The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: History

Lützowplatz

La PoupéeEverything revolves around the canal: wherever his walks, or rides, take him, he’s always back there, in the Tiergarten, or on Schönerberger Ufer, or closer to home on Tempelhofer Ufer, and all the way to Maybachufer. So it is when he walks through Lützowplatz, on his way to the Nollendorfplatz station, or further west, to the Kurfürstendamm (which he compares with Regent street), as if he was, in a mysterious way, bound tight by the water spirits – or is it by the spirits of the martyrs whose tortured bodies were thrown in the Landwehrkanal?

He rides to Charlottenburg, loses himself in the park, reflects on Queen Luise’s grave – oh! the marmor… – and finds treasures in the Scharf-Gerstenberg museum. For him, the City hides layers after layers of troubling mysteries, to be discovered so slowly, as an endless source of inspiration, an endless flow of loss, wondering and hope, as if generations before him had legated to him their forgotten dreams. Faust’s metropolis has now a firm grip on his soul, and Julian enjoys that servitude. Melissa understands, who shares his passion. But she’s no barbarian, like him, but a native of Köpenick, where the ancient fortress once stood, between two worlds. Sometime, he sees her too as a beautiful ghost, not one from his childhood, but one direct descendant from the slavic tribes that once lived on this land, the old Brandenburg, before Berlin and Germania even existed at all.

The studio on Eylauerstraße is now too small, as Sarah and her husband have brought more books, and some furniture from their East London house, and Melissa has moved her little possessions, finally. So he’s looking for a larger apartment, for the three of them to pursue their dream, where they will work, love, reinvent their shared adventure. He roams in Schöneberg, and further East, along the Spree, always armed with camera and notebook, which makes Sarah smile. None of them ever mentions the Jägerstraße house, it remains taboo, without anyone willing to even question it.

So Julian is on a search, around his beloved Kreuzberg, and further afield, in Schöneberg, in Tempelhof, in Friedrichshain, in Neukölln. He – and Sarah – know what they want, the quiet tree-lined street, a second or third floor, a balcony, two or three good rooms. Melissa’s on the lookout too, now an essential part of this community, and devoted body and soul to the couple. It is the high summer, with the humid heat that renders Berliners a little slower, and Julian himself more meditative. Between bouts of e-mailing estate agents, and photography editing, he manages some writing, and is now looking for a local literary agent, since he wants to publish his two novels with a German house.

Sarah is attentive, sometime even watchful, more often in Berlin now than in London, when she can afford the time off her business. Julian’s sister, Jane, visits them also more frequently. She was around for the Berlin fashion show, and stayed over for a few days. She took immediately to Melissa, who sees her as her “big” sister. Julian’s mind wanders, around the new pair, his sister and his lover, under Sarah’s knowing smile.

Then, one morning, as the three of them breakfast at Ambrosius, at the corner of Einemstraße and Kurfürstenstraße, Sarah decides that her husband is now cured of his phantasms, and back to the reality of the living.

Image: Hans Bellmer, la Poupée (die Puppe, the Doll), courtesy Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Berlin-Charlottenburg

Lindenstraße

Julian

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer): Amor Skin, Berlin, ca. 1925-1930, Fotografie auf Silbergelatinepapier © Jüdisches Museum Berlin  I have always worked better in the morning, at the time dawn light is already visible, but not bright enough to let the night be forgotten. Then, the mind still remembers the nocturne walks and drifts, the bodies and faces met, perhaps touched, in those misty dreams. Early, inspiration proceeds from still live memories, and those clearer sparks born from the shock of the day.

Here, in Kreuzberg, the rising noises of city life, never as aggressive as in London or Paris, accompany the first writing shift of the day, part of that concert of senses, of which the aroma of brewing coffee is a central piece. There is you, emerging a little behind me, your soft steps a mere fluster in the peaceful atmosphere of our home.

