A Minstrel for the Moment
A Fable by Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
Please allow me to introduce myself. And for you who dream of anarchy in the present day, please allow me to tell you of the past. Or is it of the future? I can never remember or foresee. The burdens of being omniscientific, I hypothesize all over the place. Float down my stream of subconsciousness if you dare. Paddles not included. Safety not assured.
Oh admit it. This Information Age leaves you cold. Not only is The Revolution being televised, it's being computerized, internetisized, 24-hour-talked-to-deathized, and initialpublicofferingized. You're seduced, hooked, hurt, addicted, feeling nervous, and left out. Everyone is smarter, younger getting richer, and clearly on the cusp of the Next Big Thing, which leaves you thinking that you had better start brainstorming if you ever want to move your income out into the obligatory seven figure field. Build it and they will come. Or so they say.
I have built something else, and now I hide in it. An anti-techno hermit, as unwired as they come and go, and yet I still see everything. Such are the deificatory powers of my narration: in my world, I rule and I know. Everything. I decide, I dictate and I am God, I am Satan, Father-Son and the Jerusalem Post. I Am.
The Creative process as it is, in my all powerful mind, I sketch out the framework for a fantasy of a time that has come and is to come. No matter how comfortable you get, change is always around the corner. With that old canard, Free Will (Willy if you prefer you media-drenched drones) comes the ability - and the inability - to act. Whether you like it or not, things happen. Like it or not, things don't always happen for the best. And despite Free Will, a lot of it really depends on how I feel at the particular moment. And at this moment, I feel short-tempered and I smell blood.
The Moment. Seven days or six thousand years? Time being relative, it's either an eternity or a flash in the frying pan. Scrambled eggs in three minutes or less, Christmas cake drowning in port for twelve months before being washed down by the egg nog into oblivion, an olive tree that has spread its oily seed for a millennium around the Levant (my home away from home). Allow me - since I can (this is my book after all) - to throw Time into my mixmaster and let us see what kind of world I can cook up, and then consume with my fiery breath. For I am God, Satan, the farther the sun the cloudier the coast. The more salty the caviar, the drier the toast. The more painful the torture…the hotter the roast.
PART I: BEFORE THE MOMENT
Here's a town I have devised. It's one, two or three that you might know but they no longer stand on their own. I have stripped them of their glory and memory, back to start, back to reality. Such a waste I know, but I have doomed what I once loved. The ire and petulance of an overactive imagination can be horrifically destructive.
In this town, where Damascus Road and Saint Michael's meet, between the grime, and among the passers-by, an old woman looks on from her perch on the southwest corner. Has your recognition flickered yet?
At shoe level, she can see what the pedestrians who share her sidewalk can not. Seated cross-legged on the ground, her back to a brick wall, she hears what others dare not. And picking up her battered and bruised guitar, she will sing with a feeble voice and play in an untuneful way what others will hear. But do they hear? They do not. I do. She's my favorite. She sings what I like to hear. Not to put words in her mouth or anything. Not I.
I don't know what I've been told, it's not that clear to me.
I don't know if you've been sold, it's far too early.
He said, "Man, it's the latest!"
I asked, "Man, do you know where your nose is?"
"Here it is in the groove, it radiates cool."
"Yes I see, it's new and improved, a four legged stool."
I asked, "Why do I want four if three's enough for me?"
He said, "Man, the fourth is change, and it will set you free."
"Some will still have to kneel, as others will steal.
As we jump from tree to tree.
Crawl cry scream sigh lie fly and flee."
"Parrot want a carrot grovel sit chase stick.
Dig deep great leap shovel shit turn trick.
Ivory tower spits sour fly kites vomit rights.
To make cower need power set sights punch out lights.
The latest thing the greatest thing, 'Long Live the King,'
Rise fall float stall has a familiar ring.
Feed your head, earn your break margarine for butter.
Teachers teach and make a speech
Hear history stutter.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 1: THE SULTAN TAKES A TUMBLE
The state of my nations are a state of mind. As a citizen of the Universe, nation states never made much sense to me. Free Willy created that, I didn't. Wasn't everyone supposed to be cut from the same cloth, marrow scraped from the same rib so to speak? What's all this talk about shared values and common culture but belonging to separate peoples? And what's a peoples?
So if I can't have what was originally ordered from my world, I will create a new one, and I will force them into a state of necessity: my peoples incarcerated for their own security, where walls keep out the unknown and block the arteries eventually forcing the heart to explode and the brain to die. Don't be deceived. Revenge isn't so sweet when you're more or less omnipotent. But it does allow you to vent. One must control one's emotions you know. Vent away.
One evening, the Sultan of the City State of Lutece took a tumble. It was not a great spill. Nor was it graceful. It was the kind of tumble you would expect from a man who barely managed to rule over a sprawling - but self-contained - city state of millions upon millions of "peoples." (Okay, I've belabored my point.)
Indeed, it is inappropriate to use the word "rule" in this situation. Because that would assume straightness, predictability and order. Quite to the contrary, the Sultan's rule was a hard reign that fell in a clumsy, uncontrollable and chaotic manner. Which is also exactly the best way to describe his tumble.
However, let us not dwell too much on how he had tumbled [...tripped on an age-old Persian rug, rolled headlong into a thick-as-a-brick ebony dining table, falling face first...] but in which direction [...onto the table, tipping a large ceramic blue bowl of steaming fish broth into the unsuspecting face of his dinner guest...].
The Sultan's dinner guest? None other than the Grand Vizir of the far-off City State of Rostock. An unsympathetic man who should not to be goaded even with the most succulent of appetizers, let alone pale, thin fish broth. After the Grand Vizir recovered from the initial shock of being bathed in the broth, he screamed in pain and anger as his regal, screwed-up-tight visage was now scalded. Somehow though, he mustered enough dignified outrage to stomp out of the Sultan's dining room without a word to his host. He was quick to put some distance between himself and the diplomatic dinner in the City State of Lutece that had never gotten beyond the hors d'oeuvre stage.
Suffice to say, the meal was a non-starter.
The entire incident would have remained a great city state secret had it not been for the Sultan's cook. My agent of change, he was a diminutive man with no sense of spice. Anton was still hot under his starched white Nehru collar after having had an exceptionally nasty argument earlier that day with his boss.
The Sultan had asked the chef to prepare a mighty curry stew for the Grand Vizir. He wanted something peppered enough to warm any soul, especially a person whose cold, forbidding and remote temperament was that of the leader of the City State of Rostock. Anton was usually content to conceal his inability to cook behind a slew of peppers, powders, herbs and oils. But at that moment, he was not in the mood to take orders from anyone, even the Sultan. He had just learned that his girlfriend had run off with the wealthy owner of the Gourmet Fast restaurant chain, and he was feeling very confrontational. So rather than obey the Sultan, he deemed it appropriate to challenge his ruler's faith by proposing roast pork as a more suitable choice. That didn't go over too well with His Highness, so after much ranting and raving, the Master and his Servant finally settled upon a mutually agreeable solution: the broth. Broth as appetizer. Broth as main course. Luckily for the Grand Vizir, he had not stuck around for seconds.
Now, Anton was incensed after he had seen how the Sultan had so conveniently and cleverly disposed of his creation, his chef d'oeuvre. The sovereign's fall from grace didn't fool him, in his mind, it was all about one upmanship between the two of them. Anton thought he was unappreciated by his employer. He considered himself to be the best cook in the entire city state (no one else did). He had convinced himself that nobody could cuisine the way he could. The rest of the rabble were content with their fast food (prepared in most part now by his ex-girlfriend's expedient lover): their hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizzas. So disgustingly simple and so unsophisticated Anton thought. So why did he, Anton the Chef, have to endure such an ordeal, just to have the Sultan have the last say, and to insult him in such a manner? At that moment, then and there, he decided that all of Lutece would learn of the Sultan's gaffe.
In my new world, there is no Information Age. Forget about wires, cables, couriers and satellites. Disappeared. Or never had been there in the first place. Electricity? Nope. Telephones? Total disconnect. We've gone medieval baby. Sometime before, between or after all those Ages - stone, iron, bronze, industrial, and the much touted informational - was and is the era of Hand-to-Mouth-Word-of-Mouth. And may I point out that devolution is none too pleasant an experience from humanity's point of view.
At about eleven that evening, Anton sidled up to Jernigan, the resident palace town crier. Jernigan happened to be on duty that night in his tiny warren, stashed away in the basement of the Sultan's abode.
"Have I got a tasty morsel for you!" Anton said, his lips nearly touching the earlobe of the unsuspecting town crier.
Jernigan startled, shuffled his heft forty-five degrees, and faced the cook. Having spent so many years on the beat as the palace town crier, Jernigan was fully aware of Anton's lack of prowess in the kitchen.
"Well it can't be one of your own concoctions," Jernigan said. He rubbed his ear vigorously, hoping there were no traces of the cook's saliva.
"Now is that anyway to treat the man who's going to give you the scoop of the century?" Anton said. He was so excited about what he had to say, he didn't let the big man's insult soak under his skin.
"Okay, okay," Jernigan said. A story was a story, no matter how distasteful the source. "Whatcha got?"
Now that he had Jernigan's attention, Anton grew a bit nervous. He wasn't used to be taken so seriously, and despite his derision for the Sultan, he wondered whether anyone would find out that he was responsible for leaking this bit of slander.
"Well..." The cook ran his plump, stubby fingers through his slicked-back hair. "It's big."
This alarmed Jernigan. He misinterpreted Anton's hesitation as an overture to negotiations, as if he was going to try to exact a high price for whatever tidbit he had in his possession.
"How big could it be?" the town crier asked. "You're just the Sultan's cook after all."
However, rather than jumping into the haggling session that Jernigan expected to take place, Anton immediately proceeded to recount the evening's incident. As he got deeper into his story, Jernigan listened more intently, his large, soft buttocks oozing through the gap between the back of the wooden chair and the seat. The palace correspondent was a heavy man.
Anton left no detail untold. He did seem to go on forever about the fish broth's sad demise, sounding not unlike a boy who had suddenly lost his favorite kite in a freak tornado on an otherwise picture-perfect day. But he relayed the essentials, which was enough for Jernigan to grasp the importance of the incident.
The town crier looked up at the chef. His eyes gleamed with excitement. This was a story. It could be the one that would finally lift him out of his pathetic posting at the palace and propel him into something more high-profile and lucrative. Getting ahead of himself, Jernigan ambitiously thought that he might even be able to demand the ever-popular restaurant review beat. His jowls began to quiver, his face gleamed with the first traces of nervous perspiration. He picked up the hat from his desk, and prepared to leave.
"Is it good? Is it good?" Anton asked, hopping up and down.
Jernigan could now see that it appeared that the cook only wanted revenge, and not remuneration from his tip and was happy to appease his source. He dropped his guard.
"It's excellent my friend. Everyone in Lutece will hear about this. This is huge!"
Armed with his scoop, Jernigan thundered out of the palace, slamming the door behind him. Anton was left alone in the room, feeling immensely pleased with himself. He would be vindicated. His broth had not spilled in vain. The Sultan would pay for every drop.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 2: THE TOWN CRIER BREAKS THE STORY
To Jernigan's dismay, there were not many people outside the Sultan's palace that evening. It was not the best neighborhood in the City State, and Jernigan was in desperate need of a receptive audience, and soon. He racked his brain as he paced in small circles in front of the ugly, unlit palace. Where could he find a public on this bone-chillingly bleak and damp, but quintessentially Lutetian night? He had to think quickly before Anton got it into his head to leak his "exclusive" to anyone else. Jernigan suddenly stopped pacing and clapped his hands together. He had an idea.
The town crier bore east and made his way towards Saint Michael's Boulevard, the main drag of what was known as the Upper Left Side. There was little traffic at this time of the night, so it did not take him more than fifteen minutes to reach his intended venue. And yes, if you had been following closely, you must know that "traffic" refers only to pedestrians. No internal combustion technology here either. I have certainly deprived this world of all known creature comforts.
Well, not all of them. In the Anti-Civilization, some things remained. There, at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Saint Michael's was the ever-popular, ever-bustling, Gourmet Fast restaurant. Despite the hour, this brightly-lit resto, garnished in sunflower yellow paint, detailed with earthy tones of brown, was overflowing with youngsters and oldsters - ample representation of the two demographic groups that were famous for conspicuous consumption. I did say after all that it was the anti-civilization; not that I am against indulging in a burger and fries from time to time myself.
They were lined up, forty-deep. They overwhelmed the counter attendants and overflowed out the door onto the sidewalk. They were impatient, noisy, pushy and shovey. Each one of them grappled for a superior position in the near-anarchic line.
An eighty year-old man slapped a fifteen year-old's head as the boy tried to butt in front of him. It was natural selection turned upside down. Still, it was not hard to understand the mob's enthusiasm. Near-instant gratification was nigh, and their stomachs sensed it. In this topsy turvy world that I have devised, they ordered burgers with camembert cheese, hot dogs with piquant mustard that nipped the noise, and colas bottled in dark, long-neck glass decanters stopped with corks. It was the hallmark of Lutetian cuisine; class and sophistication back to front; here a throng could always be found.
Jernigan's belly could hardly resist a growl of desire at this sight. But he ignored this oft-pampered part of his body and focused himself on the task at hand. He mustered his willpower and waddled out to the street corner, positioning himself directly across from his unsuspecting audience.
Those patrons who had received their food were seated at wooden tables inside the restaurant. The grease-splattered panes of glass that normally stood in for the establishment's walls had been slid back, effectively leaving the diners exposed to the open street. It was a status thing. A meal at the Gourmet Fast was not cheap, so those who could afford it, wanted to make sure that they could easily show off the spoils of their efforts to the less fortunate who remained outdoors and who could only look on with hunger and envy.
The town crier took off his gray, crushed velvet hat. It had the letters "ATC" inscribed in black close to the crown - not that many citizens of Lutece were able to read it, but they were capable of recognizing the symbol and what it meant. The peak of the hat was like a duck's dark beak, protruding from the front. For you who may have begun to figure out what I have wrought, you might have expected a beret rather than a baseball cap. But we're talking about a hangover from globalization here my friends and Donald trumps any past specialties of the region.
Jernigan cleared his throat. His alto bass vocal chords gurgled ever so slightly with a deep rumble. In one breath, he filled his lungs and belted out the following words to the customers of the Gourmet Fast:
"OYEZ, OYEZ! PEOPLE OF LUTECE!!!
and diners of Gourmet Fast
I bring you news that you must use!
The Association of Town Criers
that the Sultan of our City State
has taken a tumble.
Thus offending the sensibilities
of a visiting dignitary
the Grand Vizir of Rostock
in an up-close and personal kind of way.
Repercussions surely will be great
due to the steaming nature of the fish broth
which was hurled into the Grand Vizir's face
by the Sultan's stumble.
The Question remains
people of this fair City State
will Rostock retaliate?
Should we apologize and be humble
for our ruler's bumble?
This news that I bring you
is serious and is news
I am sure
that you can use!
So there you have it. That's the way it was in Lutece. Its state of unpluggedness had not diminished the need for information delivery, albeit in the most basic way. And under the rubric of "some things never change" with the availability of multiple news sources and low barriers to entry into the market square comes the inevitable dissemination of half-truths. More importantly, with these impoverished beggars competing for attention, something even more wicked this way was coming: a ratings war.
Jernigan ended his oration majestically with a flourish of his right hand a bow as far as his protruding gut would permit. Still bent over, he peeked up at his audience with a hopeful, but pleading look. However, most of his public continued to eat, more interested in their food than in what he had to say.
A few kindlier souls, out of sympathy, threw a few ecus - Lutece's crudely minted currency - from the tables towards the town crier's hat. Most of them missed their mark and the coins clinked onto the sidewalk. Jernigan finally straightened up with some effort and some dread, and picked up his hat. He sifted sadly through the paltry take. With all the pride he could scrape together, he stooped down with a great grunt and collected the wayward coins from off the pavement. He issued a sigh and a few droplets of anxious sweat and trudged away. This was not the profession it used to be.
At that same Gourmet Fast where Jernigan had just struck out with his "exclusive" a young man sat alone at his window-seat table. Gemayat Cole Delphi ruminated over an overcooked, ash-coated hamburger, mulling over what he had just heard. He picked up his drink and swirled the cola around in its long-stemmed glass. He sniffed it and took a sip, swishing it around in his mouth from side to side, and then finally swallowed it. Expensive stuff but very tasty he thought. A good batch.
Cole was somewhat of a minor celebrity here in Lutece, which explained his prime table location inside the restaurant. Membership has its privileges and this young man was employed by the renowned Minstrels' Guild - a rising and potent force in the information trade. Cole was a musical prodigy and considered to be one of the Guild's best performers. He played the part of the handsome exotic troubadour with his rich, olive skin and his pronounced regal cheekbones and chin that made it easy to watch as well as listen to him.
He was ambitious and quick to grasp an opportunity. The young minstrel sat at his table, and thought that he could possibly add to his already prolific reputation if he could make something - anything - out of the badly delivered, albeit somewhat interesting information that the hefty town crier had just imparted upon the diners at the Gourmet Fast.
But despite his abilities, he was still a little unsure of himself as an associate member of the Minstrels' Guild. He lacked the experience and savoir-faire of his more senior colleagues. So he was not confident enough to make quick decisions on his own just yet. The crowd's lack of response to the crier's presentation made Cole think that he should seek a second opinion before trying to do anything with this news. He was not above appropriating second-hand news sources for his own use, and his instinct told him that there was something to the Sultan's gaffe - or at least something he could play around with.
One last bite, one last slurp, and off Cole went. He left the restaurant on the path to what he hoped would be certain glory.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 3: A MINSTREL LEARNS HIS LESSON
Cole burst breathlessly into the Minstrels' Guild headquarters. It was a hopelessly squat building that sat on City State Island, caught in the middle of the Right and Left Sides of Lutece. It was now after midnight, so the carpetless, unadorned-walled offices of the Guild were bereft of most of its personnel.
The support staff that did occupy the desks and cubicles did so with a weariness that betrayed the interminable nature of their servitude to the sung word. They glanced over yellowing sheet music trying to find novel ways to squeeze new news into old tunes. These blackened dots and stems used to leap off the pages and inspire these men and women, so many years ago. No longer. Today, the bars upon bars, measures upon measures of dreadfully repetitive stuff sucked them in like some psychiatrist's discarded inkblot tests: the squiggles and lines only mirrored their own aimless attempts to read something into nothing. There was nothing left to interpret, they had heard it all before.
These veterans of the Guild could not remember the last time they had seen freshly minted sheet music. With the perpetual paper shortage in the resource-starved Lutece, they were not about to come across some anytime soon. Every day and every night, they gingerly leafed through the aging sheets, conscious that their fates were somehow inextricably tied to the fragile paper. They were former minstrels themselves, from another era, and although this was old hat to them, it was all they had, all they knew. They sat, studied, and waited, for something - anything - to happen.
As Cole entered, a gnarly old man who appeared to be taking root from where he sat looked up from his desk at the front of the room spotted him. He heaved a sigh of trepidation, shook his head and reluctantly addressed the young minstrel.
"Well Mr. Delphi, how is it that at this late hour, a great star like you is gracing us with your presence?" the old man asked.
Cole had discovered long ago that surliness was a required character trait for any assistant conductor on night duty, so he was not taken aback by his tone. Besides, our hero was too young and too cocky to be thwarted by such an outburst of outdated attitude.
"You have to like this one sir," Cole said. "It has celebrity, drama, and a great climax. And it could be important." He ripped right into his tale. He was as meticulous as the town crier had been in his rendition and disclosed every detail. Cole could not resist over-emphasizing certain elements (the broth left boils on the Grand Vizir's face, the bowl shattered into a thousand and one blue shards over the multi-colored Persian rug) in an attempt to sell his story.
"Yes, yes, yes," the assistant conductor said, rolling his eyes up to the mildewed ceiling. Then he looked down and shuffled through his sheath of music. "Nothing new there. The Sultan makes a fool of himself, and we the late shift, the guardians of the dead - so desperate for something - will take anything you clowns from dayside have to throw at us. Any morsel, any leftover! Well you have backed me into a corner Delphi. I have got nothing more than a few burglaries, rapes and homicides tonight. So go, go and take your instrument out to Saint Michael's Square and try to drum up some business will you not? The Guild could use the income, no matter how ridiculous the story or how pretentious its messenger."
Cole bit his lip, suitably chastised for trying to teach this old dog old tricks. He had gotten what he wanted: a chance to sing for his supper. Still, he didn't feel like the night duty conductor had grasped the gravity of the story he had uncovered. He was dismayed by his superior's lack of enthusiasm. This was the kind of story that the entire city state should know about immediately, that the entire Guild should be mobilized.
"But sir, don't you realize?" Cole said with a remarkable amount of foresight that he would quickly ignore. "The Grand Vizir! He was burned badly! Won't he want to take his revenge against us? Should the city state be warned?"
"My boy, you do not understand a damned thing do you?" he said. He did not like to have his news judgment questioned, despite his lowly position on the graveyard shift. He cast a cold, bemused look Cole's way. "No one cares one single bit about what happened to some obscure diplomatic visitor with some convoluted title from some obscure place! It does not mean a thing! For sure, you and I might know who he is. But that is our job. We are the filter. It is up to us to decide what our fellow Lutetians should hear about. Why bore them with the trivial?"
"I understand that sir," Cole said. He had already decided that the argument was pointless and not one that he would win, but he could not in good conscience leave without making his case. Besides, he was favored by the head of the Guild, so he knew that he had nothing to lose by fighting back a little. "Still the news is already out there. If people do not hear it from us in our accurate and well-presented format, they may misunderstand the consequences of such a story. Do we not have a duty to our listeners?"
"Duty? Duty?" the old man snorted. "We owe nothing to the band of simpletons with whom we share this city state with. Who here is concerned about Rostock, let alone knows where it can be found? Half of them can hardly read let alone use a map. Now if the Sultan had spilled broth on a Lutetian - that would be something! Then you would find some interest. But what you tell me does not matter one bit. So just be glad that I am letting you spout off about it at all, and get out!"
"But sir -"
"No 'buts' Delphi! Do I have to spell it out for you? Or do we give you far more credit than you really deserve? You might be the fair-haired boy at the Guild right now for the hiccup of time that you have been here. Believe me, over the years, I have seen the likes of you come and go. You either burn out, become disillusioned, or you sell out and buy in to the entire farce of news delivery in our city state. So figure out which way you are going to go young man. But until then realize this. It is not these dry, boring policy stories that you bring me that interest people. They want human drama, something tangible in their lives, that touches their hearts, not their heads. Something they can relate to on a very personal level. The Creator knows these people do not have much more going for them in their pitiful lives." [For the record, I, the Creator, did know that. This is all my doing is it not?]
"I know all that," Cole said. Since his initiation into the Guild, he had been indoctrinated by the organization's oath. "'If it tears, it steers.' I thought this one did. It seemed quite dramatic to me."
"Do not misinterpret our credo in such a cavalier way," the assistant conductor said. "The threshold is high. We need to tear their hearts, bring tears to their eyes, tear down important people's reputations. So get out there and do not even thing about mentioned the damned Vizir of Woodstock!"
The elder minstrel was so overwrought that he even neglected to pay the usual care to the deteriorating sheet music as he threw a few pages at Cole. He was not about to waste any further effort or words on this rude young man.
Lesson learned, Cole quickly retreated out of the newsroom. He glanced at the music. "One-Four-Five Variation - No. 227." Cole sighed. It was the same old song and dance. Despite the argument with the assistant conductor he knew that he still had so much to learn. Who was he to second-guess the immense success of the Guild? Although he was considered a rising star, the organization had done well without him, and would continue to do so whether he was a minstrel or not.
He walked through a corridor to the back of the building. He entered another room that housed a metal cabinet that was twice Cole's height and ten times as wide. He pulled open the cabinet's door to reveal twelve shimmering, well-polished guitars that were hanging expectedly from wooden pegs. They were strung with cat gut, which was much less expensive than any other available material given the plague of strays that haunted the alleyways of Lutece day and night. Professional hunters from the Feline Craftsmen Union, who worked under retainer to the Minstrel's Guild, scoured the streets, on the trail for the free and abundant raw material that they later extracted and cured before selling it to the Guild by the pound. The authorities turned a blind eye to inhumane profession, partly because humanity was not their forte, but mostly because it helped lower the feline population to manageable levels and also reduced the amount of caterwauling on those full moon nights.
Cole gingerly took out the third instrument from the left. Although it was a little older than the others it was his favorite. It had a few more scratches along its mahogany sides and the varnish was beginning to wear off below the sound hole. But to Cole, the aged tan spruce top resonated deeper and with greater authority than its younger sprightlier counterparts. In some way, he probably hoped that through some kind of transfer of personality, this guitar would give him more credibility and his audience would not be distracted by his obvious youthfulness. The rich ebony fretboard was silky and sure to his touch. The feel of the strings against the bridge were comfortable and precise, thanks to the expertise of the Feline Craftsmen Union and the sacrifice of some noble, strongly-stomached whiskered beast. He had not been with the Guild for long, but he knew that this was his instrument.
You may ask why such a primitive society should be blessed with something as fine as a well-built guitar. My answer to that is: if they still have camembert, curry, and Persian rugs, should they not be entitled to a bit of sweet music, a draft of fresh air, to get through their nasty, brutish and short lives? Besides, I like guitar. Call it Creator's Prerogative: entitled to fashion in my own image. And aren't we all?
Cole picked up a black canvas case that lay on the nearby table, unbuckled it, and gingerly slipped the guitar inside. He cinched the buckle tight and walked out the back door, still eager to convey his message regardless of the assistant conductor's lack of enthusiasm.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 4: GEMAYAT COLE DELPHI'S CLAIM TO FAME
It was now 2 a.m. but Saint Michael's Square still bustled with Lutetians drinking their beer and cola, partying hard. Those who were outdoors at this hour did so to take advantage of the cleaner air, the more open spaces and the smaller crowds. You must understand that during the day, my overpopulated Lutece was hardly bearable - a land three worlds or more behind anything you might know or inhabit. However, late at night, some of the pressure eased as many folk retreated to their squalid homes and shacks throughout the city state. So the brave, the romantic, the young, the foolhardy and the crazy all came out after dark.
Crime was part of everyday life in Lutece as you can well imagine. Snatched purses, burgled shanties, bodies floating up in the river with daily (and nightly) regularity. Lutetians lived with this fact of life because they did not know better and they really had no other choice. With no central police force to speak of, they had to rely on self-help, self-made neighborhood vigilante groups to keep the peace. Woe to the alleged perpetrator who was apprehended by these marauding bands of do-gooders. Justice was swift and final when they chose to execute it. Machetes, wooden clubs and crowbars were the instruments of choice for these keepers of the peace. And the focus of their disaffections was unlikely to emerge unscathed or for that matter, alive when all was said and done. The Sultan encouraged these mob rulers of the street simply by tolerating them. He didn't have that much choice himself, given his lack of authority.
Cole decided to set up shop by the old fountain. It was the centerpiece of the square. It was also the brightest and safest area, with the still-lit kerosene lanterns enclosing it with dim, flickering light.
The young minstrel cast a long shadow against the brick wall behind him. As he unsheathed his guitar with both hands from its case, his silhouette made it appear as if he was pulling a sword out from a stone. However, this graceful Arthurian image was overwhelmed by the violent scene cast in stone to Cole's right. There, the statue of a winged warrior, hands held up triumphantly, stood on a boulder, which was in turn crushing the back of a humanoid-being with a snake's tail for a lower body. The conqueror appeared contented by his deed, his half smile bringing some mirth to the otherwise macabre setting. But people had long stopped looking at this monument to some ancient triumph over evil. They were more taken by the two proud gryphons at the base of the structure, who spewed water from their mouths into the basin below. To a public sustained by a meager infrastructure, and with little to keep its collective mind off the mundane brutality of everyday life in the city state, that was entertainment. At night, gryphons mouths ran dry, as the water was appropriated by the rudimentary plumbing systems of Lutetian households and put to less diverting, but more domestic and practical uses.
