The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Elga

A desolate landscape

Robert Doisneau: Les Helicopters, 1972As instructed Helga stopped the car at the limit of the airport. Both sides of the road were littered with the refuse of war, broken vehicles, hideously torn and burnt debris, broken glass and the litter of troops on the move. Beyond was a desolate landscape of ruined buildings, carcasses of airliners, burnt out armour, and artillery shells, sinister mementoes of the carnage of the last year.

She could hear, at intervals, the distant hammering of artillery, somewhere far away toward the North-East. Her guide pointed out the remnants of a control tower, an eerie skeleton over which savage battles had earlier been fought. The runways were reduced to grey dust punctured by craters and broken concrete slabs.

Through her human eyes, others, with more piercing vision, would observe the landscape, appraising, calculating, measuring. There were few sensors in this part of the country: the events had surprised the coven, thus her mission was now to conduct a direct assessment of the risks of planetary war. For what worried her species was the potential for a new conflict, and the consequences that would for decades delay their ambition of colonisation.

But Helga knew that this was already war: later, perhaps soon, the real fight would start, and huge armies and weaponry would be engaged. With Julian and Sarah, in the evenings of this late autumn, they had discussed the scenario for several weeks: a local uprising provokes a violent response, soon a conflict is born, fuelled by foreign interests and hatred… She trusted Julian’s deep understanding of the human psyche, more acute than hers, and Sarah’s judgement. Sarah… Helga longed to be now with her friend.

As she observed the desolation surrounding them, she was listening to her guide, who, in perfect German, was describing the life of local people, in the nearby city, through the night and day shelling and bombing of the past year, when the airport had been a battlefield. Helga reflected on the soldier’s absence of accent. At first she’d thought he might be a German mercenary, or volunteer fighter. But he had explained where he came from, far North, near the Arctic circle. Like the other military men Sarah and her had met on their arrival in *** his uniform had no insignia.

Three weeks ago they had driven all the way through Poland, after leaving Berlin. Friends in the German military had given Helga a detailed itinerary, and a letter for the authorities, in the capital. There they had spent three days, visiting the city, waiting for their laissez-passer. With their passports the officer who briefed them, explained how to make sure they would cross the front line at authorised checkpoints held by the army, and avoid those  guarded by militiae who were largely out of the government’s control.

Further East, Helga had relied on one contact she had from the coven’s days, a high ranking officer, who had confirmed the safe crossing points. Driving through the deserted back roads of the demilitarised zone, as such existed, they were met by two civilians, who, again in perfect German, had told them to follow them. Soon they entered the city, passing on their way columns of armour and motorised artillery. The country was at war.

In the city they had to wait another four days, under armed surveillance. They were well looked after. Helga’s contact had explained they would have to be patient. They would be cleared by officers of the army East, not from the local battalions. Indeed one morning they met the “team”. Four soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms, the look of professional fighters on their clean-shaven faces. Only one of them, apparently the political officer, spoke to them, in German. They would be given a guide and internal passports. At all times they must listen to the guide’s instructions. Their request to visit the airport had been granted at that condition. Only one of them at a time should go there, always with the guide. They could visit the city together, but had to keep within the military limits.

They were allocated comfortable quarters on what seemed to be the base of an army unit busy with telecommunications, judging by their vehicles, the forest of masts and satellite dishes on the roof of the building. Their room was guarded by two heavily armed soldiers. At no time had their luggage be checked, nor themselves interrogated, nor searched.

Today Sarah was meeting with some residents in the centre of the city, something she’d hoped to be able to do during their stay. Sarah was more relaxed here than she had been in the capital. Helga was reflecting on her friend’s affinities with the rebellion in this part of the country. Julian had also made clear where his sympathies lied.

Her guide was signing to her to enter a low level warehouse and be silent. Soon she heard the noise of powerful engines, still some distance away, above ground. Through the door of the warehouse Helga saw the helicopters, three ugly machines, bristling with weaponry and aerials. Her guide was talking on his combat radio set, in a language she could not identify.

The choppers were now very closed, in a few seconds a cloud of dust invaded the warehouse, the guide gestured to Helga to come out. One craft had landed in front of them, the other two were hovering a few meters from the ground, on each side of the warehouse. Three soldiers and one civilian were walking toward them. Her guide saluted. The three soldiers stood behind the civilian, and Helga recognised her contact.

