For some reason, Pearl and Moana were already out there, without her. Pearl was pounding out the energy with her feet, as she always did. And, every now and again, Moana would join her in a sequence of steps, however their voices sounded thin and hollow in the chaotic atmosphere.
Pearl was wearing her trademark T-shirt and pair of faded jeans, while Moana, her mop of fuzzy black hair bouncing as she moved, wore a checked bush-shirt, which flapped about her thighs in a spunky manner.
Eva caught her reflection in a mirror at the side of the stage. Her cropped blond hair, and small chest poking cheekily through her half open shirt, made her look younger than her 24 years, however her face had a timeless sense of helplessness in the face of this crisis of human nature.
Neither Pearl nor Moana seemed disturbed by her absence from stage, which seemed odd, and Eva allowed herself to agonise for a moment over whether to join them. It seemed madness to perform under these conditions.
She watched the sound technicians trying to stop a group of people climbing up the scaffolding of the sound towers, with absolutely no success.
Finally she stepped onto stage, her sense of sisterhood overcoming her fear of the chaos, just as a hail of cans and stones were thrown randomly about by the group who had climbed onto the sound towers.
Then, to the visible horror of the technicians, the cops turned their water-cannon onto the sound towers, and drenched the stage in the process.
There were sparks from some of the equipment, and Pearl was almost swept of her feet. She stood unsteadily for a moment, then turned towards Eva, her T-shirt clinging to her chest, and they caught one another's eye.
"Let's get out of here," Pearl said.
Moana nodded her agreement, and they all leapt off the back of the stage. Eva paused for a moment to shelter under a tarpaulin. The beat of the water from the cannon, sounded on the stage above her, and there was a popping sound like gunfire, and then some screams.
This was followed by a sudden lull, and she decided to make a run for it. She crept out from her hiding place, paused for a moment, to see if she could see the others, then quietly slipped through the backstage area, away from the developing riot.
She found herself out on the street, dodging through the traffic. She couldn't believe this was really happening. A tank rolled to a stop on the promenade leading toward Circular Quay, its engine revving. There were sounds of shattering glass, rattling sounds which were definitely gunfire, and screams.
Panic rippled physically through the people around her, and in a moment they were all moving for cover. Eva allowed herself to be carried along by the flow, up toward Hyde Park.
A news-stand billboard caught her attention. 'Rumours of a COUP!' it declared. Faces, wrenched with emotion, scrambled in all directions.
Eva tried to collect her wits as she ran, found herself to be surprisingly calm, and marvelled, for a time, at how unaffected by the crisis she appeared.
Then two mortar shells slammed into a building in front of her, leaving a gapping hole exposing the innards of the building, and showering rubble onto the people below. And the sound of their screams cut through her illusion of calmness, and she realised how much in shock she must really be.
She desperately wanted to pinch herself and wake up. And because she found that she couldn't, all her years of learning how to deal with the world seemed to flake away like peeling paint. All her experience seemed to mean nothing in the face of this experience, and the horror of it echoed through her desperate pants for breath.
Hyde Park was bristling with troops and tanks, and the river of fleeing people continued on down William Street, and up to the Cross, and Eva allowed herself to be swept along with the flow.
After a while she became almost numb to the crush of people about her, aware only of the physical demands of her body, as she negotiated the abandoned cars and other flotsam in the river of fleeing people. Her throat felt dry, and the air seemed to rasp the skin as it pumped in and out. The muscles in her thighs began aching from the unaccustomed effort, and finally she felt she had to pause and catch her breath.
Somehow she had reached Kings Cross, and she found a quiet corner at the entrance to a bank, and lent against the glass window. Her chest was rising and falling violently with the effort to gasp enough breath, and it was some moments before her breathing settled sufficiently for her to take in the environment about her.
The first thing that struck her was the hustlers still sitting at the door to the strip-joint beside her, calling their wares to the stream of passers by.
"Want to see a show?"
"Five dollars! Five dollars!"
"Sexy girls! Lesbian acts!"
Somehow the banality of it only added to the sense of crisis however, and in the next moment several people were carried past on stretchers. One, with his leg blown off, was screaming and dripping a trail of blood. It made no sense to Eva, and she found her mind detaching itself from the chaotic events about her. The torrent of frightened humanity continued to pour past, but she felt somehow removed from its clutches. She felt the sensation physically, as a lightness infusing her body.
For some reason this release brought her suddenly back to the terrifying memory of father's death. She recalled looking down into his grave, and seeing the coffin strewn with flowers and bits of dirt. Then looking at a fragile flower in her hand. And, as she threw the bloom into the grave, she had a crushing sense of vulnerability. And then the flower hit the coffin and lay dead like her father, and she started crying. She had been crying for herself really, she realised, not for her father. Crying for the chaos of everything.