Cole sat down at the foot of the fountain and placed his sheet music beside him. He strummed his guitar quietly to ensure that it was more-or-less in tune. That little gesture alone caught the attention of the bored hangers-on who began to look Cole's way. He closed his eyes and tried to recall the words that he had dreamt up to the beat of his rhythmic stroll from Guild headquarters to the square. Then with one upwards glance to ensure than an audience was indeed assembling in anticipation of some news and music that would liven up an otherwise uneventful evening on the Upper Left Side, Cole began to sing in a full-throated and melodic voice.
"People of Lutece, of the Square
lend me your ears if you dare.
I've got some news, news for your.
That's funny and compelling, tried and true.
It's a tale of woe, a tale of shame.
It involves a celebrity, I need not name.
Take some fish and make it froth.
Then you have what you need for a broth.
Take a rug, a table, a misstep.
A future ro-yale and dis his rep.
He trundled and tripped, the broth he did fumble,
the Sultan of Lutece took a tumble!
Short and sweet, a terrific tune it was, and the large crowd recognized it as such. Their laughter and applause were great and raucous as their appreciation echoed throughout the narrow alleyways that led away from the square. Cheers fell on Cole's ears like roses before the matador, ecus rained into his guitar case that lay open, spread-eagled upon the ground. Gemayat Cole Delphi was clearly a master minstrel, able to capture and tear the hearts of his fellow citizens. He smiled broadly, trying hard to contain his modesty, happy to have pleased so many people.
"Well done young man!" an elderly witness to the spectacle said. He shook Cole's hand vigorously. "That ole' Sultan! Don't surprise me one bit. Nope. Great story though. I could hear that little ditty over and over again!" He grabbed a handful of ecus from his jacket pocket and dropped them into Cole's case. Cole nodded gratefully to the old man.
A number of people came over to greet the young musician and to congratulate him on his superb performance. The people had been entertained and informed. They were pleased.
As the crowd began to disperse a few minutes later, a large, meaty hand clamped down on Cole's left shoulder. He almost buckled from the force of the impact, and slowly turned. The minstrel suddenly found himself face to face with Jernigan, the town crier from the Palace.
"You stole my story boy!" Jernigan said, hissing. Then he whined. "That was my story!"
"I did not steal a thing!" Cole retorted, quickly coming to grips with the identity of the man who was confronting him. Almost as fast, he feigned non-recognition, trying hard to save face. "It is my story, my song. I came across it. I wrote it, fair and square!"
"You came across it alright!," Jernigan cried. He half wondered whether Anton the Chef had been capable of holding his tongue, but then quickly figured out the truth. "Why - you must have been at the Gourmet Fast when I broke the story!"
Cole knew that he would have to bluster his way out of this one if he did not want to have his guitar and his neck snapped in two by the imposing town crier. He launched into the Lutetian equivalent of the "why can't we all just get along" speech.
"Look, how can this competition between the Town Criers and my Guild lead to any good?" Cole said. He was mumbling with little conviction. But he was also test driving a thought in his head at the same time - one that was entirely spontaneous and without a doubt, his last resort. "It is not a question of who stole what, who broke what and when. You and I are different. We have different markets, different ways of expressing ourselves." He began to speak faster now, afraid that he was rapidly losing Jernigan's attention. "You tell your news at the Gourmet Fast where people are too busy with their food to listen. I sing my song in a busy square where people are yearning for some sort of amusement, something to make their night worthwhile. You have to choose your audience I suppose."
Cole's reasoned response did not seem to have any soothing effect upon Jernigan. The big man was now spluttering with rage, his face red and glowing.
"Choose my audience?" he said. "What do I care about choosing an audience? This is the kind of news that everyone should hear about! It's not about market share or market square! And let's not beat around the bush. I don't know if you were at the restaurant for sure, but I do know for certain that I had this story first!"
"You and I both know that you have no proof of that," Cole said accurately, clearly ahead of, and behind the times since he rightly had no knowledge of any recording technology, Nielsen ratings or media analysts. "And what does matter who had it first. There is more than enough to go around!"
Jernigan hardly paid any attention to him now, his anger had overcome him. "And what's even worse is that you didn't even have the smarts to get it right! You never mentioned the Grand Vizir of Rostock, or the political consequences. Nothing at all! Instead you sing this - " the crier waved his hands in the air, imitating a fairy in mid-flight, "-this tune, that titillates, full of sound and fantasy, signifying nothing!" Jernigan spat that last word out with contempt, and glared directly into Cole's rapidly blinking eyes. The young man was on the defensive now and opted for bravado rather than surrender.
"I am very sorry town crier that you do not like my style. But it does seem that the rest of Lutece does," Cole said. He shook his guitar case, rattling the coins inside for Jernigan's benefit. "Can you figure out how much money I took in tonight? How much did you make out at the Gourmet Fast?" Judging from Jernigan's look of dismay, that last sally had hit home.
Cole wasn't pleased with being on the offensive when he clearly knew that he was wrong, but his Minstrel indoctrination got the better of him. "You town criers do not get it," he said. "No one cares about the political consequences of a story unless they can relate to it somehow. It is all about the human drama, the story, the tale, and the tune. And as you can see," Cole shook his case of ecus again for good measure, "it worked!"
The minstrel turned his back abruptly on Jernigan and thrust his guitar back into its case, not before emptying out the coins and throwing them into the deep pockets of his baggy gray tunic. He walked off quickly in the night ashamed of what he had done and said - having merely parroted the words of the old timer on night duty back at the Guild - and left Jernigan standing alone in the square, furious and dejected.
Before heading home, Cole stopped by the Minstrels' Guild one last time. Without a word, he poured out the handful of silvery ecus - which were nothing more than crudely minted uneven disks of tinny metal with Sultan's likeness stamped upon them (one of the Sultan's few responsibilities was the upkeep of a meager treasury) - onto the assistant conductor's desk. Cole's nemesis was stunned by the pile of money that lay before him. He had never seen that large of a take in all of his time at the Guild.
The old man realized that he had been bested by Cole but said nothing. He quickly counted out the coins while the young minstrel waited silently, Jernigan's harsh words of condemnation still ringing in his ears. Cole kept a watchful eye on what the assistant conductor was registering in his logs: a summary of the story that had been sung and the revenues made. It was all dutifully inscribed inside a thick, green leather-bound ledger. He then put down his quill and counted out ten percent of the proceeds, and handed a portion of the ecus to Cole who pocketed them.
Cole never concerned himself much with the financial end of what he did, and was always surprised when he received his cut. He usually enjoyed his work so much, he could scarcely believe that he was getting paid to do it. The Guild was unaware of such selfless attitudes among its employees, which is why it provided "bouncers" who hid in the crowd, always ready to intercede if someone ever tried to steal a minstrel's money. That bouncer also kept an eye out on the minstrel's take, making sure that there was no opportunity for embezzlement. But no one dared withhold revenues from the Guild. The percentage given back to each minstrel was generous, and there were few other good jobs out there.
As he left the Guild building, Cole wondered where his bouncer had been during his altercation with Jernigan. His organization was probably too short-staffed at that time of the night to provide one. Not that he was worried. He knew he could handle himself.
His long night finally over, Cole fled from the now-empty streets and ran down a set of stairs into the nearby underground station. He handed an ecu to a bleary-eyed, disheveled attendant, and walked through to the train platform. The tunnel was full of soot and steam; luckily for Cole, there was a train idling right there in the station. Rattling and wheezing, the four cars and the steam locomotive appeared to be on their last legs. That was typical for Lutece. The city state's municipal services dangled by a very fine thread. The Sultan did what he could, but he more or less left it in the hands of whoever could take care of it. And somehow, whoever usually did exactly that. Thus the state of disrepair but bare functionality.
Cole pulled open the door to the first car and slumped down on a tattered seat, its leather shredded in every possible way. He was alone in the car.
He sat back in his seat, tired and confused. As the train chugged away, he fought back the harsh images of Jernigan and the assistant conductor who came at him from every direction screaming vitriol. Without understanding, he suspected that they were both wrong.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 5: BREAKFAST WITH THE SULTAN
"How c-c-c-could you let thith happen Milligauth?" the Sultan said, pacing the floor of his dining room. Back to the scene of last night's crime, but first thing the next morning.
Milligauss remained bent over his greasy fried potatoes and eggs, picking through the oil-drenched food with his fork.
"Allow it to happen I did not," Milligauss said. "Head of the Minstrels' Guild I may be, but I cannot possibly know about everything that is being transmitted all day and night. Seriously Your Highness!"
"But you are altho my f-f-f-f-friend," the Sultan said. He stopped pacing and stood before Milligauss, who seated, was as tall as the stuttering sovereign was standing. "And you even taught me how to p-p-p-play when I was a child. I can't tell you how thith makes me feel. You b-b-b-b-etrayed me."
"Look Mahmoud, such thing I did not do," Milligauss said, resorting to the Sultan's first name - which he knew so well from many years of tutelage. "A legitimate news story it was. Had it the Town Criers did too. Lucky you were that I came to see you immediately after I found out. For you, who else would have done such a thing? And what is with this food?" he said. He put down his fork and pushed the plate of half eaten food away. "A proper breakfast does your cook not know how to prepare? No bacon? No sausages?"
"You betray me and now you demand me to ch-ch-ch-cheat on our respective faiths Chaim?" the Sultan said, reciprocating his old friend's attempt at familiarity. "I don't think our Maker would apprethiate our p-p-p-piggish indulgences."
Whoa. For the record, I've not nothing against the consumption of pork. How dare they take my dietary restrictions in vain? I put the food in their mouth, but then I do confess too much, because their words (and speech impediments) are my own doing as well. I'm not above the odd ham sandwich - with a slice of cheese, enough to offend those of the kosher persuasion. For the most part, why wouldn't I want my characters to eat well? They need to be well fed for the ordeal ahead. And we're no longer in the heat of the desert thousands of years ago where we had to be careful of salmonella poisoning and wayward behavior inside a far-too-intimate tribe of wanderers. If I were really concerned about the wellbeing of my subjects, I'd keep the pork and the wine and outlaw potato salad, unpasteurized French cheeses and British beef. But then that would raise the question: do we eat to live, live to eat, or eat to die? Eat up, and enjoy, because why would anything that I created and love be a sin to consume? Eat up, and enjoy, because time is running out.
"All the same, out of his misery you should put your cook," Milligauss said. He pushed the plate even further away, nearly to the edge of the table, unable to behold it any longer. "And all food aside, what happened to you last night? I know well enough that your speech disorder does not extend from mouth to foot."
As the head Minstrel, Milligauss, a way with words had he, but was prone to use his style of inverting the subject and the predicate in song to the spoken arts as well, which could be confusing to the uninitiated. The Sultan, no wizard of words himself had no such artistic license. He had possessed a stutter and a lisp since childhood - some say he was scarred by the death of his father, but no one knew what had really happened to traumatize the young head of state so.
He glared at Milligauss, not uttering a word. He looked up at the ceiling, and suddenly closed his eyes. There was no stutter in his silence, some serious thought was passing through the Sultan's brain. Then, he opened his eyes, and spoke.
"You and I have known each other a long, long time Milligauth," the leader of the City State of Lutece said. "I remember fondly when you would come by the palath and entertain us with your thongs. It was the only time that my father could bear to be with me in the thame room. He was always aware of the fact that I could never come into being until he died, so as he watched me grow he became forever more aware of his own mortality. But when you played, all thoughts of king-is-dead-long-live-the-king were banished for just a moment."
Milligauss sat and listened, rapt with attention. He wondered where the Sultan's well-known stutter had gotten to. Had it all been an act? Or were memories of a more pleasant past the only thoughts that could soothe the tortured mind of this poorly-regarded sovereign?
"And after you taught me to play a bit, Father would even come into my room and listen to me strum my guitar. Of course as we all know now, the old man should have never let his guard down because one day I did assume the throne by bashing his head in with that guitar - so hard and with such glee that I bit of the tip of my tongue. At least he died with a smile on his face -" the Sultan trailed off, lost in fond memories of regicide/patricide. "Well someone had to put him out of his m-m-m-m-misery you know! And why not his own loving thon?"
Milligauss didn't say a word. He was well familiar with this particularly graphic part of Lutetian history. And although he had suspected it, he had never heard the Sultan admit to knocking off his beloved Dad. Almost more interesting to him, Milligauss finally knew the source of the Sultan's inability to enunciate himself clearly from time to time. Something serious was about to be revealed.
"But that is the p-p-p-past," the Sultan said. "Because you are such an old friend of mine, I want to tell you a b-b-b-b-it about the future."
Milligauss welcomed such intimate discussions and the exclusive scoops they produced. This is why he had nurtured such a close relationship with the royal family all these years. And journalistic value aside, he liked associating himself with the rich and the powerful. It made him feel special.
"Go on," Chaim Milligauss said to Sultan Mahmoud. "What is it?"
The Sultan pulled up a chair and sat opposite to Milligauss.
"I conthulted the Palace doctor after my m-m-m-mishap," he said. "He was very c-c-c-c-contherned by what I dethcribed to him."
"What did he say?"
"Exactly what he said?"
Without warning, the Sultan assumed what we would recognize as a high-class, snooty British accent.
"I am convinced my dear sir, that His Royal Majesty's tumble was not just a question of gravity colluding with a misplaced piece of carpeting."
Milligauss immediately figured out that through some Sybillian effort, the Sultan had assumed the personality of a pompous ass. The man mainly responsible for the lives of the millions of residents of Lutece was a little deranged.
"Your professional opinion, what is it?" the senior minstrel asked, playing along.
"The Sultan of the City State of Lutece is ordinarily quite in control of his facilities," the doctor's disembodied Oxfordian voice said. "I was surprised to hear of this incident. Then the Sultan indicated to me that he had noticed that some of his servants had been stumbling around the palace a lot lately, particularly late at night. When His Greatness had mentioned that, I knew something was wrong."
"The point!" Milligauss said. "Get to it!" He felt as if there was no more need for politeness as it was clear that he was no longer speaking to the Sultan.
"Wait for it," Dr. Sultan said. "You must have patience. I do, but that is because I am a doctor - a learned man of the healing arts." He noticed that Milligauss had not gotten "it". "A little humor among us medical professionals," he explained. "So few of us around these days, we have to keep each other's spirits up."
Milligauss shook his head but held his tongue.
"In any case," he continued. "This was not a mere incidence of clumsiness. It is an illness my dear fellow, one I had only heard fragmented rumors of during my illustrious career. It is a horrible sickness that forces people to lose their minds and stumble through their daily lives. Like zombies, those who are afflicted can cause a chain reaction that will force us to lose all semblance of civilization. They will trip and tumble, falter and fumble, and nothing will get done." He paused, overwhelmed himself by the consequences of what he was saying. "Happily, with our Great Ruler's superior constitution, he will most likely shake this disease. But it is highly contagious, and I cannot be so confident about the prospects for the rest of Lutece. This plague is sure to spread, and to a more profound degree."
The Sultan looked directly into Millgauss' face, his eyes blazing.
"And my dear sir, we all know what that m-m-m-m-m-means."
Milligauss knew exactly what it meant - and it shook him to the core of his being. He abruptly excused himself from the presence of the multiple regal personalities and fled the palace. There was work to be done.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 6: COLE GETS HIS DUE
Dawn had come too quickly for Cole. He hoped that his sluggish start to the day would not make him too late for work. There was a chance that the previous night's triumph might afford him some leniency at the Guild, some sympathy for his tardiness by pulling an extra shift. And it didn't hurt that he was seen as this rising star. All great artists had their foibles, didn't they?
Still, Cole was not so over-confident to make any assumptions. He dressed as fast as he could, putting on a pair of faded green trousers, an overstretched black sweater and a pair of scuffed brown leather shoes. As it was still early autumn in Lutece, he did not bother taking a jacket, but rather was content to throw a drab wool scarf around his neck to keep his throat warm. Next to his guitar, Cole's voice was essential to his performance as a minstrel and he had to protect it. Lutece's perennially damp weather and polluted air did not make that an easy task.
Cole lived in what some might call a room, what most of us would consider a closet - in a four-story shanty of an apartment building. Any Lutetian would call it prime living space.
His apartment was ideally located at the center of the city state, crammed in at the midway point of Lincoln Bridge. Cole was lucky. There were other residences on the bridge, but the building he inhabited did not look like it was on the verge of toppling into the river below - unlike the others. Nor did it encroach as much on the single walkway that afforded pedestrians access between the Upper Left and Upper Right sides. That meant that those who walked by were less likely to shake their fists pointlessly and scream at the sky whenever a resident of Cole's building threw putrid sewage water out of their windows - because the thick brown liquid more often than not fell short of falling on an unsuspecting bystander's head, and instead flowed somehow into a drain or off into the river. Such efficient and inoffensive means of disposal were less available to the inhabitants of the other twenty-odd shacks, tottering buildings and lean-to's that crammed both sides of the bridge.
Cole was modest enough to see himself as fortunate with his compact space, his microscopic view out onto the river, the small desk braced against the wall, the cot that was too short for his body, and the little wash basin in the corner. He knew that many people lived on the streets, in the underground stations and on the sidewalk benches. These were not homeless people as we traditionally thought of them. They had jobs, they had the means to acquire shelter, but they had been on housing waiting lists for years and were forced to sleep under the canopy of the stars. And yet, despite the horrid overcrowded conditions, the city state's population continued to multiply as more and more babies were born - often five or six to a family.
However Cole was not one to complain. He somehow managed to thrive off of Lutece: its filth, its dynamism, its people. Its pulse was his rhythm, its stress was his tone. Like almost all other Lutetians, he had lived his entire life here. No one had even considered relocating elsewhere. There was no elsewhere. Here was home, here was safe, here was all they knew.
After a quick cup of cola at the nearby Café Cool, Cole trudged through the door of the Minstrels' Guild. Unlike the night before, this juke joint was now jumping.
A slew of conductors ruffled through sheet music, putting each leaflet in order as they took notes - indicating time and key changes. They mumbled to themselves and shouted at their colleagues. Nearby, a gaggle of minstrels serviced their guitars, changing strings, tuning, strumming, singing - adding substantially to a growing dissonance, which got worse as more people arrived for the day shift.
So it was that ink, spit and polish flew through the air as the Guild prepared for another day of news. Happily for Cole, he had arrived just in time.
"Well done last night," said a voice from behind. It was Gupta Chen, a capable minstrel in his early 30's and the closest thing Cole had to a friend in the ego-centric, competitive and anti-social world of the Guild. "Heard you pulled off a big one."
"Thank you Gupta," Cole said. "Right place, right time."
"False modesty Cole," Gupta said. "More like right story. You have done us all proud. If only I could find a scoop like that. My family could use the money."
Cole looked down at the floor sheepishly. Still relatively new to the Guild, he thought that it felt strange to stand out from the crowd while he was still trying to figure out where he fit in. He also felt a bit guilty being young and single: the money wasn't as important to him as it was to his colleagues, and yet he seemed to be doing quite well on the financial end as well. He was about to reply sympathetically to his partner in rhyme when the newsroom din suddenly ceased. Chaim Milligauss was about to take to the podium at the head of the room.
The conductor-in-chief climbed onto the riser and looked down at his subjects. To those who followed him he looked like a threatening storm. The founder of the Guild loomed large, dark and intensely. He was a legend. He had taken a handful of virtuoso - albeit unappreciated - musicians who had previous performed as a travelling band. They had played for a handful of coins on underground platforms and on the sidewalks. Milligauss, a more reputable musician himself, had transformed the original group into a crack team of minstrels who not only informed, but entertained the populace of the city state.
It was a brilliant concept. Lutetians always found themselves willing to stop whatever they were doing at any given moment and listen to what the minstrels had to sing. Certainly, there was some guilty pleasure in taking the time to listen to those catchy compositions and the sing-along tunes. However that guilt could be easily assuaged by the simple fact that the minstrels' songs also included the news of the day. There was substance to them. And given the choice of sources of information -- rumor, gossip, the town criers and the minstrels - Lutetians were turning increasingly towards the Guild for their news fix, to the detriment of housewives, coffee shops and the once dominant Association of Town Criers. The city state's residents only bothered to listen to the ATC because they felt they had to, because they felt that the information was good for them. It was similar to their feeling obliged to add a side order of yellowing lettuce and anemic tomatoes to their meal at the Gourmet Fast. It was supposed to be good for them. Well Chaim Milligauss had changed the menu somewhat with his mixture of music and news. He served up the entire meal hot and tasty, and threw in dessert for good measure. A prix fixe and excellent value too, allowing the people to feast even when they were not hungry.
The room remained silent as they awaited word from their commander. Although he towered over the podium all cool and collected, Milligauss was brimming with nervous excitement from his audience with the Sultan. He knew what he was about to say was going to put the Guild over the top and stamp out the ATC once and for all. He had had it with the shouting, the loud voices, all that dry, policy-laden screaming and yelling. It was time for the sweet sounds of music to finally reign over the streets of Lutece. He tapped a music stand with a thin, ivory pointer. It was an unnecessary gesture. Cole, Gupta and the rest of the Guild were rapt with attention.
"When I started the Minstrels' Guild so many years ago, it was nothing more than a small band of troubadours, to please the public did it strive," Milligauss said, his voice booming. "Laugh and cry we made them, but at the end of the day, think, they never had to do. Now so hard we do not have to try, so much more do we give them. Music plus information. Money for us. Entertainment and service - no more noble a calling could there be than 'Minstrel?'"
Cole and his colleagues broke into applause. It was a gesture that was part genuine, part calculated. They were pleased to have their daily toil affirmed so eloquently by so important a man. They also knew it was wise to show the proper amount of appreciation for their all-seeing, all-knowing leader. Milligauss nodded in false modesty at the ovation. He had fully expected it.
"And now -" Milligauss said, turning his head and staring severely at his employees. "And now, upon us is the ultimate public service. News we have. To borrow from our esteemed competitors the Town Criers: news not only to be used, but to be heard and heeded!"
Cole was transfixed, sucked in by the master of the attention span. This is what all the Minstrels lived for. It was the anticipation of the big story, which superseded the monotonous grind of daily news - the accidents, the murders, the robberies, the weather, the dysfunctional families. Although that stuff was their bread and butter and did manage to attract a paying audience, it did little to inspire him. Which explained why he was so eager to jump on the Sultan story when he heard about it last night.
"Credit where credit is due," Milligauss continued. He nodded in Cole's direction. The young minstrel was shocked. He had barely ever spoken to the leader of the Guild, and yet, here he was, recognizing his presence. "Across some very exclusive information the Guild has come. To its very foundations it will shake the City State of Lutece, is that not so Delphi?"
Cole had no idea about where Milligauss was heading with his line of thinking, so he nodded dumbly and smiled. In this business, it was better to appear confident than to admit ignorance.
"Yes sir," Cole said. "We took in over a hundred ecus from last night's first performance of the story you are talking about." He hoped that he had guessed correctly about what Milligauss was talking about. At least he had spoken in the collective "we" - paying homage to teamwork was always a good thing to do at the Guild, despite the cut-throat competition.
The other members of the Guild gasped. No minstrel had ever earned more than fifty ecus at one particular venue, let alone in the dead of the Lutetian night. Milligauss nodded approvingly, pleased with Cole's answer, and his reference to the bottom line. That was what it was all about anyway. Cole shuddered a sigh, relieved that he had somehow tapped into the master minstrel's train of thought.
"Just the beginning those one hundred ecus are," Milligauss said. "For this very kind of story the Guild has waited a long time. Something to capture the hearts and imaginations of our public. Something that would dictate how they live their lives on a daily basis. Exclusive information from Mr. Delphi this is. The Sultan must be very ill the Guild has determined, which explains his tumble yesterday. From impeccable sources learned have I that this illness is just the beginning of something more awful. The arrival it is -" Milligauss paused to great effect. It was not necessary, his audience hung on every word. "-the Second Coming of 'The Moment.'"
Not one soul inside that newsroom was capable of uttering a word, so stunned were they by what Milligauss had just said. Could it be true? Another Moment?
"Shocked I know you all are," Milligauss said. "But of the next moment, there are all the signs. A head-of-city-state lacking direction, falling suddenly without rhyme or reason." He allowed himself the slightest of smiles, pleased with his pun. "A big deal for you all is the announcement of the next Moment. Difficult it is to accept, especially because little we know of the previous one - that Moment that shaped us into who we are today. Built the walls did that Moment, gave us the Sultan, town criers, the minstrels too. Made us lose the languages that we now call 'Lost.' This we have all grown up understanding. And now something wicked comes this way, turmoil and change it brings to all of us."
Not one person assembled before Milligauss, including Cole, had the courage or the audacity to ask their conductor-in-chief how he could be so certain of this information, or what would cause the next Moment. But they did know that if he said and believed it, that it had to be true. Cole himself wondered how his fortuitous little story of royal blunder could lead to something so big. Charitably, Milligauss seemed to able to read all of their minds, and responded to their unvoiced concerns and puzzled countenances.
"About this I can tell you are perturbed," he said. "So am I. But directly from the Sultan and his doctor came this information." He briefly explained to them what he had learned a few hours ago. "Through plague and pestilence will come about the next Moment. Apart will fall the city state, vulnerable shall we be to the chaos and destruction, unable to control the consequences of all of our stumbling around. From our weakened and paralysed condition shall profit immune criminals. Comes soon the Moment my friends, and warn our fellow citizens is all we can do. Into the hands of our Maker left are we all."
Milligauss' audience remained silent, sitting stunned and still. They could not believe what they were hearing. And to tell you the truth, leaving it all in my hands was not a good idea. These people and their stupid Moment. What did they understand about what had brought their first downfall?
"Serve our public we must. Information they need to make daily, rational decisions up to the very second of the Moment we must provide. Sketchy are the details presently. To our audience we owe it to analyze the symptoms, study them, and report on them. And possible it may be: if the destruction is not as complete as we fear it will be, survive should we, worth our while would it not have been?" Milligauss winked and smiled.
The members of the Guild relaxed ever so slightly. They were able to pick up on the subtlety of what their great leader meant when he said "worth our while." It was a coded rationalization that greatly relieved them. They told themselves and others that the Guild was all about Public Service. But they knew better. It was public service at a Profit, and nothing could be more Noble. You had to capitalize upon what was truly important. They all felt more reassured. They now knew their leader had an action plan.
Milligauss could tell from the sedate looks on his minstrels' faces that they understood what he was getting at.
"A special edition of our product we shall create to undertake this. By an elite division of the Guild it shall be delivered. 'Minstrels of the Moment' call it we will"
Everyone marveled at how capable he was at thinking so easily off the top of his head. Quite an imagination he had, this Milligauss.
"Orange hats with luminous green tassels these select minstrels will wear. Apart from the others it sets them. In small groups these Minstrels of the Moment must travel, dissecting every incident they see, every occurrence they witness, every bit of information. What this 'Moment" will be this way we can better ascertain. Immediately we begin!"
The minstrels began to clap slowly, as if one person. They were caught up in a wave of near-religious fervor now. Their mission was clear. It had an identity. It had a brand name. They could go about it with pride. Their clapping intensified.
Milligauss tapped his music stand loudly.
"How important this story is to us I cannot impress upon you enough. Momentum right now we have. Over the top put us this will. Whatever remains of the ATC after this, recover it never will. To achieve this goal, to you I introduce the young man who started it all. The initial story he broke, our minstrel prodigy - Gemayat Delphi, the new head Minstrel of the Moment I do declare you!"
Applause washed over Milligauss as he quickly descended from the rostrum. It was all a gesture on behalf of the team, of his brilliant plan, and of his recognition of Cole's valuable contribution and new responsibilities. Yet that was all it was, a gesture. They were all seething with jealousy that such a young newcomer to the Guild could garner so much attention and acquire such an important posting so early in his career.
