DAEDALOS TALKS TO THE CAT
Come here, cat, leave the chicken alone. Do you know that we are living in the Anthropocene? One day they will discover your fossilized bones and scientists will say “those are the bones of a cat from the Anthropocene” and then they will shrug, lamenting they don't know which was the color of your skin, or even what kind of skin you had, and then they will say “it would be easier if it were a cat from the Cretaceous, maybe then it would have scales, or feathers.” Can you imagine a cat with scales, or feathers? Don't look at me like that, it's really funny, a cat with feathers.
But you don't do the dangerous twisting of memories. You still think I am making fun of you. Don't. I am sure you have memories, like all of us, except that you don't feed them with massive doses of fakes. I know this because that is what I do. I can create a totally artificial memory of a feathered cat, in my computer, so real that even you will have nightmares with it. It is harder with chickens. They see more, you can't fool a chicken with a fake memory of a chicken with scales, because the scales won't shine right.
You think you know all about chickens, cat? If you can impress a chicken with one of your works, you are an artist, until then you are just a designer. A chicken even recognizes you by the color of your whiskers. Now, can you impress this chicken here?
For instance, if this chicken sees your whiskers as bright as the feathers of a flamingo... why do you look at me that way? She will be in trouble, no doubt, but the question here is of a different kind. If this chicken could produce a work of art showing how inflammable she sees your whiskers, would you be able to see the flame?
DAEDALOS MEETS THE HEADS
It was through the story of the legendary Duoh and the powerful changes brought by the Mongolian Step that Daedalos got acquainted with the worries of the Heads.
He had been invited for dinner and was getting dressed – dark red trousers, light cream shirt with random yellow dots and petrol blue jacket – when his room filled with big-headed floating beings, some of them with eyes and mouths that protruded like telescopic tentacles. They seemed disoriented, looking for something or watching something he couldn't see. One of them came closer and spoke to him.
“This is a representation of our figures on a neutral spot of the immeasurable distance in time that separate us. We call it a Point. Please don’t be distracted by our appearance. You also look great to us.”
He realized they were no more in his room warmed by the rays of a glorious sunset, but in a landscape reminiscent of a beach. He was naked, facing what could be a very dark sea. He was standing on what looked like a point on land. The point would go up, the sea level, down. The sea would rise, the point would go down, like the prow of a ship in a turbulent sea. But all was very smooth, the dark sea was a polished soft dark, the clear land not so clear and above... well, above there were the Heads, a little over the horizon, waiting for him to overcome the feelings of confusion caused by so much neutrality, while reciting a litany. They were telling him the same story, over and over again.
“There was once a person called Duoh who came from Mongolia to Borneo. This will happen a little ahead of your own time. This person – man or woman we don't know – appears in several places, at the army in Burma, in Turkey, Austria and possibly many other places. We guess these are familiar names to you.
According to the legend, Duoh was at the origin of a powerful event called The Mongolian Step that transformed the political landscape of the whole world and left the conventional perception of time and the entire stored information in disarray. We would like to hire you to go to the time and place where this person lived, and find in what measure it is responsible for the great change. We would also like to know in what exactly consisted this change, if possible.
We pay for the trip. I must say that we took great care not to put your life at risk, but there is always a chance that you have an exciting adventure, since it is the first time we do this with someone from before the event.
I don’t know if you understand that for us to do a first of anything we must get out of our own frame of time. It is so exciting to do something new!
There was once a person called Duoh who came from Mongolia to Borneo. This will happen a little ahead of your own time...”
He had been telling the cat important things about chickens and colors, now a group of heads was telling him things he knew nothing about. He tried to be a good cat and pretended he understood. He agreed. The litany stopped.
“It is possible that this story had a collateral effect many centuries before your time, when the Mongols provoked a vacuum in front of them that sucked their hordes throughout Asia. Does this make sense to you?”
Daedalos thought that Mongols and hordes make sense, so maybe the rest also does. He went on being a good cat and said yes.
“I am not trying to influence you, I am just giving you clues. But follow your instincts. And dig. Dig as much as you can. And I advise you to take notes, plenty of notes. Can you draw, sketch, scribble, write, or anything of the sort?”
He said he had plenty of writing material in his jacket, since he spent his time drawing and scribbling.
“It will follow you, wherever you go, the jacket and its contents.”
For a moment Daedalos wondered if he would have to go naked, under his jacket.
“Do you understand that this Mongolian Step created so much confusion that immediately before and after it we call it the Maze? We can’t see a thing clearly through. No reliable historical records survive from that period of human history, although we are still trying to see through the confusion created then.”
“All those science fiction novels lost! All those beautiful arguments about Quantum Lap Dance, Time Travel, Artificial Intelligence and Human Amortality, lost! The origin of everything we take now for granted and so hard to understand then, lost! Because they are so hard, sooo hard, to find! We don’t often cross the Maze, you know. Something in our research pointed to you, but I am not even sure if you are the right person for the job! You are a artisan of memories and labyrinths, aren’t you?”
Daedalos thought for a moment that he still had time to get out of the strange situation he found himself in. He couldn’t remember the title of any science fiction book he had ever read. Time, for him, was something that travels along with you and that you can measure according to the rate at which you notice the changes of things, not something you travel on. Besides he took “artisan” as an insult and, even if his name had a direct relationship with labyrinth, he couldn't imagine from where came the repulsive concept of “artisan of memories and labyrinths.” He thought the cat must have denounced him. But he couldn't escape the curiosity about the lap dance thing.
When he asked the Head about it, all the Heads swung in a gentle motion and laughed.
“No! No! No! I know nothing about it. But it is so beautiful! So beautiful! You must have had such interesting debates about that, in your time.”
Once again he could have told the Heads that they were confusing everything and that he, Daedalos, was not the right person for the job and that they, the Heads, were making a mistake thinking he could go to their past, that was simultaneously his own normal and predestined future in more than one way, to disentangle the secrets of the Mongolian Step and hunt down the famous, or infamous, Duoh.
But the Heads were obviously in possession of too much misplaced or simply wrong information. He then thought that, sometimes, telling the truth only increases confusion and he didn’t want to upset them, because they seemed to be nice and bright Heads, despite the floating eyes, mouth and ears. Then, reassured by the ignorance of the Head, he said yes we use – or better used – to spend our days and nights debating such hot topics.
The Head fell silent for a while, resting the telescopic eyes on him, making him feel uncomfortable, and then showed him a picture.
“Is this Duoh in this picture, taken in Mongolia?”
The picture showed two male figures facing the camera but was so damaged it could be anything, anywhere. The Head wobbled a little.
“I tell you, it was not easy to recover this image! It comes from the Maze before the Mongolian Step, and trying to look at the past through the Maze requires plenty of expertise and a lot of heads! See these codes? Take the codes!”
Daedalos took the four oblong objects that looked like yellow cookies with a soft center, each in a different shade of sepia.
“You use it by pressing the center until it clicks. Press hard two times on one side, breath deeply, and press one time on the other side. You will feel the same as you felt when coming here which, I think, was not much. You will start by the most recent one, in Mongolia – it’s written on it, Mongolia – and go back in time, Berlin and then Burma, where we found traces of his stay. The last one will take you back to your time. If everything happens as expected each code will take you to the next stop back, hopefully in range of the Duoh in that picture, and maybe, just maybe, in one of them you will find what we are looking for.”
Daedalos asked if it was that simple, if that device could transport him through time and to a specific place, just by pressing a button.
“I don’t understand what you mean. We made those ones just for you because we think you are familiar with cookies and buttons. Now you may start taking your notes. The picture and the codes will come back to us, after use. You will leave nothing behind, except perhaps memories. Everything else will vanish, will perish or will just not happen.”
“There is a chance that you will not come back to us with your report, so just try to publish your conclusions through any channels at your disposal. We should be able to find at least one of them.”
Now, what follows is the original unredacted “Duoh Report.”
THE DUOH REPORT
Day One. Something must have gone wrong. This is not Mongolia.
I had neglected to take the prescribed deep breath before pressing the button for the third time, so I had no other choice than to open my mouth and allow the hot air in. Now it felt like a hot film of humid air was desperate to reach my throat. It was minute one of day one of the search for Duoh and I was already weary.
I took a step back but I didn’t return to the company of the Heads, I just kept stepping back on the hard gravel. I bounced back feeling as if somebody else was trying to move my limbs forward, then stopped. After a moment I realized I had to govern my body and started by checking it carefully. There was a pair of mustard boots of a very simple type at the end of a lot of browns and greens. Military browns and greens. I was wearing fatigues.
Going up things got more colorful, a piece of blue cloth over the left breast pocket and, adorning the chest, so close I could only see part of it, was a bright red and yellow band. In the absence of a mirror I dug deep my chin in a desperate attempt to see the beginning of it, leaving me with no doubts. My dark short beard had grown and had been painted in red and yellow stripes, like a banner. I touched my head… it was clean shaved.
NOTE: I think that maybe Day One should be considered Day Two, because I was getting ready to have dinner (which I hadn’t) when I embarked on this adventure, and when I arrived it looked like lunchtime. I also had no breakfast. I also had no sleep.
The land had been cleared recently, but some vegetation was already sprouting here and there. Small drones were humming in the sky. An imperial green line of forest, in the distance, covered three quarters of the horizon like a threatening army. The remaining quarter was occupied, at a short distance to my left, by a wire fence and a line of containers with round corners and small domes placed irregularly on top. Vague human sounds came from that side. Someone laughed. I decided I had to go and meet whoever was laughing.
The fence and the containers made a bend to the left, so I could only see the gate and the three soldiers when I was almost there. The laugh seemed to belong to a fat big one, maybe an officer, who turned serious and looked at me. At his side was an even bigger man fully equipped for nothing less than a galactic war and who was the only one not enjoying the joke. Smiling broadly was a small soldier. They all looked lethal, each one in his own way, in the furiously hot, humid, air. Looking about to start laughing again, the fat one said something to the small soldier, without taking his eyes off me. The small soldier translated.
