Work Header

The Light Always Burning

Work Text:

We, the People: a thirty-year retrospective and an examination of the role of the Nation in world history, Jasper Mukhopadhya for Earth Atlantic, 7 December 2035, excerpt.

In their own languages, they are the People, as we are in our own: a simple truism that may have saved us both. In the twentieth century it was an oft-quoted – and oft-discussed and oft-disproven – aphorism that in the entirety of human history, no two democracies had ever gone to war with one another. And in the cracks and crannies of that epoch, other thinkers asked the other questions: Is there anyone out there? Are we alone?

No. We are not. We never were. And in three decades of new history, our two sentient planetary civilisations have kept steadfast peace with one another. I do not attempt the arrogance of explanation, here. Instead, I offer the historian’s usual apologies for the paucity of the material - as always, I am limited by the space available - and for the inevitable biases that have crept in through the process of selection. And in the spirit of the Nation, I invite the reader to draw their own conclusions.


Letter from Daphne to Mau, taken from the Collected Correspondence (London: 1950, eds. T. Winters and G. Gethin-Archer, pp. 28-29)

Clarence House, 22 May 1861

Dear Mau,

This is the fourteenth time I have tried to write this letter. You think that is exaggeration, well it is not, it is strict scientific fact. At first I wrote it just as Grandmother taught me, with words like "respected" and "honoured sir" in it – but then I remembered how awful it all was, that first time on the deck of the Sweet Judy when I made you scones with weevils in, and how polite you were, and then I thought I should just write a letter just as I am, like I was in the end, on the Nation. And then I tried to do that about five or six times and then I remembered I'm not sure how well you read English, yet. So by the time you read this letter perhaps I will have forgotten everything I wrote in it (I hope so).

We reached England all right, in the end. (Perhaps I should have said that, first.) And although Father was already coronated they said they must do it all again, with a lot more people looking when they did it, and this time I had to wear a dress that Grandmother had made for me before she took ship to Boston, and there was proper anointing oil rather than cricket bat oil although I'm not sure that made a difference. All the people came to Westminster Abbey, all the people in their pearls and beautiful clothes – all the people the influenza left. Oh, Mau, it is not the same England I left behind. I feel about a hundred years old, when I look at it, as though I were coming back to places I left behind so, so long ago. I keep wishing I could go home, before I realise I am already there. Although perhaps home is the Nation. I don't know. I think of you standing by the lagoon and in my memory it seems more real to me than England does now.

I am to convey Father's best wishes. He asks how the Nation cricket team is getting on.

Please write to me soon.



Editor's note, taken from the Collected Correspondence (ibid, p. 28)

The languages in which Daphne and Mau chose to write to each other changed over time. Both had a facility with languages in general, perhaps born of their struggle to understand each other at a formative age, and both ended their lives fluently multilingual; one of the treasures of the Archive of the Nation is a short note, possibly enclosed with a longer letter in another language, to Mau from Daphne in passable French, with a reply that is far more grammatically exact.

At first, English seems to have been the only practical choice, as the principal Nation language of the time had no standardised written form. Once the orthography had been settled and both had studied it, the occasional letter did pass between them in the island languages. Mau wrote, in English, much later: "It was trouserman for the doings of state and the work of the Royal Society, and the island languages for the small and the sacred, for fishing and sunshine, for beer and life and death." Although Daphne never approved of what she saw as the relegation of Mau's own tongue, in his words, it was "how things happen, ghost girl".


Extracted from "A Shorter History of the Pelagic Ocean since 1866”, C.R. Williams (Institute of Pelagic Studies, 1928) pp. 43-44.

In retrospect, it is clear that the mid-nineteenth century was not the best time for novel experiments in scientific sovereignty. Had it not been for an unexpected degree of luck, the independence of the Nation would likely have lasted only a few years.

But it survived. For the years after its discovery, the major European powers were distracted by the effects of the Russian Influenza and the political upheavals that followed it - after the War of the Prussian Succession, both France and the German Confederation turned inwards to rebuild. This left only Britain to take an interest. While it would have been expected under other circumstances that the Mothering Sunday Islands would have been quietly absorbed as a coherent unit, the personal involvement of both Henry IX and Princess Daphne led to strong pressure being brought to bear on their ministers any time the Colonial Office investigated expanding local control to the Nation.