That didn't stop them from slapping Cole's back, shaking his hand, tousling his hair.
"Congratulations again," Gupta said to Cole, gritting his teeth. A minstrel could only be so selfless.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 7: COLE DOES HIS DUTY
Milligauss hadn't given him any time to think. Had our young hero had the opportunity, he probably would have realized that he was happy that he was being recognized for his work and his ability. He wasn't so young not to understand that he was better than most, and he wasn't so modest that he didn't enjoy it when others told him so. Then again, he was bright enough and had the proper building blocks for some critical thinking to have some doubt about this new development, despite his loyalty to the Guild and his enthusiasm for his job. Since Cole wasn't in any position to think it through, I'll point a few things out.
One, none of the information he had come across originated from any of his own reporting. Two, just as he had not sang about it last night, Milligauss had refrained from mentioning the Grand Vizir of Rostock at all, despite being told everything by the Sultan. At least within the confines of the Guild, the Minstrels should have been ethically bound to discuss the full specifics of the story and then decide what is relevant for public consumption. By not doing this, they were setting out with only half the story, which boded ill for the integrity of what they had yet to report.
Three, how on earth could a medical diagnosis of an uncoordinated Sultan lead to the conclusion that an apocalypse was around the corner, bad enough to rival the last sacred, saintly Moment? Once again, in all fairness to Cole, he didn't have any time to consider all of this right there and then. He didn't have much time at all.
Cole was overwhelmed. On Milligauss' orders, he had to assemble a crack team of minstrels immediately. He barely understood the nature of the assignment, let alone the story that they were to broadcast around the city state, but the charismatic and overbearing Milligauss had intimidated him. And having publicly put so much faith in his young charge, Milligauss was bound to frown upon any questions.
"Gupta," Cole said tersely. "You're my deputy on this. Assemble ten of the best minstrels in this room and get them in uniform. I'll work on the song."
The dark-skinned minstrel smiled broadly. All thoughts of jealousy and celebrity murder in a dark alleyway were banished. He was going to share in the wealth as a Minstrel of the Moment, which was good for him, and his family of eight. Cole had just acquired a new best friend. Gupta snapped to attention and started milling around a crowd of younger minstrels, pointing out the ones he had selected.
Meanwhile, Cole had to take care of the music. He ran up to the sheet music quartermaster who was quickly filing away discarded songs, preparing for the onslaught.
"Terragon, what can you recommend?" Cole said.
" One-Four-Five Variation - No. 4 is the way to go," the spectacled quartermaster with the scrunched-up face said, not looking at Cole as he continued to throw the sheets of paper into wooden slots. "Big story like this, you need a classic. And a bit of spice."
"Isn't that too much of a standard?" Cole asked. "Everyone has heard it a million times."
"Who cares?" Tarragon said. "At this point, it's not the music, it's the message. You need instant hummability, and then the words will follow."
Cole gave up and took the sheet music. He really didn't need it. It was a simple tune that he knew by heart. For us in the other world, we might think it sounded quite similar to the classic boogie 12-bar blues of Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. And that was the kind of machine-gun lyrical challenge Cole was faced with: fast chords, fast singing, lots of information to be conveyed.
He had to come up with a song that would attract people's attention. The core information would not change much from day to day - that was to be their call, a trademark or a brand name if you will, something the Minstrels of the Moment could overuse quite effectively. Cole began to brainstorm at the back of the Minstrels' Guild newsroom, and came up with this:
Well down in Lutece close to Gourmet Fast
we've got some news for you that warns of us our past
People of Lutece we must do what we hate
but this news is so big, we have to speculate.
Some time ago, you may have heard us rumble
about how our sultan took a nasty tumble
And far be it for us to make much of such an event
but his fall from grace signals the next Moment.
Retrench! For the Moment!
[insert pause or appropriate guitar solo here to give audience ample opportunity to scream, panic or whatever makes them feel good after hearing first reference to the Moment]
Yes yes, we fear that it's true
though we don't understand that much barely a clue
This plague will stop us in our tracks
for more news than that we have to check our facts.
We will lose our faith and balance all too soon
and we will stumble, fumble and bumble to our doom.
Retrench! For the Moment!
[at this point, Minstrel should insert relevant news of the day]
Well just today I ran into Phoenicia Bac Thong
She faltered along Allenby, her next step all wrong.
Luckily the local vigilante mob stepped into line,
to snuff her disease out and buy us all a bit more time.
[expect crowd to cheer here]
[vocal solo] But still we must...
[play guitar] Relent! Repent!
Retrench! For the Moment!
Cole put the finishing touches on the song and sat back in satisfaction. It was catchy and easy to memorize. The Minstrels and their audience would have no problem sending this to the top of the pops. He was proud of his effort.
Time for a bit more critical thinking since it seems that no one at the Guild excelled in that particular field. How could anyone, even a Lutetian, get a rise out of something as vague and intangible as Cole's creation? Where was the proof? Wasn't it just formulated to rile up a mob and provoke? Well yes, that's exactly what it was supposed to do - the "Minstrel Method" par excellence. Allow me to take the time to explain.
First, take some element of a society's psyche that no one dares question because it so absolutely inhabits the collective mind. Call it a self-labeled truism: like Communism is wrong, everyone loves The Beatles, or Jesus Saves. Then add a compelling dash of doom and gloom (i.e. Stalin lives). Then sprinkle in a few facts that give the news some "real life" feel, which makes the audience think, "wow, you just can't make this stuff up!" (i.e. underage girlfriend of evil dictator pregnant). That allows the masses to relate what you are trying to say in an "up-close-and personal" kind of way. It would also help if you could create an instant hero out of a less-than-impressive but nevertheless cooperative innocent bystander, but villains-of-convenience work just as well. Either way, the hero/villain must have some kind of personal quality that folks can relate to/despite about themselves. Mix the ingredients up a bit, and presto: you are soon in command of the collective attention span! A recipe? For sure. Formulaic? Guilty as accused. But it's incredibly effective. After all, if it tears, it steers!
Cole ran upstairs to the Monks and Scribes section of the Guild and threw his handiwork down in front of a man dressed in a dark red hooded cloak.
"Is that it, isthatit?" the man said.
"That's it Guttenman," Cole said. "Guess you already know what we're up to."
"How could I not know? HowcouldInot?" Guttenman said. He was a new desk assistant in the section, which made his perpetually nervous and excitable. "I went to the morning meeting too Mr. Cole. I'm so scared! I'msoscaredgosh, another Moment! Such things we pray to the Creator to never happen again every night at the monastery!" [Too bad you hooded freaks, because I'm not listening]
"I guess so," Cole said, not sure what to say. Guttenman made him feel very edgy with all his twitching and fast talking. "Can your friends write up twelve copies for me as quickly as possible?"
"Of course Mr. Cole, ofcourserightawaysir!" the young monk said. "I'm so happy you're in charge of the Minstrel of the Moment crew sir, no one better to choose, noonebetteratall. You're such a star!"
"Thanks Guttenman, that's nice of you to say." Cole was wondering how long he had to stick around out of politeness before he could end this difficult conversation. "But I'm still starting out, just like you." Cole was beginning to feel more than his age.
"Oh Mr. Cole, that's not true, nottrueatall," Guttenman said, so fervently with a shake of his head that the hood flipped off his head. "Only you could sing about the next Moment, only you could understand. That'srightonlyyou!"
That finally made Cole stop and think. He didn't understand a thing. He was just going along for the ride because that's what he normally did. But who was he to question the great Milligauss, his idol and his mentor? So he responded the only way he could.
"I think Guttenman, that soon, we will all understand what is going on."
And with that, Cole left the young scribe to pick up his quill and make painstaking copies of his masterpiece and went back downstairs to get on with the business at hand.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 8: INTRODUCING THE MINSTRELS OF THE MOMENT
It was, of course, an instant hit. The sing-along novelty of Relent! (Repent! Retrench!) for The Moment resonated from neighborhood on the first day of its introduction into the city state. Over and over, it seeped into Lutetian minds, soaked into their consciousness, burned into their brains. All thanks to the easily identifiable crack team of one dozen musicians led by Cole and Gupta. The Minstrels of the Moment had been unleashed and they were a sensation.
Dressed up in their orange hats with luminous green tassels, they jammed all around town, in every square, in front of every resto and cafe. And they raked it in. They guitar cases were so stuffed with ecus that by the end of the day, they were forced to walk around with their instruments in hand. Even Gupta had to let a smile slip through his usually tight and mirthless face. He would be able to bring home the bacon to his family - money troubles forever their sacred cow.
"We are rich Cole, rich!" Gupta said, bending over to pick up his case with both hands, the coins jingling tunelessly within. "What a song!" He looked at the handful of minstrels who had stayed behind to say their good-byes before heading home. "And we owe it all to you." Everyone nodded, looking at Cole in reverence.
"Well you can't go wrong with that music," Cole said, trying to be modest.
"Forget the music!" Gupta said. "It's the words man, the words. Where do you find such inspiration?"
"I don't know," Cole said. "I kind of make it up as I go along."
"Doesn't seem like anyone can tell," Gupta said, continuing to be charitable.
"I know no one can tell," Cole said. "But doesn't that bother you?"
"How do you mean?" Gupta asked. "What does it matter whether they can tell or not?" He shook the guitar case again. "This is all the proof we need."
"I just feel a bit weird about it, that's all," Cole said. "How can I be singing about a second Moment when I don't even know what the first one was all about?"
"No one really understands the first Moment," Gupta said. "So I wouldn't worry about it. And let's get real, this isn't a public service we're performing - it's business. We're only as good as the amount of people who want to listen to us, and who want to pay us. This must be the right thing, the money doesn't lie."
"I suppose you're right," Cole said. He wasn't feeling as sure as his colleague, mainly because he didn't measure the quality of his success by his level of income. Money didn't mean as much to Cole as it did to the others. He stood up abruptly, gingerly holding his guitar. "Let's head back to the Guild and get rid of this cash before it gets dark."
"Great idea!" Gupta said. "They won't believe how well we did. What a story!"
Later that evening, Cole stepped off the footbridge that connected the Left and the Right Sides of the city state. He plodded aimlessly along a wide but ugly boulevard. He walked by shops, houses and monuments that had all seen better days - ramshackle, blackened by coal-fired soot and decrepit. Worse off were what we would recognize as churches, though these were no houses of worship. Lutetians held onto fragments of organized reverence for a superior being - Allah, God and Elohim were jumbled up into one Creator, misunderstood and misinterpreted, more a like a lucky rabbit's foot to be rubbed from time to time than a figure who required submission, piety and duty. For the sake of whatever remained of ethnic identification, some of them creatively clung on to various elements of their ancestral faiths: refraining from the consumption of pork unless accompanied by cheese, wine drunk only on Fridays, pureed fish and bread sipped out of a bowl - no cutlery allowed, praying only when in line outside a resto or a cafe. If you happen to be concerned for my feelings, don't. I didn't take it too badly. What could I possibly want from such a foolish people other than to make a meal of them, to serve them up as an example, to skewer them with ridicule and distaste? I was about to take great Epicurean delight in my sadistic creation.
So the thousands of churches that once had proudly landmarked the city state were now just houses of disrepute, used for sex, slaughtering and money transfers. Cole trudged by the best known - and most successful - of them all, "Our Lady of the Walls," a conglomerate that managed to combine all three of those vital elements of Lutetian commerce. Its tall spires cast a dark shadow over the square and Cole gulped as he found himself drawn to stare at the disfigured gargoyles that adorned the facade of the structure. Suddenly, he heard the most blood-curdling cry and he stopped in his tracks, wondering whether he should quickly find a place to hide. Then his nostrils picked up on the stench emanating from the doorway of Our Lady and he laughed nervously at himself. He realized the scream could have originated from a number of sources, all interrelated by the conglomerate's synergetic and lucrative business: (1) from some scrawny bull that had just been pierced to death by a butcher, its byproducts destined to become burger, broth or beauty cream; (2) from the poor soul of a farmer who had lovingly raised the bull near the brown pastures on the edge of the city state -- hoping for an inflated price at the market of Our Lady of the Walls -- who suddenly realized how little he was about to receive in the barter-exchange for his livestock; (3) the stage-actress soprano exertions of some lively prostitute singing for her supper whilst pleasing the same-self hick selling sexual favors for cash or in-kind..
Cole was almost tempted to step through those doors into the realm of sin and blood money just to taste for a moment the extreme side of life he had never known but now could afford thanks to the abundant royalties of Relent! (Repent! Retrench!) for The Moment. But even as he jingled the cash overflowing from the pockets in his tunic, he stopped himself. Overnight sensation he may be, but he needed to stay true to himself. He was just not prepared to indulge during these ephemeral and surreal fifteen minutes of his.
He walked right on by Our Lady of the Walls and managed to deftly ignore the plethora of street merchants and their customers who congregated around the financial center of Lutece like flies to honey. The noise was incredible as supplier and demander hawked, haggled, bought, charmed and threatened. It was a permanent garage sale really: second-hand tunics, boots with holes in their soles, moth-bitten hats and kerosene lamps flaking with rust piled upon each other on dozens of tables. Essentials for Lutetian living for sure, but whole uninteresting from a conspicuous consumption point of view, which is why Lutetians felt strangely compelled to spend the remainder of the hard-gotten ecus on pricey fast food, ambiguous minstrel sing-alongs, and the odd trinket.
Cole's feet weighed heavily as he grew more and more drawn into the mystery surrounding the secret of his success. On special assignment for the Minstrels' Guild! If only his parents were still alive. They would be so thrilled. They had also loved music, and they idolized Milligauss as a young musician.
Permit me to entertain you with a slight digression that might help you to better appreciate our protagonist. Before Cole was born, the Delphis had followed Milligauss around the city state, like zealots tailing a prophet. They and the rest of the devoted became known as "Millemmings" - and their devotion was as renowned as the object of their extreme affection. Barely concerned with their daily earthly needs, let alone their personal hygiene, these groupies hung on every word, every song, every concert that their demi-god would perform. More often than not, they would be souped up on Cafe Cool cola - but the illegal, under-the-table stuff. All this to the detriment of responsibility and their personal lives.
However, when Cole's mother gave birth to our young prodigy twenty-five years ago, she and her husband decided to take their parental obligation seriously and abandoned their transient ways. Mrs. Delphi took up domestic life and banjo lessons while Mr. Delphi got a job with the underground. His job didn't pay handsomely, but the head of the household assumed his new lifestyle with pride and dignity. As the only non-pedestrian way to get around Lutece, stoking the coal that made the trains circulate was a somewhat honorable profession in a city state where not much else worked. And Mr. Delphi delighted in the stop-and-go patter of those steam engines as they chugged from station to station. The sound reminded him of one of Milligauss' biggest and funkiest hits, Sounds from the Underground. Also, it didn't hurt that he was able to receive regular pay from the Sultanship as a result of his public service.
Nevertheless the Delphis had not given up their love for music. Indeed their most selfless act of devotion occurred when it came time to name their newborn. Mrs. Delphi, still deep in the throes of musical theory, enraptured from her banjo lessons, came up with the idea of emulating the musical structure of every song that Milligauss had ever written, transposing it into what their son's initials would eventually become.
To explain the name requires a short lesson. Every Milligaussian pop song was structured on the I-IV-V progression of the major scale. In other words, the three chords (although sometimes a few relative minor chords would be thrown in for added doom and gloom) of every tune would be the first, fourth and fifth notes of a one-octave, seven-note scale.
For example, the D Major scale has the following notes: D, E, F sharp, G, A, B, and C sharp. The I-IV-V structure would thus be the chords of D, G and A - your standard pop progression.
Now, Mrs. Delphi knew that her baby's initials had to end in "D" (for "Delphi" see?), so that automatically became the fifth of the major scale. Counting backwards, she found a C as the fourth, and a G as the first. Their son's identity was conceived in the scale of G Major - G, A, B, C, D, E, F sharp. And borrowing from the monikers of the characters from what happened to be the most popular vaudevillian soap opera of the day (One Moment at a Time), she came up with the popular names of "Gemayat" and "Cole" - Gemayat Cole Delphi.
With this understanding in mind, you might well deduce that the possibilities for song structures and melodies were finite, given the rigidities of using the same progression over and over. And you would be correct, as that was this case both with Milligauss' songs and later with the Minstrels'.
However, it really didn't matter. No one really minded, and hardly anyone noticed for that matter. Change the words, alter the tune ever so slightly, add a dash of short memory span and a cup of variation on a theme et voila! A fresh new song!
Cole's parents instilled all of their musical inclinations upon him. They took him to all of the Guild concerts even when he was too young to really appreciate them for the musical orgies that they were. But they hoped that at the very least, Cole could soak it in, not unlike they had when they had been Millemmings during their cola-induced heydays.
And so it was, that at the precocious age of three, Cole exhibited his first signs of prodigiousness. When his father thrust a guitar into Cole's hands, the toddler with the odd name proceeded to arpeggiate three chords with exceptional lucidity and confidence: G, C and D. Cole's parents were instantly thrown onto an astral plane that made their cola freebasing days seem like a cheap and meaningless high. Their son would be better than they ever were, he would perform music.
Alas, if it were music that gave Ma and Pa Delphi the definition they so sorely needed in their lives, it was also the sainted combination of melody and rhythm that inevitably led to their downfall.
During Cole's eighteenth year, for the sake of nostalgia, the elder Delphis decided to attend a raucous "Milligauss and the Minstrels Benefit Reunion Show" (it was for the benefit of the former minstrels who had not found the success that Milligauss had - they had fallen on hard times). It was to be an event where intoxicants ran freely and lack of inhibition ran rampant.
Engulfed that evening in a half-conscious state of bliss, the Delphis rushed the state with another group of throwback Millemmings. It was a joyful and hypnotic charge that occurred just as the Big Man and his Minstrels were kicking into the opening chords of their greatest smash hit ever, Where Lutetians Fear to Tread (Beyond the Ramparts).
The bouncers who flanked the stage in a protective phalanx didn't know what to make of the frenzied, half-naked, middle-aged fanatics stampeding towards them. It struck these dim-witted muscleheads that the incoming assailants could be members of the criminal element. Or even worse, they might be foreigners - an odd notion in the exceptionally closed-off city state - who conceivably were insulted by the exclusionary tenor of the immensely popular anthem.
They lowered their heads, assuming the appearance of buzz-cut coiffed rhinos in the defensive position, and took out their rock hard teakbois batons. Without one warning, they advanced and proceeded to beat the stuffing out of the Millemmings. The Delphis were caught in the fray, and they too ended up being crushed into a juicy, pink grapefruit-like pulp. Sadly, Cole's parents would not survive the onslaught. But they would be remembered in history as martyrs to the Milligaussian movement for having died for their music.
And so it was that at eighteen, Cole became an orphan. He drifted from job to job until a few years later, he decided to pay tribute to his parents' memory and auditioned for an open position with Milligauss' Guild. Milligauss was present at the audition that day and recognized talent when he heard Cole strum away on his old banjo. The head minstrel was even more pleased when he learned that Cole was the son of the couple that had perished for the sake of his music. So it was that Gemayat Cole Delphi was accepted into the Guild. He was the youngest person ever to become a member of the prestigious news and entertainment society.
Yes, were they still alive, his parents would have been thrilled by his elevated Minstrel status Cole thought as he passed by a spice merchant stall, the musty stash of decaying peppercorns nearly forcing him to sneeze. However, he also knew he would never have been able to discuss the growing misgivings he had about his new assignment with them. They would put their trust in Milligauss, set as they had been in their flaky ways. Cole wished he could do the same. But doubt began to gnaw away at his insides. He enjoyed his job, he loved entertaining people and relaying the latest news. And yet this push to sell the next Moment had him baffled. He could never question Milligauss' news judgement, but he had a hard time singing about something he knew so little about. Up to now, he had presented about the things he could see, understand, conceptualize and believe. He certainly wanted to believe what Milligauss was on the right track. His mentor had been right about every other idea, trend and innovation he had introduced to the Guild since Cole's inception. Cole did not have the vaguest sense of what the next Moment was, or even when it was going to take place, and he wondered whether he would have to continue as the lead Minstrel of The Moment on faith.
His parents had taught him to revere The Moment, to respect it as the defining milestone of their existence - and of a great many of their societal shortcomings as well. Which of his family's values was he to honor? Milligauss or The Moment?
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 9: A TROUBLED COLE MEETS AN OLD WOMAN
Cole's walking while under the influence of deep rumination had led him right back to the scene of the previous night's crime. The fountain at Saint Michael's Square lay dead ahead.
He was not an overly vain person, but as he approached the fountain, he hoped that some of the people milling about might recognize him from last night's performance. As an artist in constant need of an audience, he thought that his public's appreciation would be all he needed to restore his mood.
As he got closer, he began to hear music. It was a curious tune that someone was banging out on an old mistuned guitar - the strings loose and dull.
Cole zeroed in on the source: the exact same spot that he had occupied during his nocturnal show-stopper. Right there, at the fountain, competing with the occasional flush of the itinerate cascades of water was a woman playing guitar. And he knew who she was.
The woman was dressed in a tattered, red paisley dress that draped over her, from the top of her neck to just below her ankles. Unpolished black leather boots, laces askew, completed the outfit. Ragged she might be, but Cole detected a certain elegance to her. Her shoulders may have slumped, but she bore a proud demeanor. Her wizened face crinkled with hard experience and yet it was difficult to determine how old she was: fifty-five or eighty-five?
Her age hardly mattered to Cole. He was swept away by her music. To hear this old woman play was to be sucked into a plaintive swirling sound that beckoned its listener to come along on her great journey. She had to be from some other age, the sounds were too strange, the rhythm a sullen mantra, the chord arrangement simple and atonal. The dirt encrusted under the woman's ragged fingernails did nothing to diminish the hypnotic allure of her jangle with her chuk-a-luk strumming. Then she began to sing:
'It's the Age of the Lightbulb,'
the hawker said to me.
'We are the enlightened ones,
won't you please, pay your fee?'
'It's the Revolution,
so won't you please roll the dice?
What happened to Evolution?
It got stopped, at the lights.'
And the monkey sing:
'I've got a man on my back
I've got a man on my back
I've got a man on my ba-a-ack!'
'So we'll open curtain three,
won't you please feast your eyes?
On the brand new car and key
come now, applaud and rise.'
And the monkey sing:
'Human see, human do
human see, human do
human see, human do-o-o-o!'
'It's the Age of the Condo,'
the tallyman said to me.
'My bananas will follow,
dead, rotting, concrete tree.'
And the monkey cry,
'Freeze the tail off the man,
freeze the tail off the man
freeze the tail of a bra-a-a-ss man!'
And the monkey cry all day long.
Cole thought the lyrics were nothing but nonsense, some gobbledygook spouted from the woman's stream of consciousness. But he was enthralled by her music and wondered where she drew her inspiration from.
That said, few others in the square were as captivated by the woman as he had been. A couple of them fumbled through their pockets and threw some spare change onto the woman's threadbare gray coat that lay spread on the ground. Cole also donated a few ecus to her cause, waited as she collected her money and her dignity, and then approached her.
"Hello Faraday," he said.
The woman looked up suddenly, startled to hear a friendly voice address her by name.
"Gemayat!" she said. "What a surprise! It has been a long time has it not?"
"It has," Cole said. "I'm sorry that I didn't stop by earlier."
"You so ridiculous!" Faraday said, putting her hand on the young minstrel's shoulder. "I know a famous man like you got no time, especially for a wayward little lady like me."
Cole winced. Then he saw the playful glint in Faraday's eyes and smiled.
"Faraday you must know that it does take a great deal of time and effort to perfect one's art, and to keep a guitar in tune. Then again - " he looked at Faraday's battered instrument and grinned.
"Well excuse me Mister High and Mighty Minstrel!" she said, pulling one of his ears gently like a strict mother. "Why should a poor old woman like me care how I sound? No one listens anyway. You know folks around here think I crazy." She paused and looked wide-eyed into Cole's face. "Folks not always wrong you know!" Faraday burst out into a cackle. Cole was caught up in her infectious groove and laughed right along with her.
Cole had known Faraday for a few months. Neither could precisely recall their first encounter, or when they became friends. It had been more like a fly-by-night acquaintanceship that had grown upon each of them slowly but surely. He would run into her during his minstrel rounds through the city state streets. She would be singing and playing for no one in particular, and he would sometimes stop to listen to her sunny lilt - a welcome sound in the drab grayness of the Lutetian light.
Faraday was certainly no great musician. And yet these two disparate people somehow found a friendship - more a serendipitous coming-together than a mere bond of convenience - that would gel spontaneously into genuine warmth when chance (or perhaps sometime more powerful?) brought them together.
Cole did not know where she lived and never could bring himself to ask as he was sure she was homeless. Oddly enough, he always ran into Faraday when he most needed someone to talk to. Because our shy young hero did not have any close friends or family, he was normally compelled to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself. Somehow however, he had found a welcome ear with Faraday. This woman who scarcely attracted much more than the disdain of others mysteriously appealed to Cole, and she was always eager to oblige and explore his feelings. Faraday read the minstrel very well.
"Troubled my chère troubadour?" Faraday asked.
Cole was somewhat taken aback by his friend's use of a Lost Language. Whenever he heard the rarely spoken words of another age, he would feel the hairs of his neck stand on end. How different and inconceivable albeit enchanting was a language that once was.
"It amazes me how you can tell Faraday," Cole said.
"Ah, it not so hard," she said. "You give me more money when something up. As if you expect me to charge you by the minute for my open ears or something!"
"Open ears are what I need right now Faraday," he said. Then he looked away as if he was embarrassed but what he was about to say. "If you can throw in some sealed lips into the bargain then our deal is closed. What I would like to talk to you about should not be heard by others. This is no time for heresy"
"Ears open wide for you and lips shut tight too mon ami," Faraday said. "And nothing wrong with heretics. They push history along before the liturgy get too stale." She slung her guitar on her back using a thin leather strap that was attached to the neck and heel of the instrument. She gestured to Cole to follow her as she began to walk away from the square.
They made their way north towards the river as the predictable end-of-the-day drizzle began. Walking along the cobblestone path, Cole told Faraday about what had happened in the last twenty-four hours. She listened soberly, gravely assuming the role of judge and jury. After Cole had finished, she didn't utter a word. Cole began to wonder whether she had heard a thing, but was afraid to insult her by inquiring. And then she spoke.
"Ah, the magic moment, that mystical, mythical vague choplet of time that tells we who we are and where we be heading. So undefined, so uncertain," Faraday mused aloud. "How little we know about it, but how much it takes hold of we, grabbing we by the throat."
"Now don't go crazy on me Faraday," Cole said. He was a touch nervous to hear her utter such sarcasm about something that he had held so sacrosanct up to now. "Everyone knows that The Moment happened. We all know it's true. It's what we're all about."
Faraday looked at Cole, hard. He felt as if she was seeing right through him with her fiery eyes. Without realizing it, he took a few steps back.
"I see we be putting we fate into good hands," she said. "A boy who know so little about some moment in time, and yet be so quick to go out and declare to all who listen, The Second Coming! The Sequel! Ladies and Gents, meet Moment Too!"
"Well that's my problem then isn't it?" Cole said. He didn't bother rising to meet his friend's ire, although her piquance and near blasphemy stung like needles in his heart. "I barely understand what's being asked of me, but yet it seems so important to so many people. Tell me, how can I do this?"
"The question be Gemayat, now how you should do it, but whether you should do it at all. Two lies make no truth you know."
Despite the warm feelings he harbored for his wayward friend, Cole was beginning to get a little annoyed by Faraday's persistent undermining of the city state's key social tenets. He found himself half-wondering if what others thought of her might be true: that she might be as foolish as she was crazy.
"Look - look how well we've done since The Moment," Cole said. "We all speak the same language, which leaves little room for misunderstanding. We know all we need to know courtesy of the town criers and the minstrels. People even have time to enjoy themselves at places like the Gourmet Fast. Everything is so comfortable - and safe."