“Captain wants to know if guest feels more comfortable now.”
I muttered something. Three pairs of eyes were pointed on my direction, ready to make me in pieces, either by laughter, the captain and the interpreter, or by brute force, all three of them. The now identifiable human sounds – shouted orders answered by packs of feet hitting the ground – came from a group of barracks that showed only their low roofs at that distance. Pointing lazily at the roofs, Fat Captain dropped an order without the help of the interpreter.
The way to the barracks was long and, feeling my beard and head nervously, I had time to think and worry. I hadn’t use the wrong code, I was sure it had Mongolia written on it. But unless climate did change drastically in meanwhile, this couldn’t be it. It looked more like the army in Burma, and that should have been the last place and time to visit in the search for Duoh. Mongolia – Berlin – Burma – Back Home should be the order of the stations, using the codes… the codes! I needed the codes to get out of there. I wasn’t wearing my jacket, but somebody’s fatigues. I had many pockets where to search. The first thing I found, inside a large side pocket, was my 7-inch tablet. Then the usual assortment of pencils and bits of paper. And finally, after a frenetic search and to my great relief, there were the Berlin and the Back Home codes. Burma and Mongolia were both missing.
NOTE: marveling at the organization of the trip I am making a note congratulating the Heads for it. The fatigues were clean, straight from the laundry, even the beard smelled well, my belongings were in my pockets and, if my own clothes were missing, I was now sure to retrieve them along the way. The sun was shinning, lunch was waiting for me – everything was right, except for the fact that I was in the wrong place wearing a beard as a banner – and I was feeling very confident. Using the tablet as a mirror I recognized Daedalos in it. No doubt it was my nose. Perfect!
I realized I had been accompanied by a faint sound from above. A drone had taken an interest on my strange movements. Looking up, I made a completely fake, serious face. Who cares? An old tablet is just old technology, cookies are cookies, and people with red and yellow beards are supposed to be weird in many parts of the world. Fences still looked like fences and drones looked like drones, with the exception I hadn’t seen so many at the same time before, uniforms looked the same, barracks looked impersonal and uncomfortable as ever. The containers outside and the heavy equipment of the soldier at the gate disturbed me, though. And then, I saw the tiger.
The tiger was just a piece of paper with the picture of a tiger, printed in black in yellow and red, on the corner of an army poster on the wall of a small building. In different languages and scripts – that included three global languages and ten Southeastern Asian languages – it was written KING COBRA DIVISION. THE SMILING TIGERS FOLLOW THE SUN TO THE GHATS! They must have picked up part of that sentence from somewhere, I thought, but I couldn’t remember where from. Maybe it was effective for what looked like an invading federation, an incredible one also, the entire Southeast of Asia on the move. The Ghats were the goal. But, in meanwhile, who was invading and who was being invaded? Who was bullying and who was being bullied into that federation?
Having been ordered to eat, I moved my feet on the direction of the food smell that came from a large building nearby. Some soldiers were relaxing outside. They started to move uncomfortably when I approached, until one of them jumped, waving both hands on the same direction, and shouting.
“No! No! Guest! No! Lai! Lai!”
From the shadow of a distant corner came another voice.
“Officers’ mess, left!”
Recently promoted to guest officer status, I expected nothing less than a good meal, in the officers’ mess of the King Cobra Division of the Smiling Tigers Army. An army ready to sweep the entire Asian South surely must eat well. Looking discreetly around I guessed the menu was fish soup. Not that I love fish soup, but I’ve heard about the way they do it in Burma, with rice noodles, fresh and salted fish, chickpea flour, fish sauce, fish paste, ginger, roosted chili, garlic, onions and whatever more, with spices in a thick sauce... an young lieutenant was speaking to the other officers at the table.
“All wars tend to fill empty spaces and every successful invasion fills the vacuum created in front of it by the first impact.”
The officers agreed with moderate enthusiasm. They seemed to expect more than that. The silence seemed to be gaining momentum for the next assault.
“The first impact is the most important thing in war... the second most important thing is being able to keep going on – forever!”
Raised like a banner flapping in a strong wind, this “forever” gathered a chorus of approval. One of the officers turned to me.
“Guest, we are ashamed that we let you down.”
He stood up and, brusquely, saluted the far end of the room and left. It looked as if I was the center of a military drama. I didn’t know what to think. Everybody was standing up and leaving. The entire room! At the far end, under a big picture of a tiger and a wall sprinkled with banners, a full table of senior officers was leaving.
They were all leaving! But… where is my soup, did they forget my fish soup? The cry I felt coming from inside was from a place deeper than Mindanao, echoing darker than the innermost recesses of the Labyrinth! The Labyrinth! The Maze! And the weight the connection had with my own name, Daedalos. He was the mythological craftsman, who gave life to objects and who invented or improved almost everything from saw to sail in Bronze Age Crete. Daedalos, the artisan of the Labyrinth that would keep the Minotaur! Start searching by Daedalos or start by Labyrinth and you’ll always get from one to the other. The only reason why I had been singled out was my own name. Daedalos, if you weren’t so full of yourself when accepting this mission you would have seen it, and you wouldn’t be in this situation.
NOTE: all that came on top of the injustice of not having had dinner, not having had breakfast, not having had lunch, and also no sleep. Or maybe not. I went back in time, so it is possible it is noon of the day I departed. In that case I should only be hungry a few hours from now. But I never went back in time from my own time. Instead, I went to Point Heads and that can only be the future of where I am, immeasurable or not. And that’s a lot of future from where I belong, and a lot of meals. You can’t fool Daedalos’ stomach. I knew I was being robbed of, at least, three meals and a good night sleep.
I stepped outside alone, my stomach feeling lonelier than all the rest of me, not knowing where to start inquiring. I decided to ask first the officer who addressed me at the table in such a dramatic way. But I was stopped by a surprise ripping pain on the upper jaw that made all my right side tremble. I turned around and went inside what looked and smelled like a toilet, as if pushed by an invisible hand. I am not used to have much trouble with my teeth, not the size of a missile attack.
Avoiding the mirror I washed repeatedly my mouth. When the pain started to feel more like a gigantic sponge glued to the right side of my face, I finally looked in the mirror. What I saw was a lot of yellow. Yellow was all around, from the light that came from the small horizontal windows to the many layers of paint on the walls. My face, definitively my own face, looked made of wax, as if the blood had run away to healthier parts of my body. My mouth refused to close, afraid of starting a nuclear war, afraid also of something new. The beard I could get used to. But this was something new. This was another person’s teeth. This was another person’s body. I didn’t want to get used to that.
Another charge, coming treacherously from inside the sponge, woke me up for the fact that there were less trivial concerns to care about, so I stepped out again. The door was in the shadow. Walls around were white, not yellow and, although the light did upset my eyes, the sponge felt more relaxed here.
“Captain asks if guest is feeling the need again.”
I was facing the broad smile of the interpreter. Fat Captain was behind him and, this time, his face looked strangely friendly, like a ballooning angel in fatigues. Sure the galactic warrior was not too far away. I was also aware that the officers around were pretending not to look. I said no, I didn’t need anything. Broad Smile smiled, but didn’t translate. Fat Captain waved his fat finger at the guest officer.
In the distance the head of the galactic warrior turned forty-five degrees to face me. It came then to my mind that this army employs some kind of cyborgs.
“They’re only three left. All the other ones returned to their base. They’re too expensive. Now that the war is sleeping, they only keep the enforcers.”
The same officer who talked to me at the table had noticed my fixed attention in the gigantic warrior. His yellow tag read “Lt Balan.” It occurred to me that Duoh could be a given name. Anybody around me, all the junior officers of the entire division, could be Duoh.
“Your face is getting bigger. I guess that’s why you needed the captain. He will return, if you change your mind.”
I guessed what went on his mind, the pain will come back, the fat captain also knows it, good boy, until you don’t need the pain to call for him.
But on this guest’s mind another sort of drama is forming, a beast of the depths showing its will to start running a crazy race. How does it feel to live with another person’s inner sweating? I started trembling and almost lost control of my movements. The lieutenant must have thought, this has gone beyond a mere toothache, this man is already fighting a fight.
NOTE: as I learned later on, the Smiling Tigers were fighting an even more massive federation, the League, while trying to keep their own together and resist the pressure of being China’s neighbor. They had just seen their western front frozen at the Bay of Bengal. The war was slowing down and the Supreme Command, betraying the King Cobra motto, decided to stop the advance to the Ghats, cutting their help to their allies to the West. I guess I represented one of those allies. There was a mixture of relief and false or genuine indignation among the troops. Indignation and a feeling of betrayal was the official mood inside the King Cobra Division.
“The Smiling Tigers are a loose federation. Peacetime is not going to be good for us.”
I was fighting now against that foolish race started inside my brain. I didn’t want to think I was living with another person’s body, even if that other person was, in some way, me. I had to react quickly to this race and rushed back to the toilets where I spited, snorted, sneezed, peed, farted, shat, coughed loudly, made a lot of extra noises and expelled a generous amount of fluids. Then I came out again, moving my arms energetically and sweating a lot.
Lieutenant Balan looked but didn’t move. He just laughed with that same ironical thin laughter.
“Keep fighting that fight, guest. I’m sure you’ll win!”
Taking the risk of showing my primitive tablet, I began sketching. I started by a skinny young tree marking the end of a low wall. There was not much else to draw, barracks with low roofs are just straight lines, people in uniform thinking what am I going to do tomorrow now that there is no war anymore, all looked the same, drones looked like irrelevant flies against the sky, more people in uniform were coming, two soldiers and Fat Captain, all fully equipped, another tall cyborg-like warrior carrying a big gun, all four escorting a line of people looking as skinny and fragile as the tree, now that was something. I wondered why the captain took the trouble of donning the complete armor to conduct such a miserable procession. Those people didn’t look fighting people, army or guerrilla. Forced labor came to my mind. I looked at the lieutenant. Balan seemed fascinated by my tablet. He looked at it with the guilty pleasure of feeling sorry for it.
