You can read all the previous episodes HERE, from the ‘IDENTICAL’ page above, or select ‘Identical’ from the categories widget over there to the right. (they’re in chronological order so you’ll have to start at the bottom of the page)
Thank you all for your patience while I negotiated my ‘Summer of Cancer.’ Here we go with Season 2 of … ‘Identical’
What Has Gone Before:
Travelling through the Nicola Valley in British Columbia, Ciska takes shelter from a nasty storm with Meg, whose stolen car is found with a dead woman at the wheel. Tamsin Lightsmith, of the RCMP, tells Meg that the dead woman is her exact twin, then calls her mother, Jane Lightsmith.
Following her mother’s orders, Tamsin deletes all references to ‘dead Meg’ from the record. ‘Live Meg’ begins to realize the enormity of what has happened to her. Ciska tests an invention that will enable her to avoid the storm’s mysterious effects.
All the players are in town, but the rules don’t make sense. Just exactly what is going on?
The summer of 1816 was fair on its way to be the coldest in living memory, and Franciska Maeside knew why. For the last four years volcanoes in the Far East had sent an ash cloud into the air that circled the globe, blocking the warmth of the sun from most of the northern hemisphere. Not that Franciska minded. Her current home, a tiny seaside town planted somewhere near the border between France and Spain, usually sweltered during the brief summer months, but this year, this blissful passionate summer, balmy days and cool crisp nights became the norm. The ash-laden skies sent the town’s small émigré artists community, who fled the chaos of Napoleon’s defeat, into a swoon.
She paused a moment to watch the setting sun turn the few clouds scudding across the Bay of Biscay into gold. As breathtakingly magnificent as it was, it couldn’t compare to what she now had in her possession. She hitched the heavy satchel she’d picked up from the printers a little higher onto her shoulder and resumed her plod up the steep cobbled street toward her rooms in the Inn at the top of the hill.
Various matrons waved cheery greetings at her along the way. Her androgyny confused them when she’d first arrived from London, but after twelve years of brutal wars and deprivation across Europe, nothing seemed out of the ordinary anymore. They treated her as they would any handsome single young man of independent means – with flirtatious caution. Franciska had wisely ignored their covert and not-so-covert invitations, but all her resolve fled the moment she laid eyes on the silversmith’s wife.
She switch her satchel to her other shoulder. The two leather-bound volumes inside contained all her research, all her theories, predictions, outcomes and solutions to the oddness of her life. She knew Helena would laugh at her folly. Printed words meant nothing to her, she only concerned herself with sating her other senses. She did demand discretion though. No affair, however passionate, would be allowed to threaten the veneer of respectability she’d married her way into. Franciska respected her wishes and, valuing her own privacy, established a home and routine of her own. Everyone knew of their affair, but so long as nothing was spoken, it remained invisible.
The smith himself, welcomed Franciska into his shop as he worked the strange metal nuggets she gave him into thin malleable sheets. In a peculiar way, they both found comfort discussing in a roundabout fashion, the foibles of the woman they both loved.
Ciska jerked awake as Silv gently patted her shoulder, refilled her coffee and walked away as though she hadn’t caught her dozing in her chair.
Ciska scrubbed her face and chased away her dream-fueled memories . That’ll teach me not to expect to function efficiently after spending the night in a tin coffin. She opened her eyes just as Mary Donnelly plumped her generous derriere into the seat opposite her.
“How is your bicycle and yourself?” Mary asked as she moved Ciska’s plate to one side.
“Rather well, if a bit tired,” she said, guessing Mary had observed Silv’s wake up nudge.
“Thank you, dear,” Mary said as Silv deposited a breakfast special in the empty space now in front of her. “I know,” she agreed. “It’s those nasty storms. Never saw so many in my younger days. Did you get under cover yesterday before it struck?”
Ciska mentally groaned. The woman missed nothing. “Yes. Thank you. I …”
“A bit skittish around them are you?” Mary interrupted.
The brief dip into a part of her history she’d rather forget reduced Ciska’s tolerance for small talk. “What can I do for you this morning, Mrs. Donnelly?”