When it is a little warmer the balcony door is open, letting the city visit our world, but this street is so quiet that only village-like sounds reach us. Sun light plays little tiling games on our walls, on the prints that adorn them, on the glass tumblers on the table. We drink coffee, in a silence hardly interrupted by the sound of a distant radio.

We talk about the book, the characters, the plot that appears so anchored in the city that it resembles a diary. Your smile encourages me to continue, rather than be tempted to lead you back to our room, as my main character would do, if he were me. Of course you know that this is for me therapy, as much as a way to finance the small luxuries that add flavour to our life here: a pair of new bicycles, new lenses, some rare vinyl records found in a marvellous and hidden shop in Friedrichshain…

We talk about going back to Sans-Souci, of Friedrich and Voltaire, of Clausewitz and Charnhorst. Prussia, we call her Brandenburg, is all around us. Constantly we look back at history, what would have happened if, if Bismarck had lived longer, if Germany had remained united, neutral, the opposite of the nexus of the Cold War. History feeds our love of the city, and my work.

We decide to take a walk, there will be time for me to go back to this chapter later, as I know that you will be out this afternoon. Hand in hand, we cross Viktoria Park, and aim for Lindenstraße and the Museum. The Museum is our meditation place, our souls’ meeting place with the city, the grey corridors and corners a replica of our minds. You said that all our secrets and hopes are there, more so than between the monoliths of the open space near the Tiergarten.

We belong here, like the others, the dead and the living, to the city of Faust.

Photography: Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer): Amor Skin, Berlin, ca. 1925-1930, Fotografie auf Silbergelatinepapier
© Jüdisches Museum Berlin 

Helga

LostThe shore is as I remember it, when Sarah and I came here, the first time, at Gabrielle’s invitation. Unlike that day, Helga is now wearing her best London suit, business-like and sober. Then, she had worn the toga loved of high members of the Coven.

“It’s nice to see you relaxed and happy, Julian…” Helga looking at me with her enigmatic smile. I think that she is right, relaxed I am, having left behind those dark memories, and my little ghost.

“But how about you, Helga, what is new in your trade?”

Helga stops, turns towards me: “And what trade is that, Julian?” Her dark eyes are reflecting only the deep blue light of the sky. “The art of disseminating peace in the Universe,” I reply calmly, adding: “As a doctor, this is your ultimate role, isn’t it?”

We resume our walk on the water edge. “Oh, my medical ambitions are more modest.” There is no trace of irony in Helga’s voice. Nonetheless we are here, and I sense she’s waiting for me to ask, how and why. But I won’t be trapped in a game of cat and mouse, with this beautiful, very beautiful, woman, who I suspect to be more than human…

“We are overwhelmed by the stress in your society,” starts Helga, then correcting herself, “I mean our society…” No, you did not mean that, I think, but I won’t take you on for this. “Every period of change has its human cost.” I remark, philosophically. “And now this is mental health, your domain, dear Elga.”

I omitted the “H”, but she does not give any sign of noticing.

“Yes, in previous ages, it was self-flagelling, and all sorts of religious hysteria, now it’s drugs and other abuses…” She adds matter-of-fact: “And we, doctors, can no longer cope.”

I am about to ask if this is a question of economics, or simply sheer numbers. Helga’s mind is racing ahead of me. “It is about demographics. You have long realised yourself that the present inequalities are self-destructive. Extreme wealth corrodes the body of society, and the fact that ninety percent of the world population lives, or rather survives, on one percent of the revenue of the top ten is an engine of destruction. We can do very little about it… from strictly a medical standpoint.”

Now I want to ask: “But peace…” Helga is prompt to cut me off: “The state of war is merely one way to extend military imperialism beyond its shelf date, whatever chaos and misery result from it. The Cold War is over, but there had to be something to take its place, anything. The corporate lords cannot live in peace for very long. They need war and destruction: it is part of their system,” After a pause, she continues:

“For most of us, the resulting stress converts into either extreme poverty, or extreme distress, or both, depending on where we live.”