“Entire villages are being sold. Some try to escape. Some put up a fight.”
“Sold? That’s slavery!”
“They have debts!”
“Villages sell their own people to pay their debts?”
“War is expensive. Special units collect the debts.”
“War is over. Maybe now they can stop that too.”
The lieutenant rolled his eyes towards the drones above.
“Go tell them that, guest!”
Three of them were hovering over our heads. How the hell did I forget that?
The drones moved straight away and stopped over the tree. They looked like bumblebees with four legs posing for the picture, so I drew them too, feeling uneasy about it. They all came straight back, when I ostensibly stopped drawing, to watch the result from above. I could name them Bum, Ble and Bees. Nightmares with names are more bearable.
NOTE: found a place with access to the internet. This is what I extrapolated from layers of propaganda from a sort of official site that tells everything we need to know and the international news I could understand. If I am correct, alliances of smaller states, called Blocs, started forming one day. Seen from where I am, the Democratic Union of the Smiling Tigers controls a good part of Southeast Asia. To the West we have the huge mass of the Democratic League of Religious and Political Legal Nations, the already mentioned League, still expanding due to its shear weight and to the activity of the mighty Power Foundation. The heavy weights of China and Russia loom over the North and Northwest. Europe is seen as an independent extension of Russia, in what the Tigers ironically call the Pipeline Federation. Several mysterious acronyms refer to extensions of the American presence around the world. It would be interesting to know what they account for. One of them, XBK, provoked a general outcry and is said to violate several rules of a often invoked Copa America Protocol. The Tigers seem to consider them commercial and technological threats and accuse the Protocol of being the exoskeleton of what they see as a imperial war machine. As a test I searched for the history of the first half of the 21st century. They see it as a rather miserable, ignorant and credulous world, fit for bureaucrats at the service of unscrupulous powerful people. Does anyone believe this?
After several frustrating hours fighting for bits of privacy in my internet search for Duoh, while resisting stoically from searching my own name, I was desperately in need to rest my mind – hoping it was actually my mind that I was trying to relax.
Lieutenant Bayar, a big woman with a large face and a dry sense of humor, was in charge of the place. She kept asking me questions about my country that she imagined being called Catalonia. I lied and exaggerated the best I could, which raised the curiosity of another lieutenant on the table next to mine. Also Bum, Ble and Bees had been following me since I portrayed them and none of these things was helping. I had no doubts any one of those tiny legs was a lethal weapon.
I went out, followed by my audience, and made a new sketch of the three drones but this time I also wrote their names under them. One by one they retired. Lieutenant Bayar laughed. I was a guest, after all.
“They will return.”
The lieutenant pointed to his own tag.
Apoi pointed then at my empty blue tag.
“You don’t need to tell me your name.”
“I've seen you before. Nice tablet.”
“Must be one of the first models, from before the Korean War. The first models are ugly, but I like them. They are first models.”
Lieutenant Bayar returned to her post, inside of the building. Apoi became serious.
“You know, I know, a lot of people knows, most people here rely on strictly controlled networked communities for digested information.”
Apoi went on, as if he had a very short time to share a long secret.
“I think those communities help the powers in place control their own size and capability while giving the impression of great independence and of strong cultural identity, narrowing in fact the chances of those communities to survive outside the established framework...”
Apoi took a short breath. He insisted in explaining is point.
“The most part of the world population now fits in any one of the existing social-networked giant communities, where the fragmented information received elsewhere circulates as common knowledge. Recycled to fit and in order to feed the mind of ignorant people. Among ignorant people memory is short and there is no freedom.”
Three drones were approaching. I suspected of Bum, Ble and Bees.
“You were right, Apoi, they’re coming back.”
I was holding the code for Berlin. Apoi didn't have one. I heard him cry. Although I barely did the prescribed deep breath I was not quick enough to avoid a burning slash on my right shoulder. I was going to miss dinner once more.
NOTE: I told myself that the toothache had maybe nothing to do with the original guest’s body, but with the travel working on a bad tooth. It didn’t feel comfortable, though, to know that the place I was occupying usually existed as another person. And where was that person, while I was occupying his place? I concentrated my thoughts on the mystery of the Mongolian Step. My reasoning was, if the Mongolian Step changed drastically the geography of power, the availability and the quality of information and the way time is perceived and used, it is maybe better to try to establish what, in the present time, led the Mongolian Step to focus on those areas. Or which one of those areas influenced the other two into changing.
a) Geopolitical changes, invasions and wars will surely affect the course of history, but it would be necessary a global war to achieve a change the type of the Mongolian Step. Less than that would leave most communications and technology still functional and taking it to the other extreme would leave nothing useful to start with. If only part of the old structure survived, that would explain why the Heads are so confused about their past, but nothing more than that. Also the legend and other sources used by the Heads don’t mention such a great destruction, but obscure small and medium scale wars that were interrupted by a human-made event. In this case, power is a bad candidate for leadership.
b) Blocking the flow of information, or destroying parts of it and burning the bridges, is a powerful enough way to create an apocalyptic wave. Some societies survive, some not, but the whole will be in a very bad shape. Rebuilding communication lines will be a slow process, in part because technology recedes. The way time is perceived will be kept simple and linear, immediate, used only to beat the rhythm, so it basically won’t change. Burning the bridges of information, by itself, won’t do.
c) Time is obviously the best candidate. The cacophony of information may be the consequence of a disorganized chronology, the coup-de-grace on an already truncated and contorted flow of information. It will all still be there, complete with the many incomplete and distorted versions, but impossible to decode in the linear way data was organized and stored. Once the process of confusion is on its way, newly assembled societies, still not completely on its feet, crumble and opportunistic humans, with enough knowledge of the Mongolian Step, take the lead. Time, yes, but how?
I was there the day Duoh was shot at on a street of Vienna.
“Are you feeling all right, professor?”
The muffled voice behind me was authoritative.
I felt a wave of ice entering my mouth, chasing the retreating memory of a tooth pain, while on my wet right shoulder it still resided the shadow of a profound and painful cut. I knew my eyes were wide open because I felt the cold on the cornea. It looked like noon again, a very gray-white noon. Vienna was covered by a thick blanket of snow.
“Come. It's getting late.”
A large dark caftan walked by me, pulling my sleeve.
“I’m all right.”
It sounded weak. Once again somebody had laid the path for me. Again I was living in somebody’s place. I hesitated. But the word came out, in a feeble voice.
“You should see a doctor, professor. You don’t look well. We came from Berlin this morning. We are back in Vienna.”
“Oh, yes, Vienna!”
“Have you been sleeping enough, professor? We will discuss it over lunch. But I tell you, we know how to deal with tribal leaders…”
I reserved a small part of my brain to register his words and stopped paying attention. I thought of my situation as a two-people version of the sleeper agent. It appeared to work this way, a sleeper agent, who must look very much like the scheduled field agent, settles in the past of the targeted event and lets time go by, carefully approaching the target, keeping the place warm and ceding it to the field agent when the right time comes. This implies a great mastery in the manipulation of time traveling and also other issues. What if both evolve in completely different ways and one becomes very fat while the other loses one ear, for example. I decided it was better to leave these concerns out of the report.
“Let them keep their pride, their cultural and moral superiority, their traditions and constitutions, their religions and flags, their big families and leaders, football stars and pop singers… and promote and distribute Power... a bit here, a bit there...”
But I couldn’t put away the idea of the sleeper agent. What if we don’t take the idea too literally and try to approach it from an additional number of angles? First, it would normally be convenient that the sleeper agent spends the minimum possible amount of time waiting for the field agent. But, as we are dealing with time itself, this may not be a problem. What if the agent is the same person in both cases? Scheduled field agent Time Bomb installs himself as sleeper agent professor Daedalos in the past of the targeted event, coming from a time away from the event – could be in the Heads’ neutral Point – and then is sent to the targeted event, again from the Heads, taking automatically the place of professor Daedalos, since he is the same agent. All of this could happen in a fraction of a second, with the sole intention of planting an agent in a given place and time. It doesn’t make much sense, although the idea sticks. Wouldn’t I, the agent, have then the recollection of both departures? Maybe I wouldn’t, if I was sent from different Heads’ times so close to one another they would feel like a single time. Memory is a tricky place to be.
We left the main street and entered a sort of an alley amid two-storey houses with roofs inclined at different angles that ended in an arch. I was having difficulty walking, my caftan dragging on the knee-length snow on the sides of a narrow path. Behind a curtain of snow the caftan in front of me went on speaking as if nothing could stop it. We entered the arch. Under the arch the floor was slippery and treacherous. I was holding on to one of the walls. There was an open metal door at the other end of the arch.
“We not only will take the world under our wing, we may also tie the world’s own wings for a moment, if necessary. A tiny fraction of a moment will be enough. I‘m speaking seriously profe…”
Then I had the mass of the caftan’s body falling over me and several muffled popping sounds announcing the mass of the caftan’s body falling while announcing the accompanying popping sounds and the mass of the caftan’s body falling and several muffled sounds popping. Then we both hit the ground and slid towards the metal door.
They shot five times, hit the target two.
It was as if nobody had been there before me. It was nobody’s room. It was as if nobody was there, not even now that I was standing in the middle of it, looking at my old clothes, the petrol blue jacket, the shirt with yellow dots, the dark red trousers. They made me feel like it was good bye, that this was the last stop on this trip. They looked worn out and in worst shape than my caftan so badly treated with melting snow and drying blood. They looked very old, after the trip trough the tigers, the slaves, the drones, the snow, the shooting, the hospital.