The general had not changed since the day they had met in the small town, on the Rhenan border, it seemed a long time back. He smiled and they shook hands. Helga knew that he had worked out the reason for their visit, and remembered perfectly well who – or what – she was. “I am pleased to see you Helga, and you haven’t changed either, only more beautiful than ever,” he said gallantly, as if he could read her mind.

Helga did not answer immediately, her sight fascinated by the icy eyes, the calm composure, and his smile. For a fraction of a second she wondered if the general was not one of them, an agent like herself, gifted with a perfect human persona.

“I am sure the coven has good reasons to risk someone of your rank in this war zone… Although of course we have cleaned up this area now, as well as that corridor from where the enemy was shelling the city. People can sleep peacefully now, and you and your companion are safe.”

Helga replied: “We are grateful for your help, please accept this message from my own that should you require our… contribution,” Helga paused, “This would not be withheld.”

The general looked at her with searching eyes, smiled, then exchanged a few words with the guide who had stood by Helga all the time of the encounter. “We wish you a good stay,” the general finally said, “be assured you can contact me any time via your guide if you need anything, or just want to talk, I am here for a while.” He waved to her as he and his escort boarded the chopper. There was no signage on the craft, no identification. Helga and her guide looked on as the choppers were disappearing to the South.

 

Image: Robert Doisneau, Les hélicoptères, 1972

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Mirror on the Wall

Lilya CorneliAs they walk through the entrance of the apartment, the wide mirror on the left of the doorway reflects their image: Julian and his elegant wife Sarah, coming home from a late evening in town. On the opposite side he recognises the Toulouse Lautrec, as Sarah walks in and drops her cape on the back of a leather chair. He touches a switch and the side lighting comes to life, so soft it reveals the features of the apartment only slowly, as if reluctantly.

Everything is so familiar, shrouded in the comfort of an intimate space: their space. A thought filters through his mind: he knows this place, he knows where everything is, the furniture they chose, the art they collected, and yet it is not their home. He walks to the bar, next to the long balcony, and mixes two martinis. Sarah is at the concert piano, facing the large bay window, and has started playing. To his left he sees their bedroom door, and he knows what the room looks like, the queen-size bed, the portrait above it.

He walks to the piano and sets Sarah’s glass on a low table next to her seat. She offers a radiant smile back at him: she’s never been so striking, and he so much in love. A melody of Schubert fills the air. Now, he opens the balcony double door: it is late and the city’s sounds reach him, muffled. The Berlin night is cool and full of the promises of youth. But he, Julian, feels ancient, as ancient as the steps to the Dom. There are few revellers left on the square but the lights are still on. The Deutscher Dom seems to shine in the moonlight, as a reminder of past glories. Clouds briefly mask the moon. But can it be be right: the geometry is improbable, the Dom is at the other end of Gendarmenmarkt…

He walks out to the balcony: mementoes of their lives are everywhere, photographs, paintings they bought all over the world. “They”? Julian feels now deeply troubled, as if he had intruded into someone’s life, someone he may have known, perhaps intimately, in another time. There is a photo of two women, one, older, wearing a pair of old-fashion spectacles, a teacher sort of character, with a benevolent look on her peaceful face. He should remember their names, the names of the two women on the picture. The younger woman is red-haired with sensual lips, and she seems to be looking straight at him. Her sight feels painful to Julian. Julian looks down to the street: Jägerstraße runs past the Französicher Dom, and across Friedrichstraße. He knows the geography of the city so well.

Through the bay window, he sees his wife playing, her face now partly hidden by a statue that stands in front of the piano: a replica of the wounded gladiator. Slowly, he walks along the balcony to the other end. On a low table stand more pictures, and a vase full of fresh carnations. He sees a photo of two women dancing: here on this balcony, where he stands. This time he recognises them: Sarah and his sister Jane. A younger Jane, perhaps even before she became a fashion star.

