Free Chapter: Leap to the City of Light


Paris 1951

 

VanWest hurtles headfirst into a pile of luggage. His head woozy, he attempts to sit-up but cannot. He gags instead, the dizzying spin of the vortex has left him wanting to throw up. Trying to use his Quantum Communicator to contact Dr King and Colonel Cornelius he finds himself unable to focus, let alone think graphically of the words he must transmit. Noticing the cold air blowing through, the luggage around him, he realises he must be on the plane that the Colonel showed him! Whilst in flight!

Trying to sit up again, he notices a nametag, F. de Rose. It’s all very real; he has indeed travelled back in time. This nametag is none other than Francois de Rose, a match to his upload, the Chairman of this important UNESCO meeting that will lead to the formation of CERN.

His mind turns to panic, his first thought is how he can return to the present, he scours through the luggage to find the silver Quantum Accelerator rod. After what feels like too long, he finally locates it, lying on some bags beside a metal vent. Lifting the vent up, he sees there is a small white room above. From, which an awful smell of human excrement emerges! He can only assume this must be the toilet. Even so, he isn’t keen to stay in this freezing luggage hold and squeezes through the small opening.

Entering inside the toilet cubicle, he gasps, ‘Whoa’!

There is a bizarrely dressed man staring back at him. His reflection in the mirror shows him in his disguise, he can barely recognise himself in his 1950s three-piece suit. A voice startles him, an announcement in French, ‘Mesdames et messieurs, votre attention s’il vous plait. Nous atterrirons bientôt’. His bionic implants automatically translates it, notifying him that the plane is about to land.

Being cautious, he opens the door only slightly and peers into a smoky hallway, recognising instantly one of the people seated from his new Wiki files as Francois de Rose. Further confirming that he has indeed gone back in time. Francois looks just like his image, his eyes large and blue, hidden behind thick black-framed glasses. The aisle is also cloudy, smoke rises from ashtrays on nearly every seat. VanWest cannot help but be bemused at the sight of people smoking and drinking lots of wine with bottles and glasses everywhere. Smoking and drinking are hedonistic and forbidden vices, long banned in the year 3000.

A blonde woman in a tight blue uniform and pillbox hat walks up the hallway, inspecting and fastening seatbelts in preparation for the plane to land. Seeing that the woman is turning around, he shuts the door and sits down on the closed toilet seat to wait for the plane’s descent. He can feel the plane dropping in altitude, very much puzzled by such a shaky and strange form of landing, he presses his palms against the walls to brace himself. The glass bottles clink and rattle as the plane finally thumps down on the ground, braking – screech, and coming to a stop after several long seconds.

The pilot announces their arrival, ‘Mesdames et messieurs, bienvenue à Paris – Le Bourget. Descendez-vous, s’il vous plaît’. VanWest switches to 20th Century French vocal integration using his UNESCO Investor Profile 1.

VanWest waits for the passengers to disembark, inconspicuously blending in with them as they head for a waiting bus on the tarmac. Walking down the airstair, he is taken aback by the beauty of the blue skies and cannot help but take a moment to enjoy the view. He inhales several deep breaths of the fresh and crisp air, his lungs tingling with pleasure. VanWest can feel his mind and body instantly revitalised. Rarely has he tasted such sweetness before, so pure and unfiltered.

He recomposes himself and follows Francois de Rose onto the bus, which drives on to passport control. There he must join a short queue, taking out his passport he reads it several times to ensure that he is ready to recall any detail.

‘Have you not travelled before’?

‘Sorry’?

‘Your passport has no stamps’? The airport officer quizzes him.

VanWest is forced to improvise, returning a nervous-looking smile, ‘Ah, this is a new passport, I lost my old one on my last trip’.

Luckily, it works, ‘Oh, I see. I thought it strange. Carry on, Sir, next please’.

Francois has already exited the terminal and steps into a waiting taxi. VanWest hones in, with his bionic implants he is able to listen into Francois’s conversation with the taxi driver, ‘Hotel Majestic, please’.

Hotel Majestic copies with that of his upload, the temporary home of UNESCO’s preparatory commission when it moved from London to Paris in 1946. He jumps in the next waiting taxi, a white Renault Frégate car that is typical of this time, and instructs the driver to go to the same place, the hotel situated on ‘Avenue Kléber, Hotel Majestic’.

‘Of course, welcome to the city of light’! The taxi driver welcomes him.

Worried that the Utopians could strike at any time, he is mindful that he mustn’t let Francois out of his sight for too long. His upload describes the chairman as a key figure who plays a pivotal role in the development of the CERN over the next few years. VanWest surmises that this makes him a prime target for those on the Most Wanted list. He again attempts to reactivate his Quantum Communicator to update his position. However, his focus is still too poor to transmit a message. These sights around him are so alien, his mind and senses overloaded.

