Arc of Time

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(Image provided by Nina Munteanu)

—I-net correspondence

from:     F. Y. Benoit, Ph.D.,Paris, France

to:     Dr. F. Wolke, Bonn, Germany

September 6, 2096

Dearest Friedrich,

I missed you at the World Sustainable Environment Congress in London last week. Where were you? I thought you were going to come? You should have heard Dante Sarpé. He captivated the congress right from the start with an introductory quote from the 20th Century social ecologist, Aldo Leopold: “Ecosystems are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think.” Describing the grave environmental calamity facing us as a symptom, Dante challenged our present paradigms and values to achieve peace and harmony. He submitted that our insatiable thirst for knowledge reflected unease with ourselves and a lack of partnership with our world.

He moved me with his parting words, Friedrich: “The branch of the tree cannot bear fruit of itself. Without compassion to fill it, knowledge is an empty house, casting its shadow on our courage to embrace the paradoxes in our lives: to feel love in the face of adversity; grace when confronted with betrayal.”

The conference was very well attended. Over 3,000 scientists and socio-economists came from all over the world. I wished you’d come, Friedrich. I drank my coffee alone, longing for your stimulating company.


Françoise Yvette


A breeze braced the boy as he scrambled up the mountain. When he reached the old woman’s hut at the summit, he shielded his eyes against the sun and saw her, stepping with fluid movements in some meditative exercise. He crept closer and watched from a distance as Da’at performed her graceful dance, limbs coiling and slithering to an inner rhythm.

After completing a full turn, she pulled her rags about her and faced the boy with a nod.

He stepped forward. “What were you doing, Mama?” he asked. Da’at was not his mother, but she had looked after him since before he could remember. She always called him her blue-eyed chosen one.

“They will call it Tai Chi Chuan,” she said in a deep voice, easing herself to the ground and crossing her legs. “It is an exercise of the will, mind, and body toward the Way of Nature. Something you must learn, boy.”

“It was beautiful.” The boy squatted beside her and looked into her green eyes. Her motions had reminded him of the elegance of the cormorant and the spring of the furry Purgatorius.

“The purpose of the movements is to transfer the Chi, or the intrinsic energy, to the Shen, or spirit, by using inner rather than outer force.” She trained her gaze to the bright sun and her eyes sparkled like emeralds. “It brings me closer to my eternal love who dwells now only on the shafts of light and the whisper of the wind.”

The boy tilted his head and squinted, trying to grasp the meaning of her strange words. She often spoke cryptically, expecting him to understand.

Da’at turned to the boy. “If you practice Tai Chilong enough and execute it properly, you will become reconnected with the unity of everything, including the fourth dimension.”

“What is the fourth dimension?”

Da’at smiled wearily. “Time, my chosen one.”

The worn lines of her masculine face resembled weathered rock. She had always looked old yet she never seemed to age. “Is that why you can see into the future?” the boy asked, rocking on the balls of his feet.

She folded her arms on her knees and her thick brows knit together. “Future? What is that?” Before he could respond, she added, “You have much to learn about time and space, boy. Do you think we inhabit one place and one time? Our universe is not only more complex than you think; it is more complex than you can think.”

A dove flew overhead. Da’at gazed up at the bird and raised her hands in supplication. “My Shekhinah, I sense your presence here. How will my chosen one acquire wisdom when you elude us like the shifting wind?”

Reminded of why he’d come, the boy moved onto his knees and leaned forward. He focused on the dark hairs on Da’at’s chin and, taking a deep breath, he said, “While I was napping in the forest, I had a strange dream. About a faraway place unlike any I’ve seen. Full of huts taller than the Gingko trees and so many people like me, crowded inside them like ants.”

Da’at nodded to herself. “The dove has spoken to you.”


—I-net correspondence

from:     F. Wolke, Ph.D., IMA, Bonn, Germany

to:        Dr. F. Y. Benoit, Paris, France

September 15, 2096,

Dear Françoise Yvette,

I regret not seeing you at the WSE Congress. I have a favor to beg of you, mein Schatz. You must conduct some discreet research for me on Sarpé. His seminar at the WSE Congress proves my suspicions of some self-serving motive to his messianic leadership of our foundation. I know what you will say: that he’s considered a genius and a visionary by his peers and members of the traditional scientific community. He’s a hypocrite! No one’s that altruistic! That Teufel snake is up to something. He’s using the foundation for some personal mission that he isn’t sharing with the rest of us.  Why indulge the simpletons of the world with the philosophy of our new prototype society? God forbid he intends to include them! I don’t trust him, Françoise. There’s something strange about that effeminate man. I know too little about him and his history. See what you can find and forward it to me with haste.

