We may not win the battle, she says. And while there’s always fear, some­where down in the heart-sore depths of watching our chil­dren grow, there’s always fear that things can change in an eyeblink, that the wing-free light­ness of the trilling dan­cers of a school-day after­noon will be quelled and quashed into cowering silence under oppressive metic­u­lous meas­ures and the green sprout-air mists turned to rubble and rabble — yes, those fears, because it’s happened before, no matter how far away, there’s always that thought that, yes, they too were head-strong and bright-blessed and knew where they stood in rela­tion to the sun and to books and to power and yet they were brought cowering down into burkas or killing fields or prayer circles and quiver-full sub­mis­sion.

But I’ve lost my way in this telling, haven’t I? It’s exactly what I’m trying to convey to you, that we spent so much time trying to win the war all at at once — what irony, to say we ‘spent’ time! That was one of the first clues: that words matter, what we say and how we say it and what meta­phors you choose, they shape the world; not in some the­or­et­ical, mind-sharp abstract way but in a sticky sugar-spun deli­cious­ness that we only began to sus­pect very slowly. I think the chil­dren were chanting some little rhyme — easy down the dell, sweet water mine, who’s gonna tell, you crossed the line — one of those, where the har­monies overlay and wrap around the shimmer-struck skip­ping until you can’t tell which child is which amid the laughter — and sud­denly the air was filled with sparkles and there were layers and echo-memories — who knew it had been a faery-glen, centuries-gone and down the way? And the future-children were there too, weaving in and out and beyond and we knew then, for a cer­tainty, that, sure, we might not win the battle, but with our pattern-magic and the sheer sun-dripped love of this place, we can weave our deep-root fin­gers into all of it and sur­vive.

It was Jes­sica who crossed over the first time. She had a golden voice and an air-bright feel to her, so when she winked out of my vision, I barely blinked. She came back ragged and hoarse, but she was clutching a secret that changed how we powered the whole city, and she was smiling, so we held her and stroked her honey-wreathed and leaf-shivery body until she calmed.

It took 20 sci­ent­ists almost a year to work out the clues in that crystal she car­ried; the light-lattice and its density, and what it meant for trav­el­ling. Not just in 3-space — into theirs, too. I make it sound like it’s some oth­er­worldly beings, but it’s just us, just future us and past us, before — and after — we believed the pared-sparse clin­ical lies of ration­ality.

You can ima­gine the weeks after­wards, trying to rep­licate the res­ults, making the chil­dren line up again and sing the same song-lines but their drone-dullness and shoe-shuffle boredom gave away their lack­a­dais­ical dis­in­terest and nat­ur­ally, nothing happened. Finally, one of them told us straight up that if this was what the future meant, they wanted no part of it, and they wailed some sort of keening about it, echoes of revolu­tion and dan­cing and slip-smart snaps which made the others laugh and weave their rhyme-sharp obser­va­tions about our intel­li­gence in there too, and then, it happened again — call­backs from another time inter­spersed and then, crack, this time three of them, mid-word, and the others left dumb­founded. It was a little more jar­ring, with Akembe being on the solid side and then sud­denly not. I swear he came back thinner, like he’d been run­ning, which is always a fear I have — they don’t tend to talk much about what’s over there, ahead of us, apart from to tell us not to worry and that we’ll be okay.

He came back clutching seeds — and 70 dif­ferent cool-water soft ways to love them into being even with our chan­ging weather. He sang those seeds into grand forests and prom­en­ades of shadow-solace, even after he was long full-grown and didn’t dance any more. I can still see his big brown hands gent­ling a leaf into place or hum­ming the mind-pattern to a small one so the next gen­er­a­tion could carry it down.

We still send them — some­times by acci­dent, some­times with a plan, solemn but joyous in our deep-toned loops. The kids that have crossed — it’s always young ones, no one over 16 has even been — always have a hes­it­a­tion about them, a wise-knowing beyond their years, and you can see it when the singing starts, like they’re flash-poised in case they’re taken again, but only one has ever been twice, and she’s the only one hasn’t come back.

I like to think it’s because we’re done, that the anchors we’ve set down in our time are tug-hardy and we can rest now, time and love and magic inter­twined, and so she chose to stay. As I listen to the har­monies waft sun-dappled across the hill, though, it’s bit­ter­sweet. I dream that some­time, in the future, I’ll find a mes­sage she’s left me, or a love-trinket, or in my most ache-sharp thoughts, that I’ll find her, so much older than me now, white-speckle hair and an impish grin and she’ll stroke my face and tell me what she’s seen and that it filled her with joy. She was my first love, just days younger and she went without me, singing to me on my 16th birthday, just as I ran out of time.