes ever had,' Katrin said. 'Soft, green, the regard of an angel.'

Aurelie marvelled at Katrin's words. There was humour behind them in the suggestion that she might indeed not be human, but there was complete sincerity in them too about how she saw her. As if she was saying: this is what I think, and it is up to you to decide what to do with it. 'How do you do that?' she asked. 'How do you manage to speak without fear of the response?'

Katrin did not reply for a moment. Then she said, after pondering the matter for a few moments: 'Mostly because it is you. I trust your response, whatever it might be. It would not be cruel or dismissive, but considered. You have innate warmth, though others may sometimes ignore it or dismiss it. But I see it very clearly.' Then, though with a curious and gentle look as if she clearly knew that it must be a sensitive subject, she said: 'So did your parents have any tests done on you to see if you were an alien?'

Aurelie giggled. 'Yes,' she said. 'They took me to the doctor and explained their concerns and he had real trouble keeping a straight face. Then he gave me a few cursory tests and an examination to keep them happy, and proclaimed that I was not an alien. I remember that he winked at me once as if to say it would be our secret that we knew my parents were crazy and that it was advisable not to make crazy people angry. Actually I suspect that they realised that he thought there was something wrong with them, because after the examination they seemed quite offended.' She grinned. 'Unless they were disappointed that I was not an alien.'

'Were you disappointed that you were not an alien?' Katrin asked, her blue eyes full of light. 'Because you know, you might be after all. I mean, just because you have crazy parents doesn't mean you're not an alien.'

On the conversation went, and again Aurelie was delighted by how good it was to talk and to listen like this. She was moved by how deeply attentive Katrin was. But she was still more delighted just simply by Katrin. She was amazed by the way she could shift between moods and manners and subjects, how she could be quiet then vivacious and talkative by turns. Aurelie was absorbed, then enthralled, then thrown off balance by her humour. She was taken to another more emotional place by Katrin's tenderness, then shown a kindness and empathy that let her feel the truth that there were no obligations or expectations, and that however she was, was all right.

Sometimes they found themselves just looking into each other's eyes, with small smiles upon their faces.

At last Aurelie said: 'I'd like to show you what I'm doing in my current project.' For some reason it seemed important that she tell Katrin about it and show her what she had achieved so far. 'Do you have time to come over and have a look?'

'I'd like that,' Katrin replied. 'I could even help you.' She glanced down. 'I mean, if you want help. I could . . .'

Aurelie reached out and placed her hand on the back of Katrin's. It was such a simple gesture but it did not stop the warmth and the tingles that shot through her at the touch. 'I would like that,' she said. 'But come and see, and then decide if you're interested.'

And so they made their way to the small laboratory that Aurelie used, kept just for her on the top floor of one of the wings of Science Building 15. They did not speak much during the twenty minute trip there. They enjoyed the crystalline whiteness of the snow on the old structures of the city and its university, the deep green-grey light that indicated a further drop in temperature, the chill of the air against them. They hurried along a street and onto a golden moving walkway that carried them high over the ground among other long spans and bridges. Aurelie was so very aware of Katrin being at her side. She thought that Katrin was intensely aware of her too.

Before long they reached Aurelie's laboratory, with its sloping ceiling and large, snow-covered skylights. A bird called quietly from where it nested just outside one of them. The benches and walls were covered with equipment and machines connected by pipes and cables. On a stand in the centre, a diamond-shaped crystal container was surrounded by magnetic field generators and more esoteric devices. Aurelie showed Katrin what she had achieved so far for a while they discussed the nature of the hypotheses that the experiment was designed to test.

'I do not know if this will work,' Aurelie said at one point. 'But if it leads me to being able to frame the questions I'm asking with more accuracy and depth, that will be a good result too.'

Katrin nodded, considering. For a while she simply stared at the floor, thinking.

Aurelie just watched her. She saw the occasional fleeting expression touch her face - surprise, amusement, puzzlement, annoyance, hope, curiosity, struggle, delight.

When Katrin looked up she said: 'I want to work with you. I think you are onto something.'

It was a great shame to both of them when, in the early evening, they had to go their separate ways. Aurelie had a meeting with another researcher who was helping her procure and assemble some more machinery she needed, and Katrin was expected at a meeting with senior teachers, including a musicologist who it was thought might introduce a new line of study and inquiry within the science building.

As Katrin shrugged into her coat she said: 'Maybe we could go to North Lake tomorrow and take some fresh readings of vortex activity. It would be a nice outing. If you want . . .'