“If you believe this, then what is our destiny?” I ask, suddenly worried at Helga’s gloomy outlook. “I think there has to be a big change, another great transformation. But we may have to wait for that. In the meantime, people like myself, or Gabrielle, in our respective capacities, are struggling along…”

Those words leave me silent. Helga takes my arm: “But you know also that there is nothing new. Over history, societies have aged, gone sick, then somehow managed to transform themselves, or had to disappear, be absorbed in something bigger, sometime better. There is always a choice…”

We have come to the end of the walk, and I recognise now where we are. “I’ll give you a lift home,” Helga says. “And if I may, I’ll pop in to say hello to Sarah…” We laugh.

In the Chancellery

The Chancellery, Berlin We are at the entrance of the long steel and glass building that adorns the long perspective in front of the Bundestag. Sarah and Melissa are standing, superb in their sober grey suits and white silk shirts: they have adopted the same hair style, and today they are both dark red, and wear sharp black high heels. They also wear black lipstick. There is today an unforgiving coldness to their beauty. We walk slowly to the gate, welcome by a platoon of  dark-blue clad officers. I notice their badges which I do not recognise, I notice the blond hair tightly held under the strict berets: the Chancellery is guarded by women warriors.

We walk in as part of a small group of  about twelve guests. Classical music – is it Schubert? – floats through the endless glass corridors. Late afternoon light filters through the large windows. We are all assigned specific seats through specific doors. We are shepherded by the silent guards to one of the larger conference rooms in the building. As we enter the room one guard invites Sarah and Melissa to follow her, while another guides me to my seat. My wife and lover disappear through a side door.

I sit back and look at the audience which slowly fills in the large auditorium. Guards in uniform stand at all corners. Large flags of the United Nations and the Federal Republic, as well as the Union’s, ornate the wide stage. The auditorium is large enough for three or four thousand people. Schubert plays on. Sarah’s and Melissa’s seats remain empty for another half an hour. I then remember that we were given portable audio guides as we entered the building. I connect mine. There is a live broadcast, and on the little screen one can observe the speaker. It is a man, in USAF uniform, and I immediately recognise the officer who was our host in Brooklyn. He’s introducing the programme for the conference and explains the purpose of this pre-conference meeting.

I stand up to let a group of journalists access their seats a little further on the same row. They are all women. I notice an insignia on their jackets. Soon Sarah and Melissa join me, smiling, stunning in their suits and shiny makeup. Sarah kisses me lightly on the cheek and insists for me to sit between her and Melissa. Melissa briefly touches my knee. As I turn toward her I see she wears the same insignia as the journalists. So does Sarah. Then it comes to my mind that this is a smaller, more discreet version, than the one worn by the Chancellery guards. It’s an eagle seizing a small sphere. In the middle of the sphere is a heart.

On the stage now stand four people. One of them is Gabrielle. I also recognise the Chancellor herself, the same US officer, and a tall woman in a Chinese military uniform, perhaps a navy officer. As the four of them stand to attention, Schubert stops and the audience stands up for the German national anthem. The three of us know the words and the melody well. It is a moving moment. As the audience sits back a film appears in the background of the stage, silent. But the Chancellor stands up and speaks. She introduces the conference, states its main purpose, which is to launch a universal movement for peace and the end of all wars. The film shows the horrors of recent conflicts, then switches to views of recent meetings and diplomatic events. The Chancellor introduces Gabrielle – I hold my breath – as “our friend from the East”. No mention of the Coven or of Andromeda… The eagle and the sphere emblem appear on the screen. As the Chancellor concludes her introduction Gabrielle stands up. Her voice is high and clear, without accent. Her German is perfect, the online translation equally so. The portable audio device gives us fifteen language options. Gabrielle’s words reach my consciousness as Sarah takes hold of my hand. There will be four strands of work for the conference: diplomacy, military disarmament, environment and, demographics and “gender”.