Alles Liebe,



“I dreamt of a huge hut that rose into the sky and glinted in the sun,” said the boy. “Inside, it was crowded with people like me and you — none of those hairy ones who cannot speak. There were smooth tables and chairs made of strange material. And strange colored objects. I was there. I was one of the people! What does it mean, Mama?”

“You have dreamt about your destiny and your past.”

“My destiny?” The boy looked down and picked at the purple Calluna bush beside him. “But I want to stay here with you, in the forest and on this mountain. Safe from—”

“And renounce your destiny?” Her voice slit the wind. “You have a gift for seeing, boy. You must develop it. That is how others like you will learn.” Da’at pressed his shoulder with a firm hand. “Come, my angel, soon it will be time to become a man. I cannot complete your training by myself. That is why you must heed the dreams sent to you. Look for their messages in the wind that stirs the trees and in the shafts of light that filter through the forest.”

The boy leaned forward, “The dreams, then, are real?

“They will be,” she said, smiling wistfully. “What else do you remember?”

He squinted his eyes and gazed over the blue mist of the Ginkgo forest, focusing on his dream. “An old man with a sad face who was kind to me. I called him Father.”


—I-net correspondence

from:     F. Y. Benoit, Ph.D., Paris, France

to:        Dr. F. Wolke, Bonn, Germany

October 2, 2096,

Dearest Friedrich,

As requested, here is the information I was able to obtain on the subject of our mutual interest. I now find Dante even more fascinating than before and am convinced of his genius and visionary abilities. So, rather than focusing on negatives, I suggest we consider how my gift in empathy and yours in telekinesis can be used to further Dante’s International Research Foundation in Parapsychology. Having said this, I agree with you that much about him remains a mystery. Here are the facts I managed to find:

He has no birth record and no medical records. He first “appears” in 2049, when he registered at l’Université de Lyons. Dante Sarpé was a brilliant student. He received an honors degree with distinction and pursued his masters in ecology there, then he obtained his Ph.D. in physics and genetics at the University of California Berkeley. He became a post-doctoral fellow at the University of London and continued studies in ecology, psychology and animal physiology. Then the Institute of Vision offered Sarpé a position as researcher and associate professor in energy mastery and vision psychology. That’s where he met his significant other, Apollonia Buto. She taught paleo-ecology there at the time and together they wrote several papers on the medicinal properties of the prehistoric passion flower, Passiflora. In 2074 they co-founded the IRFP and the rest I think you know.

I tried to find out more about his earlier years but came up with nothing, as if he had suddenly appeared from nowhere. I also found a curious bit of nothing, Friedrich. In my attempts to discover more about him, I scanned his picture into my database. It was then that I made the odd discovery of his “doubles”. Two of them, a woman and a man. Their resemblance is striking! The woman, Datinella Snok, lived in the late 20th Century in the United States and the man, Dato Slangéka, in 19th century Russia.

Out of female curiosity, I suppose, I checked up on Apollonia Buto. Would you believe that she, too, appears from nowhere? Here is the most curious bit — she also has identical counterparts: a man, Anthony Orm, who lived in the late 20th Century in England and a woman, Antonia Kigyo, in 19th century Hungary. This piqued my curiosity as a geneticist. Do you know the odds of this sort of thing? They are astronomical and worth investigation. I include all six images at the end of this file.

When do you come for a visit? I long for your company. Do you remember the International Vision Conference last year? The IVC this November is held in Oslo. I’m presenting a paper on the genetics of dreams. Meet me!




Da’at sighed. “That old man in your dream created a ship that crossed time and space. The one you flew in when you were too young to remember.”

The boy followed Da’at’s gaze to the volcanic mountains that rose like fisted warriors in the distance.

“The foolish old man thought that he could instill pure light in mortals and begin again,” she said. “His eternal mate warned him against it. Mortals are not meant to travel as we do.”

