2050 Version 1.9

Picture: Samantha Kretschmann

I lie here on a precipice between the land and the sea with nothing to do but wonder how I got here. Since I was young I have steadily steered my life in one direction, until a few months ago when I suddenly stopped and turned the wheel around. Is that why I’m here? Should I have just stuck to my original course? I knew it was a risky move, but one thing has been constant: I have always followed my own path and not the one expected of me. I suppose this is where it has brought me. Maybe I’ve been wrong.

I have to think clearly. Possibly someone will notice I’m missing, but I’m afraid it might take some time. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going and I have nowhere to be for a few days. The audition is not until next week. Surely though, if I walked up here, others must also come to this place sometimes? I have no way to signal for help, but if I hear anyone I can yell out. Or maybe someone in a boat will see me from the water. It’s going to be okay, I tell myself.

If I do get out of this alive, I should probably rethink my choices and start to use my head more. Perhaps my instinct is not always right. Even as I think this, I know the thought is futile. I know myself and I know that I can’t help but listen to what’s in my heart. Ling is in my heart.

From the first instant I saw the hologram baby, I was enraptured. She was so tiny and sweet, with healthy-looking limbs, wispy black hair and gorgeous Asian eyes. The famous sign around her neck twisted as she writhed around, but of course the words were recorded for history:

“My name is Ling. I live in 2100, and my hologram has been sent to 2025 as a warning. The decisions you make now will affect my life. I hope that seeing the outcomes of your choices will help you to choose wisely.”

As with so many others of my generation, I became obsessed with watching Ling. I knew every freckle on her olive skin and every expression of her cherished face. She filled me with wonder and even reverence, although my parents tried to discourage it. They loved Ling as well, but in more of a practical way because she represented hope for the future. I loved her as a heroine or a pop star, and that made them nervous. My mother tried to explain it to me.

“Ruby, Ling is not a real person for you. It is unlikely you will even be alive when she is born. The best thing you can do for her is to focus on your school-work and gain the skills and knowledge to make the best world possible for her to live in. That’s why her hologram was sent here, not so that you can worship her like a god.”

But I was twelve and I was a fanatic. I was not the only one; there were many of us, including plenty of adults. I had posters of her on my wall, alongside the actual pop stars. I read all the theories and opinions about her and her world and I watched her whenever I could. Her movements were televised worldwide twenty-four hours a day. The coverage started from the shopping centre in Hong Kong where her image had first appeared, and as she started to crawl and then walk, a camera crew followed the hologram wherever it went. This was not always easy, but her fans demanded it.

We watched her teeth come, her colds and her first words. We weren’t sure what they were, because of course we couldn’t hear them, but there was much speculation amongst lip-reading experts that she was speaking English. Fortunately for me this turned out to be true, otherwise I would have had to spend some considerable time learning Cantonese.

Naturally, nobody could interact with Ling and we never saw her mother or any other people or objects from her world. We watched her eat, but we could not see the food. Eventually we grew familiar with her strange solo mimes and we became adept at interpreting these performances. Impassioned debates were waged about what kind of toy she had been holding yesterday, or to whom she had been talking on Monday morning.

In her fourth year, it became apparent that something was going wrong in Ling’s world. She began to cry far more often and frequently appeared to cower and defend herself against some kind of attack. She also seemed to be eating less and started to lose weight. I was distraught. How could we help her if we did not know the problem? The media discussions began to address the fact that although the world was enthralled with Ling, up until now her presence seemed to have had zero effect on any big decisions being made in our societies. If the people of the future had hoped that Ling would inspire fairer, kinder, more responsible civilisations, the experiment was so far a failure. 

Greed, ignorance and fear were still the dominating forces in most countries around the world.

The other debate was over whether trying to changing our present world could actually have any effect on Ling’s world anyway. She was already here as a hologram, so didn’t that mean the future was set, destiny was sealed and whatever we did now was what fate had decided for us? That was an impossible question to answer, although many people tried. Some said that if people from the future had thought Ling could make a difference, they must have known something we don’t. They must have believed that their present could be changed by the decisions of the past, otherwise why send her? Others thought that was ridiculous. The complexity of that question was too much for me, but if there was even a tiny possibility I could do anything for my Ling I was willing to give it a try.