Faraday stopped walking.
"Comfortable? Comfortable? Two dozen million people living on top of the other, that's comfortable? People living on bridges over some stinking river - some of we living off garbage cans outside of your celebrated Gourmet Fast - others actually paying to eat that food." Cole was about to try and refute her, but his friend had not finished her tirade. "And the walls! Why we never try to leave this place? Because we can't and we won't. Should we not try and see what is outside? We can't and don't!"
Cole couldn't argue with her last point. The city state of Lutece was surrounded by forty-foot walls, not unlike the ramparts of some fairy-tale city from long-ago. Near the walls (and sometimes even on top of them for those who were more courageous and didn't suffer from vertigo), some industrious souls grew wheat, rice, potatoes on whatever small plots of land that had not been laid claim to by squatters. Others brewed cola or raised the cattle that were chopped up into burgers - both of which were consumed by the billions by the city state's millions at Café Cool, Bistro Bustle, Resto Rapido, and of course, Gourmet Fast. All of this food production was enough to feed an entire city state, but barely so. And it was all exceptionally expensive. A typical Lutetian family would spend three quarters of its monthly income on this convenient food of necessity. Few people had kitchens, and those who did barely knew how to cook.
But those daunting walls require further exposition. They were high, smooth, and impossible to scale without a farmer's sturdy ladder. And even if some valiant soul could make it up one side, he could easily fall to his death on the other, dashed up on the jagged rocks that shored up the walls from the outside.
The identity of the architects of these ramparts remained a mystery. Not that Lutetians had ever attempted a serious inquiry into their origins. They never tried to leave the city state, and few tried to enter. The walls were not even guarded - not that the poor, ill-defended Sultan would be able to do so even if he had wanted to.
What was even more peculiar was that the walls did not completely enclose the city state. There were various little inlets and outlets that allowed those who knew of them - such as the Sultan, the visiting heads of city states, and the occasional wayward travelling merchant - to come and go at will.
Lutetians had heard rumors of these egresses, but they did not believe that their existence concerned them. For that matter, Lutetians also knew that some sort of other world lay beyond the walls - city states and strange lands - but that did not concern them much either. Free trade, in goods or ideas, was not a valued notion among these people. It was less a conviction in their cultural superiority, and more just plain complacency and laziness of thought.
That was precisely Faraday's point. The will to grow, to learn, to expand, to take risks, to take on danger, to explore were not exactly Lutetian qualities.
If I didn't destroy their civilization first, they would do it on their own, thank you very much.
All this was probably why the people who had to put up with the old lady saw her as quite mad, and why young Cole, so quick of mind and spirit, but at the end of the day, still a mere Lutetian, was beginning to subscribe to this opinion of Faraday as he listened to her speak.
As the curious glint in Cole's eyes began to fade, Faraday realized she was fighting a losing battle. She had to take action.
"Come Cole, let me take you to meet me very old friend. He can tell you more than me about the past." She began to pull him along by the arm, and then stopped. "Knowing about yesterday is a minstrel's strong suit, but after then, forget about it!" She laughed loudly at that.
Cole ignored the insult and wondered whether he could spare the time to indulge Faraday. There was still much work to be done to prepare the Minstrels of The Moment for their second day of coverage. But he knew that his misgivings would continue to grow if he didn't nip his doubts in the bud immediately. And he was not so dim not to notice that for the first time, Faraday had not used his proper first name when she made her offer to educate him. He surmised that she was being very deliberate with what she was saying - there was much more to this woman than the disheveled figure she cut on the streets. It was getting late, but Cole knew he had no choice.
"Alright," he said. "Let's go."
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 10: AN OLD MAN TENDS TO HIS GARDEN
After taking a stop-and-go belch of a ride on the southbound steam train ("B" line for those in the know), Cole and Faraday found themselves standing before a sturdy-looking red brick building. It was only eight stories high, but it appeared so imposing in its austerity with its thirty marble steps leading up the entrance. And surrounding this unusual building, a garden - an out-of-context indulgence in the otherwise cramped, dirty City State of Lutece.
An old man stood knee-deep in the hedges. He had a white beard, and an even whiter shock of hair that contrasted nicely with bright yellow and green of the handful of stunted sunflowers that he stooped over. His khaki pants and blue safari shirt hung on him as they would on a deformed wire hanger, bent and broken from too much misuse. Grotius was old, but he still considered himself to be a ladies' man, and believed that his mode of dress indicated to all around that they were in the presence of a chic gentleman.
As Cole was still taking in the wonder of this sight, Faraday walked up to Grotius just as he was shoving his nose deep into the wilted bloom of one of the sunflowers. Standing not more than two inches from his face, she more-or-less yelled at the old man.
"Salut Maître Grotius, comment allez-vous?"
Grotius and Cole both immediately stood straight, rapt in attention. One man was shocked to finally hear a woman address him after all those months of loneliness and expectation. The other was stunned to hear one Lutetian address another in a complete sentence uttered in the Lost Language. However, Grotius, despite his age, still had his wits about him, and almost instantly recognized his old friend. He threw his rusty shears down into the hedge and embraced Faraday, his arms wide apart.
"Ah ma chère Faradé, que c'est bien de te voir. Ca fait longtemps, non?"
"It has been a while Master Grotius," Faraday said. She switched languages so that Cole could understand what they were saying. "I have brought a friend for you to meet. He a young musician. Gemayat Cole Delphi, voici Maître Grotius."
Grotius turned and shook Cole's hand.
"Such a wonderful pleasure Mister Cole! Even more so to meet a patron of the arts. A musician! Oh how I followed music closely all my life. At least until I pretty much lost my hearing!"
And because Grotius had pretty much lost his hearing, he was, unbeknownst to himself, pretty much yelling. Trying to be polite, his visitors pretended not to notice.
"We have come to see you Master Grotius, because I want you to tell Cole about The Moment." Faraday had not distanced herself one inch from Grotius' ear.
The old gardener smiled. He enjoyed having a woman so close to him. He was even more pleased that someone wanted him to talk about what he knew best: the old days.
"With great pleasure Madame and Mister, with great pleasure," Grotius said, beaming. "You know Mister Cole, your colleague Faraday and I are very old friends, very old." He spoke almost wistfully and with regret, but did not elaborate upon the emotions that seemed to dwell just below the surface. He gestured to Faraday and Cole to sit down on the green mesh chairs that faced the garden.
Like all educated people who enjoy hearing their own voice, Grotius started out with a disclaimer, if only to place more importance upon what he was about to reveal.
"You have to understand of course, that what I am telling you is completely fifth, sixth, seventh-hand information. I may be old, but there is no way that I could possibly be old enough to have been a survivor of The Moment!" He grinned at that.
Faraday and Cole nodded vigorously. They accepted Grotius' point and Cole wanted him to move on as quickly as possible. It was quickly getting dark, and he wanted to go home. In any case, he didn't know how old someone would have to be in order to have first-hand recollection of The Moment.
"So where to being?" Grotius said, humming and hawing. He knew very well where to begin. He had rehearsed his stories so many times in private, in public, to himself and anyone who could not get away in time before being subjected to his oral form of cruel and unusual punishment.
"Before there were walls and minstrels," Grotius said, nodding towards Cole. "Before their were town criers, and the Resto Rapidos. Before our city was known as Lutece, and before The Moment -" He paused for dramatic effect, which in fact was undermined by the faint wheezing emanating from his lungs, along with the obvious inhale and exhale that whistled through the straggly strands of white hair that overflowed out of the nostrils of his pronounced nose. "Before all that, we were all part of the Outside World. It was a frightening place. Somewhere so chaotic, so cacophonous that it was impossible to hear yourself think. In this place, a din could not be dispelled because everyone spoke to everyone else at the exact same time."
Cole found it hard to imagine any world different from the one he had known since birth. Grotius was already making him nervous.
"And talking about what? No one knew. Someone would try to tell you about these things that were happening in these exotic places, far beyond your own garden. They would try and make you care about it, but mainly you didn't. You couldn't. You were struggling yourself. Trying to make ends meet in your own pitiful existence."
Grotius was speaking so abstractly, Cole was now having a hard time keeping track.
"The talk and the noise came from every direction. Because young man, before The Moment, people had these unusual instruments. 'Eeelectric' machines they called them. Those are what made the din. They were shaped like boxes. Some played pictures and sound by themselves. They showed you pictures that moved - pictures of something happening. And they spoke to you. Sometimes, depending on the kind of box that was doing the speaking, you might be able to speak back. But speaking back never improved whatever situation that the box was telling you about at that particular reason. Nevertheless, for some reason, talking about the problem, if it was a problem, made people feel better about it. So talk they did."
Cole listened attentively. He was having a hard time imagining all these talking boxes that seemed to rule people's lives. Grotius saw that his monologue was going well, and continued, growing more passionate with every word, which made him repetitive.
"There were all kinds of boxes. Boxes - all different kinds. Some had sound. Boxes with pictures, sounds and words. Those boxes allowed people to talk to each other at the same time. So it was almost like - like no one could listen because they were all talking - about this and about that, and you know what? They were talking, at the same time! And each person thought that he was right, that he was the authority on that particular subject, that he had to be heard. Heard they certainly where, but listened to, certainly not! Oh my friend, it was horrible. It was so horrible! Boxes, boxes everywhere! And not a thought to think!"
Cole finally had to say something. "It sounds perfectly horrible," he said, his eyes wide."
"Yes, yes, yes! And horribly perfect," Grotius said, nodding in approval, happy that Cole was grasping what he was getting at. "Well, at least it was perfect in the minds of the people who were doing the talking!"
"Could it be any worse Master Grotius?" Cole said, playing right into the hands of the master.
"Oh yes, it is much worse than that young minstrel!" Grotius said. "Just in case matters were not confusing enough, all these people insisted on speaking their own language. We are not just talking about two or three languages. There were hundreds of different languages! People blabbered and babelled on, each trying to claw the other in their scramble to the top. Thankfully, those languages were lost for the most part after The Moment -"
"But you speak one of those languages Master Grotius," Cole said at maximum volume, so that the nearly-deaf gardener could hear his objection.
"Mere esoterica my boy," Grotius said, chuckling. "When you get to my age, you have nothing better to do than to try and remember those lessons that your parents, and your parents' parents tried to ram down your throat. I speak a Lost Language because I was taught how to. And speak it now because no one listens to me anyway! C'est peu importe!"
Cole looked up at Faraday. He was puzzled. But she would not come to his rescue, and merely flashed him a weak smile, her lips moving but her eyes not following through. Grotius was completely oblivious to the interplay between his two visitors, and rambled on.
"So, everyone was talking about what they knew, what they thought, what they felt, what they believed, but no one would listen. The world got crazier, more uncertain. And then it got darker and more violent. People stopped paying attention to what was really important, what was really going on. Instead, they got caught up in the fear, the threats, and the rumors of the day. No one knew what to believe or whom to trust anymore. They became only interested in their own tiny corner of the world. Self-preservation became the priority."
Cole could hardly fathom a world where such uncontrolled mayhem reigned. Tonight, he would surely embrace Lutece like a long lost friend, grateful for the comfort the walled city state offered him.
Grotius turned to Faraday.
"Do you remember that song you used to sing? The one you said might re-create what things were like just before The Moment? Sing it for me if you do Faraday, just one more time."
Faraday bowed her head, and thought hard.
"Yes - yes I do. I do remember it," she said. "Let me see -" She moved her guitar into place. She strummed quietly but sang loudly so Grotius could hear the words.
in the earth's red canyon
Or do they dissipate?
in the city's hot kitchen
Or do they dissipate?
on a cook's pink tongue
burn on forever?
Or do they dissipate?
on a church roof-top
sear on forever?
Or does it dissipate?
on a child's beaten skin
sting on forever?
Or do they dissipate?
What if they
A riot of these senses
could go on forever.
Imagine the din
Imagine the stink
Imagine the retch
Imagine the pain
Imagine the glare.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
"Oh tremendous, that's it!" Grotius clapped his hands with delight. Faraday put aside her guitar and blushed at his praise.
Suddenly, the old man's eyebrows arched, and his smile disappeared. He was about to reach the climax of his tale.
"And then Mister Cole - and then, one day, one minute, one second - there was The Moment. The Moment that made the din dissipate, that shut the world up, that broke the boxes, and silenced that talk. It was a near total destruction of the world, of its institutions, of the way it did things. From what I've been able to put together, it was an utter rampage. In their madness, people forgot what they had lost, and were unable to rebuild their world." Grotius stopped to chuckle. Cole wondered what could be so funny after recounting the end of the world. "One happy side effect though. After The Moment, if you needed to communicate, you had to say it to someone's face. There was no other way around it."
So there you have it, my little dream come true: the Information Devolution, an electronic Armageddon that turned the whole world off. Of course no one in the Bricks and Mortar Age is capable of understanding what actually happened, especially that blowhard Grotius. But I certainly enjoy it when they tried.
"But what about The Moment," Cole asked. "What was it, how did it actually happen?" Cole felt cheated by Grotius' shoddy explanation, and as well he should.
Grotius hesitated. "Well - after everyone was forced talk face-to-face and share information, which thrust a great many socially inept people into intimacy with their neighbors, folks just decided that it was better to keep things to themselves, keep to themselves, or just forget about the whole thing altogether. Ergo -"
"Eggo?" Cole asked.
"Ergo" Grotius said, hoping his tone would sufficiently reprimand the young minstrel.
"Ergo, no one really remembers what actually happened at The Moment, do they?" Cole said. He felt like he had wasted his time and looked at Faraday accusingly. She had closed her eyes after having performed her song and was humming a tuneless melody to herself. He was on his own.
"Look my friend, it must be obvious, even to you. Our world before The Moment was pure chaos. It was one filled with worry, fear and jealousy. People were scared of things around the corner and around the world. They were never happy with what they had and always had their eye on their neighbor's possessions. They always wanted more, they wanted to know more. Our ancestors were so frantically sticking their noses into other people's business that they didn't have enough time to take care of what was most important."
"Which is?" Cole asked, not even sure why he was still playing along with this charade.
"Which is where we live, and who we are," Grotius said. "Incapacitated after The Moment, we realized we could no longer solve the problems of others. So unconsciously, in one mass society movement, we formed our own city state of bliss. We put up our walls and decided not to bother to get involved. No involvement meant no frustration. No frustration meant peace and calm. We are so much better off now than before. We stick to our own knitting - to what we know best. The only thing that a person can acquire from travelling beyond the walls is just an overwhelming sense of weariness. And in our city state of bliss, why be weary? Be happy!"
Grotius was very happy that he was able to wrap up his sermon with a spontaneous and witty homily. He smiled a toothy grin and his nose whistled louder.
It wasn't a half bad attempt at an explanation for someone who didn't know any better. How could he? The rise and fall of the electronic empire came in with a bang and went out with a whimper. How could it not? It was all such a house of cards anyway, reliant on semi-conductors, silicon, bits and bites, odds and ends, all powered by electricity. A chain reaction just waiting for a spark - that came not so innocently one day in the form of a nuclear bomb detonated high in the earth's stratosphere by some petty billionaire who had made a bundle on the stock market but then realized that it couldn't buy him a ménage à trois with his two favorite supermodels so he decided that if he couldn't have it all that he would blow up the outside world. Because he couldn't get the girls, but he could certainly afford a nuclear missile on some clandestine arms market -- and he had read all about the potential effects of a high-altitude multiple-megaton nuclear detonation on electromagnetic fields that would severely disrupt all unprotected electronic circuits and components.
And let me tell you, it didn't take much: that bomb knocked out the global power grid, blew up the telephone lines, erased the memories of every computer, imploded every silicon chip - shutting down every implement, instrument and tool that had become ultra-dependent on electronics, microprocessors and digital circuitry: from watches, to vehicles equipped with electronic ignition to television sets. Anarchy reigned as civilization disintegrated: no more communications, no more transportation, no more electricity. Gone were the banks, national defense and tax collection in one fell swoop - victims of electromagnetic terrorism and a disgustingly rich man who came to the crashing realization that he couldn't always get what he wanted. Dependence on all things digital had crippled them - no one could remember how to make do without those everyday conveniences.
It was lovely, blasted into the Dark Ages with one flick of the switch. Everyone's world had just gotten exponentially smaller. Society's collective memory blown into oblivion: hard copies and analog were mere artifacts up to then, everything had been digitized. That meant history had been relegated to a volatile collection 1's and 0's, and leaving previous few books, films, records and photographs to provide a more lasting image of the fruits of our creation. The medium was no longer there, but the message, and the messengers, remained. Still doing their best to get it right, but often getting it so wrong.
Obviously, Cole didn't know about any of this, but he was still confused.
"So what you're saying is that The Moment be damned, just thank goodness it happened?" Cole said. "That you O' Moment for making our life simpler? It sounds terrifically convenient. I'm beginning to wonder whether The Moment actually happened. We all seem to be so happy with the way things are." Cole stopped himself. He couldn't believe that he was saying these reprehensible things about The Sacred Moment. He was being forced to react to Grotius' ridiculous position. If his parents could hear him now, they would be furious! And so would Milligauss.
"Well, yes, as a matter of speaking, that may be in effect true," Grotius pontificated, Cole's sarcasm totally lost on him. "But I don't know one way or another. What I do know is this. We are much better off now, living for The Moment, living with The Moment, than without it."
Can you see why I'm upset with myself? Not soon after do I go about fantasizing about ending the world as we know it then my new wonderland goes ahead and disappoints me by committing even worse sins than the old, proving that people just never change, in this world or the next. And I'm supposed to be in complete control of this situation, but there's no the persistent force of human nature. It was time to wipe my hands of the whole sordid business.
"I wish I could agree with you one way or another - " Cole said. Rather than ease his mind and erase the doubts that Milligauss had instilled in him earlier that day, he found himself even more troubled.
"But I just don't know one way or the other. This is so frustrating! Will I ever know?"
"Why does it matter so much to you?" Grotius said. "Why do you really need to know? Can't you just take a few things on faith? The lesson is equally valuable whether or not it actually happened. Call it one big allegory."
Cole had no idea what an allegory was, and he had just about lost all his patience.
"Because Master Grotius as a minstrel, if I'm ever to explain and expose the second coming of The Moment, I need to understand what the first one was all about! That's just the way I am. I can't do something that I don't believe in!"
Grotius shocked the young musician by suddenly opening his eyes wide and pulling at the white hair on the sides of his head.
"A second Moment? A second Moment!" Grotius stopped pulling his hair and started rubbing his face vigorously. "Now why do we need a second Moment? Why at all? The first one was perfectly acceptable to me. Exceptionally acceptable! This will ruin everything. Absolutely everything. Whose idea was this anyway? What a terrible idea!"
Cole explained Milligauss' theory to Grotius. The old man nodded sagely. He began to calm down.
"Of course, of course," he said. "That makes perfect sense. Yes, Mister Cole, your Milligauss is a very wise man. He does seem to have pinpointed the source of the impending crisis. What this next Moment can bring, we can only fear."
That was it then. Cole now understood that Grotius was going to be of no use to him at all. His conundrum remained. He looked at Faraday helplessly. She was still humming, but had paid close attention to the entire conversation.
"But Master Grotius, you don't have any advice for poor young Gemayat, something that will help him answer he questions?" she said.
Grotius scratched this whiskers on his chinny-chin chin, putting on great airs to think up a response to Faraday's plea to help her friend.
"So, my friend, you question, but yet you do not know what you question. Here then is a possible situation for you. Before The Moment - "
Cole flashed an angry, frustrated look at Grotius. His lips were tightly pursed, eyes half closed. He was furious that this man who obviously knew nothing about The Moment could speak about it in such a familiar way.
"Sorry, so sorry," Grotius said. "Let me try that again. One more time. A long, long time ago, when young people such as yourself as questions, they found it necessary to search their souls. Or when they simply had no direction to their lives, they tended to travel - as frightfully impetuous as that may sound."
Grotius slowed the pace. He picked his next words slowly. He was fully aware of the gravity of what he was about to say.
"I think it would be a good idea Mister Cole - if you left Lutece," he said. "You need to see what life is like beyond these walls. Maybe that way you can learn more about The Moment. More likely though, I think it will teach you to accept it as it Is, and to be grateful for what we have been blessed with here in Lutece. Assuming, that is -" Grotius shuddered, half for effect, half because he truly felt a cold shiver run down his ancient spine, " - that you are indeed capable of returning."
Cole looked hard, disbelieving look at Grotius. Then he bowed his head. Had he gone too far with his uncharacteristic arrogance and frustration with the old man? His throat flooded with a nervous, burning bile. He broke into a cold sweat, dark patches formed under the arms of his tunic.
Leave Lutece? How could he? How dare he? And yet, even as he felt the fear finger his heart, instinct indicated otherwise. His mother's words suddenly came to him, in the form of one of her Milligaussian lullabies: "Courage is being scared beyond feeling, and still proceeding. So don't wait any further, and eat that new and improved Gourmet Fast burger..."
He knew that for all of his pomposity, Grotius was right. He had to push himself and test his beliefs, for the sake of his peace of mind. If he did not, he would forever regret it. He had already passed a point of no return by questioning the sanctity of The Moment. Now, he had no choice.
Beyond the walls? Beyond the walls where there were maybe a few diplomats and traders who traveled the uncharted roads. And he supposed there were other things out there that he would rather not thing about. All Cole knew was that it was a place to where no Lutetian cared to venture.
"I will go," Cole said. His defiant tone masked a body-shaking level of terror.
"And I will take you," Faraday said gently. She got up from her seat. "I know a way to leave the city. And when we beyond the walls - we improvise."
"Faraday, you don't have to come with me -"
"Silly boy, do you think I would let you go by yourself? I know a few more things than you. You need help."
Cole nodded gratefully. She was right. His throat was now so constricted by fear that he could no longer speak. He looked helplessly at Grotius and began to think that this man did not look so harmless after all.
"You were foolhardy enough to question this paradise that we have," Grotius said, sounding a bit to you modern-day readers like Charlton Heston after having descended Mount Sinai. "Now you will have to face the answers. And maybe, maybe when you return -" he picked up his shears and started snipping at the ivy that hugged the northern wall of the red brick building '' - if you return," he smiled. "You'll better appreciate what a truly wonderful garden we have here."
And so it was that Gemayat Cole Delphi left the old white-bearded man to his garden and set out, uncertain about setting out on his adventure.
CHAPTER 11: THE MINSTRELS ARE A SMASH HIT
Lutece was under siege. In a mere two days, it had gone from a passive, barely-getting-by city state to an entirely dysfunctional urban entity set to explode.
The Minstrels of the Moment had now fully deployed throughout Lutece, putting Cole's effective ditty to devastatingly effective use. They observed the various acts of clumsiness of their fellow citizens, who could simply not help themselves on the roughshod, unkempt roads and sidewalks of the city state. These minstrels also recorded the corresponding violence and (often) fatal swift-kick justice meted out by the spontaneously-forming citizen militias. These self-created sticklers of law-and-order, combined with man of the public welfare mobs that had existed beforehand, were determined to stem the tide of whatever was going to bring about the next Moment.
Those victims who could not endure the battering and busting of their bones and skulls ended up having their lifeless bodes thrown into the river. Actually, given the brute nature of the weapons used (as you'll see, there's nothing new under the sun) - clubs layered with rusty nails, steely crowbars, sometimes razor-sharp machetes - very few people could endure, and many of them did die.
No one was immune to these vigilantes who had nothing but society's wellbeing in mind. Women, children, the elderly, the healthy, the sick, the poor and the less poor all fell prey to these upholders of public health. Everyone was aware that their next step could be their last. It was probably wiser not to set foot out into street, but it was hard not to do. This was a pedestrian society after all.
Absent Without Leave from this campaign, faith shaken by the ambiguous, uncomforting words of an old man in his garden, unable to work, unable to sing, unable to the be life of the Minstrels' of The Moment party was our reluctant hero, Cole.
After his meeting with Grotius, Cole found himself unable to report for work the following day at the Guild. Instead, he moped and procrastinated. He hung around his room for half-a-day, and then spent the rest of his time sipping cola in some remote café. When it came to inaction, Hamlet had nothing on our boy. He felt trapped. How could he lead the Minstrels of The Moment and sing about something he could not see, did not understand, and even did not believe? This was going to bring his career as a star minstrel to a crashing end. Cole's parents, wherever they were now, would not be too pleased with their son's career angst nor of his contestation of society's strong values.
And yet, he hesitated to follow Grotius' advice. Leave the city state? This warm, comforting womb of a place that had been his home from birth? That was also impossible to conceive. So he wallowed in indecision.
"Where is he?" Milligauss screamed. "Where IS HE?"
Gupta looked at the head minstrel, unable to speak. He was petrified with fear.
"To me! How could he do this? To the Guild?" Milligauss said. "Have you tried to find him?"
"Yes sir," Gupta said, barely able to keep his eyes locked on the hard stare of his boss. "I sent a few minstrels by his apartment this afternoon. He wasn't there. We tried, sir. And then I knew that I could no longer cover up for him. I had to tell you."
Despite being intimidated, Gupta - Cole's only true friend at the Guild - saw this as his golden opportunity to take over the reins of the Minstrels of The Moment and curry more favor with Milligauss. He decided to risk the wrath of his superior, and assume that Cole had truly disappeared by spilling the beans. By assuming control, it would be he who decided where the group performed, meaning he could maximize his own income by keeping the most lucrative venues for himself.
"Do you think, do you think..." Milligauss could scarcely let the words leave his throat because he found the notion so unfathomable. "Possible is it that Mr. Delphi crossed over to the Town Criers?"
"Sir, anything is possible with Cole," Gupta said, overcoming his fear and letting the venom seep into his words. "He's very talented as you know. He probably wanted more than you could offer him."
"Everything, EVERYTHING, I gave him!" Milligauss said, banging his hands on the podium. "More prestigious nothing could be than head of the elite Minstrels of The Moment. If he's passing our secrets onto the ATC --"
"I agree sir, I agree," Gupta said, seeing his chance. "Maybe you need someone more loyal, just as talented, but less ambitious as Cole to lead the group? The best performer isn't always the best leader."
However Milligauss was scarcely listening to the minstrel.
"Head of the ATC maybe they offered him," Milligauss said. "My job the only thing that could make that ingrate happy!"
The respected conductor-in-chief of the Minstrel walked over to a table where a few minstrels had laid their guitars down in order to clean and polish them. Milligauss picked up a guitar with each hand and swung them viciously around his head, the air rushing into the instruments' soundholes creating a faint natural form of feedback. For just a minute, he was a musical helicopter until Milligauss bashed each guitar in quick succession against the wall. Splinters of wood and cat gut went flying through the newsroom as every astonished minstrel there hit the ground. Their employer was a violently tempered man, but they had never seen him so outraged before.
Milligauss stood quietly at the front of the room, and brushed the slivers of wood off of his black sweater. Gupta took advantage of his regained composure and tried one last time to climb the corporate ladder.
"What do you think we should do sir?" he said, hoping to implicate himself in any decision that the head minstrel was about to make.
"Simple is the answer to that," Millgauss said through gritted teeth. "Of the Minstrels of The Moment I must take charge!"
The newsroom's occupants broke out into stunned applause. Gupta joined in as a matter of show. He was still playing second fiddle.
And so it was that Milligauss decided to lead the cavalry of musicians himself, for one last great ride. Cole's decision to abstain from broadcasting news of the second Moment for fear of perpetuating a mistruth had backfired. With Milligauss now in control of this special edition, Lutetians perceived the news of the Second Coming to be even more credible. Milligauss was seen as the elder statesman of news, the eminence grise who was revered as much by Lutetians as Cole's parents had looked up to him when they had lived their lives as Millemmings. If Milligauss was showing up to perform this story himself, then it had to be true, it had to be big, it had to be serious.
And it was serious. With the daily violence and Milligauss in charge, Lutetians began to react and started to think about their self-preservation.