The room had a strange absence of smell. Clean sheets on the bed, but neither recent nor used. As if they to had to wait for a long time. The Professor had not been there. Daedalos was not there. Or was it my imagination? It was all a play and the sooner I would get into it, the better. If I had to be the Professor, I would be the Professor! Now, this was somebody’s room. I went in the bathroom and threw the caftan in the shower. Before turning on the water I tried to empty its pockets but there were no pockets, I looked for a secret pocket on the fake fur edge and the lining, but there was no secret pocket. Alarmed, I looked for my things in the pockets of my trousers but only found the small plastic card I had used to identify myself at the hospital. But I guess I was too tired and hungry to attain the emotional level required to panic.
I saw myself for the first time as the Professor, covered in Duoh’s blood, in the mirror at the hospital. This time I was wearing a short beard and all my hair. But I was looking like the ghost of some kind of Cossack dressed in heavy clothing and killed in battle centuries away from any place. I was limping from my left leg. I must have twisted it when I fell under my horse, sorry, when I was pushed to the ground by Duoh’s large body. Yes, major Duoh's body, to be precise. Yes, I finally found my target, but someone shot at it before I could get anything. Someone shot at major Duoh from the Power Foundation and that was in the news.
As far as I understood from the news of the shooting I watched at the hospital, the Balkans and Austria were European Council territory largely administered by the Istanbul office of the Foundation. Duoh was working now for the enemy.
I was not approached by any of the Austrian policemen present at the shooting scene or at the hospital. They nevertheless veiled that I didn’t miss the ambulance. They didn’t need to worry, the Professor had no intention of limping away and Daedalos was too glad that he was still alive to bother trying to escape. Besides only me and a bunch of Heads lost beyond the Maze knew I was a spy. Or was there something else?
The second big shock – the first was when I looked in the mirror – I had, at the hospital, was when two massive plain black caftans approached me and asked for the identity card. One of them was Fat Captain. Or better, he looked a lot like Fat Captain but as he moved his body in a very different way probably wasn’t him. The other one reminded me of Count Orlok, the Nosferatu, in his long, tight-fitting black robe. I tried not to show any surprise and adopted the pose of a respectful citizen. Soon I became a respectful citizen who couldn’t find his identity card. And when I finally found a piece of plastic feeling like a card, in my trousers pocket, it took a long while to understand that one side of the card was made to adhere to any surface, so I became a too respectful citizen too much not guilty of not being the person I was supposed to be, fighting my own identity card. But the card finally gave up and recognized its owner’s fingerprints. The plain caftans checked it and everything went all right. Not in my head, though. Now I knew I had been myself all the time, even the time that didn’t seem to make part of my memory, the time of sleeper agent professor Daedalos.
Then somebody took me to my lodgings in the building of the Foundation and I was left at the door of my room. Deciding to accept being the Professor, I then dropped the caftan in the shower and spent a good deal of time cleaning the blood, just to discover there was a complete change of clothes in a closet. One thing leading to another, I decided to explore the room. I found a thin plastic tablet that reacted to the touch the same way the identity card did. I checked again this one and found that it did a lot more things than I thought at first.
There was a slim box with extensions on the corners, over the table, that reacted to the tablet and I decided to check if it was a 3D printer. I printed a new card for myself and while it was being done, the old one changed color until it became a crumpled piece of dark material. Next, I looked for the trash. I looked up, I looked down and I looked under the bed, under the table, under where my old clothes were, when the jacket made a sound. It was a faint but distinctive sound like several pieces of hard material playing against each other inside a pocket. There I found not only my old tablet, but also the pencils and paper... and the code to go back to where Daedalos belonged.
Finally I found a place to get rid of the burned card. Then I took the new card and the code and put them inside the deep pockets of a pair of clean trousers, but left the other things where I had found them. They seemed to know how to take care of themselves. I had noticed, when on the street, that everybody wore long costumes with a preference for black or somber colors. I put on a clean short caftan with long tight sleeves and over it a larger one with half sleeves, dark brown, edged with black fake fur and laced at the front with false frogs and loops. It was light but warm and I looked solemn in it.
Now, it was time to think seriously about having a decent meal. I guessed there was enough money on the card to have dinner in a good restaurant and I considered myself entitled to it, since the Heads owed me two dinners, two breakfasts, two lunches and two nights sleep. They could haggle from there, but at least one of each was inescapable.
On the corridor, I tried hard not to take the wrong turn, but that was exactly what I did. Instead of heading to the front door I found myself facing a back door leading to an inner patio covered in snow. The silence was perfect to the point of not being absolute. A faint clicking came from some room close by. I turned round, in a hurry to shake the spell and go back up the stairs. There was a smell of food in the air. Then, the thunder of a voice resonated in my left ear.
“Professor! It’s ready a good half an hour ago. I thought you were not coming. With the shooting and the hospital and all that!”
A cook! Dressed like a cook and smelling of vegetable soup.
“Are you feeling all right? I thought you were in bed.”
“No, I’m going out. I’m all right, yes. What is ready?”
“You really need some rest. But, since you are here, you must eat first! Come! I did it as you told me. Come. Come!”
“What did I tell you? Did you prepare something for me? Impossible!”
“Nothing is impossible for us! Try to remember, professor. You told me, Yatagan, when I come back from Berlin I want to eat a lentil soup! And you told me your secret, when you were a small boy you used to eat poorly, a simple lentil soup, water, lentils and just a pinch of salt. Now, when you feel tired, you miss that simple meal. Remember now, professor?”
NOTE: day three. I hope I can see Duoh tomorrow. Chef Yatagan, who served me the lentil soup, said that he had been told the brocade and embroidery of the heavy caftan Duoh was wearing was intended to act as a protection. He also informed me that my caftan, although not so good as Duoh’s and despite feeling light, is also very resistant. I also noticed that the seams are purely ornamental. It’s all one piece. Why do I say day three and not the end of day one? First of all, day one should be counted as day two, but I thought of leaving that out, I can sacrifice one dinner. I also have to complain about the lentils. Because if day two is day three, day three is day four. Four days and a plate of lentils! What goes on in your mind? Did you never heard, you may travel in time but you don’t get any younger doing it? I took what was mine by right and ate three servings of lamb stew after the lentils. And now I’ll try to sleep twenty four hours before going on, because tomorrow may very well be day five.
Three sick lambs floating in a swimming pool of yogurt produce beings looking like stretched eggplants waving peduncles and trying to catch an ambulance under a shower of small sparkling bullets collected by two black caftans using noiseless vacuum cleaners and pronouncing a silent magic word while becoming fat overstretched lentils. Wake-up! Wake-up! Flashes! Flashes! The entire town is waking up and dancing! Dancing! Dancing! The entire town wants to see you dance. Louder! Let’s go! Hop! The entire town plays louder and louder and Anthony Quinn as Zorba, the Greek, dances. Dances! Dances! Flashes! Flashes!
I opened my eyes and mouth in panic. There was light coming from the room’s sole big window and there was the sound, coming from both the card and the tablet on the table, filling the room with a concert fit for an open-air performance.
Who could have played this trick on me? Then, in my head, I heard my own voice saying to Yatagan, when I come back from Berlin I want to eat a lentil soup.
I was! I was playing tricks on myself! I stumbled to the table and put the alarm off. I limped into the shower trying to catch my racing thoughts. There was something about a magic word related with lentils, but that was gone, I didn’t catch it. Something about me playing tricks came running, went by, and stood there, caught by the tail but the head out of my reach.
If I was the author of those tricks I must… must what? The music started playing again, this time the theme of The Third Man. The sound of the zither filled the room. Daedalos was beginning to enjoy the joke, but the Professor limped out of the shower to answer the call. Orlok and the Fat Captain were waiting for me.
“We caught the man.”
Orlok paused and both he and Fat Captain stood there, looking at me. I was not sure if they were waiting for me to say something, or if they had been switched off. How could they have found the shooter so fast? A tip-off? A long time suspect? Caught while running to the toilet? A victim waiting to be framed? Perhaps belonging to an ethnic minority? Sheer efficiency?
“The attempted killing was politically motivated and professor major Duoh was the main target. By the way, professor major Duoh is recovering fast and you may speak with her later today. She asked already for you.”
They switched off again. I knew they were waiting for me to say something, but I couldn’t imagine what. Orlok went on.
“The man was already known to us as a dangerous extremist, a mafia gun, a smuggler and a hacker. He will be sentenced for all those crimes and the attempted murder, according to the law of the League and also to the Austrian law. Of course the law of the League will prevail. As one of the victims, do you want to add something from your custom or your law, perhaps? You wish to apply it yourself? Do you want to meet the person in question?”
I couldn’t believe this. Basically, they were letting me understand they had framed a criminal they were having trouble nailing and were inviting me to take revenge, hoping I would poke the man’s eyes off, in the name of some barbarian practice. It was insulting in more than one way. I told them there was nothing under the law that I could do or even wanted to do. The plain caftans, who had switched off while waiting for my answer, switched on again and stood up. They said five in the afternoon would be a good time to see Duoh. I was there at four, after a meal of meat and rice on vine leaves, served in person by a smiling chef Yatagan, and a short walk, limping around the streets of Vienna.
Empty corridor, open door. Duoh was not being paid much attention, there was no nurse, no policeman, no bodyguard. Look at professor major Duoh, from the mighty Power Foundation, ex communications officer Bayar in the Tigers, conqueror of Europe with the eyes set on the whole world, left there for the vultures.
“Professor! Glad to see you in good health. Are you from the insurance company, or something? What brings you here? Ah, but you are limping. They didn’t shoot you in the leg, I hope. Do you know who did this? Come, tell me if you know!”
“They didn’t tell you? They say it was a mafia gun. He was accused of all the crimes that were available this week.”
“A mafia gun? Did you believe that, professor? Did you hear nothing of what I said to you? Tribal leaders do not rebel against us. We charmed Babylon and Persepolis. We defy the genius of Alexander. Sun Tzu applauds from wherever he is now. All those ferocious generals and their ghosts respect us. No provincial capo is going to rebel against us. He has a lot to loose. That’s what makes the success of the Power Foundation as a spearhead.”
