This second novel consists of four self-contained stories set in different worlds, all of which have the traveller involved to a greater or lesser degree; they are united by their theme of someone who is involved against their will in incidents that create an emotional upheaval or conflict, and are linked by a very short episodic story that serves as a commentary on each episode, as well as closing the traveller’s ‘biography’.
Four children wander at night through the older part of their ancient (yet to us futuristic) city, searching for an antique shop one of the girls has discovered during a history lesson. Once inside, the proprietress is not to be found, but placed near the various toys and models is a machine similar to their own sensory inducers (a form of virtual-reality device that projects experiences directly into the brain), which plays for them a scene of a woman and young girl: this is a very short epilogue to the final chapter of Book One depicting Caroline and Lucy, and the realisation that Leith is dead.
Kyra, the owner of the shop, presents herself to the children and explains the reason for her being in the city is one of quietude and to make use of the complex machinery it contains, but during the discussion she mentions a wonderful festival where the guests spent many weeks delighting in one another’s company, and she plays for them this episode, which like the others is taken directly from her own memories.
Myridium Fair – Part One
An introduction to the characters, and description of the setting for the conflict which takes place in Part Two of the Myridium Fair.
Elena, an enlightened middle-aged woman living in the equivalent of 18’th century Europe, is trapped in a desperately unhappy second marriage. After another meaningless party and a further beating by her husband, she vows to leave the estate that was once hers and venture to the nearby village, even at the risk of her life, but her escape is soon discovered.
Her path leads through a local forest where she encounters an unusual family who, because of their presence, interrupt her flight and place her in greater danger from her pursuers. The strange woman is a healer whose merest touch soothes Elena’s body and cures ancient ills, but her mind is rebelling against what she is witnessing, for the man and boy also have powers far beyond belief. Elena is told they are on their way to a wonderful fair, and she is promised that if she accompanies them someone will be found who can take her to a place of safety, and the chance of a new life.
Despite her understandable fears and reservations, but knowing what awaits her if she remains, Elena accepts, and within minutes has set foot in another forest at the edge of a vast lake. A shining palace of white stone surrounded by tents and pavilions awaits them, and Elena sees many people whom she thought only existed in myths before being officially invited by the organisers of the fair, who inform her its existence is a celebration of life and peace.
Tired but intrigued, the children leave the shop, promising to return the following evening, but when they do, Kyra is not there to greet them; approaching the machine, they attempt to recreate the circumstances leading to the fair, but instead are plunged into another adventure.
Airn, a representative of the Company that operates the elegant train on which he is travelling, is startled to discover amongst its passengers a woman called Phoebe, her partner Zoe, and their daughter Ariadne. The mystery is that Phoebe was known to him by a different name when he was much younger, yet she has not appeared to age in any way, and she in turn recognises him, so he knows he is not mistaken.
During a meal on board, introductions are made, and he learns Phoebe is one of the legendary travellers of whom he has heard only fleeting, awe-inspiring references, but the reunion is interrupted by Phoebe having one of her terribly accurate flashes of precognition, and they know the train will soon be in danger.
Social rebels, dissatisfied with the easy lifestyle available to everyone in the cities and surrounding countryside, have organised their own areas of land which they defend against like-minded people and others curious to see their violent style of life, but as winter is approaching they are in need of supplies, and have decided to ambush the train to steal its contents. Phoebe, wracked by doubts as to what she should do, is aided by Zoe who acts as look-out, but is still uncertain until, once the train has been forced to a halt, her daughter is threatened and she momentarily looses her temper, creating a snow-storm until the train has passed to safety.
Having witnessed this adventure, during which it is learned how much the young witch Lucy had affected the woman who, from Kyra’s point of view, had been her younger self Caroline, the children are shown a short but emotionally violent episode from before the time of the Grand Express, where everything the traveller did was against her will.