Some prepared for the worst. They hoarded provisions, secured their locks and cancelled social engagements for fear of contracting the plague that was to bring about the next Moment.
Others began to live for the moment, so to speak. These fatalists figured that if the plague was about to descend upon them and wreak even more havoc than the previous Moment, that this was the time to condense all the things they enjoyed into a concentrated period of time.
Intense fun was the name of the game. To no one's surprise, all the Gourmet Fasts, Resto Rapidos and Café Quicks were chock full of folks gorging themselves on heaping portions of burgers and fries and gallons of cola like there was no tomorrow. The average Lutetian enjoyed nothing more than to eat, ingest and consume. So this was more or less, life as usual with a catastrophic excuse to justify their overdoing it.
You could easily predict the other reactions. City state employees, always the first to look for an excuse not to be productive and still get paid, began to avoid work. Acting on reflex without any thought, some declared a strike and in protest of the impending Moment - as if their collective labor action would make any difference to whatever awesome power was descending upon them. Still, the picketed their workplaces, shouting out slogans that protested how their way of life was being threatened by some foreign element: "RAISE THE WALLS!" "ONE MOMENT IS ENOUGH, STOP HISTORY NOW!" "JOBS NOT GERMS!"
It was getting nasty. The city state began to fall into greater disrepair and its facade grew even darker, grayer and bleak.
On the domestic scene, it was denunciation time as everyone was accused as being the harbinger of the next Moment by carrying the plague. Husbands denounced wives, sisters denounced brothers, children denounced parents. These declarations of convenience -- which probably concealed a more mundane desire to get rid of a close relation whom they had tired of (even more opportune than divorce or adoption) -- put a great strain on family ties to say the least.
Admittedly, there was nothing particularly unusual in Lutece's run-of-the-mill apocalyptic scenario. Confronted with the end of their world, humanity was running up against the netherworld of its own dark survivalist nature. Any sane person who remained unconsumed by the panic and the fear would be appalled to see neighbors and colleagues assuming such Darwinist lifestyles. But that was to be expected.
However it wasn't all completely run-of-the-mill. There was one Lutetian aberration. And that is that despite the fear of the four horseman (with one in particular leading the charge) descending upon their unruly city state, not one person ever contemplated fleeing for their lives.
That's right. There was no swarm of people clambering over each other to get out, no mass exodus jamming the egresses, no refugees clogging the volatile arteries leading out of the city state. It wasn't even seen as an option. Lutetians - in one mass unspoken thought process - had decided that they were better off taking on The Moment from within the confines of the city walls than without them.
So they remained, they ate, they barricaded themselves inside their homes, they took the occasional chance to rush out and listen to the latest Minstrel update, they denounced, and they based in the heads of their fellow citizens. But they did not leave.
And what of the Sultan who had initiated this whole sordid situation with his fall from grace. Had he not miraculously recovered from his brief bout with the notorious plague. Would he not respond like any other dignified head of state and rise to the occasion? Would he not want to soothe his subjects' fears by appearing to take control of the predicament and embody leadership at its best in a time of crisis?
"P-p-pack your pots and pans, Anton," the Sultan said, rising from his throne to address his cook who had somehow kept his job. Anton had guessed it was because the dense Sultan had never figured out the source of the leak. "Th-th-things are not going well."
"Yes sir," Anton said.
He placed a steaming bowl of stew on the table before the Sultan. The chef was not oblivious to the chaos that had ensued in the city state after his discussion with Jernigan. His fear of being discovered, of the town crier betraying his sources, led him to put more effort into his cooking. The Sultan took a spoonful of cubed beef drowned in a rich brown sauce and forgot his cares momentarily.
"Exthellent," the Sultan declared. "You have outdone yourself Anton."
"Thank you sir," the cook said.
"I sh-sh-shall mith you dearly I think."
"Why sir, where are you going?"
"But where is there to go Your Highness?" Anton said. He wasn't used to praise from the Sultan, he wasn't capable of thinking of life beyond the walls.
"When the time comes," the Sultan said in his most serious voice, "You shall thee."
For good reason, Lutetians did not expect much from their leader. He was perceived as a powerless man. There was not much he could do. Even the minstrels wielded more influence than he did. The Sultan was seen merely to be a figurehead, nothing more than a source of amusement, possessing a title that no one else wanted. He was a bit of frayed thread that kept the social fabric together.
However, what did set the Sultan apart from his subjects was that he was not afraid to go beyond. That explained his diplomatic dinner with an outsider like the Grand Vizir of Rostock, the his love for exotic foods, his interest in classy interior decoration, and his passion for his family's genealogy. It also explained why no one else in Lutece too the Sultan too seriously. Which, after unquestioningly heeding the message of the Minstrels' Guild, was their second fatal mistake.
CHAPTER 12: COLE AND FARADAY FLEE LUTECE
The Sultan was not the only resident of Lutece who was prepared to brave the great beyond. Faraday knew that she had to follow Grotius' advice, as senile as he may be, and lead Cole away from the city state. She was anxious to leave, for the sake of her friend, and to avoid the vigilante mobs that were becoming more bold and violent with each passing night.
Cole was being elusive. Gupta couldn't find him, and neither could Faraday. The young minstrel was hiding from both of them afraid to leave Lutece, but unwilling to be pressed back into minstrel duty.
Finally, one night in a remote corner of the Lower Left Side, she found him. Faraday had been walking the streets in that neighborhood, her guitar strapped to her back, peering through every window, when she had spotted him. There he was, huddled in the back of Café Cool, unshaven, hair disheveled, and alone.
Faraday slipped into the café and walked quickly to Cole's table. She was afraid that the manager would notice her. Establishments like this didn't take too kindly to having a homeless woman waltz inside, so she sat down immediately and laid low.
"You must come with me," she said.
Cole looked up. Faraday's presence didn't surprise him. He looked down again. "I can't," he said.
"Look Gemayat, I know this go against every good grain in your body. But you need to do this. You must see and understand. You know you can't be no minstrel no more. You been asking too many questions for that. Time for answers now, let me help find them for you!" She tugged on his hand and tried to lead him away from the table.
"How could you know anything about this Faraday," Cole said. "What could you possibly understand? You're, you're -" He faltered, ashamed, even in his lowly state, about where his thoughts were taking him.
"I'm wretched city state refuse?" Faraday suggested.
"You know I don't mean it like that," Cole said. "But if you could have left all this time, and you know what it's like out there," he gestured with a wave of his hand, "why haven't you? This could not be the kind of life that you wanted to have." Cole's tone was so earnest that Faraday had to soften up a bit. She realized that he was still the well-intentioned boy he had met so many months ago.
"I can't explain such things to you now Gemayat," she said. "But I promise you, if you come with me, it will all become clearer to you. And I'll tell you more about me when the time comes. You got nothing to lose man! You just can't sit here drinking this poison --" she gestured to the four empty bottles that stood before Cole. "-and you won't be performing anytime soon. So come with me. I'll show you."
"I just want to go home Faraday," Cole said.
"Let me take you then," Faraday said in a defeated whisper.
He nodded and she led him quickly out of the café.
But Cole had been sitting down for so long wallowing in his self-pity that his leg had fallen asleep. As they stepped out onto the sidewalk, his lifeless foot snagged over a particularly deep crevice and he abruptly fell to his knees.
A deep voice rang out in the dark of the night.
"BOYS! There's one over there!"
The vigilantes had found them.
"Cole! Quickly! You must get up!" Faraday said, pulling him with both hands.
Heavy footsteps grew louder as the mob ran towards them. They carried flaming torches and there was not one look of mercy on any of their hard, dark faces.
"Hey, it's that minstrel guy!" one of them said as they got close enough to get a good look at Faraday and Cole. "He's got the plague too! Probably from that dirty old woman. Let's get them!"
Aware that his celebrity was not going to save him, Cole got to his feet and Faraday led him by the hand. They ran for their lives with the vigilantes in hot pursuit. Cole was more scared than he had ever been in his young life. These people were determined to kill them, of that he felt certain, spurred on by misinformation that he had helped disseminate. Shame and self-disgust washed over him. Maybe he deserved to die, he thought.
Lucky for Cole however, he had Faraday to save him. She knew that they could not outrun the rapidly gaining footsoldiers of The Moment, and she was on her last legs. But because she was the scourge of society, she knew what she had to do, and where to look. She decided to go where she knew from bitter experience no Lutetian ever looked - and that was down.
Faraday led Cole to the nearest underground station. It was a forlorn, empty area that was as forbidding at night as it was during the day. They ran into the empty station, and flew down the stairs. They were still being pursued by the mob, but she wasn't sure whether they had seen them duck into the station. Nonetheless, Faraday knew she had little time.
The deserted platform was weakly lit by a pair of sputtering kerosene lanterns. Faraday removed one of them from its moorings and gestured to Cole to do the same. She walked to the edge of the platform, and without a hesitation, jumped right onto the tracks. She was surprisingly lithe and graceful, and managed to land on her feet. The lantern swayed back and forth rapidly in her hand, but remained lit. Her guitar was still firmly strapped to her back. Cole looked at her, astonished. He didn't feel like he could follow her.
"Cole, don't worry boy!" Faraday whispered. "There ain't no more trains tonight, and we don't have any time. Jump!"
As if on cue, to encourage Cole, the group of street enforcers, their torches blazing came rushing down the stairs of the station. Their hate-filled, determined faces appeared even more evil in the flickering light as they looked around the darkened recesses of the tunnel looking for their prey. That was all Cole needed to see. He leaped headlong into the gloom, nearly banging his knee onto the decaying rail tie. He hadn't executed the jump quite as well as Faraday and banged his lantern on the rusty nail, but didn't break it. Still, it was noisy enough to alert the search part as to the whereabouts of their plague-ridden targets and they ran down the platform, looking for the source of the noise.
Faraday pulled Cole's hand and they ran down the middle of the ties. Their feet crunched on the gravel.
"There they are!" one of the vigilantes shouted out. "Follow their lanterns!"
"Gemayat, quickly, follow me!" Faraday said. She stopped abruptly and turned right towards the wall and away from the platform. To Cole's astonishment, she disappeared, swallowed entirely by the darkness. This time, there was no thinking twice, he scampered right after he and discovered that she had walked into a concealed corridor. Once inside, Faraday closed a door behind him. Cole could no longer hear their pursuers.
"Where are we?" he said.
"No need to whisper," Faraday said in an audible voice which bounced off the cavern's walls. "No one else down here, and they don't know we here. Hidden door, only us street people can find these things."
Now that they were momentarily safe, Cole let his powers of observation take over. He detected a pungent, earthy and damp aroma that enveloped them thickly.
"Are we in the sewers?" he asked.
"Smart boy!" Faraday said. "The perfect place to hide. Let we keep walking. We got a long way to go, and we need to get out of Lutece before daylight come."
"We're leaving Lutece?" Cole said. "Faraday, I don't want to go!"
"Enough of your stupidity Gemayat," Faraday said. "You have no choice now. You a marked man. Everyone know who you are. They will come looking for you now. You tripped, you now carry the plague in the eyes of those animals. Come."
Cole was struck mute and followed Faraday dumbly threw the dank, low ceilings of the city state sewer system. He could not believe that with one fall he had been stripped of everything that he had worked for, all that he knew. It was top to bottom, front to back, lickety split. And now, he was lower than the lowest, below the streets, running for his life. Cole felt like crying.
Faraday saw the pained look on her friend's face and knew she had to distract him.
"You know Gemayat, anyone from before The Moment could tell you this. Under these streets is an exact replica of the city, minus the people and the buildings. Underground streets that twist and turn, careen and curve right along with their better known counterparts up above. Look -" Faraday pointed at a faded blue sign. "There the sign for the street that we be under right now."
Cole was intrigued. He forgot his troubles for a minute and marveled at the notion of seeing something that had actually existed before The Moment. He squinted at the sign. It took him a while to read it - he more literate with musical notes and chord structures than words.
"It says Roo dess deeamants," Cole said. "What does that mean?"
"That the Lost Language my pauvre con!" Faraday said. "This what Lutece was before it was Lutece. It says, 'Rue des diamants' - Diamond Road. You recognize it?"
"Yes. Yes I do!" Cole said. "I know exactly where we are! There's a great Resto Rapido on that street. The best burger chow mein in the city state..." Cole stopped himself. He knew that none of that was especially relevant anymore. He was still trying to get accustomed to being the outcast that he now was. It was best that he kept his mind busy than dwell too much on what had just happened to him.
"How do you know so much about the Lost Languages Faraday? About The Moment? About these underground streets? Why do you seem to be the only person who knows all about this?" Cole asked.
"It not just about knowing Gemayat," Faraday said, continuing to lead the way through the countless maze of corridors. "It also about caring. You need to be curious, you need to question. Have to be thirst enough to search, smart enough to grow. There be books and papers here and there, but people don't want to know about what they used to be."
Cole was shocked.
"Papers! Books?" Cole said. "Those are so rare! I don't even know anyone who owns a book!"
"So there not so much paper in Lutece, so what?" Faraday said. "Shouldn't stop us from putting one or two book together from time to time. Heaven know we waste enough paper on stupid things like menus for all those horrible restaurants and sheet music for your minstrels."
"Sorry, sorry Gemayat. I know, soft spot. Sure, there be not much paper around, but if people really wanted to know, they would have demanded that books be made with whatever was available."
"But who can read?" Cole asked. "I'm not very good at it either you know."
"Exactly the point my dear," Faraday said. "No one bother look for what under their nose. I found boxes and boxes of books, forgotten in the alleyways, left for no one special. Books that were molding and crumbling away. Such a nasty crime! Beautiful books about love, history, that taught those Lost Languages -"
"Is that how you -" Cole said, always curious about those elusive Lost Languages.
"Partly," Faraday said, heading him off at the past. "But I do remember, when I was young, my mother would sing to me -" She trailed off. "Salut mon petit chou, comment vas-tu?" Faraday sang softly, more to herself than to Cole. Then she turned to look at her friend. "My parents gave a hunger to know, a desire to ask questions. It has made me cursed though."
"I cannot accept what Lutece is, all those people, no one thinking. I could not play the game."
"Is that why you have no home or family?" Cole asked. "That seems to be a very high price to pay for not playing some game."
"I remain deliberately uncommitted, that is how I see it," she said. She managed a wan smile.
"So if you see yourself as so open-minded, and so out of place, why did you never leave Lutece then?" Cole was getting used to the idea of having this option of "leaving." He was quickly evolving.
"Oh, I have thought about it from time to time. But I got too passive, just like everyone else. Now I too old to take such chances. Until you came along that is."
"What do you mean by taking such chances?" Cole said.
"I am not quite sure why I said that Gemayat," Faraday said. "I guess we will just see what the other side bring we. But I do feel a song coming on."
"A song?" Cole said, incredulous. "Now? Here?"
"Why not young man?" She handed Cole her lantern and unstrapped her guitar without much to-do from her back. "You not the only one who finds inspiration on the street you know!"
The old woman began to strum the guitar, using her callused thumb to accentuate the bass strings in a morose, but rhythmic way. Cole stood there watching, holding two kerosene lanterns that projected their odd two-some onto the cavern walls. He was once again thinking twice about his predicament.
"Gemayat, don't look at me like that," Faraday said. "Listen the words, maybe they will light some fire under those big, slow feet of yours."
Well you shall dance a four-four
and I will be three.
Tripping over roots and therefore
waltzing with a tree.
Branches bridging out to meet
a strong old melody.
So while you trot that four-four,
I will stay free.
i have no faith in the blind as they chase me trying to beat me with their canes to make me see what they see and what do they see?
Dark glasses in positions of power
grope fervent market desires.
They hope that the information drug
will dope their audience with logic
and soap wallets and minds into
a collective mind terrified with
terms of convenience pretending the
worms of their consciousness somehow
turns the wheels of progress but instead
spreads germs upon contact with
the Word of The Day.
do you see as the monkeys see as they run after you laughing that they have made you do what they want you to and what did you do?
Spiders spanning out to meet
flies stuck in the wire.
You might march a two-two
I know I won't conspire.
And while you wear a two-two
I will walk my beat.
Stomping over those who want to
keep me off my feet.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
Cole bowed his head and handed a lantern back to Faraday. He had gotten the point. His life could never be the same. He had seen the light in the gloom of a forgotten underground city. He would no longer conspire.
They walked for what had to be hours through the labyrinth of the Lutetian sewer system. Cole had given up on thought and walked quietly. Faraday had stopped talking and merely hummed from time to time.
Gradually, the stone corridors grew wider and the pungent odor diminished. Cole began to suspect it was getting brighter. His suspicion was realized when Faraday turned off her lantern and he found that he was still able to see the way ahead.
A few steps later, they found themselves under a large steel grating, fifteen feet about their heads. The light from above struggled to penetrate the bars and the timeless sludge that had accumulated between them. But it was bright enough to make both of them squint as they tried to get accustomed to the radiance within the gloom of the underground cavern. Even that far down, the intensity of this light blinded them more than even the clearest day in Lutece could.
A ladder flaking with rust hugged the moldy green wall. Faraday readjusted the guitar on her back, attached the lantern to a loop on her belt, and braced her feet on the first rung. Cole looked up, dumbfounded as she began to climb with an agility that was unbecoming of a woman of her age. Once she had reached the top, Faraday grunted and pushed aside the grating with both of her hands, toppling it to the side. Searing hot sunlight flooded into the subterranean corridor. Cole snapped his eyes firmly shut as he felt the warmth of the light on his face. He was enjoying the sun's embrace, but he also was afraid of what might come next.
"Come on Gemayat, come on!" Faraday said to Cole. While he had stood there with his eyes closed, Faraday had already clambered over the top and was kneeling down on the ground, looking down into the shaft at a petrified Cole. He slowly eased his eyes open, and keeping his head down, he started to climb the ladder. He refused to look up - afraid that the light might be too bright.
Once above ground, the young minstrel toppled over to the side and threw his arm over his eyes. The ground was velvety soft. He felt as if he was lying on a cushion. Having experienced "touch," Cole attempted to reawaken his senses one at a time.
To no avail. He couldn't hear or smell anything. For sure there was the low-level hush of a warm, gentle breeze, but otherwise, it was dead calm, and nary an odor. Lutece's stench and cacophony were a world away.
Facing such a nihilistic sensory assault, Cole knew he had no choice now but to open his eyes. Faraday had not said a word to him since he had come to the surface, which indicated to him that she was either stunned by the scene or giving him a bit of time to make a transition from sewer to wherever they were now. It was now or never. He removed his arm from his face and slowly, he began to open his eyelids. The glare hurt, but he now yearned to behold whatever sight it was that was the cause of all these strange sensations.
Eyes wide open, there was a delay until a line of communication could be established with his brain.
Cole found himself kneeling beside Faraday. They were surrounded by mounds of white sand that undulated around them and extended into the horizon. Above them, the clearest of blue skies with a sun that had barely begun its morning ascent, but already warming the air considerably. And that was it. Sand, sun and sky. There were no dirty streets overflowing with vendors, no ramshackle huts, no oppressive gray clouds, no smog. That was when it dawned upon Cole that that was because there was no Lutece. His body began to shake uncontrollably.
"Gemayat, what is the matter?" Faraday asked, running her hand urgently across his forehead.
"Faraday, where is Lutece?" he said softly. "I can't see it. Where have you brought me to? Why can't I see it?"
"Shhhh, do not fret my friend," Faraday said. "This is a wonderful and magical place, a million miles away from your Lutece."
"There's nothing here though!" Cole said. "It's sand and rock. What will we eat? We didn't bring anything to drink!"
"Gemayat, have little faith, please," Faraday said. "The strangest things can happen in the middle of a desert."
"A desert?" Cole said. "What is a desert?"
"A desert is a place where the likes of you do not belong!" said a loud voice. It was not Faraday's and there was nothing welcoming in its tone. "Lama atem po?" Another Lost Language - and one that Cole had never heard before. It was enough to make him want to jump back down that ladder and hide in the dank, safe darkness of the tunnel they had come from. But it was too late for that. Their inquisitor now stood dauntingly before him, on the back of the most unusual beast he had ever seen. Cole shut his eyes. He had seen quite enough for a lifetime of adventure already.
PART II: FOR THE MOMENT
Time for a change of scenery. From claustrophobic walled town to the arid wide open spaces of another world altogether. Extreme to extreme. What have I wrought here? Is it mirror image or a chance to prove that the grass isn't always greener, especially in the desert? Here civilization might be mere illusion, a mirage to disguise what is nothing more than a strict social code bereft of humanity or mutual respect.
And what of this dark stranger, who minutes before had been galloping through the dunes intently - but not so intensely that he too was not unable to express himself musically as all those who are merely players on my worldly stage must?
Did you know that I planted this tree?
Before the sand stopped the sea
when my brothers laughed free.
And I could play in the grass,
we all thought it would last.
Did you know that I climbed this tree?
When the sand met the sea
then my home lost its key.
I hid in poisoned air
and the earth quaked in fear.
The wind screams through my bones.
The dead sun scares my face.
The rain shattered by stones.
Dirt - smothers my taste.
Now you know why I slew this tree
when the sand killed the sea
and my brothers left me.
I can't leave it behind,
and I know you won't mind.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 13: THE BARON IN BLACK
Cole and Faraday finally forced themselves to face the interloper. He cast a tall shadow in the morning sun, even standing as far as six feet away from them. He cut an imposing but debonair figure with his perfectly parted black hair, flecked with gray. He sported a black waistcoat, and black trousers that were tucked into his glistening black riding boots. The darkness of his habit was neatly offset by a brilliant white collarless shirt and a red sash that slashed diagonally across his chest. And he accessorized by brandishing a menacing-looking riding crop, whose leathery texture matched that of his skin. But no guitar: this man was vocal solo loco.
"Slikha, min fidlak my lord, we did not know we were on your property," Faraday said, employing a couple of Lost Languages.
"What did he say?" said Cole with a whisper, impatient and flustered.
"Ah, hah! Lutetian!" the newcomer declared.
Faraday was astounded that they had been discovered so quickly.
"Yes, yes, we are from the City State of Lutece," she said.
Cole suddenly noticed this his friend had dropped the accent that she had so carefully affected with him when there were within the walls of Lutece. Her enunciations was now precise and clipped - almost aristocratic. Things were changing so quickly for the young minstrel, he felt totally out of his element.
"Faraday, what's going on?" he said.
"Shhh, let me handle this," his friend replied. "Trust me."
She turned to address the man again.
"We just wanted to take a little jaunt to see how things were going over here," Faraday said..
"Over here?" the man asked. He smiled disdainfully, his lips curling outward like an attack dog's snarl. "Do you know where 'over here' is?"
"Actually sir, we do not," Faraday said. "We simply chose a direction to walk in and found ourselves here this early morning." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Might you have the kindness to inform of us of exactly where we might be?"
"But of course Madame," the man said. He bowed from his waist down in mock deference to the formality of her question. "Peace be with you. I welcome you and your companion to the opulent oasis of the Wadi of Ein Mabu'a. I am the Baron Maximilian Colchester Herf ben Mabu'a, master of this domain."
Cole was quite taken by this elegant, foreign gentleman who spoke their language with such facility. He found it somewhat comforting to meet such a person in this strange place, which allowed him to drop his guard.
"I'm Gemayat Cole Delphi, I'm a minstrel," he said. "This is my friend, Faraday."
Baron Herf nodded cursorily as he listened to the introductions.
"Faraday, Faraday, that is an interesting name," the Baron said. "Do you not have a family name by chance?"
"No, no, not at all," she said quickly. "Just Faraday."
"Well, it is a very - beautiful name," Baron Herf said. He turned to address Cole. "Tell me young sir, did you journey with anyone else?"
"No, we came alone," Cole replied. Faraday shot a look at Cole, her eyes warning him not to reveal anything further. He didn't notice. Our young minstrel appeared to be under the hypnotic spell of the Baron.
"Well good, good," Herf said softly with a sing-song lilt. He smiled again, thinly this time, the painfulness of such a facial gesture so very conspicuous to Faraday. "Allow me to welcome you yet again to Ein Mabu'a."
"Thank you sir," Faraday and Cole replied in chorus, one more enthusiastically than the other.
"But where are my manners?" the Baron said. "It is already late morning. You must have walked all night to get here from Lutece, so come, à table! Please, be my guests. You are home here!"
Cole nodded eagerly at the prospect of food. Concealing her trepidation, Faraday followed her friend as the Baron led them slowly through the deep sand, over a dune. And suddenly, before them, resting under the shade of a towering palm tree, were two enormous jet black horses (Cole had never seen such beasts before and gawked at them, awestruck and just a bit frightened), reined to a buggy - held up not by wheels but by some sort of wooden skis. A gaunt man with white gloves sat atop the carriage, back erect, hands stiffly holding the reins. Baron Herf vaguely acknowledged the coachman as he doffed his hat towards his master. The Baron opened the door. Faraday and Cole clambered in, heads first, placing their hands and knees on the plush burgundy seat inside.
Because of their clumsy movements, they did not notice the Baron when he shook his head condescendingly at them. He entered the compartment with one deft move. Once seated beside the two Lutetians, he closed the door and tapped on the ceiling. Hearing the signal, the gaunt man snapped the reins. With a jolt, they were off. Cole's fingers grasped tightly onto the edge of his seat.
The horses galloped at a furious pace. Cole found it hard to see out the window with all the sand they kicked up. Despite the uncertain terrain, the ride was smooth as they glided over the sand. Baron Herf ignored the view, which he knew all too well. He was more interested in his newfound companions.
"So what brings you to our little corner of the desert?" he asked pleasantly. "We so rarely have guests from Lutece. Indeed, I do not even recall the last time."
"Let us just say that my young friend was - curious about what lay beyond the city," Faraday said, hardly looking at the Baron. "So I thought it would be idea to take him on a short day trip."
Cole began to feel as if things were completely out of his hands, and that there was more going on in the conversation than he could possibly fathom. So he remained silent.
"Oh, you have been here before?" the Baron asked, his thick black eyebrows arching upwards.
"I may have visited when I was a child, I am not quite sure," Faraday said. "My family is not from Lutece, and I remember living in a great many places before we finally settled down there."
"Which explains your familiarity with our languages of course!" the Baron said. He sounded delighted. "How long are you thinking of staying here?"
"Oh not very long," Faraday said. "I just wanted to give Gemayat a little glimpse."
"A glimpse, a glimpse?" the Baron asked. He flicked his fingers with disdain at some imaginary insect on his lap. "You cannot 'glimpse' greatness. A 'glimpse' is not enough for someone so young to understand and to grasp the enormity of the world outside your so-called 'city-state.'"
Faraday looked away. She was offended, but did not want to reveal her emotions to this man, nor start an argument. Meanwhile, Cole felt that he had to stake his claim somehow to the conversation. He did not want to be so easily dismissed by such an impressive man merely because he was unable of holding his own.
"You speak Lutetian very good," Cole said nervously to the Baron. He immediately regretted his opening salvo, and the grammatical error as he observed the scowl of derision that spread across Herf's face.
"My kind sir, that is very accommodating of you to say so," he said. "'Lutetian,' as you call it, is just one of the many languages that I speak. All those languages that your people apparently label as 'lost.'" He gestured towards the carriage window. "Here in Ein Mabu'a, it is a necessary sign of good breeding to speak at least two languages. And of course, we travel a great deal, including clandestine trips into your dank, little city state because it is important to keep one's horizons as broad as possible even if it is not always a pleasant task. Hence, I am able to communicate with you in your - pidgin."
Faraday realized that she could not let this situation deteriorate further. The Baron seemed to be a man who maintained a thin veneer of civility, but could be easily set off into a rage by any lack of sophistication or uncouth behavior. They needed to remain on his good side for now until she could figure a way to return to Lutece. For now, they appeared to be prisoners of his overwhelming hospitality.
"Please sir, be gentle with my friend," Faraday said. "This is his first time beyond the walls - the first time he has traveled. Unlike you, he is only now just beginning to understand that there is another world out there. He needs time to adjust."