Aurelie looked up into Katrin's eyes. She did not want her to go but understood that they both had obligations. She was aware that Katrin did not want to go either. And so she took a single step towards her. She reached up and cupped the sides of Katrin's face, her fingertips brushing through her jet black hair. Then she stood up on her toes even as Katrin dipped her head; and very gently, very softly, she kissed her just for a moment, brushing her lips against Katrin's. And then she stepped back, and smiled, and let her hands fall to her sides.

Katrin stood still, looking down at her. And they stared at each other, blue eyes looking into green, green into blue, wondering smiles upon their faces.

'Go,' Aurelie said finally, chuckling, pushing her towards the door. 'It's important that you are not late.'


At midday the following day Aurelie and Katrin were out on North Lake, twenty miles from the edge of the city. As they climbed out of the snow-car and unloaded their equipment, Aurelie was deeply aware of the feeling that her whole existence had been fundamentally altered. Though they did not speak much as they shrugged into their packs and adjusted their hoods and mittens, she felt so clearly that Katrin was with her, next to her, a warm and strong presence that filled with a sense of belonging, connection and happiness.

She turned to Katrin, peeking beneath the silvery fur edging of her hood. For a moment she took her hand and squeezed it. Then they turned together to the east, side by side, and set off on the walk to their destination.

An hour later, after reaching the place they had decided on, they dug a hole in the ice and lowered one of their sensors into the freezing water. For fifteen minutes they recorded shifts in crystalline patterns of forming and melting ice far beneath the frozen surface.

'Something strange about these readings,' Aurelie said of a sudden. 'The cycle of freezing and melting is rapidly accelerating.'

Moment later, the vortices formed and struck. As wind suddenly howled about them, and Aurelie stumbled and lost her balance, Katrin grabbed her arm and hauled her back from the hole they had dug. As Aurelie looked up, alarmed and startled, she saw the great swirl of mauve and white light and ice forming with extraordinary speed just a hundred yards or so away from them. It glittered in the grey day but it also glowed from within. Within moments it had become a towering, spinning structure. Three more, even larger vortices were forming beyond it. Pulses of brilliant amethyst light stabbed out from them.

Even as they turned to run, one of the spears of light struck Katrin. She cried out as she was thrown sideways, fetching up in the snow, blinking against temporary blindness. Aurelie helped her back onto her feet, and then they were fleeing the swelling masses of energy, crystals and ice. Both of them knew that they were far too close to escape if the nearest vortex began to move in their direction.

Then, through the thick ice beneath them, there was a cracking and rumbling sound, as deep as thunder. From the sky above, a hissing, whirling roar intensified until it was as if they were standing beneath an immense jet turbine. A flickering of mauve lightning raced across the vault followed by a tremendous boom and reverberation.

When the vortex began to move, it did so at an angle to them but they saw that they would be caught at its edge. As Aurelie ran for all she was worth, she was momentarily aware that Katrin was staying at her side even though she must be a faster runner than her. Seconds later, tendrils of irresistible power, insubstantial as the wind and yet with such force and speed behind them that they could not be fought against, rushed into them and wrapped around them.

Aurelie was aware that she was likely to die. She was even more aware of Katrin being hurled away from her. Moments later a bolt of energy slammed into her back between her shoulder blades. Burning red and violet light exploded about her. With a crushing impact she was thrown into the ice of the lake, that was now buckling and shattering, frothing water surging up from beneath. Pain mixed with confusion and she did not think they would survive this. Even if the vortex did not kill them, they were still miles from the shore, on a lake whose ice was now smashed, their snow-car no doubt wrecked and probably sunk.

As the ice upon which she had been thrown tipped alarmingly, Aurelie struggled to hold on. She felt an appalling agony in her shoulder and left leg. White fire seemed to lance through her head. A moment later she plunged into freezing water. It engulfed her, black and cold, and she barely stopped herself from breathing it in. Looking up, she saw the seething surface above her and it was already very far away, receding as she was dragged down.

And then her existence whited out into nothingness as she collided with a spinning block of ice and received a crushing blow to her head.


The darkness parted but Aurelie's thoughts were incomplete, her perceptions and awareness utterly confused. Pain mixed with anxiety. She wished for oblivion again. She thought she saw Katrin's face close to hers, so pale that it was almost white, contrasting extraordinarily with her brilliant blue eyes and wet black hair. Then she felt movement, strong arms about her, and found herself looking across the splintered ice of the lake. She felt the press of Katrin's body against her and might have smiled at the thought. Then she sank back into nothingness.