By this time I was sixteen, and although I was still in love with the precious toddler, my fixation had become a little less all-encompassing. I was an avid music fan and I was also trying to concentrate more on my studies, mainly to placate my parents. However, now I understood that they were right about one thing. She was not here to be adored. She was here to be helped and I was not going to stand by and let her suffer. After ranting at my schoolmates for a while, five of us decided to start an organisation called, “A Fairer World for Ling”. Our campaigns included, but were not limited to: ending war; preventing poverty; protecting all life; and stopping police brutality. Somehow, I was going to protect my hologram baby.

In the beginning the organisation was mainly occupied with school-yard discussions, in which we vehemently agreed with each other. Next came online petitions, Internet memes, speeches in school assembly and attending marches and rallies. We made a banner and attracted a few new members. Soon, we spoke at the rallies ourselves and did some radio and web interviews. The media liked us. We were not the only group that had formed to help Ling, but we were possibly the youngest.

Now my parents were unquestionably proud. I was following in their social-change footsteps and they had many ideas and plenty of advice. They thought we should hang a big banner from a bridge or try to block a coal train. I told them these methods were outdated and ineffective, which may have been true, but they also sounded a little scary to me. Despite my devotion to Ling, I had never considered getting arrested or hurt for her before. Others were not so timid and a wave of activism started to swell around the world. It was not too long before our little group became caught in this uprising, and we realised creating a fair and healthy world was worth a few risks and a little sacrifice.

When our government bowed to pressure from the airlines and oil companies and finally decided to close interstate passenger rail services, many of us were outraged. Apart from increasing carbon dioxide emissions and further threatening our environment, it would of course make life harder for those with less money and even easier for a few obscenely wealthy airline tycoons and oil magnates. Our frustration reached a tipping point and we broke in through the back fence of Coolangatta airport and used bicycle locks to attach ourselves and our banner onto an aeroplane. As the policeman cut into the lock on my neck with his angle grinder, I thought of Ling’s skinny body and felt incredibly sad, but for the first time I could remember, in no way conflicted about my course of action. I knew this was what had to be done.

The course of my life had been set.

There is no doubt that Ling has changed our world and our world has changed Ling, although nobody fully understands the way in which this has worked. After her difficult early years, things started to get better for her when she was around eight, at the same time as there was a breakthrough in political vision in our own time. As many leaders started to be more far-sighted, Ling became a thriving and cheerful child for a couple of years, until the Chinese war broke out, and suddenly she was emaciated, sullen and dressed in rags. The pressure on the Chinese government, from both inside and outside the country, eventually and remarkably succeeded. They peacefully retreated from Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Japan. Almost overnight, Ling appeared as a healthy, well-dressed girl on the verge of puberty. Later things turned ugly again and she even seemed to be dying of malaria, until another positive turnaround in her late teens.

My beloved hologram had proven to be an instant marker for the direction in which our civilisations were headed. You might think (I certainly assumed) that this would quickly solve society’s problems. If the outcome was there in front of your face, how could you not make the right decision? But it wasn’t that simple. Many people still managed to deny all the evidence and continued to act out of short-term self-interest. Even with the personification of the future on all our television screens, there were always those who refused to acknowledge that the world had to change, or just didn’t care. Still, those of us with open eyes were very determined and gradually situations improved in most societies around the world. With increasing frequency, political decisions began to benefit the common good instead of large corporations or wealthy mates.

“A Fairer World for Ling” achieved many victories and became a major lobby group in the south-east Asian region. The world seemed to be generally on the right track. A few months ago, when Australia announced it would finally cease all fossil fuel extraction, I had the feeling a chapter was closing. Ling was always central to my life. My first consideration was always, what would Ling think or how might this influence Ling? She had become an elegant and seemingly gentle but strong woman of twenty-five and I believed it was time to let go of her a little, although I knew she would always remain important to me. The hologram was slowly achieving its purpose and I had played my part in the plan. Now that I was approaching forty, I was tired of the constant struggle. It was getting more difficult to keep smiling as I fought the same battles over and over again. After over twenty years in the organisation’s core team, I decided to take a break from social change work and pursue other interests.