It remained under informal British protection, and by the time of the establishment of the Third Republic in France in 1882 and the consequent resumption of European colonisation in the Pelagic, the Nation had successfully formed amicable and stable diplomatic relations with several continental powers. Together with an active British interest in ensuring independence, this was enough to ensure that it became the only state in Oceania to successfully avoid foreign control during the nineteenth century.


Letter from Mau to Daphne, trans. T Winters, from the Collected Correspondence (p. 55) undated but arrived in England in summer of 1870


I write to you slowly so I can understand. That words are powerful I understand. That a word may be the ocean on the page, I do not understand yet, but we have been working on setting our language down. I have written this by the water but I have kept the pages dry.

The lecturers who have come from London have been good men. They have learned a great deal. When the rain stops I believe I shall go fishing in the lagoon and watch the ships come in. When the sail I see on the horizon has become a sail on the horizon once again, this letter will be on its way to you.




Excerpt from the personal journal of Tiare Winters, entry dated 22 December 1946. At this time Ms. Winters was the island's foremost archivist. She had taken degrees from the University of the Southern Pelagic and the University of Chicago before returning to her post on the Nation.

Heard this morning – the University of London are sending me the Keeper of Royal Papers, of all things. He’s an academic historian associated with Senate House, and he curates Mau’s letters. They say, and I quote, "We think it best for the project." What they know about the project, I believe I could write on the back of a postage stamp. His name is Archer and he'll be here soon enough despite any objections I might have to make, I'm sure.

I am working through the letters from the early 1870s now, soon before Daphne's marriage. The letter she wrote to Mau the night before her wedding contains the following lines:

You don't need to know the details of my trousseau, and the things the newspapers have written. You need to know that I am afraid. Isn't that silly? He is a good man, and of course no one says things like my womanly duty – do you remember my grandmother? I'm thankful she isn't here for this, although I suppose I am terribly wicked for saying so – but I am afraid of being consumed by it. Such foolishness. It isn't as though all the things that brought me here will not have happened. But I will no longer be the girl they happened to.

It is not known if Mau had received this letter before writing the next letter to reach Daphne, a month later. In any case he wrote:

Up by the Women's Place, they are teaching children how to make beer. They are singing the song about the daughters of the moon. I do not know if you will ever return to us here, but there will always be a space for you in the Nation, whoever you may be.

They are sending this man here from London to explain to me what this means.


Letter from Daphne to Mau, from the Collected Correspondence (ibid pp. 145-146)

Clarence House, 15 February 1913

Dear Mau,

War is coming. You know it and I know it. There have been rumblings within the great alliances for months, there have been rumours filtering through the Balkans that would be distorted into incomprehensibility by the time they reach my ministers' red boxes, were it not for the clarity of the message in the first instance. I believe I am not supposed to know; or at least, I am supposed to give all my attention to the new debs, and leave such great matters of state to my government. They are Her Majesty's Government, after all, and they take care of such things. I am not to bother my pretty head.

This is such a brief, nasty, bitter letter! But the truth is I have tried to picture what the war will be like, how that darkness will fall upon us, and I cannot. I think about that day on the beach, so long ago, when you walked in the shadow of Locaha, and I think, strangely, how simple it was all then: one good man and one cannon, and a savage that the world needed to be rid of. I wish it were like that now.

When I get stuck I think about Imo's pathway to the stars, to that perfect world you don't believe in, and the world of the Nation, which you do. Which I do, too: the Nation, the light always burning no matter what shadows fall here.

Please, don't worry if no letters come for a time; I can't think that the ships will leave port as usual.



Excerpt from the personal journal of Tiare Winters, entry dated 22 February 1947.

Archer arrived this afternoon off the fast mail picket and immediately got my hackles up. "Miss Winters, I presume" – all oily smile and firm handshake. I immediately thought he was sizing me up and finding me wanting. I resolved to be polite – we do the same job, after all, and we ought to respect one another as professionals at least – but just when I was sweetly passing him the salt at dinner he looked at me and said, openly, "It's a great shame the letters aren't kept together."

I tried to keep my cool. "By which you mean, kept together in London."

"Well, yes." He blinked at me. "Quite apart from anything else, the humidity…"

I didn't jump in and start shouting about what anything else might be – the letters here among the savages, I suppose, although how anyone can have read the letters and still walk around thinking in words like "savages" I don't know – but merely gave him the party line. "Dr. Archer, the letters are kept apart because the letters are kept where they were sent. Daphne and Mau spent their lives apart, and thus their letters are apart, too."