“Is that the reason you joined it, major, because it has more chances of success than the Tigers?”
Duoh took a certain time to get there. Maybe the trip was more painful given her state. She looked at me for a long moment and then her eyes narrowed suddenly, almost disappearing in the large face, then opening wide again.
“I knew you already from somewhere, although it seems impossible that you look so young after all these years. Must be the beard. You were with the Tigers during the war. You wore a beard that looked like the flag of Catalonia. You were a guest with the Intelligence, blue tag, no name. They looked everywhere but never caught you.”
“Well, major, we are again on the same side.”
“Are we? Were you a spy, then? Are you now? You didn’t seem to fit in that army. How come they invited you in?”
“Mysteries of the Maze, major. You didn’t seem to belong there too.”
“Mysteries of what? Professor… Tell me, professor, you were walking slightly ahead of me, before we entered that alley, were you not?”
“I think so. Then I felt like fainting and made way for you.”
“Yes. Fainting or feigning? When the shooting happened you were already behind me. Did you have a premonition?”
“If I would have had a premonition I would have warned you, major.”
“Ah, that’s really good! You will be my guardian angel. In case you have premonitions, of course. So, I was right about the insurance.”
NOTE: when I left the hospital after the first of my visits I told myself that I didn’t care much about the assassination attempt and I didn’t care much about the health of ex-lieutenant Bayar, now promoted to professor major Duoh. I planned to go back and take advantage of the situation to get the information I needed and disappear, but something told me immediately it wouldn't be that easy. The problem is that I was not supposed to interfere with the already complicated manipulation of time somebody started somewhere, sometime, without the due respect for an ancient human concept of the order of the Universe, codified in my time as what I will call, from now on, Atomic Time.
Clarifying the situation (1):
I am writing this report half for the Heads, who paid for the trip and half for you who live in Atomic Time and who are my excuse to publish it.
I am now (in my report) in the Maze that comes before the Mongolian Step that comes before the Maze that comes before the Heads, if you do not mess up with the chronological order of things.
I was in Point Heads, in a neutral spot after the Maze, do not ask me how this can be, it is all very confusing, before arriving to the Maze and before coming back to the time when I am writing this report from my notes, a time when television still rules the waves and internet is a fascinating new tool that is expanding quickly into the Cloud.
It will all become the Maze (as the Heads call it, because obscured by the change made in Point Mongolia), that will become the Mongolian Step, that will expand in all directions and become something else I do not know what (something messy, where chronology and all sort of information will constantly play tricks on us), also called the Maze by the Heads, that will became the Heads (as I call it), the ones that will try to finally clarify the situation between here and now and there and then and try to draw a chronological line, if they know what that means.
Clarifying the situation (2):
Duoh is credited to have started the Mongolian Step. It seems this is a common point in a substantial percentage of the versions of events between the Maze and the Heads. The Heads had only one picture they think are of the mythical Duoh but they must be wrong because it shows two male figures and the one I know is a woman. That is all I know. Also the succession of the events led me into thinking that maybe the trip trough time in search of Duoh that was prepared for me by the Heads was in fact prepared by me. See above, previous notes.
I have been already in Burma without much success. I witnessed an attempt to kill Duoh in Vienna. So I guess that, if I do not find anything important in Vienna in the Maze, I’m done here, since I wasted the ticket to Mongolia without reaching it.
I will someday be in Vienna in the Maze, leaving the hospital where Duoh is lying down, thinking about an excuse to extract from her important secrets that maybe she will not know to be so important or even secret.
That same day I will meet Wilma.
“Professor? I am Wilma, a friend of Duoh, and I have something for her.”
She had been waiting outside the hospital, a tall figure dressed in black, in the snow, under a big plane tree. The air was quickly getting warmer and this created a strange feeling with all that snow around.
“The door to her room is open. There’s nobody to keep you from going there.”
“I don’t want to go in there. I visited Duoh several times in her office. Do you remember me? We met at the cafeteria. You were looking for the dinning room.”
It was difficult not to remember her, even if I had never seen her before.
“Sure I remember you. Did you follow me? Never mind. You said you have something for her. Let me see it.”
“Here. She asked me to collect some information about recent events. I work at the Museum. We have records.”
She was holding one of those smart tablets, bigger than my card but smaller than the tablet in the room. Something sounded strange in Wilma’s speech. What was so extraordinary about a museum having records? Then I remembered records must have been among the first victims of the Mongolian Step to be knocked out of place.
“Hum! You do have records. Great! I have a certain interest in recent history. May I have a look?”
“You have a lot in there, if you are interested. I hope I am doing nothing illegal. You are not going to read it in here, are you?”
She sounded a little nervous. Could those records be secret? Could they be against the interests of the Foundation? I didn’t want to waste time with historical details, but if I had to research archives to understand what was going on with the mysterious Duoh, I would do it. Trying to understand the Major looked suddenly a more practical task.
“You said she wanted to go through all these records? It doesn’t sound like her.”
“She is deeply concerned with facts. She is afraid the records we hold will disappear some day. Swallowed, she says, they will be swallowed by the greedy collectors of information and digested in the process, diluted in meaningless dead ends. In the end they will still be there but they will be unrecognizable.”
This seemed to fit in what I had learned at the Tigers from Lieutenant Ho, only sounding more menacing due to her conspiratorial tone. I had to ask her something else, before we went on speaking about facts.
“Are you her lover?”
“We did nothing illegal. I am her friend.”
So she was her friend in the Museum and being somebody’s lover was sort of illegal, maybe more if you were of the same sex. And the ambitious Duoh was concerned with the health of some records. No, not some records, but all the records in the world.
“Let’s find a café and sit down, to take a look at this.”
Finding a café didn’t seem a good idea. Wilma liked none, or better, she didn’t seem to trust any of them, and I, my leg hurting and tired of limping, proposed to look for a shop to buy a cane. In the end we had our conversation while walking and I found the ability of the card to stick to my sleeve very useful.
There was a great deal of information concerning events in what used to be called – in the days of arrogance – the West. This information, which the Tigers had digested to the point of erasing most of it, covered almost a century. But it was difficult to browse all that material while holding a cane, so I decided to read it later, in my room. Then I came upon the notice about the French and the atomic bomb. I couldn’t help asking Wilma if that was real.
“Did he really do that?”
“Who did what?”
“The French president, did he really threaten to launch the atomic bomb and finish with Europe?”
“Oh that! Yes! You don’t know why? They were humiliated enough by the banning of the foie gras and by the ruling that established English and German as the official languages of the European Council. Then the British learned how to cook. It took them many centuries but finally they managed to do it properly. They still do, in fact. We have excellent English restaurants here in Vienna. It was too much for the French. It took all the resources of the cartel of the Bruscnu to avoid the annihilation of Europe. The French president was assassinated and the grand-godfather of the actual Bruscnu secured the Seven Families grip on the Council. There was a terrible repression and France … but I’m sure you heard about that in your country. Bruscnu even received the Nobel Peace Prize for saving Europe.”
I doubted for a moment that this was the future of my own past. The thought crossed my mind that the Heads were using a lunatic dimension to channel me to the appointed spots, leaving me with a sudden sense of insecurity. Maybe I was already hopelessly lost in a future where people looking like me walked the streets and made a normal living, just for the purpose of letting me enter their lives to finish my job. Then I remembered it was probably my own life in that crazy dimension that I was invading.
The eyes of Wilma, a short distance from my face, made me realize I was about to panic. I promised Wilma that the following day I would give her precious records to her clandestine lover. Then I invited her to have dinner. I wanted to know more about the subversive properties of love and a dinner in an English restaurant of Vienna sounded like a good beginning. But the invitation seemed to make Wilma very uncomfortable, even frightened. I asked her if it was all right that I invite her and she said yes, but she looked as if she was going to start running away from me at any minute.
Her smart card played a soft tune. She took a deep breath and answered the call as if she was already in the middle of a conversation.
“Yes. I’m in my anti-routine hour. I’ll take three hours, if you don’t mind. I still have three more extra hours this month. Yes, I’ll wait.”
She froze in there and smiled at me. Then, as it was obvious I was desperately in need of an explanation, she pointed her chin to where we had come from.
“I stepped out of my routine area. I’m waiting for authorization to go on. She’s going to phone back.”
She answered another call.
“Yes, and I will need another one for one dinner out.”
She looked at me and smiled even more.
“I’m going to have dinner with a member of the Foundation. No, I don’t know. I know… twenty four hours in advance, but this is the Foundation, do you understand? How come you are not sure you can do it? No, not at the Foundation, we look for an English restaurant. I’ll be grateful.”
She recovered the smile and waited.
“Yes? Table for two? You’re an angel. Put the extra three on the side, just in case. Thank you very much.”
Then she jumped free from her spot and unexpectedly took my arm.
“The Museum controls your movements?”
“The Museum? What nonsense, professor! Why would they want to do that?”
“But… the phone call… the authorization?”
“Ah, that! That was dear Putzfrau, as I call it. She is all around the world and it has many names. Greedy Old Grandma and Supersized BK were popular in the beginning, perhaps you know them. Some people call it different names for each situation. If there is an official name or names for it, few people use them. Maybe nobody knows anymore. Nobody wants to, anyway. I don’t know any. Do you, professor?”
“No. She also tells you what to eat, your dear Putzfrau? I hope not, because I want to choose my own food. I guess we won’t get any privacy at dinner.”
“What do you mean, professor? Privacy? Do you mean sex? I would need another authorization, a special one, and I can’t afford it.”
The smart card played the soft tune, again. She answered.
“Yes. No, just dinner, no sex, thank you.”
Wilma looked at me, like she was a bit tired.
“She volunteered to offer me the credits for sex, since you are from the Foundation, but I’m not in the mood. I hope you don’t mind.”