Later, coming partially awake again, she felt very peaceful though rather sleepy. She was staring up into a cold blue-mauve sky and wondered what she was doing there. Then Katrin was beside her again, slipping her arms beneath her shoulders and legs and lifting her up. She groaned at a stab of pain and closed her eyes again to welcome once again the nothingness that had become her friend.

After a much longer time she woke to find herself in bed, warm and comfortable but terribly tired. She was not alert enough to try to work out where she might be. She allowed herself to sleep more, to drift in quiet dreams.


Much later Aurelie realised that she was in a hospital room. She looked about her as much as she could without moving her head too much. The ceiling was of whitewashed plaster, shadowy in the dim light from the side of the bed. A scanner was to her right, monitoring her. Beyond them were windows in deep stone frames, but the leaded glass revealed only the darkness of the night. To her left she saw that Katrin was lying upon a couch, her head upon its arm, her chest rising and falling slowly as she slept. She felt relief that she appeared to be all right and a surge of tenderness and warmth towards her.

As she became more alert she more fully realised the extent to which she hurt - how everything hurt. She became aware of the deep ache of her head, the pain that throbbed in her left leg and shoulder. A nagging nausea ate at her. Everything felt wrong.

She lay still, allowing her mind to drift. She could remember only a few confused images and impressions since the vortex had hit them. They seemed dreamlike, unreal, impossible.

After a little while she closed he eyes and slept again.


When Aurelie next woke she found that Katrin was sitting beside the bed, holding her hand. When she looked into her eyes, Katrin smiled a wide smile that persisted. She looked relieved and happy.

'You're back,' Katrin said. 'I knew you would be.'

Aurelie's lips felt cracked when she managed a faint smile in return.

'Here, would you like some water?' Katrin asked, holding out a glass with a straw.

Aurelie nodded and took a sip. Then she said: 'Sit me up a little? My head is hurting.' Her voice was very hoarse.

Katrin pressed the button that made the upper half of the bed tip upwards. She glanced at Aurelie when she groaned from the movement, but Aurelie encouraged her to continue. After a few moments she was half sitting up.

'Thanks. Better.' Aurelie drank the rest of the water while Katrin held the glass for her. She licked her lips. 'May I have some more?'

Katrin nodded, and poured more from a jug. Aurelie was able to hold the glass in her bruised right hand without difficulty, and drained it in a few gulps.

'Are you all right?' Aurelie asked then.

Katrin tilted her head slightly. 'Yes, I'm fine. A few bumps and a cut on my arm. Nothing serious. How are you feeling?'

'Like I got hit by a vortex and smashed through the ice of a lake. My leg, shoulder and head hurt.'

'The leg and shoulder were broken,' Katrin explained. 'Quite serious fractures, but the surgeon said you'll make a full recovery. The energy of the vortex gave you some heavy bruising around your ribs and right leg. I was most worried about the blow to your head. But I can tell now that you'll be fine.' She smiled and laid her hand upon Aurelie's forearm and ran her thumb over her skin, gentle and reassuring.

Aurelie just looked at her for a while, seeing the tenderness and affection in Katrin's regard. 'You saved my life,' she breathed. 'How did you . . . How did we get out of the lake?'

Katrin shrugged. 'I pulled you from the water and then carried you.'

'You didn't go into the water?'

'Well, I had to, to get to you. You'd been pulled quite a long way down. But I think we were a bit fortunate, because a little way away from where you went in, the ice had broken in long shards, forty or fifty feet long. Stepping between them was not that difficult apart from a few jumps. Closer to the vortex's path, the ice was smashed into blocks and it would have been very difficult to get from one to the next.'

Aurelie reached up and entwined her fingers with Katrin's, savouring the touch. She wondered how Katrin could possibly be able to dive into the surging, freezing water, pull her out onto the ice and then carry her off the lake.

'There's a small observation cabin a few miles south from where we were,' Katrin continued. 'So I took you there to get you warmed up. I could only guess how severe your injuries were but it was clear you were suffering from hypothermia. From there I was able to call for help and an air ambulance came to take us into the city.' She fell silent for a while, just gazing at Aurelie. She reached out and brushed her fingers across her cheek. 'I'm so glad you are all right.'

Aurelie was startled then as she saw the glimmer of tears in Katrin's eyes, a liquid shimmering over extraordinary blue. 'You are amazing,' she said, feeling so much emotion welling up within her that she felt quite choked up.

Katrin merely smiled again and laid her head down on Aurelie's good shoulder, her hand still caressing her cheek.



The End


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