She became aware of voices, and, opening her eyes, found herself lying on a padded bench in a small room. She had that strange sense of waking, yet not remembering where she was, and she lay still, waiting for the memory to come back, and listening to the murmur of voices and clink of cutlery coming from beyond the curtain at one end of the room.
She discovered that her hands were resting in moulded terminals on either side of the bench, and the sight of these awakened a sense of recognition, but she was still unable to recall exactly what they were.
Perhaps she was in a hospital, she thought, as she prised her fingers loose from the spongy layer on the inside of each finger groove, and sat up.
It was two steps to the curtain and, peering through into the hall beyond, she discovered a large video display covering the entire opposite wall, with maybe a hundred people eating at tables before it.
An image of the ancient site of Stonehenge covered the display, and the giant stones set in the windswept English countryside made the figures at the tables seem small and helpless. Eva felt the power of the stones sitting somewhat incongruously, however, in this Australian setting.
The three other walls of the hall, not covered by the display, were lined with curtained cubicles, giving it the feeling of a public bath house. There were no windows, so it was hard to tell what time of day it was.
In front of the video display an intense-looking woman in her thirties dominated a raised table, around which an animated group of people was gathered.
To one side of the display, a familiar looking young man sat in front of some technical equipment, and the sight of him finally triggered something in her memory.
She studied him for further clues. He had the slightly shaggy hair and unkempt appearance of many technicians she knew, however with the chest and bearing of a male model.
Possibly sensing her attention, he looked up, and his eyes seemed to find hers, across the hall. He smiled and, despite her confusion, she enjoyed the contact and smiled back.
Then something clicked, and she recalled him briefing her on the virtual-dream equipment, last night. She turned and looked back at the moulded hand terminals on the bench, and knew that the horror of the riot, and the civil unrest which was still so fresh in her memory, had been an experience generated only for her, and that Sydney was still unspoiled outside.
And, although this realisation was in one sense comforting, she felt an intense anger rising inside her at the trauma it had generated in her.
She pushed herself off from the door post, and crossed to a spare seat at a nearby table, where the smell of fresh coffee was wafting from the open lid of a thermos jug. There were plates of toast, and bowls of cereal. It was breakfast. She sat down.
She poured some coffee, and took a quick gulp. It was hot and strong, and the taste was comforting. However she wished she hadn't let Pearl talk her into trying the virtual experience, and she found her eyes searching the room for her friend, but without success.
"...not long now before the Pluto Probes arrive," she caught a snatch of conversation from the person next to her.
The speaker motioned to the video display, and Eva's attention was caught by a data-box at the top, which was headed 'Pluto Probes', and under which a series of figures were ticking relentlessly over.
She found herself counting the number of digits from the left to work out the number. It was reading over four billion kilometres, she worked out, a distance so huge that it meant nothing to her.
Then the chatter in the room subsided, and she realised that the intense woman at the front table was standing. She must be the leader, Eva thought, as she recalled Pearl talking about the structure of the group. The leader's eyes had a hypnotic gaze, but her face seemed devoid of emotions. She looked at the room in silence for some moments, then held someone at a nearby table mesmerised with a fixed gaze.
"How was it last night?" she asked, and Eva shuddered at the control in her voice, and then squealed with delight as the person who stood up, turned out to be Pearl. A huge sense of relief flooded over her at the sight of her friend.
Drawn by the squeal, Pearl's eyes found hers, and she smiled, if somewhat thinly. She had won her nick name because of the hard glossy front she always presented to the world, but Eva knew the soft woman inside. Seldom was this tender side exposed however, and so she was surprised as the colour now seemed to be rising in Pearl's face.
"It was good," Pearl answered the leader quietly.
Eva remembered her talking of the virtual experiences she'd had in the dream-group, and recalled how exotic it had sounded. "Better than real life," she had said, yet with the confusion of her first dream still very fresh in her nerve ends, Eva felt the strong taste of disappointment in her mouth, and she took another sip of coffee.
"Matt," the leader called to the technician. "Could you tell us the parameters of the dream?" And Eva watched him punch the keys in the desk before him, to call up the information.
There was an awkward pause, and Pearl started to squirm. "I was the lead dancer with the Australian Dance Theatre," she volunteered. "I danced magnificently, and received a standing ovation, and awards."
"And was seduced by a teenage groupie," Matt added, his voice ringing quietly through the room. Eva savoured his broad Australian twang, with a hint of a slight southern European accent.
Pearl's face darkened at his revelation. She moved nervously from foot to foot. She wasn't the sort of person who enjoyed sharing her intimate sexual experiences.
Eva felt a growing resentment at the pressure being applied to her friend.
"Anything to share with us about it?" The leader was studying Pearl, enjoying her embarrassment at the attention.
"Not really," Pearl responded.
The leader continued to look at her.
"How was your night?" Pearl cheekily reversed the question.