I feel dizzy. Gabrielle explains the purpose of each strand, and expands on the diplomatic work undertaken by the UN, the Great Power and her competitors since the last crisis. Then the USAF general talks about the military side of the conference. Fluently he describes the work done so far, since the “disappearance” of the missiles in East Asia. He mentions the recent crisis in the Middle-East and how this is being resolved “to the best interest of mankind”.

The lady in Navy uniform then introduces the environment part of the programme. She’s evidently an expert. The screen displays a series of views describing threats to the planet, as seen from space. The speaker describes the mathematics of carbon reduction. I wonder how many in the audience follow her exposé. Suddenly Gabrielle is back to the fore. I must have missed the last minutes of the environment presentation, lost in a dream. At first I do not understand what Gabrielle is saying. The screen is again full of equations, this time about demographics. Sarah holds my hand tighter. Melissa says something, very low, in my ear. I shiver. Gabrielle is talking about her people. She talks about their ancient history, how they overcome the threats to their survival, how they conquered Space. She says that it is now mankind’s turn to make the choice: survival or self-destruction through dark ages. The audience is totally silent. No one moves. The film is now showing old newsreels. Soon Gabrielle concludes that one of the objectives of the conference is to achieve agreement on population control, a condition of peace. As she sits down, smiling, the Chancellor rises, wishes the audience a positive experience during the conference, and explains that we will be individually called in, in small groups, for the follow-up debriefing.

As I am called in my companions stand up with me and escort me holding my arms along the corridors. I cannot believe what I heard, what is happening. Sarah and Melissa guide me through another corridor and a flight of steps. Melissa knocks at a door and walks in, followed by Sarah who ushers me in. We follow another short corridor and stand by another door. Gabrielle opens the door. She smiles at my companions and shakes my hand.

“You are a lucky man, Julian”, she says in her softest voice, “thanks to your friends your conference will be only hard and interesting work.” At those words Melissa hugs me. There is a new strength in her taking hold of me. I am invited to sit down in one of four comfortable leather chairs that face a wide bay window opening toward the Bundestag. I feel my destiny is no longer mine to control. Gabrielle was not threatening me, but merely stating a fact.

“Julian, you may not have followed all of the presentations this afternoon, there was a lot to absorb. You have been attached to the demographics strand of the conference. You should know that you are one of a very small number, a minority, of non-expert male participants, invited to join us for this project.”

What Melissa said to my ear a few minutes back was: “Trust us.”

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.

Peace

Peace Sarah and I are walking on the pebble beach, along the shore of the bay we both love and think of as our reflection ground.  There is no-one else this morning, the air is cold, the sky grey, and only the cries of the seagulls pierce the silence.  We have left the car in the small village, after hearing the latest news from East Asia.  Before we left home for the one hour drive to get to the village, Sarah talked to Melissa who said she would be with us the following weekend to help me with the article.  Sarah thought Melissa was  up-to-date on my meeting with Elga and Gabrielle, and had received her own instructions from them.  I agreed that there was a plan, whatever it was, and that my old friend was part of it.  We walk silently for a while, and then Sarah, holding my hand firmly in hers, tells me what we should do…

– Julian, we know that they can manipulate space and time.  We know also that our minds have no secret for them, indeed they know more about our past than we know ourselves.  What we do not know is what is the part of  manipulation – of our thoughts, our senses – and what is “real”, if this makes any sense…

– It does , I reply, and I know what you are leading at: that resistance is futile… 

The news this morning was that the small Asian country, that had for several weeks be making war-like noises in defiance of the rest of the world, had finally fired a “test” missile across the border to her southern neighbour.  It appeared that anti-missiles batteries, installed by the Great Power near the border, had responded, and two missiles had been fired intended to intercept the intruder.  This was the nightmare scenario the world had feared: an incident leading to retaliation, and the onset of war.  However, in this instance, none of the three missiles had reached their intended targets: they appeared to have disappeared into thin air, literally.  The Great Power had immediately recognised that it did not know what had happened to its missiles.  Tracking cameras had followed the weapons’ trajectories, and everything had gone to plan, but suddenly the cameras showed nothing: the missiles had gone.  The small country was so far silent.  Its powerful ally in the North, the Great Power To Be, had denied any involvement, and reiterated its call for restraint.  The news had not surprised us, other than by the rapidity of events.