"An apprentice muse, how delightful!" Baron Herf said, clapping his hands with satisfaction. "Well you might like it here young sir, it is surely a far cry from the lobotomized in Lutece!"
Cole didn't quite understand what the Baron meant by that, but he suspected that it was an insult. He decided to remain quiet until he had something more intelligent to say - which would not be for a long time.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 14: LUNCH WITH THE BARON
Sand dunes eventually gave way to palm trees and irrigation ditches. Wadi Ein Mabu'a was a verdant spot nestled in a valley that had towering red rock face surrounding it like the craggy edges of a earthenware ceramic saucer. To Cole, this was certainly no Lutece. Broad, sweeping avenues, evenly spaced, immaculately maintained buildings. A spring full of clear water rustled down the middle of the main boulevard. No clamor, chaos or hyperkinetic human traffic. Lutece seemed to be a thousand sewer systems away.
Cole admired the well-groomed gentry as they descended from their own carriages and walked along the ibiscus-lined sidewalks. Every hair in place, every pleat razor-sharp, every shoe gleaming bible black. The edifices were tastefully understated, with fresh coats of paint and gardens in full bloom. He was well aware of the absence of garish shop and restaurant signs, unlike the sight pollution that consumed Lutece. People here knew what was where. They frequented the establishment of their choice, without any need for the tactless prodding of a forty-foot high sign in neon red proclaiming the virtues of a particular retail outlet.
The Baron's carriage slowed to a trot as they entered the center of town. The gaunt driver tugged on the reins as he pulled up alongside a modest, portly house: two stories, with a cream-shingled front, royal blue shuttered windows, and a red rose garden out front.
"I trust you are hungry," Baron Herf said. "This bistro serves some of the most delectable seafood."
He led his guests out of the carriage and into the house.
Upon entering, Cole was overpowered by the scents that assailed him. It was not the seared flesh and gigantic deep fryers of Gourmet Fast, where the stench hung from the ceilings for days and was splattered on the walls. Rather, it was as the Baron would later describe it, the land of herbes fines, and marinade, parfum de glace, and hundred-year-old liqueur nicknamed "angels' tears." It was a place where drinks were not merely described as "frosty" or "no ice" or "diet," but "chocolatey with a hint of peach," or "nutty with a scent of pine." This was gourmet.
The mustachioed maître d' greeted his guests at the door, bowing deeply in deference to the omnipotence of his supreme ruler, the Baron Herf. He snapped his fingers, and two tuxedoed helpers appeared from out of nowhere and relieved Faraday and Cole of their tattered belongings with polite contempt.
They were seated at the best table in the house. It was large, round and made from solid oak. From their chairs they could see the street from the panoramic bay window.
"This is my favorite little bistro, almost a home away from home," the Baron said. "The food is superb!" He kissed his fingers in appreciation.
Cole could not disagree as he studied the menu with incredible intensity, although he cod not understand half the things he saw listed either. The Baron noted his guest's confusion and accompanied him through the twelve-page menu, along with the thirty-two page wine list, explaining the bits and bites here and there.
"But of course, this cannot all be mastered immediately," the Baron told Cole after the lesson was over. "Please, allow me to order for you all."
Which he proceeded to do, without even a glance at the menu. And what followed threw Cole into a severe state of gastronomic shock.
First, the Baron said grace, and prayed for the food that was to come, for the souls of his subjects -- even for those of his heathen guests. He did so in a multiplicity of languages, hand gestures growing more and more agitated as he switched from dialect to dialect, faith to faith. His turned his face towards the ceiling and eyes looked heavenwards.
And then came the appetizer: pizza topped with a paper thin layer of smoked salmon, thick dill cream laced with salty caviar that offset perfectly the sweet-sour combination of the fish and the dill. Cole's taste buds were under siege, part of his tongue pulsated with a sensation that had never sent him any feedback prior to this occasion. He could not imagine what kind of mind was capable of inventing such a dish, nor what Creator could have created such ingredients. [It was I all along I must confess!]
While Cole savored the culinary offerings and Faraday picked warily at her own food, the Baron Herf moderated the conversation.
"We do get so few visitors from our neighborly megalopolis to the west, pray do tell, what is the latest news?"
Faraday decided that no matter how difficult she found it, she somehow had to ingratiate herself towards their host. That became less and less of a challenge as copious amounts of pear-scented Chardonnay continually flowed into her never-empty crystal wine goblet.
"It is actually the latest news that brings us here," she said. She proceeded to explain the current crisis of The Moment, and how Cole's misgivings about the entire affair had given them incentive to take the journey.
"Ah yes, The Moment," the Baron said with a sigh. "You people certainly do live for it." With that pithy remark, he heaved a large slice of pizza into his refined orifice.
"Do you know something about The Moment sir?" Cole asked. He had been further impressed that this man knew something about where they had come from. For his part, Cole knew nothing about this strange place they now found themselves in. He looked longingly at the last slice of pizza that lay in the pan, tantalizingly close near the center of the table. Food had never tasted so good. It made him feel better, it looked better than what he was used to. What had he been missing all this time?
The ever-observant Baron Herf noticed Cole's wistful gaze and pushed the pan towards Cole.
"Eat, eat!" he said. "And I will tell you what we know."
The minstrel took the last slice gratefully.
The Baron began his discourse.
"We do not think of it as a 'moment'" he said. He took a sip of wine, wetting his whistle in preparation for the monologue. "Our top thinkers say it was a series of events that destroyed the previous society's supertechnological infrastructure, leaving it, shall we say, 'in the dark.'" The Baron chuckled at his own clever turn of phrase. "Probably for the best I would venture, I understand that it was a society without good taste or any fear of Godallahim." He ignored Cole's puzzled look at the religious reference, some matters were just not worth explaining to the uninitiated and the barbaric. "We don't know how long ago it was , but - how shall I put it? - it is clear that since then, some have progressed," he gestured around the well-appointed, rapidly filling dining room, "and some have not." He looked directly at Cole and Faraday. "Of course," the Baron said cheerfully, "there's always room for hope!" As they took in their opulent surroundings, neither Cole nor Faraday felt that they were in any position to argue with their host.
Second course: roasted corn lasagna, adorned with pungent summer truffles in a porcini broth. The waiter patiently explained how the sugar sweet corn had been picked that day by a local farmer especially for their restaurant. Every forkful was a taste of heaven for Cole.
"We don't know exactly what caused those series of events," the Baron said. He toyed with his truffles. "Even our sources of information are fragmented. Some of our people dub this holocaust the Ménage a Trois, though I have never been able to understand why. Suffice to say, "The Moment" is far too simplistic to describe such a horrific historical event clearly orchestrated by some mastermind with purely evil motivation. We have not been able to reconstruct everything, because you should know that society's memory in any era is unfortunately very short." He lifted his bottomless wine glass. "Although we have been able to resurrect the finer things in life."
"What have you recovered?" Cole asked. His mouth was full, and he wanted to take part in the discussion, but he was badly distracted by the onslaught of gourmet delights that were being paraded before him.
"We have recovered all those things that make life worth living," the Baron said proudly. "We speak a number of languages, use several alphabets. We have relearned the art of winemaking, cooking, we've unearthed recipes and literature. We have discovered some of the most beautiful music, written by the previous age's leading luminaries: Wolfgang Mozart, Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar and Andres Segovia. Most importantly, we have reconnected with Godallahim - who probably thought that we had abandoned him," he said fervently, with his eyes closed. "But He never abandoned us." [Truth be told, I had] "But I am pontificating. Will you forgive my bad manners. I that speaking of the divine and music, one of you has brought a guitar. Will you play for me?"
"We are both musicians," Faraday said. "But Gemayat plays better than I do. He is the minstrel. Not I." She tapped Cole on the shoulder. The young man was intimidated. The Baron had overwhelmed him with how sophisticated the culture was here. How could he play anything that could possibly rival the impressive-sounding names of the musicians Herf had spoken of? But like a man walking towards his execution, Cole knew that he had no choice. He walked towards the vestibule where their personal effects had been checked, and recovered Faraday's guitar.
"So you are a minstrel, eh?" Baron Herf asked Cole once he had returned. "That must be something to be a nomadic troubadour in Lutece, informing people through your," he cleared his throat, "music."
Cole didn't notice the Baron's unveiled insults. He was too busy trying to deal with Faraday's battered, untuned, barbed wire-for-strings guitar. He did his best to tune the instrument, but to everyone sitting there in the bistro, it sounded like a futile exercise in dissonance. Nervous and afraid his audience was getting impatient with him, Cole resorted to at least making sure the strings were all in tune relative to each other, and began to play.
He began to arpeggiate an open position E-major chord - it was a very simple thing to play. And then, the young man who up to now, had said so little about what he was truly thinking, began to improvise and sang how he felt.
The lonely runner trips over the cracks in the path
the road racked by the change in the climes
the road that heaved that once held a straight line
by the cold that made him cry and the wind that laughed.
The stevedore trembles in the mist by the sea
the docks decayed by the change in the tides
the dock on which he heaved now coated in brine
free from the weight that pushed you down and the breeze that dreamed.
The old guitarist shudders at the foot of the stage
the concert hall echoes with the change in the times
in the hall where his fingers bled he heaves a sigh
the blues that made him crawl and the storms that rage.
Cole ended on the same chord that he had begun with. In fact, it was the same chord he had played throughout the entire song. It was a beautiful composition with a minimalist feel.
Baron Herf clapped his hands like a proud parent would for a three-year old who had just successfully banged out a tuneless melody on a toy piano.
"Oh how tremendous, what a pleasant little sing-a-long!" he said. "What was that, one major chord?"
Cole nodded glumly. He could only guess what the Baron was thinking.
"Oh come now, don't be so blue," Herf said with mock consolation. "For a citizen of Lutece, that was such an admirable effort!"
The Baron turned to the ever-attentive sommelier whom a somewhat tipsy Faraday, hardly paying attention to what was going on now because of her ever-full glass, had silently nicknamed the Guardian of the Constant Wine Flow.
"Gaston, summon the busboy for me," their host ordered.
Gaston, Guardian of the Constant Wine Flow leapt to attention and ran off to get the busboy, corkscrew and serviette still at the ready. Half a minute later, he returned with a forlorn-looking teenager. The boy was clothed in white, splattered in a riot of food stains, and plagued with wizened dishpan hands. Surprised to be out of the kitchen, he looked like he was entirely out of his element.
"Boy," the Baron commanded. "Play me something." He pointed to the guitar in Cole's hand. "Anything."
Undeterred by the spectacle about to occur, the waiter appeared on scene again, handing out plates delicately laden with seared big eye tuna with black pepper, accompanied by wasabi potato puree and a side of plum wine sauce...
The busboy wiped the flour from his hands and a white cloud of dust floated into the air, pierced in two by the sunbeam that was now bursting through the bistro's front window.
He picked up Faraday's guitar and started to play a simple melody, fingerpicking off an A-minor, E-minor and G-major variation. So far so good Cole thought, assuring himself that he could play the same one-four-five progression in the key of G-major.
C-minor, G-minor. Things were quickly taking a turn for the worse. The busboy then switched into a very fast E-major, A-major, B-major progression - with a walking bass line! And the sound emanating from Faraday's bruised instrument - vestiges of grace and beauty, which a few months ago was nothing more than a beat-up hunk of hollowed out wood. Cole knew he had been bested - by the busboy.
And yet Cole's torture was not complete. The music got faster, more complex. Fingers began to fly as the Baron's champion began to tremolo off the higher treble strings. His index, middle and ring fingers were a blur as they picked at the high E string in rapid succession. As if that was not enough, the busboy began to bang the bridge of the guitar with the side of his thumb, simultaneously strumming out a flamenco-style progression: E-major, F-major, G-major.
This was too much for our young minstrel. Everything, everything was better here in Ein Mabu'a. Grotius had been right. He should have stuck to what he knew. He should have ignored what lay beyond.
Cole slapped his hands over his ears and shut his eyes, trying to jam his senses. Milligauss and his band of simpletons, including one precocious minstrel, were now more meaningless than ever.
The Baron patted Cole on the head. The busboy had finished. Faraday looked at her friend with drunken sympathy.
"Yes it is true my dear boy," the Baron said. "Out here, beyond your walls, we do everything better. That's why we had to build the walls in the first place!"
"Walls - you built those walls?" Cole said. He had barely had the time to shake of the impact of the virtuoso busboy's aural assault, and now this. "But why?"
The Baron chuckled, and lifted his nose, giving off a superior air. "Of course we built those walls! It was for your own good. And ours too!"
"Good?" mumbled Cole, thoroughly puzzled.
Dessert. A lighter-than-air soufflé, rising from a gorgeous baked white clay dish. A moat of bright red raspberry sauce lined the dish, dashed here and there by streaks of creamy mustard.
"As good as this fine dessert is my boy!" the Baron said. Using his fork, he pricked a hole in the soufflé and it quickly began to deflate. "My ancestors built those walls, many, many years ago. They were very afraid of the threat of - osmosis. But let me tell you about that in a little while. Let us finish up here and retire to my tent for some coffee and more discussion. I am enjoying this so much, are you not as well?"
The Baron grinned and waited for a similar gesture from his guests. They found themselves unable to reciprocate.
CHAPTER 15: THE BLACK BARON'S TRUE COLORS
Baron Herf's "tent" was not exactly of the four-person camping variety. It was a magnificent canopy pitched on the edge of Ein Mabu'a, with the spring rustling right in front of it. To get a sense of its size, picture a circus tent - large enough for an audience, the ringleader and his menagerie of wildlife. But the Baron's home was something more. A red, black and green pennant fluttered proudly up top, declaring the Baron's family colors for all to see. The tent itself was made of some sort of thick vellum - animal skin - bleached white by the sun and soft to the touch. Horses, and camels (the most unusual beasts Cole had ever seen) were tethered outside to wooden posts encircling the extravagant shelter.
"Please, enter" Baron Herf said, taking great pleasure from his guests looks of awe. "But remove your footwear first."
They left behind a now punishing midafternoon desert sun, took off their shoes, and stepped inside. It was dark and cool. It took Cole a few seconds for his eyes to adjust. And even when they had, our young minstrel could scarcely believe them.
They were inside what was essentially one big room - even larger than the Minstrels' Guild headquarters back in Lutece. Although he had his beloved city state only a few hours ago, Cole could barely remember home. The sumptuousness of Ein Mabu'a overwhelmed him.
His stockinged feet sunk into the deep plushness of the hundreds of multicolored carpets that lined the floor of the tent. Dozens of people dressed in long robes milled around the Baron's home, seated on the ground, sipping drinks from cups that lay on top of ankle high tables.
"In my home, everyone is welcome," Baron Herf explained, saying quick hellos to the plethora of guests who greeted him as he walked by them.
He led Faraday and Cole to the center, where a ring of red and gold pillows encircled a small gas stove.
"Please, sit," the Baron said. "I could have chosen to live in a house of brick and mortar, but I thought that this kind of shelter was more charming, and a bit nearer to the heritage of my ancestors. It also allows me to be mobile should I ever have the need to go somewhere."
Cole gingerly lowered himself onto the ground and propped his back up against the pillows. He instantly felt like he would never want to rise again from such a comfortable position. Faraday sat next to him, and closed her eyes.
He spotted a number of portraits perched on wooden easels. The people illustrated by the thick, dark oil paint appeared to be very important. They wore uniforms and proud looks.
"My ancestors," the Baron said, noticing Cole's gaze. "A dynasty of Herf ben Mabu'a's, which has reigned over this Wadi for almost an eternity - always with a mandate from Godallahim." He looked up at the ceiling in reverence, like he had earlier at the bistro. "Each Baron, at one time or another, has had his portrait rendered. Here -" the Baron rose from his own next of cushions and pointed to a picture of a fierce-looking man with a full beard and piercing blue eyes, "-that's my grandfather. We're still working on my father's portrait - Almighty Godallahim rest his soul. It has taken me a while to find the paint to finish it off."
Cole turned to Faraday as he felt it was about time that he asked her about the Baron's constant references to "Godallahim," but she had suddenly turned very pale. She was staring at the portrait of Baron Herf's grandfather.
"Faraday, are you alright?" Cole asked quietly.
"Yes, yes, I am fine," she said. She looked down at the carpet, and tried to recover her composure before the Baron noticed. Cole did not get a chance to ask her again to explain what was the matter, because Baron Herf turned to address his guests again, as a servant in a dark green robe brought in tiny cups of coffee and placed them near the stove to keep them warm.
"So where were we?" the Baron said. He gestured to Cole and Faraday to help themselves to the coffee.
Cole choked on the thick brown liquid as it coursed down his throat. He had never tasted anything so bittersweet before. "Osmosis," he said, gasping.
Faraday, still shaken by what she had seen earlier, looked at her charge with sympathy. Despite her state, she now knew all too well where this conversation was headed. And she now knew who they were up against. It was all a matter of time, and there was nothing she could do. She had to let the conversation continue so Cole could find out for himself. It also gave her more time to think of a way out.
"Of course! You have not heard of osmosis, have you?" the Baron said. "It is a scientific term. I will give you the definition, and I apologize if it sounds like another of your so-called Lost Languages. Essentially, it is the movement of a solvent through a semi-permeable membrane into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentration of solute on the two sides of the membrane."
Cole looked at him, dumbfounded. The Baron charitably followed up with a translation.
"Meaning that when there are two worlds living side by side, and there is some sort of barrier diving the two, the world that has more of a certain type of matter will naturally have some of that substance seep into the other world - which has less. Apply that to the context of Lutece and Ein Mabu'a, the matter that I speak of is stupidity, willful ignorance and the cultural wasteland that is your city state. And at the time, we were quite afraid that this dumbdowned society would taint our own."
Cole had recovered his composure and finally grasped what the Baron was telling him. Besides, he was not as stupid as his host made him out to be.
"If you're correct," the minstrel said. "Wouldn't that mean that your high culture and intelligence could also seep into Lutece and even things out that way as well?"
Baron Herf took a sip of his own coffee and looked at his young guest in near-admiration.
"Not bad, not bad," he said. "That is possibly true Master Delphi. But you must understand that even if it could happen, we do not want things to even out. Why dilute what we know and who we are? Your 'culture' of convenience, of ease, of sugarcoated music, art, yellow journalism, and your poverty of spirit is simply of no use to us at all. We -- " the Baron waved his arm and gestured to the other occupants of the tent, raising his voice, " - we are the bright, the intellectually curious, the culturally rich, the Godallahim-fearing, and we are ready - to do whatever it takes to preserve that!"
The Baron's other guests, along with his servants, maids and butlers who toiled in the darker recesses of the tent all abruptly exploded into heartfelt applause. Their supreme leader had moved them with his eloquence and affirmation of the civilization that they strived so hard to preserve.
"But that's so unfair!" Cole said. He was becoming increasingly distraught by the onslaught of revelations from the last few hours. "Without those walls, we could have had the space to grow, we could have opened our minds and our world - just like you say you have. Life would have been so much better and richer for Lutetians. And I'm sure, despite what you say, the world could have learned a thing or two from us -"
The applause that had just rung throughout the tent was quickly supplanted by stifled chuckles. Baron Herf smiled indulgently, and then waved his index finger through the air, signaling to everyone to be more polite.
"Is it really so unfair my naive friend?" the Baron said sweetly. "It seems to suit both sides so well. We have peace of mind, in an odd way, so do you. You do not have to worry about assimilating all of this intricate knowledge." He pointed to a nearby open chest full of leather-bound books. "But please allow me to tell you what is most ironic about those walls that we built for you, which your people have rarely breached -" He was beginning to splutter with laughter, barely able to contain his mirth.
Cole shook his head. He dreaded what was to come. He felt mortally wounded. Faraday put her hand on her friend's shoulder.
"We gave up maintaining those walls and keeping guard over them years ago!" Baron Herf said, howling uncontrollably, barely able to get the words out of his quivering mouth. "We discovered that we did not even have to bother. No one from Lutece ever thought about leaving their pitiful little city state. Except for the odd curiosity-seeker, such as yourselves, once built, we really did not have any need for those walls after the fact - you did such a good job of fencing yourselves in on our behalf!"
Cole bowed his head. His ire turned to embarrassment. He knew that he was just as guilty as the other Lutetians who have never even bothered to think about breaching the walls, and who were so indifferent to anything foreign inside or outside of the city state. In his own mean-spirited way, the Baron was right.
"Come now my friend, do not look so dismayed!" Baron Herf said, his mood now considerably brighter. "Allow me to show you more of the succulent delights of my fiefdom. Beersheba! Rabat!"
Two gorgeous olive-skinned women suddenly materialized before Cole. They wore veils, but their stunning blue eyes belied their beauty. Clothed in delicate white translucent cotton, midriffs bare, gold chains around their waists - they were built to seduce as they began to move their hips, making light pelvic thrusts in Cole's direction.
"Come my friend," the Baron said, clapping his hands, striking up a nearby quartet. Tabla, violin, finger cymbals and horn-playing filled the tent. "Take your pick. Or do not choose at all!"
One of them approached Cole and starting running her hands through his hair, her navel tantalizingly close to his mouth. He vaguely detected a scent of perfume made even more powerful by the heat emanating from the proximity of her luscious body. He felt faint.
Then Cole looked at Faraday. His friend had averted her gaze, her eyes firmly focused on the ground. That was enough for Cole.
"I can't," he said. "Thank you, but I can't."
Baron Herf clapped his hands again rapidly and the music stopped immediately. The women disappeared as quickly as they had come.
"So be it," the Baron said. "I was looking forward to exposing you further to the sensual arts - I thought that you showed some promise Master Delphi. I could have saved you from the fate of your fellow citizens. But now, walls or no walls, Lutece will soon pay for its self-imposed darkness."
Had Milligauss been right all along? Cole felt strangely reassured by the Baron's threat. Something was going to happen to Lutece.
Faraday was now alert.
"What is going to happen Lord Herf?" Faraday said. She could no longer contain herself. She dearly wanted to be out of contact with this man and his people. But she had to know.
"Many things are going to happen, old woman," the Baron said softly. He quietly stirred his coffee, the grounds rising to the top. With his free hand, he reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a parchment with a red wax seal that had already been broken. He handed it to Faraday.
"Read it, and read it well," he said. "As you will discover, your pitiful Lutetian colleagues were not too far off the mark about their so called 'Moment.' Another one is just around the corner."
Faraday unfolded the parchment and read the letter. Her hands began to tremble as she absorbed its contents. Her face paled, as if her exquisite lunch had come back to haunt her. She handed the letter to Cole, but he was unable to read it. It was written in a Lost Language. Faraday recovered from her shock enough to translate it quickly for him. The young minstrel was stunned by its revelations.
"My newfound friends, your colleagues are correct," Baron Herf said. He paced the corner of the tent they were in, his feet swallowed by the carpet's deep pile. "Your 'Moment' is coming. But it is not quite what you think. Your enemy is not only within, but it is without as well!" He chuckled over his clever bit of wordplay.
Cole felt as if his stomach had been pulled out of his body and twisted into an unimaginable number of knots. He would never have dreamed that this devastating letter could have been borne from the events of the past few days. He felt like a fool.
"We must get back to Lutece and warn them Faraday!" he cried. Faraday nodded quickly. She was just as surprised as her friend at this nasty turn of circumstances.
"I am afraid I cannot permit you to do that, " the Baron said quietly.
"Why not?" Cole stood up quickly, knocking over a cushion. "Lutece will be destroyed! Many people will die!"
"Hopefully most of them," Baron Herf said. "Although we are too high-minded, civilized and Godallahim-fearing to wreak such apocalyptic havoc ourselves upon people we do not care for much, that is precisely what I hope will happen.
"It is barbaric, anyway that you put it," Faraday said. She was bitter. "Whether you get your hands dirty or not. But I suppose this is nothing new for you."
"'Nothing new,' what do you mean 'nothing new?'" Cole asked. He had had enough of Faraday's vague but all-knowing remarks. He was beginning to feel immensely deceived: by Milligauss, by a friend he had always seen as a homeless woman with a thick accent, by the Baron. Where was the truth to be found? And why were so many people so interested in keeping it hidden? Unfortunately for Cole, the time for disclosure was at hand. More revelations - coming right up. Stay tuned my readers, this is going to get rough.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 16: FARADAY BARES HER SOUL
"Gemayat, I have not been totally honest with you," Faraday said, speaking slowly. "How can I tell you this? I am not originally from Lutece. I am from - " she faltered, " - here."
Cole fell back down onto the cushions. Baron Herf had been taking great amusement in this exchange between his guests up to this point. Now, he was looking at them in rapt attention.
"My parents were from Ein Mabu'a," Faraday said, unnervingly aware of the Baron's newfound focus. "As was I. They were teachers. Thinkers. People who wanted to know - just as these people here pretend to now. But unlike them, my family was not interested in merely maintaining a monopoly on that knowledge - on their understanding and faith. They wanted to grow, to share it with others, to reach out and develop new ideas. They thought it was the best way to rebuild and remember all that had been forgotten since that time that you know as The Moment."
Faraday paused. She looked up at one of the paintings, then at Baron Herf.
"But the Baron at the time, his grandfather," she pointed at Herf, "refused to let them do so. 'Fundamentals of Expression' he had said - 'keep it to ourselves.' He did not like people he could not dominate and oppress, and in his mind, there were precious few ways of thinking. His people believed that they had it all figured out, and if other civilizations had not, that was their bad fortune. 'Osmosis was the explanation then as it clearly is now."
"This was not something that my family could accept. They pleaded with the Baron to open the schools, to bring outsiders to Ein Mabu'a and send our own citizens on exchanges. But to no avail. The Baron was so incensed by their heresy - by the utter thought of associating with the great unwashed and the 'unbelievers' as he put it, that he banished my family from his little autocratic fiefdom. My parents were devastated by having to leave. Still, they remained committed to their ideals. They found their way to Lutece and took it upon themselves to become missionaries and share the books and information they had brought with them. I was just a small girl then, so I did not really understand what was going on. I thought that it was just a game, and was thrilled to be embarking on a new adventure."
"But my parents had deluded themselves. There were a whole other set of fundamentals at work in Lutece. Barely a soul in Lutece was interested in what they had to teach. They did not want to take the time to read or to understand. There was no thirst - their intellectual gourds were empty and cracking - "
"Which should not have surprised anyone!" the Baron said, unable to hold himself back. Faraday ignored him.
"To their credit," she said firmly, enunciating each word with slow staccato, "my parents were able to acquire a few converts and hangers-on, some of whom had nothing better to do." Faraday looked at Cole who was having a hard time grasping all of this. "Like our friend Grotius - who quite enjoyed the easy academic's life. However, that was not enough. Mother and Father were full of despair at their inability to reach a larger audience. In the end, it was not old age that defeated them, but the barrage of constant failure that they had endured in a city state that was not theirs."
"While my parents were still alive, they made me take an oath. I had to carry out their mission. Their demands were not great, they knew that they could not be ambitious when it came to dealing with the Lutetians. So they pleaded with me to convert and educate at least one person. But I was young then and I did not take them too seriously. I tried half-heartedly. No one was interested in my efforts. Once Mother and Father did pass away, my resolve grew weak. I gave away everything they had owned and drifted - desperate and depressed about the just-getting-by attitude of the people around me." Faraday smiled weakly. "You gave me some hope Cole. Just by coming here with me. I thought you might be the one person that I could get through to. And I prayed that things had changed here." She looked at Baron Herf, whose face revealed more and more disgust as Faraday was telling her story. "Clearly they have not changed. I am sure Herf is just as happy to get rid of Lutece in the name of his Creator and rebuild its empty shell into some sort of likeness that he thinks he may once have had, based on some theory and treatise that his people have studied to the last miniscule detail."
"Brava habibti, brava!" the Baron said, clapping his hands with mock delight. "I thought I had recognized your name, but I could not remember your family name. It is all coming back to me now. 'Nuur' is it not?"
