The tall man – he said his name was Roger Starling – didn’t look or sound like he was from around here. He had a public school accent and a shock of blonde hair so that he resembled something like a nordic prince out of some old fairy story. I wondered if he might have been in the army – he had that sense of arrogant pride about him. Definitely some kind of uber-mensch, all right. He seemed to be a good talker, and I guessed that anyone who would come to an event like this must have a story to tell, so when he told me he had a flat round here I decided to tag along with him – if nothing else, I might learn a thing or two about the man and this place I’d washed up in.
‘I didn’t bring the Jaguar,’ he said, ‘so we’ll have to walk. Do you mind?’ I didn’t. I might have thought that he was joking – but later realised that he wasn’t.
He ignored the crowd who had stayed drinking in the bar next to the lecture hall, and we took a walk around the toxic lake, poisoned with industrial waste, that seemed to be the town’s main feature. It was good to be out in the cool night air. I wondered if anything could live in it? I must admit, I did imagine I saw dark shapes moving around in the water, enormous and slimy.
The other side of the fetid pond the town fell away, and we crossed a field so that I thought this man, this complete stranger, must be leading me out here to do me in on the bleak moorland, until I saw the lights of the old house in the distance.
‘Here we are.’
Here was a sort of gated community, in which a large old stately home had been broken into luxuriously appointed modern flats, which must have been where anybody with money around here lived. I might have reflected that up here, where they supposedly favoured socialism, everything was just like down south but worse – if I was being unkind. All the talk that I’d often heard from northern friends of ‘principles’ was just that – talk. They had rich and poor here too, and the gap was equally as wide.
The only other human beings I saw on the way out were a couple of women in fur coats, dressed like refugees from some 1950s drama. I wondered why lesbians fetishised this decade when the reality of the period for them would have been repression, yoked to a kitchen sink and forced to choose between marrying for convenience or a spinster’s life.
There had been no sign of Sterling Pons at the shindig. But that was forgotten about for now, as we got inside to the marble floors and classical stone ornaments of the palace.
The man’s flat, by contrast, was cold and industrial: like some warehouse interior that had been converted for a purpose, half-heartedly, but in fact of course it must have been intended like that. I huddled on a pastel sofa staring at he angular nordic glass lampshade on the ceiling while my host fetched drinks from a mini bar at one corner of the room that was well on its way to being a full-grown bar. I wondered out loud why Starling was interested in the Moonchild and its skull, and why he believed that aliens had come to earth – and why he felt that it was important to him?
‘It’s called interventionism,’ he said as he poured the drinks, ‘it’s like the theory of plate tectonics or Wenlock’s discovery of pseudo-crystals. These things were ridiculed by “Scientists” when they were first dreamed up, yet they turned out to exist. There are too many artifacts in human history that can’t be explained by conventional evolutionary theory, going from a simple thing to a complicated one, both in the fossil record and the cyclopean stone monuments left to us from the ancient world.’
‘That’s as maybe,’ I said,’ but what about the Atlantis theory? What if the earth is simply much older than we know? What if other races of human-like beings could have lived here we know nothing about? Oh, I know, the Nazca lines – I think there’s good evidence that some ancient civilisations could have had powered flight – but the DNA tests on the Moonchild skull are inconclusive, at best. From what I heard, they proved that it’s human – ‘
‘But not wholly human. A hybrid, then.’ He handed me the Vodka. ‘It makes sense. All the literature tells us the earliest religions considered humans to be partly divine – I believe that inspiration came from the gods: Alien engineers, by any other definition.’
‘But what if – God forbid – Fripp is wrong, or he’s lying to us?’ I asked. ‘Why do you people always want to bring aliens into everything?’
‘So you’re not one of us,’ said Starling, ‘a true believer?’ He laughed a little. ‘You have to excuse my zealotry. My father – adopted father, I should say – was one of the first men to put any money into research in the field. He was Harry Rubik, the film maker. You might have heard about it in the lecture we just attended. This was his house, once. The rental income derived from this place today goes into continuing his work, according to his vision. Now you see why it matters to me.’
The vodka went straight to my head, and I had already downed several beers before the lecture. Was this why Pons had come here, then? He was going to expose the alien cult and its members’ links to the once-famous film maker in order to sell his book. Or had he perhaps already been co-opted by them, and was even now being forced to tell the twisted story their way?
‘I only came here to look for my friend.’ I groaned. ‘That reminds me. I need to check my emails. He’s supposed to be here, for the conference. I don’t want to miss him if he’s got in contact with me.’
‘Through here,’ my host said, and guided me in to an otherwise bare study room, where there stood a desk and a metal seat: ‘Be my guest.’ A sleek white and silver Mac desktop sat there humming quiet and electrical.
Starling retreated to the other room and let me be, and though I was eager to ask him to tell me more about himself and his connection to old Harry’s bizarre business, I decided to concentrate on making my eyes focus on the screen. At some point someone else must have entered the flat, because I heard voices in the other room, but I was too wrapped up in what I found there in my inbox to go and see who it was out there. What I found went some way towards explaining where Sterling Pons had gone and what he had been doing there…