So I was warned in advance that the secrets of love wouldn’t be revealed to me, that night. But would I want to share them with grandma Putzfrau, the all-knowing super BK? At least grandma had the decorum of not interrupting our dinner.
Back in my room I looked suspiciously at the tablet. I didn’t even want to know what the Professor had been doing in the internet before I arrive. I sat at the table and pulled the pen and the paper, just for the feeling of it, for I had no intention of writing about my thoughts at the moment. It was time to use a secret weapon, tremendously useful on secret missions, in the present case, my memory.
NOTE: it started to work silently while I sketched Wilma. She had told me that “in the beginning” Putzfrau had been given names like Greedy Old Grandma and Supersized BK. Maybe these names were inspired in the original acronyms. I had seen something written GOldMa, not long ago. Together with Supersized BK I could place both on my recent search in Burma, because this could be the XBK that caused such noisy reactions at the time. What was it? Oh, yes. Countries and entire federations signed in for the GOldMa monitoring system, only to discover they had been overridden by the secretive and more sophisticate XBK, developed in advance by the same people. What exactly these systems were capable of doing I could only guess by their influence on the life of Wilma, several years after I read about it.
I had no way of finding more without using the tablet, and even then the result was not guaranteed. This seemed a lot more finely controlled than at the time of the Tigers. I was almost sure one person knew about this matter in detail, but I couldn’t ask her because GOldMa or one of its grandchildren could be anywhere, even in Duoh’s unguarded room. I was tired and it didn’t even occur to me that I had the history of the previous one hundred years stuck to the sleeve of my caftan.
Suddenly the tablet beeped gently. The message started “How to print fabulous sex toys…”
Before falling asleep, still annoyed by the disgusting humor of grandma Putzfrau, I remembered I hadn’t put off the alarm. Then I thought strange that, in this future, I hadn’t seen people wearing augmented reality glasses or other similar gadgets.
“Maybe they’re hiding under invisibility cloaks.”
I woke up feeling as if a giant hand was holding me against the bed. It was so hot, damp and dark that I imagined myself inside the ink sac of a squid. I turned my head on the direction of the window. A heavy blanket of darkness was oppressing the walls and windows of the building. Then it started pouring, straight and very, very loud. I hardly could hear Zorba dancing around the room.
I had a strange dream, said Duoh. Is it Duoh’s dream or is it my own dream with Duoh and her dream in it?
Will you please pay attention to me, said I, still dripping water from the tip of my nose. Duoh kept immersed in the recollection of her dreams. Here, I have something for you. I didn’t even have time to read it. But you have to tell me more about that famous Bruscnu, said I. This was followed by a somewhat barbed conversation.
“Who? The president of the Council of Europe?”
“No. The one that had the French president murdered. It’s on the records I brought you. Your good friend Wilma from the Museum gave them to me. I want to know more about that period of history. Is that how things really happened?”
“There are no periods in history, my friend, just a gigantic flow of events that struggle to fit in the ever changing molds of time.”
“But did things happen that way?”
“But did it really happen that way?”
“At least is what most people think. I mean those who bother with that question.”
“But did it happen that way?”
“Do you mean, what are the probabilities? There’s a good chance he did it.”
“I don’t want to know about probabilities. It’s not that far away in time. I want to know exactly what happened. And I know you know it.”
“Nobody will ever know. Why do you care? Why don’t you just adopt one of the two concurrent theories established by networked wisdom? What else do you have to tell me? Tell me or leave.”
“I went to an English restaurant, yesterday. Good food. It’s true they improved their cuisine.”
“Oho! And what did you eat?”
“Vindaloo. Very good. Very hot.”
“You went there alone?”
“I think company is important at meals, but eating is always a selfish affair no matter how much you share it. Tell me, Duoh, if you think there are no historical periods why do you care so much about those records?”
Two days passed. It could be three, or even five days, nobody cared. They went by, soaked in water and mud, surrounded by boreal half-darkness. Rain kept pouring noisily outside. Public hovercrafts were the only means of transport capable of crossing the rivers of mud that flowed through Vienna, connecting a system of raised platforms. We carried the dampness with us everywhere. We all felt miserable and wet. Duoh was angry, as if she was thinking that time was running out for her. She was feeling powerless and that didn’t improve her mood.
“You spoke, while you were half asleep, about change and a strange dream.”
“Changing one changes them all. But how much, how long and how deep it changes each one? Believing that it changes all in the same way and degree it’s nothing more than cheap magic for lazy people.”
“Changing what, Duoh? I’m dumb. You have to be specific.”
“We just have to accept some simple things. Find the Point. Then we do the twisting. We have to be very careful, because we tend to be clumsy. Like a child’s hand trying to spin a top.”
“It must all be done in one movement, is it? Look, you are not making much sense. You need to be more specific.”
“To speak you just need to open your mouth and start speaking. Now, speaking the changing of things, that is a lot of work. And it doesn’t take much speaking. Then, Point, Twist, Change. The change fills the world and you have to live with it.”
“You still don’t make sense. You couldn’t even conquer Europe, Duoh. And Europe is an easy prey.”
“Europe is cheap magic. Europe is just a collector’s item. Full of ignorant people. They still call themselves a democracy. A high percentage of ignorant people means there is no democracy. Besides the greedy servants, not a bit worried about slimming down their ignorance, who wants to conquer anything in this shit? Do you?”
“But it was part of your job and you didn’t make it, Duoh. Can’t you play simple tricks?”
“There you go again. Am I a greedy servant? Do I look like someone who lives to accumulate property or status? Who says I would want to make such a foolish thing? You?”
“Tell me, don't the grandchildren play simple tricks? Shouldn’t they prevent things like the assassination attempt from happening?”
“Whose grandchildren? Oh, I see… yes, they do play simple tricks. It’s even the only thing they do. But they have a big box of simple tricks. Big box, yes. You sound like a lazy pupil trying to look smart. What do you know about it? Get out of here. Hear me? GET OUT!”
I left the room thinking that maybe she is not our legendary Duoh in Mongolia. Then I thought, why not? As far as I know she could be anywhere in time, maybe she is in Mongolia right now, maybe she was already there. What if she doesn’t have to be anywhere?
I have been speaking with Wilma. It seems all she knows about the Mongolian Step is that she shares the opinion Duoh expressed that all records would be made useless sooner or later. She did not think much of the complexities of time. It felt as if I was watching two different movies both showing the same images and the same dialogues. The movie was, for Wilma, about bridges, roads, airports, things as real and hard as the bullets that hit Duoh. There was a real conspiracy, real earth, fire, air and water. Duoh’s movie, and she was in both of them the central character, was not so much a conspiracy but a majestic turn of time and space that would let earth, fire, air and water basically untouched but would nevertheless change the entire world.
I feared that Wilma’s choice of a stranger from the Foundation as her confident had an obscure intention. I felt the same suspicion about Duoh. They both seemed to have a secret bond, yet she wouldn’t see her. At this stage I even suspected the Heads and the strange association they had with the other me in time.
“They have to give the impression they’re sharing it with the rest of us.”
Wilma was complaining about the elites of her society, the families that ruled her world, which was in fact and on top of them all ruled by the Greedy, the clients behind the people behind the all-knowing super BK, the greedy servants, then by the League and who knows what more before reaching the Families. Wilma was upset because she had just received a visit from two inspectors. Like me, they had asked her unceremoniously about her relationship with Duoh and what was her interest in the affairs of the Museum. She didn’t believe that this was the real reason.
She was hammering at the privileges of the elites, who included advances in medicine and bioengineering that weren’t sufficiently shared with common people like her. I thought for a moment that she hoped dear Putzfrau would be listening to her plea. Then, after having taken Putzfrau as witness of her misery, she changed her allegiances and, pointing conspiratorially up, said that we shouldn’t use that name anymore. I was expecting a thunderous voice coming from up but nothing happened.
I suggested we name it Pop Eye, which she thought was very smart. In my travels I did have a brief and bitter taste of real dictatorship, and I told her so, also in a conspiratorial tone. She looked confused for a moment. She finally replied, with a serious face.
“We live in a democracy.”
Then, she went back to the story of the two inspectors.
“They knew already what she was looking for. They want to know more about you, about me, they want names. They want to know who is related to whom. All they want are names and things attached to names. They are just civil servants and are afraid she knows more about names and things attached to names than they do.”
“That’s normal. They are inspectors, after all, civil servants as you say. But if they want names why don’t they just ask Pop Eye? He seems to know everybody, that one.”
The short silence that followed was clear and cold.
“They are the feet of Pop Eye.”
“You said they know what she was looking for. Wilma, do you know what she was looking for?"
“They are not even going to look for the real killer. She doesn’t deserve such concerns. She is a woman, she is not one of theirs, she came from the Tigers. She didn’t even belong in the Tigers, her family was from Mongolia. She was born in Borneo. She belongs nowhere. The inspectors were local, jealous civil servants, the dust of the soles of the feet of P… of Pop Eye. They just wanted to know the names and their connections to which family.”
“What families, Wilma? What names? I don’t follow you Wilma. Duoh was working on a project that involved our use of time. What does that have to do with families and names?”
“What is it you are doing here, after all? You work for the Foundation. You visit her at the hospital. But you don’t know what she was doing. She didn’t have time for any project. She worked hard in her department. A silly spy job that she hated and stood in the way of what she wanted to pursue. Maybe it was that project you speak about. But as she is not one of them they gave her that stupid incumbency, to keep her occupied. Will you tell me in what dimension you were both living in lately?”
“Maybe the one she likes the best. Can you tell me now what she was looking for, Wilma?”
“You tell me. What are you talking about when you visit her at the hospital?”
“Many things, time, food, peoples’ habits... She made jokes about reincarnation and being ugly. She spoke about the danger of changing the way we make use of time and how easy it is. But she said it can get out of control in unpredictable ways because we tend to be clumsy when dealing with the Universe.”