He sort of sniffed at me. "For the benefit of scholars, who wish to understand the letters in their context…"

"They are in their context!" I half-yelled at him, and then said, pathetically - I loathe myself sometimes - "There are copies."

He sniffed at me again and said, "For certain values of context…"

We argued another two hours and the coffee pot went stone cold. I believe this will be unbearable.


Excerpt from the personal journal of Tiare Winters, entry dated 5 March 1947.

Today he stood there, as bold as brass or as bold as university professors from halfway across the world, and said the Nation is just a place.

To be fair to him, what he actually said was: "Perhaps, Miss Winters, because you were raised in the Nation and consider it home, you are understandably and laudably biased in its favour. And the letter naturally appeals to that predisposition…"

I stopped listening at that point, I think. The letter, the letter, the February 1913 letter – I believe it should be the centrepiece of the book. Strict chronological order, Miss Winters! he tells me. But how can we tell the story of the Nation without telling it as a story?

We're historians, not storytellers, he told me. I don’t believe it – or rather I don't only believe it. We are storytellers, and historians, and everything else that we are. We are the Nation.


Excerpt from The Times, 27 April 1947

Bombs fall from Senate House to East End

Following what was seen as a toothless declaration of war some two weeks ago the German air force has unleashed a wave of heavy bombing raids on London, killing hundreds of civilians and injuring many more.

The Ministry of Home Security said the scale of the attacks was the largest the Germans had yet attempted.

"Our defences have engaged the enemy at all possible points," stated a communiqué issued this evening.

"The civil defence services are responding admirably to all calls that are being made upon them."

Notably, the University of London, which has just moved to new buildings in Bloomsbury, suffered particularly heavy bombardment, and it is not yet known the extent of the loss of human life…



Excerpt from the personal journal of Tiare Winters, entry dated 28 April 1947.

When the news came I went to find him. He was by the lagoon, barefoot, hands and feet trailing in the water; when he saw me he scrambled up and put the supercilious expression back on his face, but not fast enough.

"Dr. Archer," I said, "I am so, so sorry."

When he turned to look at me there were tears in his eyes. I think I was too surprised to speak; at any rate, there was nothing for the moment between us but silence, broken only by the sound of the water in the lagoon. "Don't you see?" he said, after a while. "There is nothing – no reason to do this, any more." And after a pause: "My family, my students…"

I noticed, even at that moment, how he spoke of them in the same breath. I said again, uselessly, "I am so sorry."

He said, low and even, "The spoils of war." And then, painfully: "This is the light going out, Miss Winters. This is the light going for all of us."

"But here…"

"Here, there, makes no difference. You understand what a nuclear submarine is, I suppose."

"It seems to me," I said carefully, "that if you believe that this is the end of it, then first you must have accepted that this is where the light was burning."

"Is burning," he said, looking up me with grey eyes suddenly clear, and it was my victory but I didn't want it, not like this. "It is still burning. For now, Miss Winters. Just for now."

"I think," I said, "you'd better call me Tiare."

"Gabriel," he said, reaching out to me. "Gabriel Gethin-Archer, much good may I do you."

"Gabriel," I said, slowly, taking his hand. "The Nation welcomes you, Gabriel, no matter what."

"No matter what annunciation I bring upon you," he said.

He was looking out towards the harbour entrance as he said it, out towards the black water.


Letter from Mau to Daphne, trans. T Winters, from the Collected Correspondence (p. 150) undated, known to have been written on 3 April 1916

I have not seen a letter of yours in many months, ghost girl. Pilu has said that you are not a ghost girl, you are a dolphin, and I should watch for you in the lagoon, where you will come after a long journey over the oceans. It is not like him to make stories out of misfortune, nor to see only the evil possible futures, so I think he is being kind and trying to prepare me for news. I have given this letter to the captain of a ship from India. If you are holding it now you know I have not begun to look for you in the water. I am anchored by hope.


Excerpt from the personal diary of Tiare Winters, entry dated 2 May 1947

It's so quiet, here, now: people have evacuated by air where possible, and the ships that were in harbour for the northern winter have put out again.

They are coming here because we are a symbol of what they seek to possess. I believe, and I hope, that they do seek to possess, and not to destroy.