His unease grows, and as he turns round to walk back to the lounge, he senses a figure standing near the door: a tall hooded shape. He can no longer hear Schubert, but instead, the low murmur of small waves running ashore.  The shape fades into nothingness, he walks back through the door. Although he cannot hear the notes, his wife is still playing. The lights in the lounge appear dimmer. Sarah turns round towards him: she’s not Sarah. Julian sees a woman face with features he thinks he recognises: the jet-black hair, the blue on blue pupils. Helga is looking at him, unsmiling, perhaps even a little threatening.

Julian feels a small tremor. The image dissolves.

Melissa is sitting on the floor of the studio, looking at old pictures. The notes of Schubert float through the calm air of the Eylauer straße. He is lying on the couch, and must have fallen asleep. Melissa looks at him, and blows a kiss. “Now you’re awake, I’ll start cooking,” she says with a teasing smile.

Questions…

You Julian ~ Last year was hard on both of us. The Summer was beautiful, coming after that long extended Winter, and no Spring… Having time together, away from business and political worries, was wonderful. We enjoyed that time, the trip through Germany, the Ostsee, the days in Berlin, soaking up the landscapes, the architecture, the history, the art. And you were there, caring, attentive, stunning. We ran in Tempelhof, wandered in Unter den Linden, visited the Bundestag, ate chips and Curry Wurst on the Alexander Platz, cuddled in Viktoria Park… Your city became mine, I belonged there, with you.

All the time I sensed how much you wanted me to be close, not drifting, not worrying about ghosts. I want to assure you that, all that time, I was with you, and with no-one else. This imagination of mine then played tricks on me, and this got worse when we came back to England. So the end of last year was a struggle: I know that I was responsible for that. I still feel ashamed about it.

But I have questions, and you may be able to answer, at least some of them. Who really is Helga? She has been helping me, that I understand, but what her role is, what she is to you, I do not know. I occasionally read about her in the international media. She’s written a book about Carl Jung. But I cannot recall when we first met, my memory is failing me (perhaps you will recall what the Worker of Secrets says to Siris: “… this failing memory of yours…”)

Then, there is Gabrielle, who claims to be a historian. Does Gabrielle teach? I imagine that you may know, but perhaps you don’t. About her, I am perhaps even more in the dark than I am about Helga. Obviously the two of them know each other, of that I am convinced. I have a very vague recollection of visiting Gabrielle once, at her place, and it must have been in London. That is very confused in my mind. Were we together?

We have this weekend to talk about it, if you want.

After some time Julian recognises the building, despite the near total darkness. He can hear sounds of activity around him, boots making contact with the hard and dry concrete, the vibration of engines, but no human voice. The air is cold, almost metallic, with a whiff of wood fire; he realises he’s wearing a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Slowly his sight gets used to the dim lights that appear flickering in the distance. Groups of soldiers in fatigues are loading crates and machines on trucks: he is certain now to be back to the warehouse in Brooklyn, where once Sarah and him were guests to Gabrielle and Elga. 

He sees and recognises the door to the elevator. It is not guarded, in fact no-one seems to pay any attention to his presence. He walks toward the door: it is unlocked. In a few steps he is in front of the elevator, the metal doors open and let him in. It opens again, as the first time, and Julian finds himself in a lit corridor which he recognises immediately: it is the same place. Traditional prints of boats and aircrafts decorate the adobe walls. 

There is no sound. Julian walks to the end of the corridor, finds the entrance to the conference room. There the general showed them a view of the city. There Sarah and Elga exchanged knowing smiles. And there, Melissa was for ever protecting him in an invisible cloak of attention… Melissa… But he is now walking into the room.

The room is lit by dimmed spot lights facing the white ceiling and walls. People in uniforms are sitting around a central circular table, now as then. There appears to be some sort of shimmering hologram at the centre of the table. A little aside, flanked by four masked guards, stands a hooded shape. Immediately, Julian knows that, under the hood, is no human face; at that instant he would say the hidden body may not even be organic. There is a light current of air flowing through the room. He is suddenly aware of a presence behind him. Slowly he turns round to face that presence, with some expectation, and no fear. There standing, is a tall red-haired young woman, wearing a grey jump-suit, who smiles at him, a finger on her lips to request silence. The room goes dimmer.

But he hears a voice: Sarah is waking him up. “Now, my husband fell asleep near the fire, like an old bear!” she laughs. They kiss.