“Of course they did not shoot at her because of that. It was one of the families.”
I asked her again what families she was speaking about. The Seven Families, perhaps?
“You know very little for a scientist with an interest in recent history. What do you know, after all?”
“I am not a scientist, Wilma. I am a skilled artisan, a restorer good at spotting fakes and untangling mazes, I hope. I spot a lie at a good distance. Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable to pretend I didn’t notice I was being lied to, because most of the time they are inconsequential lies. But sometimes they mean something serious. You, for example, I believe you are deeply concerned with Duoh, or something related with her, her work perhaps, but I don’t believe you don’t want to see her and I believe you are scheming something that includes me.”
She didn’t reply to that, so I went on.
“Think of me as someone that just came from the future, a totally confused and ignorant future, or from the past. I do not know who those families are, although by now I can make a guess. Do they have much power?”
“They own the place. The families of each country hate the families of the neighboring country, but they agree in one point, that theirs is the only rule that will exist in this part of the world. Any threat from the outside meets them holding tacitly together against it. Duoh spoke about tribal leaders, but these are just mafia bosses linked to the traffic of toxic waste, of people, of arms and drugs, to food industry, property business, buildings, roads, airports and bridges, preferably the ones we don’t need but that involve a lot of money.”
“If the people go along with them it looks like tribal leaders to me, Wilma. And it seems their tactics have been applied to the entire society for a long time now. With the fat leaders, the Seven Families of the Council, you can speak and hold talks in Vienna or Ankara, but the original tribal leaders kill when they want to be heard. And these know Duoh is not a member of her department that the Foundation will care much. They have nothing in particular against her, but she was the perfect target to send a message. What is going to happen now, Wilma?”
“Nothing, I guess. They are gathering information.”
“And waiting for the right moment that will never come.”
“Maybe it is how it works. In the end they will know all there is to know about the contents of the box but they will never open it. They will play with their conflicting interests but will let the rest in place.”
“Leave them with their pride and let them live under the assumption they are independent from their neighbors and better than everyone else. Thus spoke Duoh.”
“You spoke with her about that?”
“Only the day she was shot at. Normally we would speak about other things.”
Are you replaying our conversations in my mind, Duoh? You do know that this is how people start faking memories, don't you?
Look, here is Duoh. She is warning me, again and again, that twisting even a tiny fraction of time will have unforeseeable consequences. There were longer sentences attached to it, but, after repeating them time and again, they got reduced to twist-fraction-time-consequences, and then twist-time.
“Listen, Duoh, and you may laugh if you feel like. I come from another time. I come from the past. Don’t worry, I never heard of you in the past.”
“Oh! But you heard of me in the future, I suppose. How many pasts do you have now? Do you have one past in the future?”
“Laugh, but I tell you I have reasons to think I have several. I have traveled two times to the future so I may travel to two, in fact four, instances in the past.”
“Are you serious? You are a lucky man, you know? But you’re not feeling comfortable with it, I can see that.”
“I don’t remember the first time I traveled to the future and then to the past. That makes it hard for me to accept I was there before I went there again, to the same future and to the same past, with minor differences.”
“Why would you need to do that?”
“To prepare the persona I am now, I guess. How long do you know me?”
“You sound terribly serious. Let me see… we met for the first time – what I took for the first time – some two weeks before going to Berlin. It’s almost one month now, maybe more. You were a much nicer person then.”
“I can’t remember those days in Berlin.”
“Look at you, Professor, traveling up and down in time. You say back and forth, isn’t it? Well, why not round and round? That must be enough to blur some memories. Tell me something about the past. How was it? Plenty of water, nice weather, real food. The lamb was real lamb, wasn’t it? Slaves were happy, then.”
“You have been reading the cartoon section of those records I brought you, Duoh.”
“You are not going to tell me you would stay here, if given the choice.”
“But I will have to go back, and going back means going to a tightly programmed time. I must go back to Atomic Time.”
“We also live in Atomic Time, but we don’t even notice it anymore, because Atomic Time is straight and never wrong. So, finally, you don’t come from another time. It’s the same time. But Atomic Time proved itself to be cheap magic!”
“So, you want to change that.”
“You would want, if given the chance. Not me.”
“I read once, if we find the way to travel in time we can only do it in one direction and we can’t come back.”
“Atomic Time is always right. Always straight ahead. No, I'm being unfair to you. I'll tell you about the Chinese Coin, round with a square in the middle. Take the square and move it in any direction you wish, you'll always have a place moving in time, and this you may call Atomic Time. If you take the circle and move it you'll have time flowing in one place, and this you may call Ancient Time. Now that you had your fun, why don't you try to get place to fit perfectly in time? Point Time! Think about this.”
“I have traveled back from the future to, at least partially, the appointed times and places, didn’t I? Since Atomic Time doesn’t seem to allow this, what sort of time is at work, now? Is it Point Time?”
“You said minor differences, a while ago, didn’t you? Do you know why you can’t remember Berlin?”
“I’ve been thinking it could be a sort of time traveling jetlag.”
“You have been thinking about excuses! Whoever made you do this was not looking for a very bright mind. But I’m thinking about a possible reason. You can’t remember your first visit to the future and your stay in Berlin preparing your persona, as you say, or whatever the real reason was, because it was not the first visit, but the second. You did it after, not before. Even if slightly after, like an echo. The past of you departed from the future of you. In other words, you still didn’t do it. It works like this for you, because you are traveling. For me it works differently, I am quiet here in Atomic Time and I assure you that you were a much nicer person. If you want to use Point Time, always take this into account: what comes next comes first. So yes, you are using, or someone is making you use, Point Time.”
“Do you know that the day you were hit, that day I had sort of a premonition, as you said?”
“You didn’t know about it in advance?”
“No. And it is not what you may exactly call a premonition. I didn’t guess you were going to be hit, I didn’t have a blurred vision of you lying on the street in a pool of blood or heard a voice warning me to stay behind, not even the annoying feeling that something was about to happen. I was too busy trying not to slip on the ice.”
“So, you didn’t know it, eh.”
“Everything is going to happen, is happening and happened already – it was how I felt it – all the sequence condensed in the first shots and you stumbling in front of me, while the last shots and our fall make part of another reality with a different perception of time and a different speed. If you try to make sense of it, you get different possible sequences. The normal sequence can easily be inverted. It is possible I knew about the shooting a millisecond in advance.”
“You’re a genius. I knew you didn’t know. Come here. Give me a hug.”
While hugging me she spoke in a murmur.
“Bring it to Ulaanbaatar. Ask for my name.”
Hugging Duoh was strange enough but the strangest thing was her laughter. While I put on my caftan and leave her room she was laughing and laughing… and she kept on laughing and I kept hearing her laugh while walking the corridor.
When you want to casually extract information from somebody you better be quick, because after a short while you start to smell bad. And it is very embarrassing to answer somebody that suddenly spreads an interrogator smell all around him. Some people succumb to it and start confessing absurd things, others profit from the occasion to pass misleading information, a few give you what you want, others became so nervous or cynical they start spreading a particular smell of their own, but I doubt anybody will enjoy it for a long time.
The Secretary took the trouble of including me in a small group of scientists he invited for dinner. They all looked more like ghosts of civil servants than scientists, although the show of arrogance displayed by some of them mimicked their idea of intellectual superiority coupled with professional jealousy.
The Secretary wanted to know more about me, he told me later over schnapps, in a small corner of the noisy bar where we were not to be disturbed for the eternity of ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time for an interrogator and when finally somebody approached us the smell must have been recognizable, even in there.
“You made friends with Duoh in Berlin.”
It was not the best start for a conversation about me, but probably he was trying to get quickly to what really interested him. I decided it was time to be Daedalos again and said no. It was not a lie and if I was lucky there were few chances he knew I had met Duoh before, in the Tigers.
“I don’t know where you come from or what you are doing.”
It was surprisingly sincere, and it came next.
His eyes showed his concern, and something else. The idea came to my mind that he thought I was a spy. It is true that I was a sort of a spy, but the Secretary thought I was working for them. Not being able to find information about me must have convinced him that I was working for somebody above, and probably spying on him. And that, even if it barely showed through all the smell, hurt him a lot.
But, most of all, he wanted to know about Duoh. He wanted to speak, and he did it for a while, about “our Duoh, a fantastic mind and a brave woman,” praising her dedication in researching the recent history of some of the local families, an idea of the Secretary himself.
If Duoh had failed in her loyalty there would be a good reason for somebody to keep an eye on the Secretary. He had to get to Duoh’s treachery before anybody else, or at least give the impression he cared about it. And this seemed to be the problem with him. He hadn’t taken her work seriously, with the exception of his own brilliant idea of listing the connections between families. The Secretary had reasons to worry, he had missed something important.
“Duoh is a quiet person, and a hard worker. I am sure she developed work outside the department. Where you aware of any other of her projects, professor? You spoke with her several times, since you came back from Berlin.”
I thought for a moment to ask him how loyal did he think Duoh had been while working for the Foundation, and blow his confidence. Instead I told him that Duoh appeared to be the sort of mystical person that faces eminent death with the most elevated thoughts.
“No-ooo! She? Well, knowing one could die any minute, it is only natural. But you think she gave up her old projects to dedicate herself to the salvation of her soul? Our Duoh?”
“How much of our own DNA, I quote, do we carry with us into future reincarnations?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“This is just an example of the things we talked about, Mr. Secretary. She also said she gained these physical features with the years, I mean Duoh’s features, and they include some that I most hated in other people when I was a child, look at my nose, look at my big face, look at my lower lip, I mean her nose, face and lip, Mr. Secretary.”
“It is true that I wouldn't call her pretty.”
“Look. And I look at her. Do you believe these are the features of the amazing person I am? Or am I the amazing person that is all the amazing others that I condemned to be ugly, in an earlier form of my life?”
“Did she speak all the time about migrating souls? She didn’t say anything else?”