It was time to leave activism behind and embark on a new life.

After lying in a hammock for a week, I took a part-time job in a bar, and started to learn the bass guitar. Music was my only real interest apart from changing the world. I discovered people outside the organisation were quite different. For one thing, nobody knew me and they did not treat me with the same automatic respect and deference that I guess I’d become used to. That was a good thing. It would stop me becoming complacent and force me to prove myself on new bases. Also, people were generally more relaxed, and talked about trivial things which I knew nothing about, such as sport or movie stars. Sometimes they did things which would scandalise my former colleagues. They didn’t recycle properly or used violent language, and I realised I had to suppress my judgemental reflexes sometimes. I was pleasantly surprised however, that just like those within the organisation, the people I met generally seemed to act for the common good rather than individual gain. I guessed that was Ling’s influence. My life was changing, but I felt the thread running through it. I practised my guitar diligently, and when I thought I was good enough, the local band I chose to try out for was called “The Voice of Ling”. It was not so easy to turn my back on a lifelong passion after all.

The audition was coming up, but I decided I needed a day off from my finger exercises. I packed some water and fruit and set off to explore a national park near the beach where I live. Probably the biggest and best difference I’d noticed since leaving the organisation, was the pace of my days. I now had time to daydream, do puzzles and take long walks. My mind was calm and slow. The sun warmed my back as I followed the rough track along the edge of the cliff face. The air was cool and the trees were full of tiny birds. I was so immersed in the flow of nature around me, that I ignored the signs about unstable land and ventured to the edge of the cliff to admire the bay.

Of course it collapsed beneath me! How could I be so careless? I must have let my mind slow down too much! Now my ankle is bleeding and I’m stuck alone on this hidden ledge with no phone coverage. It’s a miracle I’m alive and at least I have a few provisions, but why didn’t I just stay at home today? Or at least heed the signs! One thing I know is that if I was still in the organisation, I wouldn’t have had time for bush-walking, so I definitely wouldn’t be stuck here now. Is this a sign that I’m on the wrong path, or is there some enigmatic purpose for my being here? Or am I about to die for a meaningless coincidence of bad luck and stupidity. No. I won’t let that happen.

The sun has now dropped behind the hills to the west and there’s still no sign of human life. It’s going to be chilly tonight, but I’m determined to survive. There is nothing I can do but try to rest and hope for rescue tomorrow. I clip my backpack around my waist and attach a lanyard from the bag to a tree. It might stop me from moving around too much in my sleep. I won’t give up.

I sleep a little, but this ledge is very narrow and my ankle throbs. In the morning I manage to get into a half-standing position, to see if there might be any way to climb out of here and also to stretch my muscles. Even without this injury, escape seems impossible. Perhaps, as a last resort, I could try to climb down, but it looks very dangerous. I have enough water for one or two more days and I must focus on the hope that someone will find me today.

I sit and stare at the waves crashing on the rocks until I am hypnotised and accidentally doze off again. When I wake, I worry that I may have missed hearing rescuers in my stupor and I spend several minutes shouting and screaming as loud as I can. At least it releases some tension. I’m hungry and thirsty and my limbs are stiff and cramped, but the pain in my ankle is a little less. Other reasons to be thankful: it’s winter, so not too hot; I didn’t die straight away when I fell; I have time to think about my life path; it’s beautiful here; I will be rescued today; I’ll have a good story to tell later.

In spite of this desperate list, the day on the ledge passes very slowly. It takes all my effort to stay optimistic, at least on a superficial level, while panic quietly stirs a deeper layer of my mind. I watch the sea and try not to think about anything. By dusk my water is finished and I mentally prepare for another long, cold, uncomfortable night.

