Nelson Azikiwe (born in 1992 in South Africa) used to be a paleontologist for the Black Corporation and a priest at St John on the Water in England before reverting to his scientist background once again.
Nelson was described as a large man, the kind that had trouble to fit in an airplane seat but could walk around anywhere without worrying about his safety.
A religious education
Nelson Azikiwe was christened Nelson after the famous admiral (according to the official family story). In reality, he was probably named after Nelson Mandela. His parents kept him off the streets and made him to go school. Her mother raised him in Jesus (as she would say) and he kept on persevering for her sake.
'Search for the Future'
When Black Corporation started their "Search for the Future" programme, his mother got him an interview. It was discovered that young Nelson had an IQ of 210.
As a palaeontologist
On Step Day, he decided to go across the Long Earth as a paleontologist to discover how man had became a man, what humanity was for, in the new context of the Long Earth. The Black Corporation put him in charge of expeditions on stepwise iterations of Olduvai Gorge, the birthplace of mankind.
After four years of working on this project and more than two thousands excavations in contiguous Earths, they never found any sign of development of nascent humanity.
The absence of humanity across the Long Earth disturbed Nelson. This is why he decided to resign and take holy orders.
The "Lobsang Project"
In March 2040, Nelson had made up his mind to leave his parish and revert to being a scientist. The opening of the Long Earth presented a huge variety of puzzles and still, more than two decades after Step Day, nobody knew what it was for.
He already had a talk with the Bishop who agreed to let him go but still needed to sort things out and tell his parishioners. For that matter, he went to see Ken, who used to be a lecturer at the University of Bath and had decided to become a shepherd after Step Day, and told him the news as Ken, surrounded by his sheeps, goats and Joy his sheepdog, was showing him all the work that has been done juste one Earth away from the Datum.
After giving the news to Ken, Nelson, who was sure that all the parish would know pretty soon, went back to the refectory where he turned on his computer and told it to make a search on the return of the Mark Twain and the “Lobsang Project”.
Since the search could take a while, even if he had access to a satellite connection thanks to his contacts at the Black Corporation, he warmed up something to eat and logged into the Quizmasters, an online chat group comprised of elitists who had to pass several difficult tests to access the chat room.
Most of the members of the Quizmasters despised Douglas Black and the Black Corporation for reasons unknown to Nelson, who quite like the Black Corporation. It was during his research on the various activities of the company that noticed how often the “Lobsang Project” was mentioned but ended up in a dead-end everytime he tried to enquire further.
When the computer ended his task, he displayed on one of Nelson’s screens a clip from 2030 showing Joshua Valienté, carrying a white cat in his arm, with a young woman, unknown to Nelson, towing the battle-worn Mark Twain behind them in Madison, Wisconsin.
Nelson, who had already seen this footage before, several as a matter of fact, some from different angles, was puzzled as to why this video showed up on the results but watched it anyway. In the video, a bystander was jokingly asking if the cat that Joshua carried was the ship’s cat. To what Joshua’s companion, offshot, replied “Yeah, wiseass, and it can speak Tibetan.”
Nelson, not understanding why his computer showed him this clip at first, finally realized that “Tibetan” was a subsidiary keyword for the term “Lobsang” and that he finally had a link between the return of the Mark Twain and the “Lobsang Project”.
Following the trail
It took Nelson a couple of months to sort things out and brief his successor. So it was only in May that he was ready to leave and took a plane to Chicago, Illinois.
Once there, the plan was to visit a new university being built in Madison West 5 where he had friends. Madison being also the city where Willis Linsay uploaded the plans for the Stepper and the hometown of Joshua Valienté.
When he passed US immigration, a clerk caught up with him to give him a leaflet about a Winnebago, saying it was left personally for him. Nelson who intended to fly to Madison saw it as a sign from Lobsang and rented one. Having no further instructions, he drove out of the airport’s parking area and started to drive West.
He drove all the rest of the morning and stopped at a small town to buy groceries. He made a curry in the Winnebago from the ingredients he has bought and logged into the Quizmasters, who has been working all around the clock, following a small hint from Nelson, to see what they have found on the return of the ‘’Mark Twain’’ and the cat that speaks Tibetan.