The taxi takes him on an hour-long trip through Paris’s cobbled streets, past vibrant marketplaces, green parks and old stone chateaus. For VanWest, this alien scene contrasts starkly against that of the year 3000, he is most surprised to see people walk freely along the sidewalks. Free of harassment from patrol androids and Quadrotors, a big-brother type circular hovercraft that stalks and monitors Antarctica’s citizens. Their clothes are straight out of a museum, made of cotton and wool. Their vehicles are four-wheeled cars that disperse foul-smelling black fumes from their exhausts. Nearly everyone smokes, rolling and lighting pieces of white paper, cigarettes, as they walk along the streets.

Even though 1951 Paris bears the scars of World War II, its buildings blackened and dilapidated, it still looks so much cleaner and happier than any settlement he has seen before. Despite there being no leaves on the trees, being December and late Autumn, it’s the first time he sees trees of this size in real life. Their trunks so thick and branches spread over the streets. There is life all around.

The taxi driver switches on the radio on the car’s dashboard, it plays music. The sound is fuzzy, at times dipping in and out as it loses connection. The radio is so primitive, only having an amplitude-modulated ‘AM’ frequency range. He recognises one of the tunes from his ColaBeers tour, it is Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose. The song is banned by the Universal Council, its playing a show of defiance by its citizens that risks imprisonment and hard labour if caught.

The only media permitted and broadcasted in the year 3000 is an Elite run channel featuring a small selection of programs: ‘the ‘Universal Commandment Recitals for Kids’, special events such as ‘the Universal Games’ and every Sunday ‘Judgment Day’ also known as the ‘Day of Executions’.

Despite the seriousness of his mission, it makes all for quite a glamourous and enjoyable ride. He has only ever seen a modified version of Paris via the Hypersphere and, as the old adage goes, there’s nothing like the real thing.

A signpost indicates the taxi is approaching Notre-Dame, arrondissement 4. He sits up at the sight of a colossal monument, one he has only ever seen in a Hypersphere simulation. Structured in the shape of an archway is the Napoleonic war memorial ‘L’Arc de Triomphe’, its design Romanesque and neoclassical. He marvels at the arch adorned with commemorative inscriptions and carvings though its stones are blackened by pollution.

The Arc stands in front of the Tour Eiffel. An even larger monument, it still exists in the year 3000 as a corroded relic. Constructed all the way back in 1889, it has long since become a ruin and a distant reminder of a forgotten time. The Tour Eiffel’s iron lattice structure reaches an impressive 320 metres tall, in 1951 one of the tallest buildings in the world, close to the length of an SCC class spaceship. La Seine’s brownish-blue water meanders alongside these monuments. He has never seen water that was not incarnadine. The whole scene is very surreal.

The taxi turns right on to Rue La Perouse towards Hotel Majestic, situated in le Champs-Élysées. At the traffic lights, a young man with an oversized cap comes over from a kiosk and knocks on his window waving a magazine, Le Courrier. It’s an educational journal, its headline Les Droits De L’Homme, translates as ‘The Rights of Man’. Thinking it could be useful, he cautiously rolls down his window, taking a few moments to figure out how, and gives the smiling young man a 20 Francs sheet of paper from his money purse.

He flicks through the journal. Although the general UNESCO meeting is mentioned, there’s little about the talks on the formation of the European Organisation of Nuclear Research, the creation of CERN itself, and who will be there. Offering him no further clues as to who or what the Utopians could be targeting, no more than he knows already.

The taxi driver indicates that they have arrived at Hotel Majestic, pointing at a Beaux-Arts 19th Century style hotel that is several stories high. It has a symmetrical stone facade lavishly decorated with swags, medallions, flowers, and shields. The building exudes wealth and money, a place worthy of hosting Europe’s top diplomats, scientists and delegates. As the taxi stops at the entrance, a porter in a red uniform walks over to open his door.

‘100 Francs’, the taxi driver asks with a big smile.

VanWest hands a piece of paper with the number over to the man and steps out. Seeing that he has no luggage, the porter directs him through the front door to La Réception.

The man’s piercing blue eyes look strangely familiar. However, VanWest is distracted by the marvellous building in front. Walking into the hotel’s grand foyer, which is adorned with bright white flowers and hanging crystal chandeliers, it somewhat reminds him of the Universalis Domum de Praeterito, the rococo chamber he entered upon winning the Games. Here, Renaissance art decorates the walls, and statues of illustrious French nobles and scientists line its hallways.

He spots Francois de Rose at the reception and watches him from a distance to see what room key he receives. Following, he asks the clerk for a room close by, pretending that he is a colleague, ‘Same floor as Francois, please’.

Francois does not go directly to his room. Instead, he stops at the bar for a drink and cigarette.

Even though there are no visible dangers in the foyer or the stairway, VanWest conducts a sweep of the area to check for any sign of the Most Wanted. Using his bionic implants, he runs an image recognition scan against the humans loitering, returning ‘Nothing Out Of Place’.