The leader smiled at her daring, and Eva sensed a competitive respect between them. "Great, as it hap-pens." She looked at a guy sitting at the table beside her, who grinned broadly. "I played the shy virgin, and was well and truly ravished."
A frozen grin sat on Pearl's face, the product of the leader accepting her challenge, and the added pressure this then gave for her to reveal her own secrets.
For an anxious moment there were no words spoken, however the leader then seemed to soften, and she motioned Pearl back to her seat, and gestured to the visual of the big stones behind her.
"What is it?" she asked.
There was another awkward silence, during which her eyes swept the upturned faces, stopping now and again to pin someone mercilessly in their chair. Eva found her heart was beating loudly.
"A place for rituals," someone finally suggested.
"Rituals," she repeated slowly. "What sort?"
"Sacrifices," someone else suggested.
"Fertility rites," a third offered.
She jeered at them with each suggestion. There was an anxious silence about the tables. Then she turned to Matt. "Could you call up the details of the building of Stonehenge?" she asked.
He started punching some keys, and the display behind them flashed through diagrams of the development of the monument from the first earth mounds, to the erection of the big stones.
"Archaeological information suggests that three successive races of people took three hundred years to build what we now call Stonehenge," the leader told them.
Again the figures seemed to float past without registering in Eva's confused map of reality. How was such concentrated effort possible amongst such primitive people, she found herself wondering.
"The stones weighed over 5 tons each, and had to be transported up to 240 miles," the leader continued.
Matt keyed a map up on the video, with diagrams of giant stones being slid on planks, and floated on rafts. There were gasps of appreciation from some of the group.
It was certainly awe inspiring, however it seemed somewhat remote from her personal experience, and after a while she found herself watching Matt instead, as he punched the keys to call up the data. Eventually he caught her eye again and winked, and, despite the turmoil of her feelings, she again smiled back.
"The construction work probably took a greater pro-portion of social resources in the years it was being built, than the Pluto probes have taken today." The leader let the silence punctuate their thoughts, and Eva made a mental note to ask Pearl about the probes. "And for very similar reasons," the leader added.
A series of pictures moved across the display, mostly night shots of stars lining up with the stones, and some of an eclipse, and suddenly Eva recognised the monument for an observatory.
"Three successive races of people, over three hundred years," the leader repeated. Whole generations had laboured to erect the stones, and then been washed away. Eva shook her head at the enormity of the project, and it's seeming futility. They sat in silence for some moments.
"How old is it?" the leader asked.
A hand shot up from a table near the front. "Four thousand years."
"Have we got anything like this in Australia?" she asked.
There was silence in the studio.
"Any archaeological sites comparable in age or scope?" she asked.
Again there was silence, and it seemed to build until it could only be broken by a scream, and suddenly Eva recalled something from school.
"Isn't there something similar in Western Australia which is much older?" she called out.
The leader continued to look about the faces in the room without responding, so Eva was left uncertain whether her contribution had been heard.
"It takes an absolute newcomer to the breakfast table," the leader said slowly, surprising Eva by her knowledge of who she was, "to shed light on this question for us." She motioned to Matt, and the visual changed to a remote outcrop, rising out of the tropical woodlands of the Kimberley ranges, which was dottedwith enormous sculptured boulders. The visual zoomed in, and detailed circular engravings, faded and weathered by many years, could be seen on the outcrop.
"And, of course, much older," the leader agreed. "how much older would you guess?" she challenged someone at her table.
"Twice as old," he ventured bravely, for he obviously had no idea.
"And you?" The leader turned to someone else.
"Ten times as old," she suggested, again obviously guessing.
Eva was thankful that the question wasn't being put to her, however the mystery of it had engaged her interest, and the rest of her coffee was left untouched before her.
"Twice as much again," the leader told them. "It was created around 75,000 years ago." She let the figure hang in the air, and they clinked, and slurped, and chewed their way around the number for a while. "75,000" she repeated.
Eva felt at once proud of this ancient heritage, as an Australian, and at the same time somewhat alienated from it, by her European ancestry.
Someone entered the studio, and, through the open door, the sound of a siren found its way up the stairs from amid the traffic noise of Kings Cross. The newcomer crossed to Pearl's table, and Eva watched him whisper something in her ear, to which she nodded.
"So when we look at our involvement with the probes," the leader continued, "we also have to understand that the research has been going on for that length of time, and not expect any quick results."
Eva felt someone touch her on the shoulder, and she jumped in surprise. It was Pearl.
"Angel's left a message that she needs to see us straight away," she whispered. "You'd better get your stuff."
Eva gulped some more coffee, and looked about at the array of cubicles. It had been very dark last night when she arrived. "Which was mine?" she asked, and Pearl pointed towards the back corner of the studio.
This extract of Dance Sisters by Alan Clay is copyright. No part of it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior permission in writing from the publishers.