– From what Elga has told you, resumes Sarah, we should expect whatever warning we issue through the press to be believed.  This calls for some evidence: the highjacking of those missile may be it…

– As you said, they manipulate matter at the sub-atomic level, theirs is a pico, rather than nano-technology, a millionth time smaller than what we have achieved so far!  Nonetheless it will take some time for the truth to sink in don’t you think?

Sarah is silent for a few minutes.  We stop at the one of the wooden benches above the beach, surrounded by dunes and pale grass shivering in the wind.  We drink from a thermos of hot coffee.

– We have to follow the events, she says, and prepare what they want, some kind of announcement… Something that will start explaining to the world that game is over… 

– Yes, they told me to use my own words…

– This is where they need you, us.  Their understanding of our psychology is still weak, despite Gabrielle’s long experience down here, despite Melissa who should have been under their observation ever since she was reborn.

– Have you thought that their power of simulation may be greater than their understanding?  Their mind is, after all, collective, it must be very hard for them to think in terms of a society – a species – of individuals?  From what we learnt from Gabrielle the Coven must be centuries, perhaps even, millennia old (of our time)…

– Yes, they have the looks, and the language, and know the geography.  They told you that they have monitoring sensors – atoms, perhaps even particles – everywhere.  But that does not equate with understanding us.

– But where will it stop?  OK, they are demonstrating control, and assuming they do neutralise the military, what is next? Is it certain that their only goal is to preserve this world, and somehow protect us against ourselves?

My question does not expect an answer yet.  Evidently we do not know, and will know only once mankind has accepted the facts.  How long will it take?

We resume our walk, along the shore, towards the next village some five miles further south.  Sarah kisses me, smiles, and laughing:

– I am just happy they stopped those missiles you know!

Face to face

Crystal ball I have been summoned: in the night Gabrielle’s voice instructed me to be at her place in the morning, and I was told, politely but firmly, to go on my own.  I tell Sarah, and we talk briefly about what we could expect.  Sarah thinks it might have to do with the offer, that of parthenogenesis.  The Coven may have realised the human females won’t give up their males that easily (“I’ll tell them to go and clone themselves!” was Jane’s reaction, the more remarkable since my sister’s tendencies are well known).  So “they” may want to appraise me of an alternative plan says my wife.  I am skeptical, for I believe now that “they” are indeed all powerful: why should they care about what we think?  Sarah thinks that I am giving up the fight too early, the Coven wants something, and we are not sure what.  Their objective is evidently not mere destruction: they have a goal, and we need to find out what that is.

So I set off just after dawn, and an hour later I am walking the narrow street, deserted at this time.  The chill of the morning air seems sharper here and I walk faster until I reach the long wall and the small door.  The door is unlocked and as I cross the threshold it shuts closed behind me.  “Come in Julian” says Gabrielle’s voice and I slowly reach the end of the corridor.  Gabrielle and another person stand in the room I know so well, in front of the bay window.  It takes me a few seconds to recognise Elga.  Gabrielle signals me to take a seat on the sofa near the chimney.  As on the first time I came to this house a wood fire burns brightly, projecting an eery light in the room.  The two women are sitting in front of me, their backs to the window.  Elga looks now much different from the attractive creature Sarah and I met several months back.  Her long black hair is wrapped in a complicated bun, held by a deep blue metallic ring.  But her clothes… She wears a grey suit reminiscent of the spartan Mao-Tse-Tung tunique, but well cut, buttoned up to her chin, which fits her athletic body well.

I am waiting for one of them to speak, and remain silent. We observe each other for long minutes.  Then Gabrielle addresses me, in a slow voice intended to convince.

“Thank you for joining us at such short notice Julian.  We have to share with you, and through you with your friends if you judge it wise, of a decision the Coven took a few hours – that is for you a few weeks – ago.”  Gabrielle pauses and I look at Elga, who is not smiling but, rather, looking at her companion as if in deep reflection.