“Call me Mary.”
“Oh-em, well. I see you met our baby brigade on your way here.”
Ciska gave up. “Is there anything going on in this town that you don’t know about?”
“A great many things,” Mary said, as serious as if Ciska had asked for the weekend death toll. “Some of which pose questions I’m fairly certain you can answer, and a few that will astound you.”
“I’m pretty much unastoundable,” Ciska said and waited for Mary to finish off her breakfast special. “What about the baby brigade?”
Mary dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a paper serviette and pushed her empty plate away with a sated sigh.
“You outdid yourself, Joe,” she yelled in the general direction of the kitchen and grinned at the subterranean shout-back from its depths.
Ciska poured the last cup of tea from her pot and waited some more.
“This is a funny little town,” Mary said as she settled in with her coffee. “Always teetering on the edge of becoming a ghost, but somehow pulling back from the brink. I don’t know exactly why, or who, or what is responsible, but ‘tain’t natural.” Mary studied her coffee pot for a moment. “The more people who move here, the smaller the town gets.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ciska said.
“Strange but true.” Mary nodded. “How many kids you see running around here?”
“It’s a weekday. I suppose they’re all in school. Ah, no,” Ciska corrected herself. “Not until September.”
“Exactly,” Mary said, and folded her arms triumphantly across her tummy. Ciska outwaited her again. “Lots of folks only have one child. Occasionally there are two. Been going on for generations. After my Philby was born I never did conceive again. The population gets smaller, then new folks come to town and it starts all over again. The baby brigade is part of it. They’re from a home for unwed mothers.”
Ciska almost laughed at the indignation Mary managed to express in those last two words. “Really?” she said.
“Yes, really. Just opened up last spring. We’re about to have another population explosion.”
The pieces of the puzzle were all beginning to arrive on the table but no matter how she shuffled them, Ciska had no idea what they meant. “So, are you suggesting someone’s orchestrating this?”
Mary nodded, almost conspiratorially. “You ask young Tamsin to look into how the town council approved the home.”
“I don’t think ‘young’ Tamsin will be doing me any favours for a while.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Tamsin asked.
Ciska mentally whacked herself upside her head. She’d forgotten to face the door. Must be that age thing again. “Hello Tamsin,” she said over her shoulder.
“Miss Lightsmith.” Mary said, and dropped the temperature in the cafe by a few degrees. She stood, tucked her chair neatly under the table, then leaned in close to Ciska, “Things are coming to a head and you know it just as well as I do. Why else are you here then, eh?”
Tamsin eyeballed Mary until she left then sat herself down in the still-warm chair. “What was all that about?”
“Another piece of a puzzle,” Ciska said. “Only I’m not sure which piece it is.”
“Ready to go then?” Tamsin said, dismissing Mary Donnelly as surely as Mary had dismissed her.
“We have to pick up some things from my room first.”
“Why didn’t you bring them with you?”
“Because I asked you to meet me there, an hour from now,” Ciska said as she glanced at the moose-shaped clock on the cafe wall behind Tamsin
“I saw you in here and wanted to know what you were up to.”
“Yes. Really. I don’t trust you.”
“Good. I wouldn’t trust me either. Let’s go.”
Tamsin cast a suspicious eye over the scruffy leather bag Ciska dumped on the back seat of her truck. “That isn’t going to explode, is it?” she asked as they banged across another pothole on the cracked tarmac that called itself a road.
Ciska smiled evilly then appeared to have a change of heart. “No. It won’t physically explode.”
Tamsin refocused on the road. Choosing this route might not have been the best idea. She pulled up in front of Meg’s house and gaped at the furniture, books and rugs, and other household items piled in the middle of the driveway. She smelled gasoline, shot out of her truck, and ran smack bang into Meg as she emerged from her garage with the last of her paintings in her arms.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tamsin surveyed the heap of household items they landed in. “These are your books, your old straw hat, you love that hat. Your paintings. What’s going on? Are you burning all your stuff?”
Ciska crunched along the gravel driveway and helped them both to their feet.