Faraday nodded glumly.
"Of course! I remember now. You are part of a bastard lineage. Your parents tried to foment dissent throughout the fiefdom," Herf said. His hands clenched into fists. "I should have never let you enjoy the pleasures of my table Miss Nuur. My grandfather told my father, and my father told me about your parents. They presented it as a lesson - about a dangerous element that had to be squelched and stamped out. And you must know, that is what I am going to do to you now as well."
The Baron rose and took two steps towards a trembling Faraday. Cole could no longer bear to witness the growing pain his friend was enduring. Her face was pale, wrinkles he had noticed before were in plain view. This was a frightened old lady whose spirit had been slowly drained out of her throughout the years, until this final coup de grace. She was finished. He had to do something. But as the young minstrel rose from his seat to stop Baron Herf from laying his hands on Faraday, he was violently held back by two muscular waiters who had been waiting quietly in the darkness of the tent.
"Let me go!" Cole screamed. "Don't touch her!"
The Baron gestured to the two men, who quickly gagged Cole's mouth with a stray silk napkin. He was powerless.
"It was unwise of you to return Miss Nuur," Baron Herf said. Your family was banished from Ein Mabu'a a long time ago, and for good reason. In hindsight, this was probably a foolhardy act of mercy committed by my grandfather in a moment of weakness. As we say out here, this is a tough neighborhood, and a strong example must be set for all around to see and take heed of - I will not make the same mistake as my dearly departed grandfather. Mercy is not a quality that I possess. So I am unable to give it. You will not live to see tomorrow. I shall have the unique pleasure of ensuring that!"
The Baron clapped his hands three times. More of his hired help materialized out of the gloom. They dragged, Faraday without any resistance from her, out of the tent. She went silently, her sad gaze fixed on her adversary, the Baron.
Cole would not go as easily. He tried to wrench away from his captors, attempting to scream at Faraday. But the gag was tightened, making the corners of his mouth bleed. He was pushed to his knees, arms tied behind his back. Cole's cries were muffled, and he kicked up sand as they dragged him through the tent. He did manage to look up at the portraits on his way out - a dynasty of men so artfully portrayed. Generations of thickly painted Herfs stared at him with what seemed like menacing bemusement. Cole forced his eyes shut as he finally allowed his body to go limp. There was no fight left in him.
CHAPTER 17: A FINAL CONVERSATION BETWEEN FRIENDS
This was a kind of cold mustiness that clings to the insides of a person's nostrils. It penetrates the bones and makes the body feel vulnerable and brittle. It makes people wish that they could be anywhere than where they were right now. Unfortunately for Cole and Faraday, there was nowhere else but here - deep inside some kind of dungeon, sitting on a dank concrete floor.
They were still shocked by everything they had experienced in last half a day. Their lives threatened by a gang of ruffians, they escaped through the sewer system of Lutece to find themselves in a sunny place that seemed to be as close to paradise as one could get. Then they partook in a meal that included some of the most delightful food known to humanity. And now, they were facing the possibility of having to endure some of the cruelest torments perfected by humankind.
"Humankind" - how I admired the civilization that could breed such a word. "Humanity" and "kindness" two great qualities that seemed to be so sorely lacking most of the time. Many might think that in this story, I had forsaken my characters whom I had created in my own image. Truth be told, whether it was my image or theirs, we were one in the same, all part of this story that was destined to end badly: desperate, occasionally petulant, shortsighted, shortchanged in spirit, sometimes malevolent, rarely hopeful, confused, misdirected. And sad.
As was Cole. And scared. Any positive feelings Cold had harbored about the seemingly enlightened world of Ein Mabu'a and its charismatic, Godallahim-fearing leader had quickly evaporated into deep misgivings. As for Faraday, it was the end of the line.
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Cole asked. He was desperate to find some way out. He ran his hands along the cold walls, trying to find some sign of weakness in their structure.
"There is little you can do - for me," Faraday said. "I cannot foresee what Herf wants to do with you. I am sure he is more likely to want to keep you as a pet - as a plaything, to show his friends what the savages of Lutece were once like before it was completely destroyed. You will be like a museum piece for him - the one that got away, rescued from the jaws of extinction."
For Cole, given the present circumstances, and what lay in store for Lutece, that didn't sound like too horrible an option.
"He'll want the same for you too, won't he Faraday?" Cole asked.
Faraday smiled, the corner of her eyes dropping wistfully.
"From the moment I met you Gemayat, I saw something in you that gave me hope. There was something different about you. I think I may have spotted a glimmer or interest, or curiosity perhaps? Most importantly, I saw compassion in your eyes - in a place where other people were happy to kick and heap their scorn upon me. Of course, in my constant state of paralysis, I did nothing until you sought me out. Happily it was just in time!"
Faraday looked at her protégé warmly.
"I am certain that my parents - wherever they may be right now - would be happy with the choice I made. To think that I had given up so long ago!"
"But why didn't you say anything to me before?" Cole asked.
"How well do you think you would have responded to the further rantings of this crazy old lady back in Lutece, Gemayat?" Faraday said. "I had lost confidence in myself, in my mission. I was always second-guessing my decisions. Were you really the one I was supposed to reach? My indecision grew as time continued to pass. Now, there is no doubt, and for the sake of my long dead parents, and for my sake, there is nothing more important at this point, than to get you out of here, and back to Lutece."
Cole was relieved that his perceived spiritual coming of age could provide some form of solace to Faraday at this dark hour. However he remained unsettled at how she hinted at her own fate, as if she were going nowhere.
"Why would I want to return to Lutece?" Cole asked. "I don't belong there. And I don't seem to belong here either."
"Nonsense," Faraday said. "As bad as it may seem, Lutece is your home. It is your responsibility to return - to warn them. If you are not in time, you must help rebuild."
"I can't do it alone Faraday," the young minstrel said. "You are coming with me too, aren't you?"
"We shall see," Faraday said, turning her face away from Cole. "In the meantime, we must figure a way out. There are a number of ways to return to Lutece. Certainly, Baron Herf will now have guards at the entrance to the underground passage by which we came. My parents once told me there were a number of outlets throughout Ein Mabu'a - should I ever have the nerve to return I guess."
"It's too bad you found the nerve," Cole said. Their plight appeared hopeless.
Faraday laughed out loud. Her mirth seemed out of place inside the cold dungeon, but its musical tone warmed Cole's heart momentarily.
"Do not be ridiculous Gemayat," his friend said, affecting her dumbed-down patois for Cole one last time. "I be tired of me existence in the city state."
Cole smiled, but he had already fallen deep into thought. He was uncertain about how he felt now. The way she spoke, the way she looked had all been a ruse. Perhaps it had been a way for the old woman to hide from the Lutetians, perhaps a subconscious way to shield herself from the expectations of her late parents. Faraday even may have convinced herself of her own failure, as she let her physical appearance slide into that of a homeless woman, developing a lazy, unschooled accent. Still, this unusual woman was his only friend - someone who had made him see what he would have never known otherwise. He owed her everything.
"Go west young man," Faraday said, smiling. "Follow the afternoon sun, walk away from the morning one."
"What do you mean?" Cole said. "You have to come with me -"
Cole cut short his protest. Sharp footsteps echoed in the darkness. Someone was coming.
The heavy wooden cell door burst open. With great ceremony, Baron Herf walked in. He was followed by three men, dressed in white. They bore flaming torches, a huge iron kettle, and a large wooden board. In comparison to his henchmen's burden, the Baron's hands may have been empty, but he was brandishing a very menacing grin.
"Meet my generals," the Baron said to his two captives.
The men attached their torches to the holders affixed high upon the walls. One of them left the cell briefly, and returned, pulling a cot with a thin, stained mattress.
"Strap her down," the Baron said.
There was not a hint of mercy in his voice.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 18: BARON HERF - A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEMAN
Two of Herf's white-clad generals pulled Faraday up from the floor. They threw her down onto the cot that had been placed in the center of the room. Faraday resisted feebly as they tied her wrists and ankles to the four corners of the steel rectangular frame of the bed.
"Stop it!" Cole shouted. He leapt from his corner of the cell to help his friend, but Herf's third henchman pushed him down to the floor. The man had powerful arms. Cole was powerless.
The Baron took the large kettle over to a water pipe in the corner and filled it to the top. He struggled slightly with the added weight of the water, but managed to carry the kettle over to the side of the cot. He looked directly into Faraday's frightened, imploring eyes.
"Old lady, you should never have returned," he said.
Baron Herf nodded to the surliest of his men, whose hands were larger than Faraday's face. He pinched Faraday's nose, cutting off her air intake. She instinctively opened her mouth, gasping for oxygen, and her beefy attendant used his other hand cupped her chin and propped Faraday's mouth wide open. She was getting as much air as she needed.
Baron Herf - an aristocrat, a scholar, a gentleman - then tipped the kettle slightly and positioned the cold iron spout into Faraday's mouth, past her tongue, nearly touching her tonsils. She began to retch, but was unable to move her head. Slowly, the Baron began to pour water into her mouth.
Faraday's torso jerked - it was the only part of her body that wasn't under restraint. Water gurgled up to the end of her lips and ran down the side of her face. Her face began to reveal the panicked look of a person who was being buried alive. But this was cold water, not dirt, that was slowly suffocating her.
Her body's natural defenses were on high alert, doing what they could to hold back the flood. Her throat refused to relax, to allow the water to pass, because if it did, it would become an unstoppable torrent. Nevertheless, at some point it would have to give way, because otherwise, she would drown. Her cheeks began to bulge as the water stretched them out. Faraday's lungs desperately required oxygen, her heart and brain needed sustenance, but because of the water, there was no imminent supply. Starved for air, Faraday began to rock the cot, its metal springs squeaking. It was a fruitless struggle, her body was tightly secured to the frame. She was not going anywhere.
The first line of defense could finally hold no longer, as the muscles in her larynx gave out and slackened. The water trickled, and then quickly coursed down her throat, free of the anatomical barrier. Faraday gagged as she gasped urgently for air. She was only able to grab a few gulps of oxygen before the Baron tipped the kettle further, forcing more water into her mouth. The kettle appeared to be bottomless.
Her tormentor did not utter a sound. It was as if he were happily feeding a baby, enjoying the spectacle of force-feeding whom he perceived to be an impertinent old lady. He regulated the stream of water, keeping her conscious and breathing throughout so she could take in more. Faraday drank, gulped, gasped and retched. Her hair, clothes, the cot - were soaked, dripping wet.
A few minutes passed, and the physiologically inevitable began to occur. Cole looked on in mute horror as his dear friend's stomach began to balloon, stretched by the Baron's unyielding pouring of water. Cole could do nothing to help Faraday. The two men in white continued to hold him back, hand placed over his mouth, his arms held behind his back - the minstrel's epileptic-like struggles amounted to nothing.
Faraday's tossing and turning, coughing and churning continued for a while longer until her eyes closed and her futile agitations ebbed. She was now barely hanging on to life, her breath was labored.
Baron Herf noticed the change in her condition immediately and removed the spout from her mouth. He placed the kettle down, alongside the cot. Faraday's stomach had grown so large from the huge amount of water that she had ingested that she appeared to be heavily pregnant. It was a perverse and cruel sight for a woman so advanced in her years.
The surly goon who had been holding Faraday's mouth open throughout her ordeal, withdrew at the Baron's silent behest.
"Thank you my lord, this is my favorite part of the procedure," the big man said in a surprisingly soft-spoken tone. He picked up the large plywood board from the ground. It was a quarter the length of Faraday's body, and nearly as wide.
"Of course my dear Zia," the Baron said. "Enjoy yourself."
Zia smiled and balanced the board on top of Faraday's stomach. Then he climbed on top of the cot. He placed both of his feet at the edge of the mattress, towering over Faraday, who was hardly aware of what was happening to her at this point. It was a remarkable balancing act for a man so large and a cot so fragile in appearance.
"Master Delphi, I picked up this interesting little technique in a book I read a few years ago," Baron Herf said. Cole was appalled by what he was witnessing, and shocked by the Baron's calm, professorial tone. "You may have spotted it in my chest. It's called, 'Caring for Prisoners in the 21st Century.' You should have noticed it, it was written in your own language, amazingly enough. There really is so much to learn from any civilization, even yours, before that so-called 'Moment.' Mind you, there was a lot wrong back then as well, with weaker rulers who had to struggle to keep their rabble under control. But we shall just take the good parts and throw away the rest, shall we not?"
He smirked and snapped his fingers. Zia quickly lifted his feet off the edge of the mattress and leapt onto Faraday's stomach. And then, taking care not to lose his balance, he began to jump - up and down...the cot rocked as Faraday's upper body flopped. She barely gurgled a muted scream as her attacker bore his entire weight down on her bloated abdomen.
Cole broke away from one of his captors, his mouth now free.
"Stop it! You'll kill her!" he shouted.
"Oh we shall kill her for sure," the Baron said soothingly. "Not yet though."
Zia continued to use Faraday as a trampoline. She retched repetitively until her body could hold out no more, and she vomited. Her delectable repast from a mere few hours ago, prepared in the most immaculate kitchen, in the finest restaurant in Ein Mabu'a, once again saw the light of day. Masticated remnants of watery food covered her chin and neck. Herf's men laughed heartily, delighted by the horrific sight.
As her stomach emptied, Faraday retched small spurts of water. Her belly slowly began to deflate.
Had there been any innocent bystanders passing by the dungeon at that moment, they would have been absolutely terrified by the noises emanating from the cell. An old woman heaving weakly, the rhythmic squeaks from a rusty cot, four men laughing boisterously, and a young minstrel's choleric screams, testing the limits of his ravaged vocal cords. It was a symphony of evil.
"Dyer, Petain!" Baron Herf said to his two other men in white. "Throw our young guest into the cell next door. I can only enjoy one person's suffering at a time." He beamed with pleasure.
Dyer and Petain pulled Cole out of the cell and threw him into the one next door, which was even darker and colder than the one he had just been in. They locked the door and left him there alone.
CHAPTER 19: THE BARON ENTERTAINS THE MOB
Over the next few hours, Baron Herf and his generals repeated their clinically precise procedure of torture several more times. They were careful to ensure that Faraday remained conscious throughout their administrations. During each session they would bring her to the brink of death, and stop just before the last ounce of life-force was squeezed out of her. To kill her too soon would be prematurely end their amusement, and they were not about to let that happen just yet.
Just before midnight, Zia, Dyer, and Petain led Faraday out of her cell. Her hands were bound behind her back. They dragged her up a stone staircase, pulling her outside into the clear night air.
They went around the back of the red-brick building in which Cole remained imprisoned. There a crowd of hundreds of well-wishers formed a circle around the men and a slumped-over Faraday, whom the three generals had placed onto the ground.
A few flickering torches held by the bystanders, eerily cast their shadows over the sandy plain. The crowd murmured in muted anticipation of the show to come.
Thick rope, about twenty-feet long was wrapped tightly around Faraday's legs, as she was led to a platform overlooking a pit. The hole was deep enough to be the foundation of some multistoried building that had yet to be constructed - so deep that the bottom was not visible in the limited light.
The well-cultivated audience dressed in their best evening wear - flowing gowns and dark jackets - quietly followed the spectacle, too eager to be deterred by the sand and pebbles scuffing their polished shoes as they trudged along.
The three men then picked Faraday up, and placed her atop the platform. The dashing Baron Herf, wind rustling through his black hair, his dark eyes shining, stood beside the old woman at the edge of the overhang.
"Rouse her, and light the torches," he said.
With a great whooshing sound, dozens of torches surrounded the huge pit flamed to life. Like luminous points on some gigantic clock, each torch was lit in rapid sequence. Petain uncorked a bottle of VSOP cognac and splashed a few dollops of the precious alcohol onto Faraday's face. The sting of the liquid shocked her senses to consciousness and forced her to open her eyes.
The Baron turned to face the crowd.
"Let us pray," he said. He bowed his head, and his followers did the same. "Dear Godallahim, sorry to disturb you, but we wanted to thank you for the tremendous bounty that you have bestowed upon us. This year's wine was positively vintage, and I have hundreds of cases waiting to see the light of day in my cellar." The Baron smacked his lips. "And in our constant effort to keep society as orderly and civilized as you have wanted it, we offer you yet another weakling who thought she could be one of us, but is not. A woman who attempted to sneak across our borders in a deluded attempt to indulge in our riches and then steal them away from us. There is only one justice, and that is yours Godallahim. So please, take this woman in the spirit of generosity that she is offered to you, as we exercise our divine right to defend ourselves, to exorcise the weak, and to continue to refine our pleasures as only the people of the Wadi of Ein Mabu'a can!"
I really wasn't listening. This was not what I wanted, and I had bestowed no such right upon these horrible people. But when stories take on a life of their own, there's only so much the author can do to control them. Darkness and Evil spring eternal, even from the best-intentioned subconsciousness. Why is that the worst of creation believe that they have a direct hotline to their deity, when in fact they are the most forsaken of the whole sorry lot?
The Baron raised his head, signaling that his prayer was over. His congregation looked up solemnly, waiting for what was to follow, heartened by their leader's conversation with Godallahim.
Petain knelt close to Faraday. He held the end of the rope wrapped around her ankles. In one swift motion, he pushed the old woman off the platform into the abyss.
Faraday's body plummeted, her bound hands and legs lending her the appearance of a bungee jumper. It seemed as if she would fall forever, but suddenly, with an extreme jerk, her plunge was halted abruptly as the rope was pulled taut by Petain and Zia, holding it from way up above.
She hung nearly fifteen feet from the bottom of the pit. To the delight of the onlookers, Faraday began to scream. It was a high-pitched, terrified cry, so tortuous, it was as if her voice box was melting into her throat. It was the kind of sound a human could only emit in the most extreme of circumstances, when intensely-felt emotion pushes the boundaries of physical capacity. Faraday's eyes were now wide open, and the blazing torches above made it impossible to ignore what was facing her below.
Her face were mere feet away from what looked like hundreds, maybe even thousands of human bodies. They were putrid with their decaying, festering flesh - flies hung around their gaping mouths, as if their last moments of life had been filled with indescribable horror. Somehow, their eyes were not closed, as they stared at Faraday with morbid fascination, their faces emaciated and yellowed, their bodies letting off a humid, rotting stench. These were the people with whom Baron Herf had not gone along with very well. And Faraday was about to join them.
Yet, as Faraday's legs continued to be stretched and racked with burning pain by the pull of the rope, it was not the gut-wrenching sight of this morass of death and decomposition that made her scream with such revulsion. That was because what lay at the bottom of this pit within the seething mass of flesh was not all dead.
Some of the abyss' occupants were still alive, and they began to moan as they sensed Faraday's proximity. The body of one man began to move, as he tried to wade his way towards her through the mountain of cadavers.
With what might have seemed like his last act of living, he opened his mouth to speak to her.
"We have been waiting for you," the man said. "They told us you would be the last." He closed his eyes and slumped over. Faraday screamed even louder as the fear overcame her.
She continued to swing at the bottom of the pit, which gave her eyes more time to become accustomed to the dim light. That was when she noticed the rats. For every one carcass inside the crater, there seemed to be a million rats. The infestation of rodents climbed over their bounteous banquet. Their frenzied, jerky movements made it appear as if the rats themselves were incredulous at the feast that had been bestowed upon them from up above. Three rats nibbled at the ear of a blonde girl who could not have been more than twelve years-old. Faraday prayed that she was no longer living.
The rope around her legs began to slacken slightly as Baron Herf's men slowly lowered Faraday into the pit. The murmur of the crowd began to intensify as they grew more excited by the incredible spectacle.
In Faraday's distressed state, it seemed as if the limbs, hands and arms of her mostly dead hosts were reaching out to her, welcoming her to her last taste of earthly affliction. By this point, she had stopped screaming. There was no longer any point in protesting. She was numb and still.
And then, amazingly, with one last demonstration of the resolve that had borne this woman through so many year of hardship, frustration and solitude, she suddenly began to sing in a clear, ringing voice. Her audience could not help but be shamed into silence by the dignified strength of her song:
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
The time between waiting, hope and glory
my empty heart and glazing eyes
suspended sun -- a light that tries
The time between caring, loving and pain
my empty hands and vacant stare
ponderous cloud -- colorless cheer
My dulled nerves sense a pleasant pain
dead ends insulate an open vein
wasted lifeblood untasted time.
The time between sleep and death
an empty clock, its vacant stare
infinite night - nothing is near.
Sadly, she couldn't muster enough willpower to finish her song, and the mob quickly forgot the beautiful melody in anticipation of the showstopping finale.
Zia and Petain dropped Faraday's feeble, wasted body into the pit. A river of kerosene came coursing down from above, soaking Faraday and the other bodies that were lying there. And then someone - it could have been Dyer, it could have been anyone, or no one in particular - lit a match and from the edge of the crater, tossed it in. The barely living, now joined by Faraday, gratefully expired as the searing flames gorged slowly but surely upon their exhausted corpses.
CHAPTER 20: DIVINE INTERVENTION AND THE MINSTREL
The stench of burning flesh wafted towards Cole's nostrils. Faraday's screams still echoed inside his head. His dungeon cell was below ground, but not deep enough that he had been unable to hear his friend's tortured cries and the sadistic din of the mob. Somehow, he now knew that Faraday was no longer alive. His despair was complete: he had lost the person who was closest to him and now he faced a fate similar to hers.
He began to weep. Warm tears fell down his cheeks as he cried softly to himself. What a disaster this whole adventure had been. Faraday was dead, his city state - his home - might already be in ruins.
Cole realized he had to pull himself out of his feeling of hopelessness. He wiped away the tears as he thought back on what Faraday had said to him. He was no longer the young, impressionable, eager-to-please minstrel who was willing to buy wholesale any simple offering put before him. Faraday had been willing to give her life to allow a person like him to be blessed with such a revelation. She had detected Cole's nascent affinity to question what was happening around him. She must have known that if she could show Cole that the world was much larger than what lay upon his plate on a daily basis, that he would have to grow.
And Cole had seen that there indeed was another world and many other ways to do things. For sure, the extreme ideals of the segregated people of Ein Mabu'a were inexcusable, but he still understood that were valuable lessons that his people could learn from them, and apply to their own existence. The different music, the food, the architecture, the desire to learn - they were all so wonderful. It was not just about adopting those elements unquestionable in a mass transplant of culture. Instead, it was about adapting them, and more importantly, sharing the joy of learning and experimentation.
Meanwhile, in the city state of Lutece -- if it were still standing -- was a stagnant pool of self-imposed ignorance. Unwilling to learn from others, overconfident in its perpetual ability to scrape through every difficult situation, and exceptionally eager to perpetuate the myths that glorified such ability. It seems so misguided to Cole - an easy and safe way out. And it was wrong.
But what could he do now? Alone in his cell, and alone with his thoughts, he began to sing to himself, in perhaps one final demonstration of a wonderful talent that would soon be silenced.
You wake up harboring hope,
your ship will come sailing in.
But each morning betrays the day,
empty hours go rolling by.
You scan the sky for a sign,
the empty air prompts a sigh.
And what scares you most is,
you're learning to live with the wind.
You like the loneliness
the leagues of aimlessness
and you're lost in the drift
of leaving things behind.
The storms don't disturb you much,
the tide's too weak to drag you in.
And if you're driven a little mad,
at least you've traveled somewhere.
You reroute the passion
tangle the knots of emotion
and the gentle swaying makes you wonder
if you'll ever love again.
because what scares you most is
you're learning to live with the wind
you're learning to live with the wind
you're learning to live with the wind
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
The cell door opened. An elated Baron Herf walked in.
"Very nice Master Delphi. You do show signs of promise," the Baron said. "It is this promise which has spared your life for now, and why I decide not to subject you to the ordeal of seeing the end of your friend's life," the Baron said.
Cole had nothing further to say to his captor, and refused to look at him.
"You do not insult me with your silence," Baron Herf said. "Soon you shall see the light. Come, we are going for a ride."
Zia and Dyer still clad in their (now rumpled) white garb walked in and picked Cole up by his armpits. They carried him out of the cell. The Baron followed.
A few hours later, Cole, the Baron and his two henchmen were galloping through the desert sand. Dyer had forced Cole to endure a quick lesson in horseback riding, but the young minstrel still found it challenging to stay in the saddle as his muscular horse hurtled over the dunes. This was not his preferred mode of transportation, and Cole found himself yearning for the rickety underground train system back in Lutece.
As Faraday had predicted, the Baron wasn't interested in getting rid of Cole just yet. He seemed to find great amusement in the young minstrel, and thought his presence would add to the conversation at his dinner parties. And he thought it might be worthwhile to attempt to educate the Lutetian savage, because you just never knew. And what was the first lesson of the day? Religion of course.
Herf decided that he would accompany (read: force) Cole on a little field trip of faith out of Ein Mabu'a so he could understand piety and devotion to the Baron's great god of the desert, Godallahim.
They rode fast, and the Baron allowed Cole to have his own horse, and to ride unrestrained. He naturally assumed that Cole would make no attempt at escape in the harshness environment of the desert where he had no clue how to survive or navigate.
It was early in the morning and it was still dark, though the sun was beginning to creep up behind them. Cole was exhausted. He had now not slept in over forty-eight hours - and it had been the most difficult two days of his brief existence. His life had been threatened, he had fled his hometown, he had been imprisoned, and his only friend had been brutally killed. Now he was in the hands of a malevolent dictator who was determined to keep Cole as his plaything as long as the minstrel amused him - and subject him to some sort of re-education program. Our young protagonist who was hardly feeling heroic, could scarcely think straight, let alone enjoy the ride through the vast, sandy expanses of the desert.
An hour passed, and the monotonous landscape had not changed a bit. The Baron, who was leading the company, suddenly brought his horse to a trot, and disappeared over the other side of a small hill. Zia and Dyer followed suit, keeping a close eye on Cole as he brought up the rear.
They came upon the Baron who had dismounted and had descended to his knees, his hands clasped together, eyes closed. He was kneeling before a solitary tree - a huge palm that cast its branches far and wide, providing shade to the Baron and his horse as the sun rose higher into the sky, somehow drawing moisture from a hidden water source below the sand, because none was readily apparent above ground.
Zia and Dyer left their horses next to the Baron's and joined their master in prayer under the tree. Cole was utterly confused by the scene before him, but decided he had spent far too much time on his own horse, and gingerly got down. His body ached, but he was relieved to feel the ground beneath his feet once again.
"Master Delphi," the Baron said, opening his eyes, and gesturing to Cole with a wave of his hand, "come here."
Feeling like he had little choice, he approached the tree. Zia got up and pushed Cole violently to his knees beside the Baron.
"Kneel before Godallahim boy!" Zia said, returning to his own pious position.
Cole could not understand. Here they were, sitting in front of a tree that was eclipsing a slowly rising sun over the horizon, and the Baron was slowly stroking the bark, murmuring incantations.
"Oh Great Godallahim, we come to you in all humility," Baron Herf said. "How is it that you live in such a place where no other being dare? You must be all powerful - and we serve you, and follow by your example. You have forsaken everyone except us, the people of Ein Mabu'a."
The Baron stopped rubbing the tree, leaned forward, and kissed it.
"Godallahim, our Sacred Tree, we bring to you a heathen who we hope to show the true path. Please reveal to us the way to deal with him. In compensation, we have already sacrificed his travelling companion in your name, a useless woman who once threatened our traditional way of life. Please grant us this request. Otherwise, we shall sacrifice him to you as well."
Silence. Cole opened his left eye and looked at the Baron beside him. What was this man up to?
Suddenly, the Baron got to his feet. His eyes still closed, he wrapped his arms around the palm tree and started weeping.