My Man

Sarah ~

http://kamilanoranetik.com/Julian is working again, at his desk every morning, writing. I think, now, that his inspiration has come back, and he tells me how many words he’s managed to write very day, which he has not done for many months. I am pleased for him, and for us. During the autumn, after our visit to Berlin, he seemed to have lost any taste for his work.

There is more light in the afternoon, and this cheers him up. He’s started enjoying hanging the washing out on the line again, looking at the sky, whistling opera tunes to himself!

I speak with Helga at least once a week. She drove him to the coast yesterday, for a walk on the shore, and a chat, and to probe his spirits a bit. She said she did most of the talking, and that his observations were surprisingly relaxed. Helga tried to engage him on the subject of the role of the medical profession in the current crisis, one of her “serious” subjects. She hopes to get Julian interested enough to write a few articles on the subject. She says that he shows signs of taking an interest in other things than his own predicament, or what he sees as such. He tried the trick of calling her “Elga” again, and she ignored it. She’s positive about his chance of a prompt recovery now. But she says that I have to be attentive, and patient. He could relapse: his vulnerability to mood changes, or even the weather, is real. Helga also asked me about Jane, and whether we were seeing much of her. I wonder why she wanted to know. As a matter of fact, we don’t see much of Julian’s sister at he moment. She was lately at the Paris show, and she’s now in Moscow (again), next will be Shanghai.

Gabrielle has been more elusive. She was back to work after the New Year, and she’s travelling in Switzerland at present, doing some research for a book on romanche linguistics. I got a short email asking me if we were going back to the Tyrol this summer. I replied we had not yet talked about the summer. She knows of Julian’s state of mind at the end of last year, and she may be trying to encourage me to plan a trip early. When Julian fell ill, Gabrielle encouraged me to take him away from the city, and move to the mountains. But I was afraid of lack of medical assistance if things got out of hands.

As I write, Julian walks into the room: “Hey! Do you fancy going to the opera?”

“Marriage of Figaro is on,” he adds with his mischievous smile. “Anywhere, anytime…” I reply, and I mean it. Opera, and the sophistication of Coven Garden, suit us. Somehow I feel we are emerging from a tunnel. But I cannot remember how and when we entered it.

Later, we talk about Easter, Berlin, a trip to Paris, and the Tyrol. Slowly, I test my grip on him, on his mind, and he knows what I’m doing, and he’s willing, my man.

Image: courtesy K A M I L A  N O R A  N E T Í K O V Á at http://kamilanoranetik.com/

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.

Searching

~ Julian

Otto Steinert Looking back at the past year I have to ask myself: where have I been, and who am I, in reality? On this word, reality, hinges the whole question. As I look out of the window at the January rain falling on the already water-saturated garden, I try to make sense of my failing memories. What comes back to me, in small clouds of sights and sounds, is that what my reality was?

Sarah says “yes, and no”, and I am tempted to call my wife a sophist. But I don’t. I know she’s right, as some of those remembered instants were once real for me, for her husband, the man called Julian. Julian walked on Regent Street, he had a phone call, he visited her page on Facebook… He went to Brooklyn, to Paris, to Berlin. He saw  the missiles on the compound, in the dark pine forest, he saw the blond guards on duty at the new Chancellery. He ran with his wife and his sister around the Tempelhof airfield. All that happened, but other fragments may have only existed in his mind – or did they? How do I tell the difference between what happened, and what could have happened? For me, now, I cannot tell.

So, the question who am I? – That question is legitimate. If part of my life is an imaginary story, am I the writer, or, am I the story? And who writes that story? Am I a character in someone else’s book? And what’s her name? What is the writer’s name?

There is another question haunting me: was the writer, if that was the way it was, was she human? As she wrote those episodes in Julian’s life, was she looking on his past, or her future? Was she anticipating a life not yet in his, her – reality?

Sarah listens to me, from time to time asking me to retell a scene, a dialogue, as if she was analysing this work: “her” novel. But it is all disjointed, my memories are not contiguous, there are gaps, and many, many inconsistencies. Some characters appear in distorted roles, not their “real” functions, or professions. Take Helga, for example. In my memory she’s “Elga” – and she is not from this world, she’s from a far away galaxy. But Helga is our doctor, she is real, she exists not merely in my reality, but Sarah’s, and our friend Gabrielle’s too.