When I woke up this morning, there were already dark shapes on the horizon. Gabriel came in before dawn, holding a box of papers. It was all the letters – all his letters, all my letters, all his copies, all my copies, all the ship manifests and photographs and astronomical observations, all the scribbles and the notes, all my blank paper and pencils and typewriter ribbons, everything that we have.

I looked at him and then out at the water at the ships coming closer. Gabriel said, "We must keep these safe. For when they come for us."


Excerpt from "An Outline of Naval Operations in The Recent War", A. Tucci, Foreign Affairs 555-575 (1954)

... at the same time as the devastating attacks on British cities on the outbreak of war, a significant amount of the fleet was sunk by bombing. Fearing invasion, the Singapore squadron was withdrawn to defend home waters, leaving the Pelagic islands to be protected by long-range aircraft operating out of Singapore and Auckland.

The balance of power changed dramatically following Italian entry into the war; the Italian Pelagic Fleet was substantially more powerful than the British forces east of Suez, while its home forces could prevent any effective reinforcements from Europe.

The Mothering Sunday Islands, including the Nation, were occupied shortly after the Italian entry into the war, and remained under occupation until the end of hostilities. While little military action took place around the island chain, the lack of effective connection with the outside world and the damaging typhoon season of 1948 and 1949 led to widespread disease and starvation among the civilian population…


Letter from Mau to Daphne, from the Collected Correspondence (p. 155) dated 11 December 1917

A man has come with news. He has travelled a great distance and his bones show beneath his skin. He is from Japan, and he tells us strange stories of what is happening in Europe. He says he is a soldier; others among the islanders say we have no wars on the Nation, and so he must be a criminal; why, I asked, and I was told he has killed people.

I reminded them that you killed a man once, until the people of the Nation found that it could not have been a man you killed, only a demon, a savage, and perhaps it is the same with him. So while the people are gathering to decide, he is nothing: neither citizen nor human nor demon nor anything else. Cahle is practical, she said that while we decide we must know where he is all the time - if he has killed people, then he may kill them again. So we shut him inside one of the salt meat storerooms, where he will have all he wishes to eat, if he has teeth to chew it, and Cahle takes him water twice a day, and takes away the bucket.

I hope I have done right. I hope you are reading this. Whether you are reading this I believe I have done better for writing it, so it is clear why the man is in the storeroom, and why the Nation must meet. If I am writing only for myself and not for you it must be that I believe Pilu’s news. But I do not. Write to me.


Excerpt from My Life: A Memoir (T. Avalos, self-published, 1972)

And then we come to the famous, nay, unprecedented matter of the mysterious letters. At the time I was the Nation’s Postmaster, a position of considerable prestige and import, the duties of which I discharged alongside my other, considerable responsibilities. Sad to report, there were individuals who did not approach the office with the solemnity it was due. As, no doubt, the postal employees in Rovaniemi approach their postbags in December, so did I approach the mail marked for my attention each morning in the central administration of the Nation. Mail marked for my especial attention was that which required the expert’s hand: which had such peculiarities of address and origin that nary a one of many-coloured postbags, embarking each day on their varied insular odysseys, could be deemed appropriate.

On this particular day, the large envelope before me was addressed: Mau, Chief, The Nation, The Mothering Sunday Islands.

I hesitated before opening the letter. It is hard to throw off the mantle of respect for others’ privacy, especially in my particular position of import. But I reasoned to myself that we are all, in our way, descended from our first chief, who had so many heirs of the mind if none of the body, and I opened the letter. The covering screed was brief, written on a fragile cheap paper that began to disintegrate even as I read. It had been written via the dictation of a neighbour, explained the writer, who neither spoke English nor volunteered what languages were within their command; and it enclosed two further letters, found within the papers of “a person who is now dead”. They were written and addressed in English, and the neighbour, who knew a little more than our unfortunate correspondent, had agreed to assist in finally, after who knows how long, sending them to their destination. And here they were, with blurred franking marks after crossing oceans, falling into tissue paper in my hands.

I read the letters. And then, after extensive thought and consideration, I wrapped them carefully in plastic, protected from the elements, and sent them o’er further oceans to our esteemed Dr. Winters, who needs no introduction, I trust - her writing, and her great project, live on - and at that time was undertaking a year’s fellowship in London. It was my understanding that she would wish to see them, and it appears, from this remove of posterity, that I was correct in my assumption.