Suddenly, something caught his attention on one of his screens. Starting now, it was possible, by hopping from TV channel to TV channel, to watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for twenty-four hours. Nelson understood that, once again, a hint was given to him by Lobsang and that he had to head for the Devils tower in Wyoming. No wanting to be anyone’s puppet, he decided to take his time and enjoy the sights on the way.
A Chestertonian moment
Nelson took a month to reach Wyoming from Chicago. He felt thathe needed that time to able to shed his past years as a priest.
On the way to the Devils tower, he stopped at Dubois and went to a LongHorn for a beer and a burger. A TV was on and was showing signs of geological disturbances at Yellowstone on the Datum and on the Low Earths. Nelson resumed his meal when suddenly a message on the automated billboard outside his window caught his attention. To Nelson’s bafflement, it was a quote from G. K. Chesterton, a writer that Nelson had discovered by chance in a public library in Joburg in his teens and whose he had read the best works in his teens.
Once again, a clue that he was on the right track. Nelson finished his meal and drove the Winnebago out of Dubois towards the Devils tower. On the way, he was pulled over by a motorcycle cop wearing a dark visor. The cop already knew Nelson’s name and asked for his ID, saying he has been expecting him. The ex-priest refused and asked the man’s ID in return, saying that it was quite a Chestertonian moment since both were unsure about the other’s identity and allegiance.
The rider grinned at this and started say another quote from Chersterton that Nelson automatically completed. After this, the cop declared that no further credentials were necessary and that a real cop was on the horizon so he had to go. He left Nelson alone but told him he would find new coordinates in his sat-nav before leaving.
When the real cop showed up, Nelson played the innocent-and-lost-tourist-card until three Winnebagos, all with plates from California, drove by at over eighty miles per hour and diverted the cop’s attention from Nelson.
— Nelson Azikiwe
He finally reached his destination in the middle of the next day. It was an electronics factory with the transEarth Institute logo on the gates. The complex seemed deserted but a voice came from a speaker at the entrance, asking Nelson to identify himself. To what Nelson replied that he was Thursday, citing once again G. K. Chesterton and was let in.
He found a door that revealed a short corridor that led to a lift. The voice from the gate told him to take the lift and, once Nelson was inside, explained that this facility used to belong to the US government until it was bought by the transEarth.
The lift brought Nelson to a kind of study of English design, with a fireplace where a fake fire was convincingly crackling. A man of indeterminate age, wearing a monk’s orange robe and with a shaven head, and holding a pipe in his hand, stood up to welcome him and prompted him to sit down.
The man introduced himself as Lobsang and told him that he was the whole “Lobsang Project”. Nelson asked him why he was brought here but was told that he came here on his own, solving the puzzle. Which made Nelson to start thinking that the clues of this puzzle might not have come to his attention randomly.
Lobsang revealed that Nelson was considered a long-term investment by Douglas Black and that they were watching him since his mother put him forward for the “Search for the Future” programme and showed him images representing all his life since he was a toddler to now.
Nelson, angry at being manipulated, asked Lobsang if he was a long-term investment as well and what he wanted with him. His host told him that he needed a companion in his quest to unravel the mysteries of the Long Earth, to travel with him to New Zealand to see something and that Nelson had the right mix of rational and mystical he needed.
When Nelson asked him what he expected to find in New Zealand, Lobsang only asked him if he came across the entity called First Person Singular in the data from the Mark Twain’s journey that was made public. This was enough to appeal to Nelson’s curiosity who answered that he would spend the night in his car and think it over.
During the night, Nelson didn’t sleep much due to the heavy rain that fell on the Winnebago but found out that he was already excited to travel with Lobsang and get to know him better.
Second Person Singular
The next day, a twain showed up above the facility at noon and lifted Nelson in the gondola with the help of a security harness. The twain started to step as soon as Nelson was inside. Upon inspection of the ship, he soon realized that he was alone in the twain but the image of Lobsang appeared on a screen telling him that he would be with him the whole time and could activate an ambulant unit if necessary.
The twain ride to a stepwise New Zealand some seven hundred thousand steps West of the Datum lasted sixteen days. Lobsang loved to talk and to listen as well so the ride went quite pleasantly for Nelson who started to appreciate his company despite having been manipulated.
When they reached New Zealand they headed west for the sea and the twain came to a halt on top of a small island. Nelson was told look down at the island but soon realized that it had a wake and seemed alive. Better, animals of different species and even people seemed to live on that island, much to Nelson’s excitement.