“It will all make sense, finally,” says Sarah, with the smile of patience itself.

“Yes, but even if it does not, does it matter?” I ask in reply. We hug.

Image: Otto Steinert, via Inner Optics

On the threshold (preamble to Book 2)

les-sources-du-nil:  Akira Satō  佐藤 明  From  Elga ~ We know we can win, overcome the objections and fears that obscure our collective judgment, and get the result we want: shape humans to our image, and save ourselves, project ourselves into a new future… But we have not shut our eyes to the dangers. Humans are a clever species, primitive, in their science, in their awareness of their wider surroundings, but clever in the way wild predators are. Many of us think that they cannot be trusted. But on the scale of our own evolution, up to where we are now, what does “trust” mean?

We have engaged with their planetary organisations, we are communicating with their leaders. They have an innate sense of where profit can be, so they are interested. Removing their weaponry under their very eyes did it, such a simple thing. Their best corporate minds are exercising themselves to think of possible applications! We know that some of their scientists are almost in the state of denial about it all: it cannot be done, it’s against the laws of physics. Others are already working, silently trying to decipher what we have given them: the first steps towards the truth.

Then there is Julian. The human being with the unique genetic make-up that may make it possible, if we chose to sacrifice him, to regenerate ourselves: a probability in a billion, if left to chance, but we have the science to improve those odds. This science has produced the woman Melissa. So much has already been achieved, and we must be patient. But we know: Melissa and Julian are a unique pair, and if we lose them, we have to restart form the beginning, and, on this world, it may then be unlikely to succeed. Our chance is here, now, and we must take it.

Sarah ~

We have now been in Berlin for four weeks, working on the tasks assigned to us by Gabrielle. We are absorbing the incomparable atmosphere of this city, my city. What a change for us after the long months of anxiety in London and New York… Julian is now deeply engaged in the group that is considering demographics, genetics and gender. He was at first very surprised to see that he was there the only non-scientist. Most of the group members are biologists, medical doctors, or mathematicians. The majority of the participants are female, and originate from outside the US and Europe. The introductory meeting did not spell out who was to head this work, but of course it is Gabrielle herself. We – Melissa, Julian himself, Jane (who has now joined us from her last fashion show in Tokyo) and me – have been discussing Julian’s role every evening in the little flat in Kreuzberg. We have not concluded anything yet. Julian is still only a nearly silent witness to the deliberations. Yet Gabrielle makes clear to him almost everyday how important – essential she says – his participation is.

Melissa and I are part of the environment work group, led by Katsumi, the Naval officer and biologist who is, in our view, someone very highly placed in the hierarchy of the Great Power to Be. This appears to be the larger group and has participants from all over the world, with perhaps a majority from Asia  and South America. However North America and Europe are well represented too.

The daily routine in the Chancellery, or at the Russian Embassy where some of the other strands meet (the military certainly meet there, we are not sure where the diplomatic group meets, it may be in one of the many government buildings in Unter den Linden) is very regular and fixed. The day starts at eight sharp in the same room of the Chancellery we started in with a brief (fifteen to twenty minutes at most) meeting of all groups recapitulating the day tasks, and stating progress made expressed as percentages of the whole work programme. The start of the conference proper is still a month away.

Early morning the four of us ride to a gym nearby and we exercise for an hour, followed by a simple breakfast on the Potsdamer Platz. Jane then leaves us to ride back and work in the flat, chiefly on the phone to her many correspondents through the world, and preparing the next show. She goes out to run for a couple of hours in Templehof most days. Melissa and me then leave Julian and we join our respective groups. The day finishes at five with a short break for lunch.

A pattern clearly appeared in the environment work group a few days after we started. The group was provided with an impressive library of films, documents, videos, interviews and other material and the first task was to draw up a list of the most pressing priorities on climatic changes or suspected changes. The next step, where we are now, is to identify the obstacles to a comprehensive world wide agreement on policy making. In other terms we are trying to plan a redo of Kyoto. This time procrastination is no option.