She gave him too many riddles; he decided to start with the old man. “What happened to the old man, Da’at? And those who flew with him, like me?”


—I-net correspondence

from:     F. Y. Benoit, Ph.D., Paris, France

to:      Dr. F. Wolke, Bonn, Germany

January 7, 2097

Dearest Friedrich,

I enjoyed your company at the IVC in Oslo and savor our delicious speculations about Sarpé and Buto during our extended coffee breaks.

I have incredible news! Anxious for some answers, I took your suggestion, Friedrich, and sought Dr. Buto while I was in London to teach my workshop on Evolutionary Genetics at the Institute of Vision. She was there to speak with Prime Minister Smythe about the cadmium deficiency syndrome that is reaching pandemic proportions throughout the world. I managed to surreptitiously obtain a tissue sample by rubbing against her with a micro-sampler. I gave it to Gordon for analysis and he soon called me to his lab, eager to know where the sample was from.

Friedrich, she’s not human! Her unique DNA more closely resembles a reptile. Genetically, she is also neither female or male, but both! I immediately thought of her doubles and my imagination reeled at the possibilities. With some alarm I feel these events playing out for me like a déja vu. I fear Dante is like her. But what exactly is that? Friedrich, what does this mean? What have we uncovered? I fear we have bitten off more than we can chew.




Da’at’s lips curled into a bitter half-smile. “Only you and another survived.”


“I was the old man.”

The boy stared at Da’at. “You!”

“I once had an eternal mate, one like me. Bound through soul, spirit and flesh, we sailed the waves of time and space. We came here long ago to help the chosen ones. But, because you only look forward, we were soon forgotten, except in myth and legend, and the chosen ones grew irreverent. When she was destroyed, I became trapped in this space, able only to move in time. Shortly after arriving here with you I became as I am now.”

The boy wrinkled his nose. Why did she always speak in riddles? “But you’re not a man!”

“Neither am I a woman,” she said and blurred for a moment. He blinked and she became solid again.


—I-net correspondence

from:     F. Y. Benoit, Ph.D., Paris, France

to:        Dr. F. Wolke, Bonn, Germany

March 9, 2097

Dearest Friedrich,

I have incredible news. We were right, Friedrich. After much hesitation I finally processed the tissue sample I secretly got from Dante. Here is why: I was so clumsy about it I was sure he knew what I’d done, Friedrich. Can you imagine my humiliation? In the collision, he scratched me and I stumbled to the ground and almost dropped the micro-sampler. But after studying my face – I blushed with shame – it was he who apologized. He said, as he helped me to my feet, “I’m so sorry. I did not mean to make you fall.” Then he smiled in a fatherly way and went his way. Anyway, I found that his DNA complemented Apollonia’s.

I imagine these hermaphrodites are shape-shifters who live for very long periods of time (those doubles comprise at least 300 years!), switching sexes with one another in some kind of biological renewal every century or so. Since there is no photographic technology prior to the 18th Century, we can only speculate on the true age of these creatures. What do you make of it, Friedrich? You have been so silent since we last saw one another.

Why don’t you respond to my messages? You don’t return my calls. Are you annoyed with me for hesitating on processing Dante’s tissue sample? Perhaps now that I have, you will answer. Or are you just too busy making arrangements with those chosen for the journey in Dante’s ship? I’m still disappointed that I did not make the “cut” (I’d hoped you would have vouched for my talents as an empath, yourself being one of Dante’s favored ones). Anyway, I will patiently await your return. I hope you find a safe haven for us to begin again.

By the way, did you hear about Apollonia’s freakish accident? A tube-car slipped off its track and collided into her. She was killed instantly. They suspect the car was tampered with but can not determine how. Weren’t you and Dante in London that day to discuss logistics for your travel plans? You must have just missed her. I’m sure Dante is devastated by the news.




Da’at gazed into the distance with sad eyes. Smoke the color of carbon coiled up from a distant volcano. “I made a grave mistake. I replaced the substance of my eternal mate with a mockery. Mistook artificial for genuine light. Then a rage overcame me for it. It is for this reason that you are here in this new world, come from the clouds. Why you grew up with only wild animals and a foolish old crone to keep you company.”