“The Coven has now realised the inanity of suggesting a violent solution to what we see as your predicament, and to the risks this may present to us in the future.  Equally we understand how unpractical it would be to impose a ban on your ways to reproduce yourselves…” I am waiting for what is, inevitably, going to follow, but I am wrong, have been wrong all the time.

“Elga is going to explain what we are going to do, as you know she represents the Coven here, you could say, she’s in charge of this sector of your galaxy on our behalf…”

Elga then speaks, and her voice conveys immense authority, and a slight veil of impatience.

“You know that Gabrielle and I have had some difficulties in convincing many of our own about the value of giving you and your species time to evolve further.  In part our problem is due to your use of atomics, and the continuous violence which appears to characterise the way you attempt – and fail – to resolve conflicts.”  I am aware of Elga’s eyes firmly fixed on me, of her beautiful face showing nothing but an implacable resolution.  “We have considered many ways we could intervene without destroying you.  In truth, for many of us, the survival of your beautiful planet is far more important than yours, as a species.  However we have concluded that attempting one without the other may prove costly, for you, and for us.”  Elga pauses, and I am thinking of the meteorite in the skies of Russia.  “So, we have come to this conclusion, unanimously: we have to intervene directly in your affairs, neutralising some of the fatal moves some of your governments may be tempted to make, in one word, practise what you would call a ‘humanitarian mission’ – with a difference, we have the means of obliterating any resistance.”  We are silent, I am listening to the fire, reliving our previous meetings, and Gabrielle finally speaks:

“We have 100% coverage of all of mankind’s present conflict areas and strategic sites.  As you have probably guessed we have spent the past few years developing an extensive – shall we say – spy network of a fine mesh of which your science cannot conceive.  Suffice to say that the same mesh can be used to destroy weaponry of any size and power, from long range missiles down to a single hand gun. “

Elga smiles and adds, suddenly back to a more congenial stance: “We knew you would understand Julian.  Now, what we want you to do, is to explain the situation to your friends.  Melissa has been informed and she will help you prepare the drafts.”

I am waiting, the drafts of what?  Elga resumes, now smiling broadly: “You are going to write to the ten or so top newspapers in your world, explaining the situation in your own words.  You should know now, that people are going to take what you say seriously.”

A Moon-lit Dune

Aurès I rarely think of those years, what Melissa calls my “lost years”.  Those times are immersed in a dusty landscape, tainted ochre like the small walls hiding death, a place where I missed her more than life, and my days were a long, uninterrupted, bloody nightmare.  Behind me then were the golden years of a happy childhood, her love, her hand in mine, the little town with the old library, and its staircase.  In front, around me, everywhere, was war.  Not the neat little war of cavalry charges: the dirty war of the djebel, where friends were foes, where death struck in the shape of a small child, where women were fighting, got butchered, dismembered, like the rest of us.  At night we – the leopards –  talked of girls, and homes, of all the memories we were fast losing, of our disappearing childhood.  In winter we crawled in the snow, in the sand tainted by the blood of our comrades.  We fought with knives, with rocks, with the deadly hand-grenades that sometimes “they” threw back at us, smiling of the devilish smile of the victors.

But those memories are deep buried, and I want to keep them buried.  I remember more about the “return” to civilian life, the despair, the chaos, and then the orgies.  For a while we met at our vet association, but leopards age badly. Many of us took to drink and worse.  I did not.  After a while I decided for myself that life was, after all, worth living. And I forgot her, Melissa.  In time I made money, and met you, my love.  There is no shadow anymore, just the neat certainty of a  happy life and marriage, writing, the mountains, and my sister.