Lobsang told him that the creature was Second Person Singular, that he has visited this place before and that Nelson would come to no harm if he decided to go scuba diving. He then appeared in the same bald and orange robe wearing ambulant unit from Wyoming and told him they will get off ship and board Second Person Singular.
Nelson and Lobsang rode a dinghy to the beach and were welcomed by humans, all naked and tanned, coming out from under a flap in the creature’s shell. A woman with a red flower in her hair stepped forward and asked for news from the Datum and if they had tabacco.
Nelson interrogated Lobsang to know who were those people, to what Lobsang replied that he thought they were the descendants of the crew of the ‘’Mary Celeste’’. Soon they were all sitting by a fire, lit on slabs of stone to not hurt Second Person Singular, and trading stories about how things were going on Datum Earth.
The inhabitants’s language sounded like Creole made up of European languages but mostly dominated by English. Lobsang explained to Nelson that most of the people living her had ended up in this place as a result of a shipwreck or an accident and left either by dying or by waiting for the end of the beast’s cycle when they could get off on a safe shore.
Nelson still noticed that some kids seemed to have been born on Second Person Singular, that the traverser’s cycle seemed quite long and that none of them seemed to find they way of life odd. Lobsang replied that most of the creatures living in the vicinity of Second Person Singular were docile and content to be living here.
The pair then discussed about the species Lobsang called Traversers, how Second Person Singular was heading for a place whose name could be translated as “sanctuary” in this world’s Purget Sound and how most traversers seemed to be collecting different species for an unknown reason.
As far as Nelson could tell, the humans living in the island seemed to be happy. Second Person Singular even had air-filled chambers inside its shell for its passengers and it needed to submerge itself. Lobsang compared it as a kind of never-ending cruise with good company, plenty of seafood and lots of sex (which reminded Nelson that he was getting a lot of attention from the young women).
When discussing with Lobsang, the reincarnated Tibetan pointed out that it was obvious that Nelson didn’t approve of this primitive kind of life that lacked a purpose, the kind that pushed mankind to struggle, improve itself. Nelson couldn’t deny it and told Lobsang that he was perceptive and wondered if it was the human or the computer speaking.
They stayed a couple of days aboard Second Person Singular. Nelson found it hard to relax since the inhabitants’s innocence brought out the teacher in him. He taught them some basic metalwork, how to build a basic crystal-radio set and how to draw wire to augment the poor number of fish-hooks they had.
He also took that opportunity to wander by himself in the forest in the middle of the island that he called the jungle. It was on the fourth day that Cassie, the woman with the red flower in her hair, managed to find herself alone with him in the jungle and made him understand that she wanted to take things to the next level.
Nelson was a Puritan, as Lobsang well perceived it, and hadn’t been raised to do that kind of things so casually. But on the other hand, the islanders seemed pretty relaxed about it and Lobsang pointed out that having their gene pool replenished by the occasional visitor was good for them. To the point where Nelson almost saw it as his duty to accept.
Then Cassie moved forward and Nelson let himself go in the moment, forgetting his forty-eight years and feeling the world come alive around him. After that he avoided going in the jungle and being alone with Cassie.
The emergence of a new species
On the fifth day, Nelson went back to the twain for a shower and a change of clothes. He was sitting in the gondola with Lobsang and were discussing about why he showed him Second Person Singular and his presence on the trip. Lobsang told him that he showed him the traverser as an example of the fecundity of life across the Long Earth and that he thought that Nelson possessed the right set of mind to appreciate a theory he has been nurturing since Step Day.
Lobsang thought that the Long Earth was meant to save mankind and that there was a bigger plan in motion. But despite the opening of the Long Earth, mankind didn’t seem to progress and even less to know what to make of all this room. For Lobsang, another species, more intelligent than humans was meant to appear.
He then asked Nelson to work with him to sort this out and find the answers they were seeking, saying he needed support as he could not look into the human soul.
The garden party
On September 8th, 2040, Lobsang and Agnes decided to hold a garden party in the transEarth facility on Madison West 11 they turned into a troll reserve. Nelson, dressed in a suit, was helping Lobsang with the barbecue and had the occasion to be introduced to the famous Joshua Valienté once again back from a jaunt in the remote Earths.
Suddenly, a twain appeared on top of Lobsang and his ambulant unit went limp. Soon cellphones rang all around and people started to step away. The geological disturbances that Nelson glimpsed on TV back in Dubois were just the beginning of something bigger. The day the garden party was held was the first day of the Yellowstone eruption.