“Well, she did something.”
”She smiled. While traveling, our souls save all of us from our own selfishness. And she smiled, do you believe that, she smiled.”
“Incredible! I never thought she could have such concerns, such doubts, she looks so… you know…”
“I’m not sure if I know. Once she said there are always things in common between people who hate each other. They mostly disagree on who is the ugliest.”
“That sounds more like her. Anything else that could lead us to her work?”
“She also said that she used to play with this idea, as an exercise: if there is anything in our scientific world that approaches the concept of reincarnation, then it should be possible to manage the infinite amount of reincarnating possibilities as a whole.”
He shook his head, by now openly nervous and looking a little sick. I knew he was not looking where he was going.
“She was delirious. Or then she was making fun of you, professor. Sorry to tell you this, but she has a cruel sense of humor.”
I took him for a walk around the edge of the precipice, with a final quote.
“Like twisting a bunch of weeds, they don’t bend all the same way, so it is with time.”
But for the Secretary it was too late. He missed it. One of the geniuses of our company pushed through the heavy air of our cubicle and spoke with a slurred schnappsy candor.
“Are you, gentlemen, adjusting your political decisions?”
You have to be a spy to become a politician, the thought came to me over my third or maybe my fifth schnapps.
It was very hot, outside. Water had stopped falling, but kept flowing. For the first time I saw drones in Vienna, small like the ones I had seen in Burma, but flying low, in compact formation, through the streets. They went hmmmm-tzk-tzk-hmmmm-tzk-tzk-tzk-tzk-tzk! It took me a certain time to realize they were killing mosquitoes.
In the hovercraft I was feeling like being transported inside a half empty package of melting butter, thinking on the best excuse to disturb Wilma. Then my card started playing The Third Man. It was Wilma.
“Where are you? Don’t you have somewhere to go?”
“You have no home, professor. Your room is a Pop Eye trap. You still have to go to one place. Please, professor, go now.”
It was obvious she knew much more than I imagined. It was also obvious she couldn’t say, by phone, what she knew. It would be wise not to ask.
“I have to pack my things. I need to change clothes, it’s hot like hell.”
“You have nothing to pack. You take the clothes you’re wearing now. You will need them where you go. To the missing place, go! Now! You go, just go.”
I wondered if she thought she was speaking to somebody else. But I had adrenaline already pushing me to do something fast, anything fast, so it must be me. Just go. Pop Eye’s trap. The door in front of me opened, I left. I stood, hesitant, on the platform. I could only think of a place that was missing on my trip, but there was no way of getting there without Pop Eye knowing, because I would need to buy a ticket, like a common passenger.
Wishing I was right, I took the public transport to the airport. It was a long trip. I had to change transport several times. I had to ask too many questions, all of them in reach of Pop Eye’s ears, because I didn’t want to ask my card. It was hot! My back seemed to be glued to a board of some sort. These synthetic materials will never improve, I thought, while taking off my outer caftan.
Looking around I thought I must have done something unconventional because all of a sudden all eyes and smiles were on me. After enduring this for a while I decided to search my back. There was something there, all right, a little bit to the right, under my armpit. It was a tablet. Everybody laughed, some clapped hands. It was not just any tablet, but Wilma’s tablet, the one I had given Duoh. I thanked the applause, looking as if I had recovered a long lost object.
Only Duoh could have put it in there, when hugging me. So, that was the joke. I checked the owner of the tablet. It had my face with my nose on it, but a different name. I checked the credit. It looked comfortable. The rest were the records I had been browsing and some encrypted files. I had a new identity, so I didn’t need my card anymore. Then I acted on the assumption that Pop Eye was not aware of how serious a threat this could be for him.
I left on the next stop and stuck my card on the side of another hovercraft going on a different direction. Then I waited for my transport in a quiet corner. Pop Eye could now follow me to the end of the line. Even if the card was found before that and they would start searching for me all around, I had a good chance of flying out of Vienna before Pop Eye could find me. And if they could find in which plane I was, I trusted they were not going to consider what I had with me important enough to shoot it down. Just in case, I kept the code in my hand, all the way to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
NOTE: now, before I go on telling my story, it is time to clear a mystery. If you haven't guessed it already. The picture you recovered was taken with my own tablet. The two people pictured in there are me and Gerel, who happens to be Duoh's brother. He was waiting in the airport that someone calls for Duoh. I asked him who had told him I was coming. He said I had told him when I would return, and then, before I could ask anything else, he invited me to have dinner, the best lamb in the entire world, he said, his wife and his son would be glad to see me again. Later we would meet a group of conspirators.
There were five of them. Our shadows walked with difficulty on our way to the University, covered in dust blown by the wind. There was Gerel, a man from India, a young Japanese woman, one young Greek and a very serious looking Iranian woman, all colleagues or ex-colleagues of Duoh. But besides them, they told me, there were other minds. This selected group proposed to start the biggest change in the Human world since somebody said a complete sentence for the first time.
We were being beaten with whipping dust, as if the world wanted to kick us out of the way. I was still not sure they knew what they were doing. The only results of their experiment that I knew were a group of confused floating beings, capable of traveling in time. It was fascinating, but it was also scarce proof that everything would be for the better. They tried to explain to me their reasons. Next I'll give you an example that I'll abstain from commenting.
“We ran several simulations and the further we go, the more it increases the chance of the Greedy to become a species apart, able to survive extreme environments, pressing the slaves into a fat bestiality, keeping their servants locked in an oxygen dependent world. If we don’t consider factors like the fate of the stocks of weapons, desertification and natural disasters and so on. The list is long. Preventing the Greedy to become a species apart is not exactly a good reason to live or die for. The planet will burn before they can survive on Mars without equipment.”
“There is an increasing difficulty of the political and military structures in controlling the world’s stocks of weapons of mass destruction. States are no more relevant structures, and the ones that were once very powerful are now the biggest threats. Federations are taken as a sign that we are evolving towards a perfectly civilized world, while in fact they are preying machines. The functioning structures now are what people call the Families or the Greedy. They delegate a good amount of power on the Federations, they are organized in layers of loyalties and they are shamelessly unscrupulous.”
“Duoh’s tribal leaders.”
“Yes, Professor. What Duoh calls the tribal leaders took the stage a long while ago, and although, for some people, this looks like a necessary global redistribution of power, thanks to the wild development of recent technologies it is leading to the most unequal society Humankind as ever created. If it doesn’t commit suicide before that happens. But there is more. I think you call it Pop Eye.”
“How do you know about the name Pop Eye?”
“The tablet you were carrying recorded your conversations. I listened, sorry, I had to. As I was saying, Pop Eye would be the ultimate chance of keeping the old world under control, a solution I'm not defending here. Anyway it was hijacked by the greedy servants that turned it into a useless mess, an instrument that they could negotiate for their own profit. There exist several concurrent versions around the world, and all suffered the same fate. They became a network of overlapping surveillance systems for hire. It looks like a cage with unbeatable guardians. But it is not. We think we have a means of beating Pop Eye and stop both the Greedy and their corrupt servants.”
“The Mongolian Step.”
“If you want to call it that. But first we have to pin down Point Mongolia. Then pin down, say, Point Vienna. Then do the twist, reverse the two points, which means sort of putting the brakes on the flow of information and disrupt the thread of all ongoing action of the Pop Eye networks. That is what we will try to do next.”
Then they told me what I suspected already.
“During one of our tests we noticed someone was using Point Vienna, someone with an attachment to Duoh Bayar on other situations, and decided to keep an eye on him. Wilma took the risk to involve you. You were very courageous in bringing us the keys that give us access to the Long Memory, and also the most recent updates and miscellaneous material. We will need to reinstall them after the experiment. We thank you very much, professor.”
As we all left for the storm I told Gerel to leave me discreetly at what looked like the door of a bar. The whole process would last hours, for us humble walkers on Atomic Time, but my presence was not needed and I wanted to move away from the heavy excitement surrounding it. There was a good chance that one world was coming to an end. While they went to happily do the twisting of the points, somewhere in a University lab, I found myself taking refuge in what is, for me, one of the saddest and most unpleasant places in this world, a karaoke bar.
Knowing the state of your knowledge of the past, I think I may have shaken the files a little during the trip. Or they were clumsy while doing the experiment. As Duoh used to say, things won’t change all in the same way. This is a problem they probably couldn’t solve and, after cleaning the house, they found the places where to put back the contents in awkward positions. That’s what you get when you use to pay in lentils.
You live now in a world where you can use time for something else than counting the days and running computer programs. And now you know what made this possible, it was not the Quantum Lap Dance but the Mongolian Step. I gave you all the information I could. I can’t tell you more about this matter. But I can tell you one or two things about memory and about knowing your past.
Memories are delicate and not always obvious. They coexist with neighbors of many different sorts in places called strata, both of them very useful to establish the place of a memory in a group. To identify a really good memory and track it you must be a skilled runner, an indefatigable digger and a persistent, well informed, believer. Knowing your past requires a lot of work, and also curiosity, patience, honesty and an open mind to receive and treat increasing flows of information picked up on all the memories available. There’s no end to it and no be definitively sure of anything. One last thing: like Duoh, I also want to believe that traveling may save all of us from our selfishness. I advise you to keep on traveling.
Now that my job here is done, I shall go back to Atomic Time and count the minutes for my dinner, while trying to make some sense of this report. It was a pleasure to meet you.
END OF REPORT
I returned to my own room, the real Daedalos room, completely naked. It looked as if I was about to get dressed for that dinner I missed in the beginning of this adventure, with my dark red trousers, light cream shirt with random yellow dots and petrol blue jacket thrown over a chair.
Then I found myself in front of a group of big-headed floating beings with eyes and mouths that protruded like telescopic tentacles and looking transparent in the blinding light of sunset. “Come on, Daedalos,” said the Head, “you have done a good job, up till now, but you still didn’t finish it. You don’t need to get dressed. We will take care of that.”