Katsumi, who turns out to be from a wealthy Chinese-Japanese family from Northern China, holds several PhD’s from Asian and US universities as well as a doctorate in medicine from Tokyo University. With us she wears the most sober and yet exquisite traditional Chinese clothes. Her agenda is clear: to obtain agreement from the participants on an agenda for a follow up treaty on carbon and other environmental issues. Water is also part of this picture. This will become part of the decisions of the conference.

Julian is less clear than we are on the direction taken by his group. However he knows from informal contacts with other participants that Gabrielle is looking for a proposal on demographics and the role of women in the new order. Some participants have strong views as to what this should be. Julian thinks that Gabrielle won’t reveal the  real aim of the group for some time. The UN general secretary is rumoured to be here for most the conference once it starts.

And what of our evenings? Since Jane joined us we meet at the Gendarmen Market every afternoon after work. Jane is waiting for us in a little café which has the merit of discretion and old Berlin charm, near the French Dom. There we take stock of the day and decide the programme for the evening: Jane usually comes up with good ideas – there is so much to do in this city – and often too with cinema or theatre tickets! Invariably we ride back to the apartment to change and cuddle. For we have succumbed to a wave of lust, to an irrepressible desire for each other, which has no bound. We have given up any pretence: I, Sarah, and Jane share Melissa, Melissa and me share Julian. The four of us adore each other in a way which has made me forget all our doubts. One thing intrigues me more and more though: the way Melissa has adopted my way of walking, my style, even my clothes, and, dare I say it? My way of making love. Julian is over the moon. So am I.

Kreuzberg

2 On our bikes

 At 6 CET I wake up: the light through the half drawn curtains filters to the two graceful naked bodies, lying across from me on the large bed – our bed. Sarah holds Melissa in her arms, their breathing in perfect unison. I am overwhelmed by their beauty. Without the usual pinch of diffused jealousy I see them as a perfect couple, my wife and my lover…

In the little courtyard outside, birds are still celebrating the morning on the tall lime-tree. I get up careful not to wake them, anxious not to disrupt the wonder of their sleep.

I shower – warm water never feels so cool as in Berlin – and walk to the kitchen to make coffee: here I use the ground coffee Melissa bought thinking of me. Soon the aroma of brewing coffee diffuses through the apartment. I hear the low sound of a radio playing across the street from the balcony. Kreuzberg is so amazingly quiet…

An hour later the three of us are jogging in the direction of Tempelhof. Soon we reach the Airlift memorial and the terminal building, and run to the entrance on the side road. My two companions are fit and easily distance me: I have to keep up! We start on the long tour of the airfield, Sarah and Melissa accelerating to an easy 10k pace, I am already sweating profusely. We pass other runners who look appreciatively at my companions.

The whole tour will take forty minutes at this pace. As we are approaching the long curve, past the civilian crews scanning for ordnance and old WWII weapons, another runner overtakes us, slows down and start running even with the ladies. I hear Melissa greats the stranger – a tall woman in a blue track suit and fashionable sneakers – then the three of them laughing. It dawns on me that the runner is no other than Elga. I am now struggling to keep up with the three ladies who have gradually accelerated their pace. Sarah turns round and smiles, signals to me all is well.

… Back home, and still with Elga in a joyous mood, the ladies decide to have a common shower, and I will wait my turn. The majority decision is to go to the Tiergarten for a picnic. We, the three of us, later have an appointment at seven at the Chancellery…

We take bikes and ride towards the Potsdamer Platz. I am again struggling to keep pace with my three companions who giggle all the way. As we manoeuvre towards the Tiergarten I notice two or three military vehicles moving in the direction of the Bundestag. The ladies chose a spot not far from the Siegesaüle. While I was having my shower they did some shopping. Suddenly I am interested to see if Elga will drink and eat as a human; perhaps I am somewhat puzzled when she does, still laughing wholeheartedly at Sarah’s and Melissa’s jokes. The four of us have a congenial and relaxed time. Elga finally excuses herself, saying that she would see us in the evening at the pre-conference meeting. She rides off in the direction of Unter den Linden. It is only then that I notice her escort: four soldiers on bikes, wearing the uniform of the élite Grenzschütz guard. They are armed, and they are all women. Sarah’s looking at me smiling, as if saying “stop worrying, you are in good hands…”

Longing

Longing She misses him: since coming back from New-York Melissa is longing for Julian, more so than ever – and she’s been longing for him for ever. She’s no longer sure of his thoughts, of how he sees her now, of his feelings towards her. In Brooklyn she must have appeared to him as part of the gigantic plot that he now knows involves the Pentagon and the Coven, and probably others. She read the terror in his eyes, she saw him gripping Sarah’s hands as they both understood the implications of what the general was saying. Has she lost him?