But last night I dreamed of the dune.  It may have been just looking at the night sky too much the evening before.  It came back to me with invincible clarity.  It was a month or so before we left: the last operation in the Aurès.  My patrol had got separated from the main group.  The enemy was nearby, silent, deadly.  The night was clear, icy, and the moon was full.  I told my men to stop and I moved alone towards the top of the hill to take a position (no sat-nav in those days!) The hill was crowned with a sand and rocks dune, and it was lit by the moon that gave it a silver hue.  Silently I climbed to the edge, and in one fraction of second I saw her: she was lying flat against a small rock, her sniper rifle steady aimed at me. Her blond hair was bound under the small cap, reflecting the moon light.  I knew I was dead meat: I kept still, waiting for the bullet.  Nothing happened, she did not move, or at least I did not see her moving.  I closed my eyes: death could not be that easy. But then, she was gone: the blond warrior had disappeared.  I took the position with the little sextant and went back to the men.  “You took your time sergeant, we were beginning to worry”.  I smiled. I had seen Death, and She had spared me.

As I woke up this morning I could still see the lying shape, the dark green uniform, the moon light, the dark barrel of that rifle…  So long ago: where is that woman now?  Did she, like me, survived the war?  I have no idea why this came back to me now.  I did not say anything to Sarah, got up, and went to my desk.  Memories are strange constructs, with a life of their own, independent from us.  I know what they say about synapses and the complexity of the brain.  In the peace of my study, as I type these words, I am thinking of Elga, and of what Sarah told me about her: that she is a collective mind, an association of perhaps millions of individuals who pool their thoughts.  Is this our future too?  And is Melissa part of them?  Is this the message of my dream: we have been spared, but the way forward is to belong, to surrender our individual being, to mesh?  Those thoughts trouble me: is Melissa showing us the way, the abolition of death, the abandonment of homo sapiens for something else, as distant from him as he was from the Neanderthals?

I leave these thoughts to concentrate on the letter to my publisher: the first draft is nearly completed, perhaps in a couple of months I will ask my editor to proceed.  She’s very busy – and very competent – and I have to give her due notice.  And I would like Sarah to read through too.  She has read abstracts, she likes this version.  Yesterday she told me about Shikoku, Kafka, and Shimamoto, the eighty eight temples…  The shore… a moon-lit shore?

The phone rings, it’s Jane, she’s coming to dinner and she’s bringing the wine.  Sarah picks up the upstairs handset.  I leave the two of them chatting away.  As I said, I am a lucky man.  I finish my letter and mail it.  Then I pick up where I left last night in the novel: Susan is now Paul’s lover, the two of them have crossed the border…

Les leopards

Return to Earth

Black Hole We remain silent for long minutes, as Gabrielle’s words continue their journey through our minds. Sarah’s holding my hand: suddenly I am aware that we have a very physical presence here: is it the power of illusion, or have we in some way “borrowed” bodies? And what do Gabrielle and Elga look like in their native forms? I decide to ignore that latter thought.

Elga speaks: “In our coven, there are some who believe you humans do not deserve to be protected, and that, at best, you should be quarantined and ignored. We cannot be sure that this view may not become a majority. So we wish to prove them wrong. It is our belief that if you do not receive any help from outside, which means from us, your civilisation’s chances of survival may be slim. Even assuming you see reason and stop destroying your planet, asteroids or other galactic incidents will finish you off, in due time. We are convinced you will need some help, and probably sooner than we thought a few centuries back. The four of you – Julian, Sarah, Jane and of course Melissa – can do a lot to strengthen our case.”

We are stunned. It is Sarah who finally replies for us: “I can say for at least three of us, and I am sure Melissa agrees, that we are willing. But what can we do?” There is another pause then Gabrielle speaks. “It is a long-haul project. Remember that we have been observing you for millennia. We rely on Melissa to explain to you – and she has started with you Sarah – how you can communicate with us more easily. We have invited you here, not to show off, but to facilitate your understanding of what we have undertaken. For us your main task will be to communicate back to your people, through your writing, your friends, whatever influence you may already have or develop in the future, and slowly begin to suggest that you are not alone. This will be difficult. It will take time. We decided to work with individuals like yourselves rather than institutions, because we do not want to panic you: our experience elsewhere has taught us to be patient. You will have to be cautious too, since a healthy skepticism will meet any affirmation that we – “beings from Andromeda” – are close to your world.  In fact we believe that this may not be the most helpful starting point. It will be up to you. Our own experience is that an appreciation of the possibility – a finite probability – of close-by intelligent life and friendly civilisations maybe the way to prime consciousness. Many of your mainstream scientists will deny the practicality of communication – the Fermi paradox. Others may be more questioning of the received wisdom.” We are now silent, reflecting, as we retrace our steps along the beach. The moons are bright in the dark sky.