In August 2042, two years after the Yellowstone eruption, Nelson was back in England, visiting David Blessed, out of retirement, and Eileen Connolly, one of his parishioner who was refusing to leave Datum Earth and its volcanic winter due to theological doubts. In the end, it was agreed that Nelson was to accompany her and bless the land she chose to settle down.
A chaplain for the Next
In May 2045, when the Next were rounded up all around the US Aegis, Nelson was contacted by Lobsang to infiltrate the USLONGCOM Pearl Harbor facility where the Next were held. The Quizmasters forged fake credentials for him and he managed to enter the facility to serve as a chaplain for the inmates.
There, he was greeted by Lieutenant Irwin who gave him a tour of the facility and explained what they have learned about the Next so far. Nelson faking to pick an inmate at random, got to talk to Paul Spencer Wagoner in his cell to remind him he still had friends outside and was not forgotten.
The 'Special Contingency Task Group'
At the end of August 2045, after the Armstrong II and the Cernan came back from their trip to Earth West 250,000,000 with the Napoleons in custody, Nelson is at the Pearl Harbor USLONCOM facility in a glass-walled booth with Roberta Golding, watching the 'Special Contingency Task Group' put together by President Cowley discuss the issue of the Next. When the conference ended and the task group decided to authorize the use of a nuclear weapon, Roberta, being distantly related to most of the Next, asked if Nelson could help the Next.
Breaking out the Next
Nelson then contacted Joshua Valienté, who in turn contacted Sally Linsay, just back from her trip to the Long Mars, and they managed to free the Next inmates from the USLONGCOM facility through the soft places and brought them to Happy Landings.
In 2052, Joshua Valienté wanted to cross a hundred thousand worlds in one day for his fiftieth birthday. He started from the town of Reboot in Earth West 101,754 and made the trip with his son Rod Valienté board a stepping aircraft until Earth West 3,000 where he met up with Sally Linsay for the next part of his jaunt.
Joshua and Sally went to Earth West 30 where Nelson was waiting for them to serve as a companion to Joshua for the rest of the trip. Together they stepped world after world heading for the Datum, each step the usual punch in the gut to Nelson, and talked about Joshua's family and how, curiously, Lobsang found nothing about Joshua's father.
Nelson, intrigued and his life now devoid of conspiracy theories since Lobsang was gone, told Joshua it was the kind of puzzles he liked and asked if Joshua wanted him to pursue the matter. Without hesitation, Joshua agreed.
Nelson never expected that his investigations would take him years.
He met with Guinevere at her house in a stepwise footprint of London, Datum London now being a frozen ruin, and she used her influence to help him. He soon found out that the circumstances surrounding Joshua's birth went deeper than his father's biography, it was in fact a story that went back to 1848.
The Knights of Discorporea
This is how Nelson got wind of Luis Valienté, Oswald Hackett, Fraser Burdon and the Knights of Discorporea. His search took him to Datum London, dusty archives and badly heated hotel rooms but he kept on unraveling the story of the Valienté family from that encounter with Oswald Hackett in 1848 to the dismantlement of the Knights of Discorporea in 1871 and the creation of the Fund in 1985.
Feeling that he had learned enough, Nelson tried to reach Joshua at the Home but this one was gone somewhere across the Long Earth once again.
Around spring 2058, Nelson finally got a hold on Joshua and asked him to meet him in Datum London where the last piece of the puzzle had shown up. Due to the chaotic climatic conditions of the Datum, Joshua had to take a stepwise twain ride to Madrid and travel all the way from Datum Madrid to the north by train, passing by Datum Paris on the way.
After a twain ride across the English Channel, Joshua checked in in one of the working hotels and met up with Nelson, who was all covered in furs, the next morning at Trafalgar square.
Joshua learned everything about his ancestor's life up until the October 15th, 1895 when Luis Valienté, Oswald Hackett and Fraser Burdon, all under new identities since they've been in hiding since 1871, created an organisation they named the Fund tasked to give money to their descendants if they were to produce a child with another descendant from a family of natural steppers.
When Joshua finished reading Luis's journal, Nelson told him how the number of natural steppers exploded mere decades after the creation of the Fund and how they helped shape British history in the shadows from World War I to the Cold War.