She ought to call Sarah, cool and loving Sarah, but she dares not. What would happen to her if Sarah rejected her? For Melissa knows that Sarah’s her friend, maybe more than just a friend, for as long as she does not see Melissa as part of the threat. Being a threat to Julian: that would turn Sarah into a formidable enemy. And Melissa knows that, for the Coven, Sarah’s role is essential: she is the key to Julian, and Julian is the path. On that Melissa knows the truth: she was chosen because of Julian, her ancient friendship with Julian. Gabrielle seized the opportunity, and so Melissa survived, did better than survive.

Gabrielle and Elga are now in deep consultation with the collective. The Coven is preparing the Berlin conference, one thread among millions, in a whirl of deliberations and mathematical – Melissa wonders: mathic? – computations that even her could not follow. Elga… How strange that she – but she’s no “she” of course, but a conglomerate of particles that long left their living anima, always asexual, far behind – that “she” tried her charm on Julian, after all that Melissa had explained.

“They” have their own blind corners, things they don’t appear to really understand. They have their weaknesses, otherwise they would not need that association with the Great Power, and the Power to Be, perhaps other darker powers that Melissa does not know about. They need the path to conquer this world, Melissa’s world, and for now, the path is one individual in the entire universe: her college sweetheart, Julian. Melissa relaxes a little. She sees several futures, in one of them, Sarah, Julian and herself overcomes the fear, and clear the way for the Coven to exit from their lives, without pain. But there are others, other futures. She knows, and shudders a little. She thinks of Tosca, of the mock execution at dawn, which turns out to be real. She thinks of  Berlin…

Melissa brushes the sinister vision away. At heart she is a positive person, at heart she is not afraid of demons. But Julian may be, always was, even at school, he had that irrational fear of the hidden fiends, of ancient secrets, of bewitched objects… Oh… how protective she felt towards him then, him: her young street fighter, he with the clinched fists… Melissa’s in a dream, she’s moved back in time, to the small town where they both lived, where it all started. She stands in front of the gate, she’s waiting for him, she sees him, joking with other boys – he sees her, waves to his friends and walks towards her, that triumphant smile on the thin lips – a young god… He always knew how to kiss her, and of course she wanted more…

The phone rings and pulls Melissa out of her dream. It’s Sarah. They chat politely, then Sarah says: “My husband is away for a few days and said he will join you in Paris, and please let him know when you want to meet, that’s the message he asked me to give you…” Melissa tries to think quickly, Julian’s away? “Sarah, could you come too?” She could almost hear Sarah smiles: “Mel, the two of you deserve a bit of intimacy, you have to give Julian time with you, just the two of you. I trust you both, and you can understand why I would be a bit of an obstacle – he needs to find you again…” Sarah’s voice trails off. “When he’s back please come to us as soon as you can: then we’ll have a party, I’ll invite Jane too.”

So it is, Sarah has given her the go-ahead, in the city where Julian was born, his city. A thought hits Melissa, a twist she had not thought of before this instant: has Sarah been “recruited”?  Has the Coven enrolled beautiful Sarah? She scans her memory of the meeting in Brooklyn, Gabrielle and Elga, and herself, and then Sarah and Julian, Sarah looking as if she is sheltering her husband. But she also sees Elga and Sarah exchanging a smile, more than once. But why should Sarah be tempted? What does she have to gain? Security for her husband and herself? And if this happened where does that leave her, Melissa, the go-between?

Soon she shrugs off that thought. Sarah’s has one mission: protecting her husband. Melissa knows she would not stop at anything for Julian’s sake, but there is no value in enlisting now, when she knows too little. Later perhaps, after Berlin, when they know. For now Sarah thinks Melissa’s good for Julian, it is simple.