As I attempt to arrange my legs in a different position, I hear something in the bush above me. It sounds large- either human or wallaby. I scream, “Help! I’m here!” in a croaky whisper at first, but louder and louder every time I repeat it. I see torchlight on the rocks about fifty metres away from me and yell with all my grateful heart. All I can think is,

“They are going to save me. I’m not going to die!”

At last the light shines straight in my eyes, but I can’t stop myself from waving and yelling.

A strong, male voice tells me to be calm, I am going to be fine and they will take me home and eventually I compose myself. I stay quiet while they rig climbing lines, which seems to take forever. Finally a dark figure appears over the edge of the cliff and slowly descends to my ledge. He turns his head lamp off so as not to blind me and asks me how I am. I tell him I’m okay and very glad to see him. He has a large, reassuring body and eyes that looked completely black in the dim light. He says his name is Victor. I reply, “I’m Ruby Copetti.”

“I know,” he says.

Out of his backpack he produces an extra harness and the tail end of the second climbing line he has brought down with him. It’s not easy getting into the harness on the small rock platform that has become my home, but Victor makes sure I don’t fall. He attaches the line to my chest ascender and my harness to his and we inch our way to the top of the cliff. In my activist life I have hung my share of banners, so I know how to climb a rope but with my injury and exhaustion, Victor still has to do most of the work. I reach out for balance and grab a loose rock. A couple of small pieces break off and crash onto the beach beneath us, but I am too thankful to be scared.

When we reach the top, another man and woman help us over the edge and then we stand regarding each other, Victor breathing heavily and the rest of us struck dumb. After nearly a minute the woman breaks the silence by saying seriously, “Ruby, we’ve got something to tell you.”

Her tone makes me nervous. “Okay?”

“Ling told us to save you.” This is most definitely not what I expected to hear. I am dizzy and my ankle hurts, so I lean on Victor. She continues, “The hologram totally disappeared for about ten minutes, then she came back in sharp focus again and she had a sign on her shirt saying ‘Ruby Copetti is stuck on a cliff ledge in Broken Head, New South Wales, Australia and she must be rescued within the next two days’.”

“What?!” I can’t take it in. It’s just too weird.

“So you don’t know why it happened?”

“No. I don’t understand. I don’t….” I can’t think of what to say. Luckily Victor breaks in and says we should talk about it later and they should get me out of here to look at my injury, so we make our painful way out through the bush to the car park. There, they clean and bandage my ankle and take me back home in their van. I eat, sleep a long time and wake and still, I’m no less stunned by what the woman said.

Later that day I am visited by a man in some kind of official uniform. I forget his name immediately. He tells me that the note on Ling was not televised and only a few people know about it. He says that if I have no idea what it is about, it probably relates to something that will happen in the future. He advises me not to dwell on it, and to continue to live my life as usual. Nobody else will be informed.

In the following days I try my best to heed his advice and put the whole incident out of my mind. I don’t know how to think about it anyway. Instead, I concentrate on practising my instrument and preparing for my upcoming try-out with the local band. However, all my intentions to forget what happened are thrown the minute I walk into the warehouse where The Voice of Ling rehearse. The band appeals to me immediately with their eclectic style, but the second thing I notice is the drummer. It’s Victor. We exchange looks but neither of us acknowledges our previous meeting. I don’t know why not. Maybe it’s just too strange to talk about. The audition goes fairly well, but I can’t help wondering if Victor is the one who convinces them to call me back. Maybe he wants to see where the coincidences will lead. I’m certainly curious myself, but I try not to speculate as I know how fruitless that can be. Whatever the explanation behind their decision is, they chose me. I’m in a band!