Several middle-aged men are lounging in the bar area drinking glasses of wine, as on the plane. Their accents identify them to be Swiss, each talks keenly about the advantages of collaboration and their thoughts on the formation of a nuclear agency. VanWest wants to know more, but he suddenly finds himself distracted by a petite lady with long blonde hair and big brown eyes, sitting on a barstool. She wears a shiny silver necklace that rests on her perky bosom, pushed up by her skimpy black cocktail dress. He’s never seen a woman dressed this way, so alluringly, not in a loosely fitted jumpsuit.

Her brown eyes cross his, and she gives him a smile, biting her lower lip slightly, before turning to greet the man next to her, whom VanWest recognises from his upload as Albert Picot; a Swiss delegate and a key figure in successfully lobbying for the CERN site to be built in Geneva, Switzerland.

Francois leans on the bar’s counter, giving VanWest a wink, he orders two glasses of wine, ‘My friend, a lady of the night, be careful… They are not normally permitted in such fine places’.

Francois hands VanWest a glass of wine. He has never had a drink before. VanWest smiles and, for the sake of the mission, tepidly takes a few sips, his Investor Profile indicating it as a requirement for blending in. The taste is strange, dry and fruity, but makes him instantly slightly light-headed.

Francois smiles, ‘What’s your name, here for the conference’?

‘Van…, I mean Frederic Jacques, and yes’! VanWest replies, nearly forgetting his pseudo-identity.

‘Well, Frederic, my friend, be careful. Have yourself a splendid evening’, Francois winks, picking up his drink and walking away to join a table with several other UNESCO members.

Still quite disorientated from his leap and travel through time, the drink does not help his concentration. VanWest glances over at the lady, hesitating for a second as he decides to take Francois’s advice to stay clear. He puts his glass down and leaves to get some rest, his room key in his hand. There doesn’t seem to be any danger here.

Making his way up the stairs, his Quantum Communicator finally activates, and a short-scrambled message transmits through. It is from Dr King, ‘Beware, They Are In Disguise, Beware The Assassin Jaaro’. Unnervingly, just as he finishes receiving the message, there is a loud creaking noise. Reaching his floor, he finds the porter that welcomed him into the hotel. He doesn’t have the same face as the assassin Jaaro the Finn but looking at the Most Wanted images he does have the same piercing blue eyes.

The porter very slowly pushes a trolley filled with plates and glasses through the hallway. VanWest’s hands begin to tremble, his instinctive tick that he has come to know forewarns of trouble ahead. The porter looks over at him, placing his hand over a silver serving plate with a roller lid as he creeps closer. VanWest sees his room is located one door away, walking in quickstep, he unlocks the door and hurries inside, slamming it shut behind him.

Diving behind the bed, he can hear the porter’s trolley approaching – clink. Two knocks on the door follow before the porter calls to him by his pseudo name, ‘Monsieur Jacques, a special welcome platter. Compliments of Hotel Majestic’.

VanWest puts his hand in his trousers, pulling out the Luger pistol strapped against his leg, and presses his index finger against its trigger, readying to draw. But as the door unlocks and slowly opens, the porter’s head peers around with a big smile. VanWest quickly places a pillow over the pistol. The porter does not appear to have noticed it. The serving plate lid is now fully open and contains only fruit.

After placing it down on the table, the porter exits with a friendly nod, ‘Have a good evening’.

VanWest keeps his finger on his pistol’s trigger and, after waiting a few moments, decides to follow him with the pillow still over it, remaining suspicious that this is Jaaro the Finn. Stepping into the corridor, the lights have dimmed. He looks right and left down the hallway, the porter nowhere to be seen, seemingly having disappeared with only his trolley remaining.

Creak! A noise coming from the stairwell causes him to turn sharply, ready to shoot.

It’s not the porter but Francois. His cheeks a rosy red, he walks past VanWest, ‘Goodnight, my friend’, and enters the room next to his.

VanWest waits for Francois to close his door before returning to his own room, wondering if this porter was indeed Jaaro and if so will he return. Everything calmer, he has time to survey his room. It is quite strange, void of electronics except for a tube radio on a wooden cupboard. There is no holoscreen, no recharging pod, just a large bed covered with a green bedspread. Beside it, floor-length drapes made from the same cloth cover the window.

Too agitated and worried to sleep, he decides to stand guard for the next few hours, checking the hallway and surveying the street from his balcony. The effects of time travel start to catch up. Scanning the fruit left by the porter, it returns that it is safe to take a bite. Feeling no ill effect, and now very hungry, he eats the rest. Its taste so very juicy, fresh and sweet, unlike anything he has eaten before.

He also has some time to think through the mission, trying to figure out the Utopian plan he keeps returning to the same question: why are they waiting to strike at the conference and not before? Everyone in the hotel is very much unguarded and an easy target. It doesn’t make sense. What exactly are they hoping to achieve?

As the night wears on into the morning, he finally lays down on the edge of his bed. Its mattress springy and comfortable, he is no longer able to stay awake and drifts off. Dreaming of the woman at the bar, this so-called ‘lady of the night’, her big brown eyes and long blonde hair seductively drooped over her shoulders. Biting her lower lip, she calls him closer

 Copyright © 2020 by Kenneth Thomas. British English Language Edition.

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