"O Great Godallahim, four years ago, I was travelling alone when I came upon You here in the desert. It was hot, and my water supply was exhausted. Then and there, You spoke to me - and You showed me the true path - the only path. We had a long conversation, and You gave me the strength to continue my journey, and I made it back to my home alive. I spread Your message to my people - but since then You have not spoken again to me? Why O Godallahim, why? Have You forsaken your Chosen One? Should have I have uprooted You and brought you to Ein Mabua so my subjects can also personally share in the glory of the message that You imparted to me?"
Enough already. No one had ever spoken to this man - I should know. Through some desert delirium, he had experienced some sort of false revelation that he was determined to inflict upon his own people. Believe me, I had nothing to do with it, I was against that sort of thing.
"Zia, Dyer, shut your eyes, PRAY!" the Baron said, his arms still wrapped around the tree, but now staring angrily at his two men who closed their eyes as tightly as possible and pursed their lips. "Godallahim will not speak to us if we do not all concentrate. And that includes you too Master Delphi."
Alright, forget Free Willy, it was time to light some fire below Gemayat Cole Delphi if he was ever to have any stab at being a hero and escape the custody of these clearly insane fanatics. In violation of my own principles of narrative omnipotence, it was time to interfere, albeit in a very slight manner.
"Flee Cole - now is your only chance!"
Those were the words Cole may have heard inside his head as he kneeled before the tree, squinting at the Baron, feigning prayer. They could have been uttered in my voice, maybe he heard the ghost of Faraday, or even of his dearly departed parents. Whatever the medium, he finally got the message.
Cole opened his eyes, and leapt to his feet. The Baron and his men were still concentrating on communicating with their deaf deity, so they remained oblivious to the minstrel's change of plans. He mounted his horse, and in a flash of brilliance, galloped over to the three other horses. Pulling out Baron Herf's riding crop from beneath the saddle he whipped Zia and Dyer's horses along their flanks, forcing them to whinny, and run off unmanned. The noise was enough to finally alert the faithful.
"Get him!" the Baron yelled, unwrapping himself from the tree and wiping away the tears.
Cole had no time to prod the Baron's horse, he turned his horse, and suddenly remembered Faraday's final words to him (follow the afternoon sun, walk away from the morning one), turned his back on the sun, and kicked his heels deep into his horse's sides. He fled the scene of the ridiculous and the sublime.
CHAPTER 21: LIFE AND DEATH AT THE WALL
The not-so-imposing walls of the city state of Lutece lay before Cole. He had ridden hard for what seemed an eternity. Luckily for him, Lutece had appeared over the horizon as the sun had reached the midway point in the sky, otherwise he would have lost his bearings. So far, all was quiet on the western front. He had left the desert, the Baron and his men behind him. And the Moment had not yet come for Lutece.
Cole approached the walls by foot. He marveled at the sight of them. He had never seen his City State from this point of view before - the ramparts were a dull gray, some form of concrete that were scarcely three times his height. These were the walls that kept his people at bay? What had the Lutetians been thinking?
He recalled Faraday saying that there were a few points along the wall where anyone who dared could come and go. Cole decided that he would skirt the outside of the city state and find one of those entranceways. But he did not have much time, if the City State was still standing, he had very little time to warn his fellow citizens about the impending doom.
He ran his hands along the cold concrete as he walked briskly alongside the walls. He took care not to stumble on the uneven ground that was covered by the odd clumps of grass and straggly weeds.
Suddenly, he found it. It was a narrow egress - nothing more than a chink in the wall, barely wider than his own body, but he knew he could make it through. The Baron had been right, Lutetians could have left the City State anytime they liked - no one was guarding the walls, and nothing was stopping them from leaving. They had all been fools. Now Cole had to somehow encourage them to leave while they could.
He turned his body sideways and started to squeeze himself through the crack. But before he could make it all the way through, a large hand clamped strongly around his wrist and wrenched him back to the other side of the wall. Cole found himself face to face with a furious, panting Baron Herf. He wanted to run, but the Baron was brandishing a menacingly sharp-looking cutlass close to Cole's throat.
"Very impressive young man," the Baron said. "I could have hardly believed that you would have even known which direction to run in - but I underestimated you. Happily, I was smart enough to assume that you were a mindless creature of habit, and that you would probably head back to your pitiful town."
Cole was about to stay silent again, just as he had so successfully done on previous occasions with the Baron when he realized that he had never actually engaged in a meaningful conversation with this insane, horrible man who had taken Faraday's life. He decided that it was finally time to take a stand. He no longer cared about the consequences.
"Mindless creatures wrap themselves around trees in the sand and cry like babies hoping to speak to some god who either doesn't exist or just isn't listening to fools like you," Cole said.
Even if it were me talking, I could not have said it better myself.
The Baron put the shiny cutlass blade against Cole's neck. The minstrel could feel the sharp edge of the cold steel close to penetrating his skin.
"You dare speak such sacrilege young heathen?" Baron Herf said. "Then you shall die as an unworthy sacrifice to the great Godallahim."
Cole shut his eyes and prepared himself for the inevitable. He had failed Lutece, but oddly enough, he found consolation in the thought that somehow Faraday would have been proud of his attempt to make it back to the City State and to openly defy the Baron Herf.
He felt the blade leave his neck. Cole knew that Herf was pulling his arm back in order to take one true swipe at his target.
Suddenly he heard a crack, and the sound of a body slumping to the ground. He opened his eyes. The Baron lay on the ground, his head smashed by a large piece of concrete - killed by the very walls his ancestors had erected to protect their own way of life. Cole looked up. A gang of Lutetian vigilantes stood cheering atop the wall.
"REPENT! RELENT! RETRENCH! FOR THE MOMENT!" they shouted.
Cole never thought he would be so happy to hear his own words shouted back at him with such venom.
"Destroy the outsider!" they yelled, picking up more stones, this time to throw at Cole. "He carries the plague!"
Small mercies obviously didn't last very long, and Cole didn't have much time. He quickly squeezed through the hole in the wall, leaving behind the body of the recently departed Baron Maximilian Colchester Herf ben Mabu'a and a handful of nasty Lutetian mercenaries who were unable to descend fast enough from the walls of the City State to pursue him. Cole was finally back home.
CHAPTER 22: A MINSTREL'S THIN CELEBRITY SKIN
"Delphi, bother why even?" Milligauss asked - his inverted way of speech even more puzzling to Cole after having been away from the Guild for so long. "Credibility you no longer have after leaving us you did. The mission and spirit of the Minstrels of The Moment betrayed you have!"
Cole sat before his former mentor, slumped and beaten. The exhilaration of his triumphant escape from Ein Mabu'a and the Baron had quickly dissipated. He had been trying for the last hour to explain his revelations to Milligauss, to no avail.
"But sir," Cole said. "What you don't realize is that the next Moment isn't what you think it's going to be."
"What do you know Delphi?" Milligauss said. "Just because showed you some silly letter a crazy burgher in Peasant Central?" He turned his back to Cole and faced the window inside the main studio of the Minstrels' Guild. "Make this very clear to you I shall. Where this so-called 'enemy' comes from nobody knows, and nobody cares. Sounds like a horrible cough this 'Rostock!'" Milligauss chuckled appreciatively at his own wit. "So unimportant is such a diplomatic missive. Process story it is. Human angle, where is it? Dry and boring documents are. Not compelling at all Delphi - if tear it does not, steer it does not."
Milligauss finally turned to face Cole. "What the story is, we know. What the next Moment is, we know. This contagious plague - this enemy within. Just in time you disappeared. So see you did not the throngs of people - to our songs they came to listen. And the money!" He shook his head in mock amazement. "From our hats overflow ecus. Enough people cannot get. A lot we have accomplished here Delphi, sorry to say that part of it, you were not."
Cole could not give up -- for Faraday's sake, for Lutece's sake.
"But has anyone actually seen any manifestations of this plague that is supposed to cause the next Moment?" Cole said. "Is there any proof that it exists? Don't we have an obligation to our audience to seek the truth, to determine if this is a real threat or not? To find out whether there might be a deception at the heart of this whole publicity campaign?"
"Naysayer, naysayer," Milligauss said. "Exists our experts say, enough for me that is!" He walked over to the door and beckoned to Cole. "With all your lies and heresies, now get out of here! No need for you have we!'
Cole looked sadly at his former boss and mentor. There was no further point in arguing with him. Milligauss was too far gone, too heady with the sensation of his fable of the Moment. Why question success? He was just as fundamentalist, as conservative, and hence as dangerous as the Baron Herf had been.
Although he had to give up on Milligauss and the Guild's betrayal of the public's trust - of its refusal to provide accurate and important information - Cole knew that he still had a duty to get the message across himself. The people had to know.
He accepted Milligauss' invitation to depart, and quickly walked out the open door. Instead of leaving the premises however, he walked behind the Minstrels' Guild and snuck in through the back door of the building. He headed towards the instrument cabinet and pulled out his signature guitar, slipping outside before anyone noticed him.
He made his way down to his favorite performance venue at Saint Michael's Square. Along the way, he noticed how much the City State had deteriorated - even in the past two days. Mounds of garbage lined the streets. People who dared brave the outside world did so carefully, and on foot - the underground train no longer functioned. Windows were boarded up, doors were locked. The couple of dozen people who were now milling around the square were either without refuge, or considered themselves sure-footed enough not to trip or fumble while in the public's eye - thus remaining on the right side of the law that the ever-vigilant bands of marauders had taken into their own hands. But even those gangs were finding fewer and fewer people to kick around.
The scene of disarray was not enough to deter Cole. He sat down by the fountain and decided to try his luck anyway. He no longer had a hat, let alone a guitar case with which to collect coins. However, that no longer mattered. Cole was not here to make a profit. This time his performance would be solely in the name of a genuine public service. He would not benefit from exploitation and the threat of misery.
He began to strum his guitar, conjuring up words as he went along. For the first time, he thought about the music he was going to play, rather than just the knee-jerk I-IV-V progression that he had been schooled in for so long - at least he had learned one valuable lesson from Ein Mabu'a.
Cole played, and sang his heart and mind. He told people what he knew, about how misguided the Minstrels had been, but that there was still something very real to fear, though it was not what they thought it was. Unfortunately no one paid him any attention, hardly noticing his presence.
There were a number of reasons for the crowd's indifference to the former star minstrel who sat by the fountain at Saint Michael's Square trying hard to give them the real news. It all comes down to a popular theory of information dissemination, and requires a short tutorial, so please, bear with me.
The first reason no one listened to Cole was because he lacked a brand name. Over the past couple of days, Lutetians had been conditioned by the Minstrels of The Moment to only pay attention to bearers of news who wore orange haunts with luminous green tassels. Any other pretender not wearing such habit was clearly not a Minstrel of The Moment and could effective be ignore. It was easier that way - it was much more efficient to go with what you knew and dismiss anyone else and what they had to say as unreliable.
The second explanation was appearance. It must not be forgotten that Cole had not gotten any real rest in over two days. He had journeyed through a sewer system, done some time in a dungeon, and fled his captors through a hot, dusty desert. His shirt was ripped and was missing buttons. His pant cuffs were frayed, a hole had warn though on the left leg, near the knee, probably from the wear and tear of horseback riding. His fingernails looked as if they had been dipped in black nail polish, his hands as if he had dragged them through a mile-long garbage dump. In effect, our former celebrity looked no better than the legions of homeless that plagued the streets of the City State, whom ordinary folk regarded as no more than a distasteful fixture in their lives. Cole's fall from grace was complete under this theory, and indeed he had to fear for his life because as we know, the homeless were enemy number one for the vigilantes. However, after what Cole had been through, he could no longer expend his energy on his own wellbeing. In his mind, his message had to get out.
But it was substance that really mattered. Well actually, that was precisely what didn't matter in Lutece, but who was preoccupied with dotting 'i's and crossing 't's? What Cole was singing and saying, preaching and playing was far too complicated, obtuse and nonsensical to be worthy of a Lutetian's attention. They could not even begin to fathom what he was talking about: "Ein Mabu'a," "Baron Herf," "torture," "victims," "massacre," "Rostock" - what could all those strange terms mean, and who cared anyway?
It was thus Cole's utter failure to get his message across that led to the above lesson on the reasons behind the public indifference.
He put his guitar down in utter dismay. Could anyone be blamed for this sad state of affairs? If he were really thinking straight Milligauss would probably automatically accuse the audience. He would say that the Minstrels gave them what they wanted, and what they deserved. They wanted it fast, easy and catchy. Well here it was, served steaming hot on a silver platter. Milligauss would probably add that the immense success of the Minstrels Guild was testimony to the Lutetian attitude, and all the validation the Guild needed to continue in its ways.
Cole could not dismiss such arguments out of hand. The audience obviously loved what the Minstrels were doing, and did not have an appetite for much else. But now that he had learned to think outside of the box, Cole realized that he found it hard to distinguish the Minstrels from the rest of the Lutetian populace. It was all chicken-and-egg really. The Minstrels were nothing more than Lutetians - cut from the same cloth. Minstrel and non-Minstrel alike were involved in a subconscious conspiracy to deny reality, to cozy up to the appealing, the trite, the interesting, the irrelevant, the compelling. They were completely able to discount what was important.
Unfortunately, what is important is hard to swallow, let alone to discover. It is even harder to portray important issues in black and white. And delivering shades of gray as a Minstrel has never been that much fun - for the performer or for the listener. So to Cole, in the end, both were to blame, and both were about to pay dearly for their willful ignorance. He felt sick to his stomach.
"You couldn't tell them that before, could you?" a voice asked from behind Cole. The minstrel was jolted awake from his reverie by the harsh, accusatory tone.
Cole turned around and found himself face-to-face with his nemesis, the town crier, Jernigan. This man was always able to take him by surprise.
"You were right. You were right -" Cole said, looking at the ground.
"And now, no one will listen, right?" Jernigan asked. He obviously already knew the answer.
"No, they won't." Cole shook his head. "I just don't know what to do. People are going to die! We must hide, or find some way to defend ourselves! We've got to do something!"
The town crier looked at Cole with smug satisfaction and flashed his hated competitor a smug smile. Jernigan had lost a considerable amount of weight since Cole had last seen him - probably due to the lack of work the ATC had received since the advent of the Minstrels of The Moment phenomenon - but that didn't mean he had lost any of his vindictive force and rage.
"Well I will certainly be considering all those options," he said. "And I will encourage my friends and family to do the same. But as for you minstrels, you already have blood on your hands. And you will have more before this is all over."
Jernigan put his hand on Cole's slumped shoulder.
"Maybe you should go plead your case to the Sultan - but then again..."
He chuckled and abruptly walked away from Cole. The young minstrel was humiliated. However, at this point, he was now desperate, and decided that as a last ditch effort, it would not hurt to take Jernigan's mocking advice, and go and see the Sultan of the City State of Lutece.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
CHAPTER 23: THE ABDICATION OF A SULTAN
The Sultan was dwarfed by a towering pile of steamer trunks, suitcases and boxes. He was clearly going somewhere. This was how Cole found him when he marched into the Sultan's unguarded palace.
"Excuse me sir," Cole said.
The Sultan turned away quickly from his suitcases.
"What are you d-d-d-d-oing here?" he said, his face looking surprised and guilty at the same time. "I thought everyb-b-b-ody had left the palath!"
"I don't work for you sir," Cole said, in awe to finally be before the Sultan. "I'm a minstrel."
Lutece's head of city state peered closer at Cole's face.
"Oh yeth...I recognize you. You work for Milligautth" he said. "You are the one who tharted this whole affair."
Cole bowed his head.
"Yes, I'm afraid so sir," he said. "And that's why I've come before you now."
Cole told his story to the Sultan. But he didn't get the reaction he had expected.
The Sultan of the City State of Lutece began to grin, and then chuckle. And then he burst out into near-supersonic guffaws. Cole looked up at the royal figure with confusion and despair. What was so funny?
The Sultan saw Cole's forlorn look and struggled to contain himself.
"How could this surprise you, young man?" the Sultan said, all speech impediments fallen by the wayside. Somehow he had now assumed a German accent from a bad World War II movie. "I knew that this was going to happen all along. I saw it coming! But it was the last straw. ENOUGH I said to myself. I was FED UP and FRUSTRATED by how Lutetians were treating me. I thought it was time for the ultimate lesson, a final solution if you will. How dare they laugh at me, scoff at me - especially after a dinner whn I was trying so hard to foster good relations with our neighbors? But no, they could not care less! To them, I was their jester, their source of entertainment. Well no longer it seems, that joke is not funny anymore. I will have the last laugh!"
"But Your Greatness," Cole said. He was still slightly daunted by being before this notorious man, who seemed to be quite "with it" - in his flowing purple robes - despite all the things that had been said and sung about him. Cole also thought deference would better help get his message across. "They are still your subjects. How could you let this happen to them?"
"Do you think I just walked into this job - just because no one else could be bothered?" the Sultan said. He had turned his back on Cole again and was double-checking the buckles and fastners on all of his luggage.
"I wanted it! I b-b-b-bashed my father's head in with a guitar to get it! I thought that I could make a d-d-d-difference, and transform this Thity-Thate into something that I could be proud to be Thultan of. International trade, cultural exchanges, agricultural fairs -- But even from the beginning, I was ignored. My voice was not strong enough to get the m-m-message out. I had hoped to use the Town Criers to my advantage because they were therious in their job - but people began to pay less attention to the ATTHEE."
The Sultan turned to look at Cole again.
"And the G-g-guild was busy making fun of me - making t-t-too much money off of that to pay attention to what it was I was really saying. You ruined everything for me. How I used to yearn for this job when I was your age! To have that power. To be somebody. To travel the world! To cultivate the arts. I even wrote a few songs during my darkest days of dethperation before my d-d-dear father died. Here," he said, reaching towards Cole. "G-g-give me your guitar for a minute."
Cole handed him his instrument dumbly. He looked on in horror as the Sultan took his time in settling in with it.
"Ahhh, I cannot remember the last time I held a g-g-guitar!" the Sultan said, trying to tune the instrument. "Oh yes, now I remember!" He giggled in morbid recollection of patricide.
Every second counted now, and here was the Sultan trying to impress him with music! This situation could not have gotten any more absurd. The Sultan began to play, and sing.
"I've lost my compass," Arthur said to me.
"I've got a hunger to be King, a hunger to Be.
I yearn to change time, life, the earth,
to be engraved in memory, a hero's worth."
"It's really a race to prove to them and me,
that I've got what it takes, what it takes to Be.
To rise above the petty, the trite, the routine,
to rule, to be loved, to make war, to be seen."
"But I don't know my friend, how to go my friend,
if it's already too late, too lost, a dead end.
If I should fall back entrench dig in prepare,
for the banal, the routine the peace, the fear."
"I want to travel the world, to eat, to see,
to speak a thousand tongues, meet a thousand kings, to Be.
To mark my time, to take my place, assert my Divine Right,
to polish the crown, clean the realm, clear the night."
"But now I look at this sword firmly set in stone,
and wonder if I can take it and claim the throne.
And time grows short and I may soon lose my turn,
death will come quick, look at me and learn."
He looked at me, hoping to hear something good.
I just smiled and told him that I understood.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001
At that moment, Cole decided that the Sultan of the City State of Lutece was quite mad. Clearly frustrated in trying to achieve what he had wanted during his Sultanship, he somehow wanted to take out his anger on his subjects. Then it dawned on Cole. The Sultan's cavalier attitude now made complete sense. He had known all along that there was not going to be a second Moment - at least the way the Minstrels had described it.
"Yes, I had known all along that the Minstrel's Moment was a f-f-fraud," the Sultan said. He had somehow read Cole's mind as he handed the guitar back to the minstrel. "Who do you think planted the idea in that ridiculouth Milligautthh's head to begin with? When he came to me that morning after the diplomatic dinner, I was furiouth with his Guild for having l-l-leaked the information - but even then the Minstrels had not gotten it right! Do you think I was eating with the Vizir of Rothtock for my need for a new d-d-dinner companion? As we will thoon find out, he is not the most amiable of men. I made up that whole thing about the p-p-plague on the thpot! Right in front of your leader. And he ate it up, word for word! The fallout has thertainly been amusing, and it has been good to see my thubjects so m-m-motivated, drawing the thpotlight away from me for once!" The Sultan sighed. "Well now, I will have my revenge, and leave you all to the pitiful, ignorant f-f-fate you all deserve!"
It was over. Cole now realized that the Guild had abdicated any responsibility it had possessed. Having earned the attention of the Lutetians, its public trust, it had then abused the privilege by playing to their pleasures rather than to their best interests. Had the Guild been vigilant, courageous, and had done a proper job, it would have never come to this. But in the name of greed they had ignored the Sultan, they had overlooked what had really been important, and they had scorned the outside world - to the peril of the entire City State.
The Sultan stepped away from his baggage, chuckling.
"I have had enough of this," he said. "I must go and find thomeone to help me with my things. I think it is time that I abandon this dithguthing little Thity Thate, and would advise you to do the thame. I would say that annihilation is around the c-c-corner."
With that, the Sultan walked out, leaving behind a trembling Gemayat Cole Delphi. The young man stood there for a second, then left the palace. He now knew that all was truly lost.
And at that moment, the merciless armies of the Grand Vizir of Rostock breach the northeast walls of the City State of Lutece.
The petulant Grand Vizir had never forgiven the Sultan for his tumble, and he certainly had strong recollections of the scalding fish broth. He had sent a letter under seal to that effect to his cousin, thrice removed - the Baron Maximilian Colchester Herf Ben Ein Mabu'a. As a matter of diplomatic courtesy, the Sultan had also received one.
Lutece lies waiting, unaware and helpless. Havoc and destruction was about to occur. Most Lutetians are going to be massacred - they had lived for The Moment and they are about to die in The Moment. The City State is about to fall. The Moment is now.
AFTER THE MOMENT
Dawn broke over whatever remained of the spires and rooftops of Lutece. Cole clambered out of the underground, only to find himself knee-deep in rubble and bodies.
Despite the death and destruction, in some bizarre afterthought, Cole remembered that today was his birthday. He had turned twenty-six while hiding away with a handful of other Lutetians - those of whom he had been able to convince of the imminent Armageddon - in the sewers of the City State.
Cole had considered fleeing altogether, but had decided otherwise. However, it was no longer because he was afraid of what lay beyond Lutece's now-decimated walls, it was because he felt a duty towards anyone who may have survived the onslaught. He also felt a huge responsibility for what had happened. It was time to face the music.
Lutece was a disaster. The fountain at Saint Michael's place was crammed with cannonballs - dammed with detritus if you will. Bodies were strewn throughout the street, over railings, on the doorsteps, hung from lantern posts. Decapitated minstrels still hunched over the guitars, slumped before a forever-attentive crowd of slaughtered Lutetians who, piled in a corner, would not have noticed the headless state of the performers in any case. Customers remained at their seats at the Bistro Bustles, Café Quicks and Gourmet Fasts, butchered - their still fresh blood blackening over wooden tabletops - waiting for the orders that will never arrive.
The Sultan's palace had been blown apart - there was merely a foundation where the building once stood. In one of the many fits of inhumanity, a terrible violation of the rules of war, Anton - the Sultan's chef - lay face down, disfigured and in pieces, his dislocated head stuffed deep inside a large blue ceramic bowl. Could the dead talk, he would have told anyone who would have lent him a sympathetic ear, that during the first wave of the invasion, soldiers had taken him aside, pinned him down, and using a very sharp machete, had severed his Achilles tendons. Of course, Anton had howled, screeched and wailed - overwrought with excruciating pain. But the soldiers had refused to finish him off there and then. Instead, they left him alone and crippled. He could not hide - he was in such agony that he could barely crawl. It was not until the final wave of barbarians came, rushing through the already devastated City State, that they finally put him out of his misery and hacked him to death - [hack] with sharp [hack] precise [hack] strokes [hack hack]. As a fitting symbol of the Grand Vizir's now realized vengeance, they had thrown his head into the bowl as an wonderfully improvised afterthought.
Lutece had never seen it coming. Its bridges were burned, the wall had fallen.
Cole winced as the sunlight struggled through the rising dust. He thought back to Faraday, and longed to see her again. He wondered whether the Sultan had escaped the City State in time. He was especially curious about Milligauss. Had his former mentor - his parents' idol - died, still deluded, still in denial, just as much as his public had been? Cole shook his head, still appalled at the Guild's abdication of responsibility and the abandonment of reason.
As the minstrel walked the desolate streets, the last person he expected to run into again suddenly stood before him.
"So that is what a Moment feels like?" Grotius said, his white safari shirt stained with blood and dirt, his eyes wide open, unblinking, gardening shears in hand. "Not entirely pleasant, really."
Then he recognized Cole and he blinked quickly.
"You see minstrel - you see what happens in the Outside World? Do you see why we should not court disaster by looking too far beyond our garden?" he said angrily.
Cole looked at the old man sympathetically.
"I do see Mister Grotius. I see very clearly. I just hope that you see how even walls can't even hold it back. That one day, somehow, what happens even very far away from us, could actually have some effect upon us. That at the very least, we should know - so we can see it coming. And at the very best, we should study even what we consider to be 'foreign' so that we can learn and grow ourselves."
Grotius was barely listening as he smeared the blood around his shirt.
"What a wonderful garden we had, what a wonderful garden. All gone, all gone - "
He started to cry.
"You really did not learn that much from Faraday, did you?" Cole said.
"Faraday? Faraday?" Grotius said, shaking his head. "Where is Faraday? Dead I suppose. All dead, all dead. Dead!" He laughed. "No, no, no - we were lovers once you know. She taught me things you know - those Lost Languages...she had hope for me, yes, yes she did. But I think I just put up with her lessons because I had very little else to do then. And she was so seductive! Oh you should have seen her back then - beautiful and clear-headed. She was so vivacious and hopeful!"
Cole looked at Grotius in disgust. What a waste.
"After the lessons, she would sing to me, you know. Such a beautiful voice -" Grotius trailed off, and as many of the characters in this fable were want to do, he began to sing.
It never rains, until it pours
it never rains, until it pours
so do your dance
so do your dance
and pray it cures
and pray it cures
It never rains until it pours
it never rains until it pours
Be still the calm before the storm
be still the calm before the storm
true to form
true to form
be still the calm before the storm
be still the calm before the storm
Rain, rain, come and stay
Rain, rain, come and stay
an honest tempest
an honest tempest
above the fray
above the fray
rain, rain, come and stay
rain, rain, come and stay
Ah...old soul, you hesitate?
Walk the coals, precipitate.
Ah...old soul, you love and hate?
Marry your foe, precipitate.
Winter showers spring willpower
winter showers spring willpower
drown the seeds
drown the seeds
until they flower
until they flower
winter showers spring willpower
winter showers spring willpower.
Grotius stopped, and looked at the ground.
"She always told me that I never listened. I never listened she said. She told me that I was too caught up in my gardening, in the moment. She was right, gardening is very important, yes, yes, very important."
Grotius turned his head and looked around. He started to open and close his blood-stained shears.
"What a wonderful garden, what a wonderful garden. I must get back to my garden."
He walked away, continuing to utter his mantra to himself, the snip-snip of his shears providing a solid backbeat.
Cole was finally left standing alone. He could not believe that anyone could remain so foolish after all that had happened. But Grotius was clearly too far gone to understand how very wrong he had been.
Through his haze of despair, Cole began to walk through the empty street. He feared what lay ahead. Would the surviving heirs to Baron Herf do good on his promise and march into Lutece, remake it in his dearly departed image? Would surviving Lutetians have the strength to resurrect the city and make it better than it once was. And who else, besides Herf and the Grand Vizir of Rostock lay waiting beyond the limits of Lutece? Were their intentions benign?
Cole decided that it didn't matter. And like the good protagonist I had wrought, he concluded that what was most important that the walls never rise again. Nothing else mattered. Time to start all over again. There was always time, wasn't there? Such is my fantasy - destroy one world, then destroy again. First principles in a state of nature become so much less complicated when life is nasty, brutish and short. Time to turn the information page because soon enough again a New Age will be all the rage. But then again, I digress...but then again, I am nothing, if not A Digression.
Hanson R. Hosein, copyright 2001