Extract from "The Confederation: A Revised History", S. Liu (University of Chicago, 1987)

[…] following the collapse of the European Bloc in 1951, the continent lay devastated by the effects of the war. As widespread food and fuel shortages led to increasing civil unrest, fringe political groups took the opportunity to grab for power in the authoritarian Eastern European states.

On 5 March 1953, a general strike in Belgrade was used as the cover for a coup d'etat by a group of loosely linked militant organisations. With the aid of sympathisers in the security forces and the military, government resistance was quickly broken, and the Popular Republic of Serbia was proclaimed […]

A series of other groups launched similar putsches throughout the region. Hungary and Bulgaria fell almost overnight; Romanian government forces were forewarned, and the country fell into civil war. By the summer of 1953, revolutionary groups controlled a broad swathe of territory from the Adriatic to the Black Sea, stretching up into the southern Polish mountains. While the emerging Confederation was never formally recognised by any major power, its boundaries were stabilised and de facto accepted in the Vienna Summit of 1956. Once it had stopped expanding and turned inwards, the central regime grew steadily more repressive as it struggled to assert a dominant ideology among a diverse powerbase. The first reports of the now-notorious political work camps began to emerge by 1960, though recently declassified reports suggest that French observation aircraft had spotted a concealed network of apparently sealed camps as early as 1958. At its peak in 1970, it is estimated that 25% of the population of the Confederation had been imprisoned at some point in the previous five years; the rapidly shifting factional groupings meant that one year's prisoner might be next year's guard, with no clear indication of when or why the reasons had changed in any individual case.

Following the famine of 1982-84, the resumption of Western aid was conditional on a prisoner amnesty, though it is unclear whether this was the sole motivating factor in the end of the camp system; it has been argued by a number of scholars that the regime had been planning to reform and that this merely provided an added impetus.

In recent years, the movement to political liberalisation has stalled...


Appendix 3 to the Collected Correspondence, pp. 349, fourth edition

Poor Avalos! Never was any man so damned for his admittedly damnable prose. But listen to him speak the truth: are we not, all of us, the children of the Nation?

I have received many letters on this subject over the years. Historiographers and feminists alike have written, rightly, to say that X in no way indicates their gender: it is quite possible X was a woman. Theologians, and some of their more conspiracy-driven brethren, have made much of the initial “X” - citing the Greek chi and the possibility of “Christos”. Those debates continue in other places, including but not limited to the classrooms of the Nation. But I must write in response to those who ask, why as an appendix to the edited correspondence of two children who grew to be great leaders, I include these “fragmented ramblings of a delusional madman”, as one respondent put it. Because I must, is the answer: as Saint-Exupéry’s war flights were published adjunct to his Le Petit Prince, as we need idealism, as a bright torch among banked fires.

TW, March 1975

On another island, winter, 1965

To the People of the Nation,

I have read your great Book. It is very cold here. I think we must all be in the shadow of Locaha. I have seen it and because of your book I understand.

The whole universe is Imo’s anchor. The gods must be anchored but the whole universe is Imo’s anchor. In Imo’s anchor I live and breathe and have my being. And I would not believe but I have seen the pathway of stars because there is no other light here.

They say we cannot go home. If I cannot go home I would like one day to go home along that great pathway into the stars and come to the island in the sun.




It is written that Imo made us intelligent enough to realise he does not exist. Imo was able to create a perfect world. I posit: we need little intelligence, to know such a being could never exist.

I cannot write any longer, for they may read it, so I write in a language they do not know. May the stars come soon, oh people of the Nation. A great disaster has happened and I have lost my soul.




To the Nation: among imperfection I dream of your perfect world. I hope because I have written this letter that someone is there waiting at the end of the stars.



Note from Daphne to Mau, from the Collected Correspondence (pp. 160), written on 31 December 1918

I am writing this in pencil on a paper pressed against the wall and in one minute I will hand it to the captain of my fastest ship. I am alive and my people are free.


Excerpts from the email correspondence between Aruna Singh and her parents, Mita Kaur and Manprit Singh, between December 3rd and December 7th 2015, taken from Singh's collected digital papers courtesy of the Smithsonian.

03/12/15 03:52

Aruna beti,

Why you don't write?