After five months of rehearsals, I’m late for the first time. My father called just as I was about to get on my bike and I couldn’t get him off the phone for half an hour. They can start without me, but they will be annoyed, especially Liam. I can’t help it if Papà likes to talk. He’s Italian; what can you do? When I arrive they are in the middle of a song. I sneak in and try to bring in the bass line without disruption. I know Angela could have covered for me perfectly well on her synth. It occurs to me again that I am the most superfluous member of this group. Victor tries to reassure me by saying that a large band is more visually appealing in the live shows, and my dancing is a focal point when Birrung is on the didgeridoo, and mostly I choose to believe him. Anyway, it’s fun. In my years at the organisation, I experienced satisfaction, vindication, triumph but never the kind of pure enjoyment that I get from playing with the band.

After the song, as I expected, Liam aggressively questions me about my tardiness. I can see he does not consider the phone call a reasonable excuse, but I apologise and we get on with the rehearsal. Angela and Liam have written some killer new tracks and Birrung teaches me a few new moves, so the hours go by very quickly, leaving me exhilarated and exhausted. Victor, Birrung and I are covered in sweat and ready to finish long before the other two. Drumming and dancing are considerably more physical than strumming, singing and keyboarding, but at last they’ve also had enough and we can go down the road for dinner.

We share a couple of Yemeni platters and I’m too busy savouring the bread to worry about the couple staring and trying not to let us see them taking photographs. Birrung is a little annoyed and makes faces into their camera, which scares them away. It’s not often that we’re bothered by members of the public. Even if we are recognised, we are seldom approached. There are positive aspects to not being as successful as Liam would like us to be. We can discuss the upcoming gig in this public place with very little interruption from strangers. At the end of the month we are playing at the biggest festival we have ever been invited to. It is an international event, but we will only play the Brisbane show. It’s quite exciting, not least because we get free tickets to the festival for all of us and a few friends.

When the day arrives we are well-prepared. It’s the first gig we’ve played where I am confident with all of the tracks, as well as the order in which we will play them. We’re playing at three o’clock, so we have most of the afternoon and evening to relax and experience the festival. We have to be there in the morning for a sound check, so there are a few nerve-wracking hours after that in which we wander around in the backstage tent and try not to drink too much. Liam is talking very fast, but nobody listens to him. When at last the time comes, we line up at the side of the stage, in order of increasing importance. I’m first. We hear the recorded music go quiet and the speakers announce, “It’s time to welcome to the stage, from Northern New South Wales…. The Voice of Liiiinnnnngggg!!!”

There are a few yells and whistles and a moderate amount of clapping as I step out towards my microphone stand, followed by Victor taking his place at the drums. The cheering increases steadily as Birrung, Angela and Liam come on stage. There must be three or four hundred people waiting to see us. I’m a little nauseous, but in a good way. We start with one of our old favourites and everyone seems to get into it. Most of the audience’s attention is divided, focused on different band members. We’ve been advised that each musician should have a unique kind of stage presence and it seems to be a successful strategy. As the short, blonde bass player, I always wear rock-and-roll black, while Birrung is in full tribal paint. Victor wears a silver shirt to contrast his brown skin, but it usually gets so wet that he takes it off. Angela is sparkly with a glossy, black plait swinging from the top of her head and Liam wears green to match those eyes that the girls love.

As always, the familiar tunes are the most popular, but the crowd also seems receptive to our new music. The first few rows jump around from the beginning, while the rest bob their heads, stare fixedly or look bored, waiting for the next act. When Birrung starts to stomp more people get moving. He is quite a bit older than the rest of us, but his energy is astounding. His tall, wiry body and unruly, white hair, make a powerful impression as he reels across the stage. The music is new, but the rhythmic dance connects us to the ancient history of our country. Liam is on the strummer, an instrument so modern that only a handful of people around the world can play it proficiently. This connects us to an unknown future. Angela interweaves it all seamlessly in her electronic loom. I stop watching the audience, and simply jam with my talented friends.

We feed off each other, predict each others’ sounds and perform our most flawless set yet.

The audience roars, we wave and depart, they stamp their feet, and we return for the anticipated encore, where we change roles and Birrung plays the didj. The droning reverberates deep in my belly. I circle the stage in the eagle dance and absorb the music until I hardly know what I’m doing any more. The people seem to get farther away and bewildered eyes watch me disappear into the sky. I soar above the stage, the wind sweeps through my feathers and everything becomes strangely silent, until I notice the song is finished and I’m brought back to earth in a daze. The crowd goes mad, but it’s time to leave the stage for real so the next band can set up. Now it’s truly all over.