She folded her arm around the boy and drew his head near hers. The boy leant against her rough body and felt her shake with silent sobs.


—I-net correspondence

from:     F. Y. Benoit, Ph.D., Paris, France

to:        Dr. F. Wolke, Bonn, Germany

February 10, 2098

Dear Friedrich,

Your cold silence has sealed my conviction of your deceit and self-serving motives. You’ve used my friendship. And once you got what you wanted, you discarded me.

Trifle with me if you like. Since my discovery of Apollonia’s and Dante’s interesting other-worldly heritage, I investigated you as well. I discovered that during Dante’s time of grieving over his mate’s untimely death, you’d gathered many supporters among the journeying IRFP who share your elitist vision, including a young woman whom you’ve made pregnant.

I submit that you killed Dante’s Apollonia with your telekinetic powers — probably to unbalance him and subvert his power. I further submit that you intend to seize his leadership in the IRFP by exposing his alien origin once you arrive at the new world he spoke of.

You don’t intend to return for the rest of us like Dante promised, do you, Friedrich? You plan to remain there to lead your own elite cadre while we rot here in the pestilence of humankind’s death throws. Leave us here, then, to face apocalypse. I stand ready, and an inexplicable peace fills me. Heaven help you find peace where you flee. For all your superior gifts, you are still, like me, only humanet enfin je te pardon.

Salut, mon ami,

Françoise Yvette Benoit.


Da’at placed her large hand on the boy’s head and unfurled her slender body. She stood up and stretched her sinewy body toward the sky. “You have worked hard, tending this beautiful garden, gathering my knowledge. It’s time I revealed myself to you.” Her head drooped and her shape hunkered into a ball.

Da’at’s hoary form vibrated, then blurred. The boy scrambled to his feet. Parched skin transformed into overlapping scales.  The boy stared with pounding heart as the old woman’s hunched form uncoiled and rose into a monstrous shape. He shrank back and drew in his breath. The giant serpent reared its head high above him and hissed.

“Don’t be afraid, child,” said the serpent. “I am still your dear Mama.”

The boy studied the creature and his fear slipped away. The creature sounded like Da’at and the boy recognized the kind old woman’s eyes peering directly into his.

“This is my true form,” said the snake-creature, bowing its head. “Can you still love something as hideous as this?”

“But you are still my Da’at who’s been so kind to me, so good.”

“Yes, I am good,” the serpent said. “But without my guiding light I have become dangerous. When I discovered that my favored disciple betrayed me, I destroyed him in anger and all those who followed him.” The snake-creature coiled and uncoiled its form. “Only you survived, my chosen one, plucked like an angel from the darkest cloud. Wolke’s gifted son. Then, with blood-stained hands I fashioned, from your genetic material and another’s, a woman so that you may complete your journey. Alas, I shall eternally long for that which completes me.”

The creature wept. The boy swallowed down his own sadness and sensed the creature’s pain and loneliness. Like the old man in his dream, Da’at had always looked sad. “Don’t be sad, Mama.” Instinctively, the boy reached out and touched the scaly form. He longed to quell her sorrow. “You’ve taken care of me all these years and taught me so much. I’ll stay with you.”

The snake’s head bowed close to his. “Your destiny lies elsewhere, boy. Deep in the forest lives a girl of your kind with whom you will create a new race. For she is also bone from your bones, flesh from your flesh. Her “mother” was a compassionate and beautiful, though somewhat overly curious, woman who should have joined us on the arc. Alas, my traitor told me she did not wish to make the journey and I believed him. But, by happenstance I had earlier obtained her genetic material from a sample of her skin I got when she, out of scientific curiosity, purposely collided into me with a micro-sampler. So, I mingled her essence with yours.  It is no surprise that the girl is intelligent, beautiful and full of light.” Da’at leaned back in silence to look him over. “Now, boy, it’s time for you to live a man’s life and take a man’s name.”

The boy blinked, unsure of himself and a little afraid. “What’s the girl’s name?”

“Like you she has no name yet. Her “mother’s” name was Françoise Yvette Benoit. I imagine the girl may fashion hers from that.”

This story first appeared in Armchair Aesthete.
Edited by Marie Ginga.


NINA MUNTEANU is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit Nina Munteanu for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water" was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book "Water Is…" by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.