Elga wishes us well and promises to be in touch. We thank her for talking to us, and assure her of our willingness to help her to help us. The little sphere is back, and Gabrielle says that she will accompany us back to the cloister. The return journey appears to take a little longer but when we stand, close to the medieval column and the statue of the saint, Jane says that we have been away only for fifteen minutes at most. We agree with Gabrielle and Melissa to meet at their house in a week time. The three of us then walk back through the sleepy streets to our car, parked near the library. Sarah and Jane are chatting amiably. I am deep in thoughts, Sarah will drive. We, the space and time travellers, will need seven hours to go back home…

Nostalgia

ND-en-Vaux 02

We know that our friend Gabrielle is in trouble but we don’t know what for, or who with. Strangely I feel that the reason must be related to her interest in the old town, my town, the place where Melissa and I lived. I don’t know why this came to my mind: the clue must be there. Why was Gabrielle interested in that small place, out of thousands of much more glamorous towns and cities? Why that spot? Was it really because of her interest in history, in that land wounded by so many battlefields? Yes, she is a historian. And I ponder: what does it mean for a being who live for millennia? What perspective does she have on our history?

The small town grew from a medieval market place to a garrison town on the eastern marches of the kingdom, and on to an industrial town in the nineteenth century. I am looking for something unusual, something that may have attracted Gabrielle’s attention. From time to time clear memories of buildings and churches reveal themselves to me: I am looking at old pictures, and an irrepressible nostalgia overcomes me. I see the small river flowing past our house, the trees reflecting in the water and the kingfisher my mother so loved… I want to talk to Melissa about all this, but she seems more interested in gossiping with my wife and sister, or am I being very unfair? Then the town was still full of older houses, some of them going back to the fifteenth century or perhaps earlier. Once – I must have been still very young –  we stayed in a very old house where the walls were thick but hollow: at night we could hear the rats running along the walls. There was a water fountain in the paved courtyard, flowing into a heavy stone basin that was very ancient.

I am looking further at the history, a famous general was born there, who made his name in North Africa, in the last century. The presumed inventor of a precursor of the helicopter was born there too…  Perhaps I have to go back further, to Roman times, to the reign of Aurelian, and the great battle that took place nearby, that sealed the fate of the Gaules? The town became christian under Constantine and the religious peace that was the hallmark of his reign. After that the town bishops became very powerful, holding their own against their rivals and even the King. The town hosted knight templars… Images and memories cross my mind, the town was on main the road to Burgundy, and on the invasion routes from the East. Gabrielle has never told me what the origin of her interest in the region was: how far back does that interest reach? I need to see Melissa, she, of all people, must know something of Gabrielle’s studies.

I am looking again at the long list of famous people who were born, lived or died in the town: artists, soldiers, writers, engineers… The town still hosts one of the top engineering schools in the country. But what about the surroundings? Farming is the main industry in the region, and, on the hills, the vineyards that gave it their name.

All this is very far from the cosmogonic perspectives that Gabrielle opened for us. And yet she was, still is, there, looking, scanning vast archives…. What is she looking for? Then I remember Melissa’s page: the pictures of the old churches, and as I open the laptop, and log on, suddenly I see it: the old cloister, the stern ascetic face of the saint – I have no recollection of Melissa’s interest in medieval art, but here is the proof. Is that a clue? Is there something hidden in those old stones?

Vue de Châlons-en-Champagne 220407

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