I was expecting to rush out straight away to meet our friends and watch the rest of the festival, but without discussing it, we all agree to sit quietly together for a while. It appears I was not the only one who had some kind of surreal experience on the stage today. For the first time The Voice of Ling achieved synergy and we need to take a moment to digest this fact. Together we created something far greater than could be explained by our individual contributions.

“I knew we could do it,” Liam says softly. We look at each other but none of us reply. “We’ve got to take it more seriously. We’ve got to be the best that we can be. If we want people to listen, we have to give them everything.” He looks around at us. “Don’t you think?” One by one, we nod and mutter our agreement. Liam glows. He resembles a kind of enchanting, oversized elf in his green costume. He is overjoyed to think we can all see the kind of magic in the band which he saw all along. As we consider what this may mean, Birrung abruptly turns and peers at the ground behind his shoulder. I follow his line of sight to see a crow has hopped inside the backstage tent and is staring up at us. He caws twice, then hops outside again and flies off. Birrung meets my eyes and beams. Still quiet, we stand and leave the tent to join the festival.

Within the band, I am closest to Victor and we are also the only ones who continue working in outside jobs. I’m still at the bar and he does part-time search and rescue operations. It is very difficult to survive on the money our music brings in, especially divided by the five of us. After the festival however, the two of us discuss whether we should let go of the extra income and devote ourselves fully to Liam’s dream. I suppose it’s a dream we all share, but Liam is the bravest about following it. Self-consciously, Victor tells me he was completely taken away by the rhythms in our last show. During the encore, as he played the clapsticks behind the booming didj, he says he forgot his own humanity and became instead the heartbeat of the entire planet. His cheeks are pink, but he continues, “It feels important, somehow. I think Liam’s right. I have this kind of.. intuition.. that if we put everything into it, the universe or whatever it is, will take care of us.”

“I do know what you mean,” I say, “but is it really important? I know we have a message, but ultimately we’re still just entertainers. I don’t know. Isn’t it irresponsible to give up a secure income to chase some vain hope of being famous?” I remember my thoughts on the cliff-ledge, and I want to make the right decision. Following an intuition can be perilous.

“It’s not about being famous!” Victor is indignant. “It’s about connecting to people- and waking them up. I know you think the way to change the world is through organised activism, and I know you got burnt out doing that, but there are other ways. Art can move people and open their minds as well, and it can reach everyone, even those who know nothing about news or politics. I think we can be part of the global wake-up call. I think we should be part of it.”

His words reignite a flame in me, but don’t banish all of my doubts. Can a music group really be “part of the global wake-up call?” I’m not completely sure, but I am convinced enough to consent to quit my job. At least for a year or two, I agree to join Victor and the others in putting all available time and resources into the band, to ensure that The Voice of Ling can be heard.

Once we all fully commit to it, the difference in the band’s energy is palpable. We spend almost all our waking hours practising, song-writing, recording, performing or promoting ourselves. Nearly every cent we make goes back into the band, and we just scrape by. When we get riders at gigs, we always ask for food, as this is one of our major sources of nutrition. Our audience grows steadily and we actually do have the sense that we are part of a global shift. Led by Ling’s silent hologram, more and more people become aware that there are better ways to live, and understand that we cannot pretend the future will look after itself. Greed, corruption and violence might be inherent in human nature, but that doesn’t mean we have to submit to them.

People are discovering that there is always a choice.

We are invited to play in Sydney at a big rally against uranium mining. After all these years, Australia still creates toxic holes in the ground in order to sell yellowcake to the few remaining countries using nuclear power or making horrific weapons. There is still no way to securely contain the radioactive waste. It’s insane. We are all eager to donate our time for this cause. There are expected to be around ten thousand people at the rally and we will be the major act on the line-up. Some of the people will be there only to see us play and those are the ones we picture as we practise. Those half-asleep citizens who dream that everything is just fine, or that they are too powerless to change anything: those are the ones we want to rouse to action.