Love Mum


04/12/15 08:32

Hi Mum and Dad,

Sorry it took a while, they're having troubles with the Internet here. Where 'here' is, is a matter for debate. I swear, they sent me here because I'm the same damn colour as the natives, they could have sent some kid without the BSc in comp sci to do this job. It's all gluing together old servers with solder and duct tape. I jest but only a little. Pretty place anyway. Could grow to like the climate. Anyway I'm out of comp time, am ok and eating fine, longer letter later.


PS. Dad, weren't you here as a student once? Why didn't you tell me they have TREE-CLIMBING OCTOPUSES? There's one living in my flat with a name tag that says "Leah"!


04/12/15 11:32

Beti, glad to know all fine we are missing you here. Please write soon. Your baoji's tree-octopus was called Savitri.


07/12/15 23:02

Hi Mum,

So I said longer letter later and here it is. It's about eleven pm here now, dunno what that is for you, but probably quite different. I know I didn't take a lot of time to tell you where I was going and I don't know what Dad has told you, but, okay. The Nation is a very small island in the Pelagic, it's nominally a British colony, but self-governing. It's complicated. I know you got upset when I said it didn't have a university, but really, it is a university in itself. Like I said, it's complicated. You meet all sorts of interesting people here, they're on the cutting edge of everything, not just computer science. I mean, the world's first non-silicon computers were built here, here on this little island where sand gets into everything. It's kind of amazing, if a culture shock. Much warmer than NYU though and that's all I ask for. And as well as the tree-climbing octopuses there are these birds that eat everything and then throw it up selectively. Including the tape measures belonging to the avian biologists chasing them along the shoreline. I figure it's what passes for a spectator sport round here.

So, I've settled into my room – which has a view that like something out of a tourist brochure – and thanks a lot for the food you sent, I handed out laddoos to my new flatmates and they were very appreciative. One of them is a student of Pelagic literature and another one is an astronomer, and the third one is writing up a thesis on the history of science, and they're all here because it's the best place for their field. Amazing, really. The Pelagic lit girl is a desi but none of the others are, before you ask. But there are more of us. There are more of us than I remember anywhere. Literature, not maths! But anyway.

Back in a sec – bit of a noise outside. I swear I was never such a pain in the arse when I was an undergraduate. I think they're lighting flares or something. They're probabglfgkflhljihjgigijiglg

Note: this draft email remained in Singh's outbox, and was transmitted without her knowledge when power was restored to the Nation's servers the following morning.


Postscript to the Collected Correspondence, originally handwritten on the final page of the manuscript, reinstated in the seventh edition (2016)

To whoever comes after us:

Please know that we lit candles, rather than face the darkness; please know that we tried to tell the truth as we saw it. Please know that we were two, together; one person alone is nothing.

[Two signatures, overlaid, illegible, as though inscribed in the dark]


Excerpts from “A First Look: The New Science of the People”, E. Muthuswami, Journal of Cultural Xenoanthropology 11-23 (2018)

In 1959 C.P. Snow made the founding observation that science, like the humanities, is a cultural formation. It has been discussed, propagated, criticised and scrutinised ever since. But now, for the first time in the history of humanity, we are in a position to examine this assumption from the outside […]

How do the People do their science? Soon after their arrival, speculation was rife on this subject in both the academic and the popular press: perhaps they were only the purest of theoretical physicists; perhaps they were wizards; perhaps they were mathematicians using base 7, to account for the number of their extremities!

We now know that the People are people: they do not do magic, although they understand it as a fictional concept; they are curious and thoughtful biologists, and it is in the pursuit of biology that they originally identified Earth as a planet bearing life; they use base 2 mathematics, and the first member of the People to notice a human child counting on her fingers was seen to remark on the convenience of the human body for the purpose. Although first translations of their works of philosophy are very approximate, we can understand in them the thought that science, observation and method ask only for what can be freely and easily given, i.e., attention and observation, and not belief […]

Do the People have religion? Mau said, “Imo made us intelligent enough to realise he does not exist” - and whether the People believe this, we shall not know, yet.


Extract from an interview with Aruna Singh for BBC Radio 4, recorded for Women's Hour in the spring of 2025

It's not like they said, take me to your leader! [chuckle] I had been on the Nation only a couple of weeks and I was pretty young, more missing the Hell's Kitchen nightlife than really appreciating the opportunity, you know. Even then, though, I remember thinking what a remarkable place the Nation was. I hadn't read Seth and Said and Spivak, and why should I have done, really, I was twenty-two and at that age you don't care, do you? You don't care what anyone else has to say about it.