Jeanne, a widow living in a 1970’s London with her son who is currently away at school camp, is knocked unconscious by an prying visitor, and kidnapped; when she awakens, it is to find herself in a vast barracks under the control of a clichéd male-dominated military society, whose objectives are to scan all of the parallel worlds and relocate everyone not belonging there. Also incarcerated is Rachel, another traveller, but though she could have left at any time she was waiting for someone like Jeanne to be captured so they could work together, the better to ensure the success of Rachel’s plan.
Easily escaping from the confines of their room, and taking with them the agent who had called on Jeanne, they leave the barracks in a stolen vehicle containing a machine that can force a hole between the parallel worlds and so effect travel by artificial means, and it is now Jeanne realises how coldly she has been used by the vindictive Rachel. Jeanne is vastly more experienced, however, and she transports them to the world where live her teachers and those better situated to deal with the crisis, though as she soon discovers such occurrences are not as rare as she would have hoped.
Though the basis of this story, that of someone being kidnapped by agents of a foreign regime who demand conformity, is a parody of various sci-fi elements where the victim somehow leads a revolt, the discussion at the end of the narrative is of a serious nature, dealing as it does with freedom and its responsibilities.
The children meet after school and slowly make their way towards the antique shop, and as they talk, wonder idly on Kyra’s origins.
Though depicting her distant youth, the next story is not made known to the children, for it is in effect a long ‘out-take’ from the Coming Forward chapter of Book One, expanding on an incident that was only mentioned briefly in a letter from Catherine to Nina and Sally.
The club that has meant so much more than somewhere to work for those performers employed there is having its closing party, but amidst the revelry there arrives a married couple; though in London purely on a business trip, they have decided to make use of the opportunity to seek out their only son, for they have not seen him for some time and he is not living at the address they thought.
Bewildered by the Hallowe’en ball they encounter yet determined not to give up their search, they are pleasantly surprised at the quality of entertainment on offer and inquire of one of the singers, but she evades their questions beyond reassuring them their son is indeed all right, and in fact very happy working there.
The family reunion is interrupted by an unruly guest who has previously caused trouble, and it is then the concerned parents finally meet their son, who had hoped for better circumstances for the reunion.
Reaching the shop to find it empty, the children are disappointed but find a message requesting they watch a certain programme on the city’s inducer system that evening; they return to the elder girl’s residence and to their surprise the programme is introduced by Kyra, who has used the following story as an illustration of a certain type of dilemma regarding free-will and the use of power.
Myridium Fair – Part Two
Elena is tired but happy at the close of her first day at the fair, and as she relaxes is met by a strange yet attractive woman: a seer who, like herself, feels she does not truly belong there. During a short ride, in which time and distance seem to play tricks with them, the seer has a vision, and they return to the palace of white stone in time to witness its destruction.
The fair is soon completely disrupted and shown to be only one part of a colossal, interlocking structure encompassing many artificial planets, but a god, who in truth created some of the people in a bygone age, is upset at not having been invited, and so wreaks his petty revenge. His attempts are soon thwarted by a girl who gradually restores the fair to its previous glory even as she wards direct attacks on herself, but the battle of raw power soon changes to one of concepts as each deity accuses the other of intervention and acting according to their own selfish whims.
Quickly recovering from her fright, Elena becomes annoyed and finds the courage to defy both gods, for each is really no better than the other, and represent obsolete ideals which are no longer necessary to the guests. It is with this realisation that the seer turns the gods’ powers against themselves and successfully banishes them from the fair. As promised earlier, Elena is introduced to a traveller, who agrees to find for her a new home.
Kyra visits the children and says it is time for her to leave, as the reason for her being in the city is now at an end: she has finished recording her memories into the machines. This was necessary because she has reached a level of power which leads to a new state of existence, and with a gift of the episodes of her life witnessed by the children, she departs.
After her final transformation, the being that was Kyra sees the myriads of alternative universes for what they truly are and passes between them, delighting in her new life and all that is before her.