In the Forest

The Coven Two uniformed officers are waiting for us at the new rail station, a place I used to know well, but now so completely changed as to be unrecognisable. Melissa and I wear sober travel clothes. On the train from the capital we have discussed the article which was published two weeks ago initially in six countries, and then reproduced in virtually all the major newspapers of the planet. The article, titled “Time to Make Peace” contained the pictures of the missing missiles, quietly resting on trestles in what appears to be a vast warehouse, and a short text Melissa and I had prepared calling for world leaders to disarm and invest the considerable resources so freed in curing the ills of the world.

Of course, as signatories of the article we promptly had visitors. Besides, we were not hiding, having signed our joint real names. It is Sarah who opened the door to the four secrete service men and the one woman who knocked at the door of our house in London. Melissa was still with us. The interrogation had lasted three hours. They wanted to know where we had been to take the picture, and also how we knew. We told them the truth: Melissa had received the pictures by post, yes she had the container, no she did not know who had sent them. Which was nearly true too. As for the origin, and the why, and the how, in fact we did not know much more than they did. We said nothing of the Coven.

So now the military men who meet us, hand over badges to us that are passes to the place they intend to drive us to. Melissa and I sat politely at the back of the command car. The four of us are silent until the driver takes a narrow road I think I recognise. Soon the road is bordered by dark pine trees that appear very old. Yes, I know where we are going, and so does Melissa. I feel her taking my hand in hers and she squeezes. I remember the place: as children we played around it despite interdiction from our parents. It was merely a few years after the end of the war: the Great Power then had troops still stationed in this area which had seen so many battles. A regiment of combat engineers were barracked on this campus hidden in the woods, which dated from the 2nd Empire. As a small boy I had tried to get a glimpse of what was inside, and perhaps to be there near the gate when the huge trucks came out, full of strange machinery and of those tall soldiers who smiled at us kids and threw oranges – oranges in the starving country! – at us. Was Melissa then one of the little girls that roamed around the camp, perhaps hoping for more than oranges?

The car stops at a gate, guarded by armoured vehicles. I recognise a truck with twin ground to air missiles. The perimeter is guarded by armed military police, and a little inside we see huge satellite dishes: the international press is here, closely monitored by soldiers armed to the teeth. The car moves inside the perimeter, takes a long road towards what appears to be an airfield. The place is even bigger that I remember, perhaps it was widened during the years of the Cold War?

We now see the warehouse, in fact a large building that may have been a helicopter or light aircraft hangar. There is a little reception for us: four officers and one civilian. The officer – a general – who appears to be in charge, wearing the national uniform, greets us as our escort drives away. “Monsieur Dutoît, Mademoisellle Baudoin, it is a pleasure to welcome you here. I am at present the commanding officer here.” He then proceeds to introduce his colleagues: an Air Force man who represents the Great Power (there are several platoons wearing various national uniforms in front of the hangar), and three officers of which we assume one is from the small country that did fire one of the missiles, the other two members of the Alliance. The civilian is introduced as the representative of the Great Power To Be. We exchanged handshakes and polite smiles. The officer resumes: “We want first of all to thank you both for your cooperation, and coming all the way to this place. Of course you are both from military families and have a deep sense of duty.” We are then led towards the entrance of the hangar. Inside a double line of soldiers guards the missiles, that lie on the trestles behind a short electrical barrier. White overall-clad scientific types are busy around the three sinister but impotent objects. The press corps has been corralled into a little square in front of a long table where our guests and us are soon invited to sit.  Armed soldiers stand behind us. The journalists look a little subdued, there are s dozen television cameras directed at the two seats where Melissa and I now sit. The local officer makes the introduction. His speech is concise and without too much emphasis on the strangeness of the situation. Here we are, the two hitherto unknown humans who have written the text that called for world peace exactly at the time when an act of hostility was neutralised by an unknown power. The general stresses the fact that the whole situation and much of the information we have provided to the military authorities are classified: this will be the only opportunity the international press will have to ask us questions. Then the questions rain on us. Melissa answers most of them, smiling, in full control. I guess she has been briefed by Gabrielle. The journalists start asking from her personal questions. The general intervenes firmly. I am then asked if I have a clue as to who hijacked the missiles. The prepared reply has been agreed back home with the secret service agents: I do not know and expect it is a friend of the United Nations. Indeed I see as I speak the United Nations colours against the back wall of the hangar. The session is over in half an hour, The press is asked to leave the hangar and rejoin offices that have been placed  at their disposal on the campus. Then our group walks slowly to get closer to the missiles. The Great Power officer says: “You will have noticed the presence of Colonel XX – the man we believe to be from the divided country where the missile was fired – which is helping all of us a lot. We recognise though that there is yet no explanation as how the three missiles got here. My friend general YY, our host, has explained that the camp was still under military authority and safeguard, and has been since the war, but there was no witness of the missiles coming here. This hangar was locked…” We shake our heads without comment.

The general invites us  to a small office on the side of one of the hangar’s walls. Several other offices are occupied by the “scientists” and telecommunication equipment.  “You have been very helpful to our colleagues in London. I want to make sure you know that at any time if you wish to make an additional statement this will be welcome. We will keep the press off your back, both of you. On the other hand we would be pleased if you were also available to us, by telephone on a 24 hours/ seven days basis.” He smiles. We know. The Asian “civilian” then speaks to Melissa in a courteous and fluent voice, in perfect English. “Miss Baudoin, the general is too much of a gentleman to bother you with historical details. Nonetheless I wish to let you know that my superiors – as he says that I know that he must be himself a pretty high ranking officer in the developing Air Force or Navy of the Great Power To Be – are very interested in your lineage.” Melissa smiles. I suspect her true identity has been manipulated by Gabrielle to skip the difficult question of her real age. I look through the window of the office at the three missiles. I have no doubt they have been teleported here. But why here? Why are all the paths leading to the Coven converging on this little town? “Yes, resumes the general, we expect new developments and your help will be invaluable.” Then the Air Force man asks: “Do you have any question for us?” We have expected this and Melissa has the answer: “Sir, she says smiling, we wish the request in the article we wrote, to have some effect for all the people of the world.” They all smile and the general says that the fact that they are here, talking with us, in front of the international press, shows very well how seriously the article has been taken. I remember the words of Elga. Part of me feels a sense of dread: how seriously is really a matter of how quickly the world governments will act. They invite us to a simple lunch in the officers mess. At the table sit officers in many different uniforms, in conversation in a variety of languages. Then, as if in a dream, I see a woman in uniform who is talking in Russian to a tall officer of the German Luftwaffe. It is Elga.