I was writing an email to Mum – as the whole world knows by now – when I heard the noise, I thought it was fireworks or something. What you have to remember is that their ships make no sound, they can break through atmosphere right above your head and the first you'll know about it is when they cough to get your attention. Anyway, I went out. And I thought it was a prank, like you do. And I stood there on the sand at the edge of the lagoon and there they were. Three of them, all six feet tall and gleaming and looking at me. I don't remember what they said. I barely remember anything. The power to the whole island had gone out and I think I jabbered at them a while before yelling about going to get someone of a higher pay grade. First contact with an alien species is never how it looks in the movies.

But as for the Nation… okay, so you saw the fucking Little Mermaid, right? [chuckles] I'm not supposed to say 'fuck' on Radio 4, am I? Oops. Sorry. [pause; more laughter] Okay, so you saw it. Imagine that's the story you've always been told. And you walk down the shoreline and a mermaid flops out onto the sand, and she's got brown hair, brown skin, silver and brown scales… yeah. That was the Nation.

Later, much later, I asked them, the People – why did you come here? Of the whole planet, how did you choose the place to come? And they said, this is the place. Where else?

Where else, indeed.



The Light Always Burning: Collected Correspondence of Mau, the first new chieftain of the Nation, and Queen Daphne I of Great Britain (eds. Gethin-Archer & Winters, University of London Press, 1950 and 2015)

Journals 1945-1995, T. Winters (OUP, 2000)

A Shorter History of the Pelagic Ocean since 1866, C.R. Williams (Institute of Pelagic Studies, 1928)

"An Outline of Naval Operations in The Recent War", A. Tucci, Foreign Affairs 555-575 (1954)

The Confederation: A Revised History, S. Liu (University of Chicago, 1987)

“A First Look: The New Science of the People”, E. Muthuswami, Journal of Cultural Xenoanthropology 11-23 (2018)

With thanks to the Archive of the Nation, the British Library, the People’s Repository, BBC Radio 4 and the Smithsonian Institution.


-Daphne’s and Mau’s letters may still be seen, as ever, at the Archive of the Nation and at the British Library in London. Although their titles are given in full above, throughout this article I happily flout journalistic tradition and take their given names in vain: they belong to all of us.

-Of the patient and indefatigable editors who collated and annotated the letters in their four-year captivity on the island during the Second World War, perhaps not enough has been written - hence the choice to include some excerpts from their personal writings here. Conditions were known to be hard under the occupation and by the time the Allies arrived in early 1950, nearly all the remaining population were suffering the effects. Gabriel Gethin-Archer died on 23 November, 1949, from pneumonia and severe malnutrition, and was sent by his wife into the current, to become a dolphin; Tiare Winters lived into the final years of the twentieth century, until her final breath speaking with the voice of the Nation. Their Collected Correspondence is now in its eighth edition and remains the definitive work on the subject.

-Even now, it remains unclear who exactly X was, and from when and where they were writing. Recent scientific examination of the letters has shown them to be written on paper of an unusual weave, not produced by or exported to the Nation, finally laying to rest the oft-spoken suspicion that Avalos created them himself as some elaborate and egotistical joke. Others have made the strange and wonderful suggestion that the writer was one of the People. Like us, they have great wars and atrocities in their recent history, and heartbreak and religion are as powerful forces with them as with us; moreover, through means of their own they had been studying Earth’s literature, film and music for many years before first contact. However, with clear cognisance of a question far beyond my ken, I leave this one to the People's historians.

-Aruna Singh lives quietly in her home city of New Delhi, reading, writing, and teaching computer science. When asked for a quotation for this article, she said, “We, the people? They are not like us and we are not like them: the pleasure’s in the learning.”


A final postscript.

Letter from Daphne to Mau, trans. T Winters, from the Collected Correspondence (pp. 200)

Clarence House, 31 January 1919


You told me once that one person alone is nothing, but two people are a nation. I believe my reign has been a just and kind one. I have seen my children’s children’s children. I have seen the rise of parliamentary democracy and I have seen the fall of empire. And I have seen war and I am grateful for the peace. But I have been one person alone for a long, long time now.

Please write soon.



Letter from Mau to Daphne, from the Collected Correspondence (pp. 200), no date

When you come home, there will be dolphins, and the pathway to the stars, and beer.