The rally is in the Domain, in the heart of Sydney, on one of those brilliant winter afternoons. In the past week Ling has been all over the news, as the transmission of her hologram has been wavering and she has been visibly upset. The organisers were concerned that people may stay at home to watch the story develop, but they are relieved to see a huge turnout. A local band plays as the protesters arrive, then various speakers inform, inspire and stir the people. When it’s time for us to play, emotions are at a peak and the crowd has almost merged into a single entity. We start with a lively but angry number to release a little steam. Thousands of heads and fists bounce around like a kind of colourful sea in a storm. With the next song we bring it down a little, hoping to open some ears to Liam’s lyrical insights. After that comes a track full of tribal singing and beats, sampled and looped by Angela and accompanied by Birrung’s high-energy dance. This is when it happens again.

As he hops manically across the stage, I catch sight of two crows flying above the ocean of heads. I watch them land in a huge tree and examine us. The music fades away, although I know I’m still playing my bass. It seems to get dark, and a spotlight burns on the centre of the stage, then erupts into a camp-fire, with Birrung whirling around it. The white dots and lines on his body trail after him in spirals and waves. Liam joins the dance, with his strange and mesmerising instrument. His fingers look impossibly long as they pluck the strings and he seems to leap up a rolling, green hill.

Angela leaves the synthesiser to join them, her plait circling her head as she circles the fire. I know she is wearing spandex, but I see silk trailing from her arms and billowing around her body. There are animal images on the silk that morph from pigs to chickens to oxen and buffaloes. The robes fold around her and become a sailing junk and she jumps into the crowd to be buoyed by a sea of hands. They pass her along the front row and guide her back, and as she jumps on to the stage her eyes flash in the fire and her long, gold body snakes behind her. She returns to the keyboard to take control of the music.

I look at Victor. His dark skin glistens and he is lost in the power of the beat. Or he is the power of the beat. The drum kit evolves around him until he is surrounded by vines and vast trees. He wears feathers and an ankle rattle and bangs the drums to the rhythm of my heart. His eyes meet mine and I can’t tell what is real any more. I understand that he is keeping time for the jungle in some mysterious way, as Liam strums to summon magic and Birrung dances for the spirit of Country. I play with my Italian father’s passionate energy and my Australian mother’s love for our world. I play for my other family here on stage. Angela unites us all to create something new, something extraordinary.

The sea of heads no longer looks as if it’s in a storm, but rises and falls in a regular swell. We are one mob. We all breathe, we all bleed, we all share the same needs to survive in this world. We have different histories, maybe different desires, but if we come together we can achieve anything. If we can imagine it- if we can collaborate instead of compete- it is all possible. I join the dance around the fire and the music comes back to me. It fills my brain and my body so there is no space for thought or emotion any more.

After the rally we load our van and drive back to the hotel. The world feels different. Angela is driving and I am sitting beside her. We don’t know how to talk about what happened, so I switch on the radio. When the news comes on, Angela turns up the volume. She was born on the same day that the hologram first appeared and she is always listening out for information concerning Ling. Of course, it is the first story of the bulletin. The newsreader reports that the transmission has been steady all day, other than a little flicker in the morning. He also informs us that she appears to have been at a funeral today. He quotes the lip-reader’s evaluation that the ceremony was for her great-grandmother, Angela Chan.

Shocked, I turn my head sharply to look at the driver as she meets my eyes and fails to see a sports car swerve across to cut her off. I grab the wheel and pull the van into the emergency lane, avoiding collision by a few terrifying millimetres. Angela is shaking. She returns the vehicle to the highway and turns the radio down with trembling fingers. Glancing behind her, she checks to find the others are oblivious in the back. She faces me briefly and says, “It’s a fairly common name.” I concede that is true. She gazes ahead for a minute, then leans across and whispers in my ear, “I’m pregnant.”