Alone in the little house in East London Melissa’s planning the Paris meeting. She wants to chose the location of their meeting carefully: a public place but not one where Julian would feel crowded. Maybe the old arena, the roman amphitheater? Then they can walk rive gauche, perhaps aim for the Luxembourg? Of course he knows the city inside out, he lived there, and met Sarah there first. Melissa’s troubled by another thought: they did not stay, they moved to London almost immediately, indeed, they got married in London. Was there a reason for Julian to leave the city he loved, so soon after meeting the woman about to become his wife?

She’s soon distracted by the familiar tremor of air and sounds in the house: one of them, may be both – or more – have arrived. Soon she’s faced with a smiling Gabrielle who is still adjusting her human appearance. The fluid contours materialise, the face still indistinct… It takes no more than twenty seconds. “So, Gabrielle says calmly, you and Julian are going to meet one to one?” Melissa smiles, she knows “they” know everything, they hear everything, and her teacher, wise Gabrielle, is a master at sieving through all that their sensors capture, particularly if it involves Julian or his wife.

The two of them update each other, silently. Soon Melissa’s appraised of the Coven’s current state of play for Berlin. She also learns that Elga is in Moscow. The wheels are turning.

Sunset

Clair de TerreThe meeting in the Brooklyn safe house lasts for hours. The aerial view of the city is wiped out from the wall, replaced by a zoomed high-resolution picture of where we are, the vast warehouse, outside in the street first, then a roaming view across the corridor we had followed on our arrival, and, finally the room where we sit. Sarah and I look at each other, she later said I was as pale as a ghost. The general explains that these views are taken, live, by a drone above us at an altitude of twelve hundred meters. There is a silent pause. Then I say: “I do not know of any sensor capable of that level of precision across solid walls.” Everyone is quiet, then Elga breaks the silence. “You are right Julian. We have used” – I notice the “we” – “a US Airforce drone, but also a little cloud of Coven-technology sensors, controlled through it…” I look straight into Elga’s blue on blue eyes, then at Melissa, I see them both smiling, and behind those smiles I cannot avoid thinking of alien minds, calculating, unassailable to any human being. At that moment I am convinced that my friend is there, but she no longer is the woman I had known, but someone – I hate the thought of thinking “something” – completely different. I also sense that both of them, certainly Melissa, are determined to convince me that it is not the case, and I saw in Melissa’s face the beginning of seduction, as if saying “Look at my soul, Julian, can you challenge my humanity?”.

The general resumes his exposé. The Great Power, her competitor in the East and the Coven are cooperating for the benefit of peace. The GP needs some of the Coven’s technology to achieve her goals. So, important and complex negotiations are taking place. There is a need for discretion, even secrecy, but also carefully tailored information to be presented to the public – a worldwide public – other than through the ordinary channels of commercial TV, radio and newspapers. They will be involved, but the new Alliance – the general actually uses the phrase “the new Alliance” – is creating its own channel. And this is where we come in, the three of us, Sarah, Mel and me…

There is danger, the general continues. Some countries and interests have deep suspicions about what the GP is about. There are jealousies and fear. Incidents may be misrepresented. False news may frighten the public. The conference in Berlin will be the locus for an official launch of the New Alliance. The general pauses, as if to let us reflect.

In a soft voice Gabrielle speaks for the first time. “Melissa and I are moving to Paris in order to prepare for this. You two are invited to join us next month. We have much to discuss to get you up to speed. For the time being the small town is off limits.” I am tempted to ask what is off limits and why, but a look from Sarah convinces me to hold back. The general concludes his account by asking us if we have any question. To her credit Sarah realises that I am in no emotional state to reply. “We are grateful, she says soberly, for your trust and, smiling in the direction of Gabrielle and Elga,  that of our friends here. As you all know, in turn, Julian and I have entrusted Melissa to give us support as we endeavour to serve the cause of peace.” Everybody is smiling and Elga, yes, Elga comes to me and hugs me. Soon, after saying good bye to the general, we are walking down the corridor to the lift. Our guard is waiting. This time both Melissa and Gabrielle are with us. As Melissa drives us out of the warehouse, we are on our way back to Long Island for the evening. A grey van is following us, its windows reflecting the sunset light.

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