“It’s not my stuff, it’s hers. Dead Meg’s.” Meg answered as she flung the last of her paintings to the heap and picked up a rusty old can. “This is her life, not mine. I don’t belong here.” She turned on Ciska, “Do I? This isn’t my life, is it?”
“No. Its not,” Ciska said and gently pulled the can out of her hands.
“I’m not going crazy then.” Meg said and slumped back down onto the driveway.
“It’s the only life you’ve got though,” Ciska said. “Let’s put this stuff back in the garage, then I’ll tell you both what’s going on.”
“I think it started millennia ago when several species of hominids were jockeying for supremacy. A single species emerged the victor; our distant ancestors. But some of the traits which set those other species apart from us, still remained in our DNA.”
Ciska pulled an armchair round to face the couch where Meg and Tamsin sat, not quite touching.
“It wasn’t until the advent of modern genetics that I could really understand how it works, but here’s the gist of it. There’s a tiny piece of genetic material, that under the right circumstances produces people who can shift between … well, this is where it gets tricky … they can switch with copies of themselves from adjacent dimensions, or pentiments, I call ‘em.”
“What?” Tamsin asked. Ciska could see she’d lost her back at the prehistoric breeding bit.
“Pentimento is a painting term,” Meg said. “It’s when the artist layers one painting on top of another.”
“Exactly,” Ciska said, glad that Meg decided to break the silence she’d wrapped herself in since the three of them piled all ‘her’ belongings in the garage. “The layers of paint are different versions of this world that bleed into each other. They’re almost identical, only small things are different. But the more layers there are the more the differences increase.”
“Suppose what you say is true,” Tamsin said. “And I don’t actually believe for a minute it is, but just supposing.”
“Just supposing,” Ciska agreed.
“How come no-one’s ever heard of this before.”
“There aren’t a lot of people who can move from one pentiment to the next. For most of them the differences are so small they don’t even notice, or they create a rational explanation.”
“But something went wrong this time.” Meg said. “I switched, and she, the dead Meg, didn’t. How does that fit into your cockamamie theory?”
“I don’t know. I think someone’s changing the rules.”
Silv leaned back against the beat-up hood of her truck, idly picked at a scab on her forearm over her newest tattoo and dragged on a joint. It was the best way she knew to pass the time while she waited for the person who really paid the bills at SilvanJoes.
A small plane banked above her and landed with military precision on the grass field that in spite of recent rains, managed to raise a cloud of debris.
Jane Lightsmith strode through the dust and threw a travel bag into the back of Silv’s truck. “Get in,” she said, gesturing to the passenger seat. “Where’s my daughter?”
Silv knew better than to complain or make any sudden moves. She got in, buckled her seatbelt and stared straight ahead. “At Meg’s.”
Meg and Tamsin looked so much like moon-struck somethings Ciska just had to laugh in their faces. “I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”
Meg found her voice first. “How old are you? Really?”
“The storm on the day we met reset my biological clock, so I’m about forty, plus a couple of days.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Ciska said, “Well, you asked,” she conceded. “The first few centuries are hazy – pure guesswork. I had no idea what was happening and I didn’t really have a frame of reference to measure myself against. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that I could make any reasonably accurate calculations, and I…”
Meg interrupted her. “Your best guess then.”
“Best guess? Somewhere between three and five thousand years.”
Stay tuned for Season 2, Episode 2 of …
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
What is Pentimento?
The volcanic eruptions Franciska (Ciska) refers to are a series of explosions culminating in the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch east Indies (Indonesia) in 1815, that lasted for 10 days.
Eruptions prior to that: 1812 – La Soufriere, on St Vincent Island, Caribbean, 1812 – Awu, on Sanghie Islands, Indonesia, 1813 – Suwanosejuma, Rykyu Islands, Japan, 1814 – Mayan, Phillipines.
Napoleonic Wars – 1803-1815 – 18th June 1815 – Napoleon finally defeated at Waterloo.
Contributing factors to the lower than average temperatures during this time period were the Dalton Minimum that lasted approximately from 1790-1830-ish, and a ‘mini ice-age’ that lasted from the 1300’s to the middle of the 19th century.