Moose was content to follow the women’s guidance for the time being, but he kept his eyes open and gathered as much information as he could. It seemed that The Town and The City and The Hamlet were the only place names they had. No community had a proper name. The people seemed real enough, although Majel, the housekeeper at Marie’s Petit Trianon was obviously an artificial intelligence.
It was surreal, travelling through The Hamlet. He’d visited the… “other” version several times in his childhood. Versailles was one of his grandmother’s favorite places. She told the most elaborate family legend about how Louis XVI and Marie Antionette spirited away one of their sons, telling everyone that the boy had been sick and died.
The family legend said that they were descended from this exiled prince.
Moose had watched Marie kneel at the tomb of her husband, a tomb the “real” Marie would never have been able to visit. Actually, there were many things about Saint Denis itself that were impossible. There were many more rooms and corridors twining around and through the structure than existed in any cathedral he’d ever visited. At first, he’d thought that perhaps he’d misjudged the building from the outside, and the corridors extended into the nearby buildings. But after exploring just a few rooms in the Petit Trianon he knew the building was much larger inside than it was outside. He had no idea what kind of technology could do such a thing. Questioning Majel didn’t help. She was great at household stuff like schedules and housing, but if his questions were too complicated she just spoke in double talk or resorted to “Oh, don’t you worry about that.”
“So…” Nyota said, standing in the empty living room of what they’d told him would be his home. They’d already seen Galen’s home, just a stone’s throw away, and now all of them were standing in Moose’s home, looking at each other as if no one could decide what to do next.
Of course, Majel simply beamed smiles at them, as if she was perfectly happy with everything.
Marie looked up at him and gave him her best official smile. It was a genuine smile, but instead of coming from her own happiness, it came from her desire to put him as ease.
He was most definitely not at ease, especially not around her.
“Moose!” said Lark, then she gurgled happily as if his name was particularly funny. Sophie smiled at the other little girl, then looked at him at repeated “Mooo!”
He couldn’t help but smile. But for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what they expected him to do next. “Uh, well, this is very nice, thank you.”
“If you’d like some company when you go into The City to choose furniture, I’d be happy to go with you.” said Marie, beaming.
Moose noted that Nyota looked very surprised at this suggestion, but he had no idea why. He did know that he needed to stay close to Marie.
“So, Moose, has anything come to mind that you’d like to do? Some kind of occupation you’ve always wanted to try?” asked Nyota.
“Or a pull towards anything in particular?” asked Marie.
Just towards you…
“No… not really.” Moose scratched his head. He normally buzzed his hair every morning, and it was starting to feel scraggly. He was also in desperate need of a shave.
“Oh…” said Nyota. Marie’s mouth formed the same syllable, but she didn’t utter the sound, letting Nyota speak for them both instead. The four adults and one AI stood there for several long, awkward moments, not knowing what to do next.
Galen broke the silence. “I for one would like to explore some. I’d like to know more about our surroundings. Maybe a walk before dinner?”
Majel spoke up at the mention of dinner. “Shall the four of you dine together at the Trianon? Or would you prefer to dine alone?”
He couldn’t read Nyota, but Marie’s eyes were begging him to come. He and Galen both agreed that they would love to join the women.
Leaving his space suit behind was a huge decision. It was not only his only link to his past, but it was valuable. It still functioned, even though there was no reason to wear it while walking through the gardens of Versailles.
“Is the palace of Versailles here?” he asked suddenly.
Marie shook her head. “No, not the Palace. Just The Hamlet, and it is significantly different from the hamlet I knew. And The City is definitely not Paris, although Saint Denis is there.”
Galen was already out the door, so the rest of them followed him. Nyota hurried to catch up to him, pointing out where various other denizens lived and telling him about what kinds of lives they had been creating. He almost tripped over the little girls, and then Lark craned her neck back to look way up at him and stretched her arms skyward, pleading “UP!” He glanced at Marie, who nodded, then he scooped up the toddler and balanced her on his shoulders. Marie picked up Sophie, and they followed Galen and Nyota.
Eventually they came to a high point with a small lookout tower. From the top, they could look across farmlands and meadows in the valley below them. In the distance was a huge castle. It was Amber in color, and impossibly tall.
“It’s pretty today…” Marie was saying.
But Moose only half heard her comments, and Nyota’s explanation of how the structure looked different every day.
Out of the clouds above The Castle he’d spotted the unmistakable outline of a shuttle. It dropped in quickly, then hovered, as if waiting for clearance. Then it moved more sedately towards The Castle’s towers, and was soon engulfed within the structure.
There had to be answers at the castle.
What Would Have Been
- Chapter One: Epitaph for a King
- Chapter Two: Nyota
- Deleted Scene from Chapter Three: Flavor
- Chapter Three: Trianon
- Chapter Four: Hamlet
- Chapter Five: The Miller’s House
- Chapter Six: The Bell Tolls for Thee
- Chapter Seven: Galen
- Interview With Ulysees “Moose” Umbra
- Chapter Eight: Moose
- Chapter Nine: Found
- Chapter Ten: Together
- Chapter Eleven: Getting to Know You
- Chapter Twelve: One is Silver and the Other Gold
- Chapter Thirteen: An Old Old Friend
- Chapter Fourteen: Oldest and Youngest
- Chapter Fifteen: The Return to the Crypt
- Chapter Sixteen: Next
- Chapter Seventeen: Do What You’re Told
What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!
This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.
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