Brest, 22 June 2073, 7.46 AM
The bullet-train Brest-Moscow-Komosomolsk left at 8.17 am. The plenipotentiary councillor of the Eurosiberian Federation Dimitri Leonidovich Oblomov was running late. He hadn’t slept much and had woken up at the last minute with a furry tongue. He had never taken the step of having one of those new “biotronic chips” that multiply the effects of sleep implanted under his scalp. One hour’s sleep with these was equivalent to seven hours of “natural” sleep. All high-ranking imperial officers had undergone this small and extremely practical operation to save time for work and avoid wasting precious hours sleeping. All officers, that is, except Dimitri: the prospect of becoming a “bionic man” scared him. He was actually disgusted by men of this sort – an increasingly common sight – who suffered from neither heart problems nor diabetes and had artificial hyper-performing hearts or livers implanted. At the age of 68, he was as fit as a fiddle. Now that cancer and cardiovascular diseases had disappeared among the executive elite of the Empire, his life expectancy was 105 years.
The business meeting with the Ministry of the Navy of the autonomous state of Brittany had gone on until 2 am: so long had it taken Dimitri to get those Celts – stubborn as mules – to reach an agreement.
The electro-taxi was waiting outside the hotel. Dimitri said the word “station” into the microphone of the computer on board the vehicle, followed by “great speed, arrival at 8:10 am sharp – I cannot miss the Brest-Moscow-Komsomolsk train” and inserted his credit card. The computer answered in an artificial female voice: “Brest Urban Transport welcomes you on board pilotless electro-taxi 606. Your request has been processed. You have a 76% chance of reaching your destination on time – the traffic is flowing smoothly. You have been charged 8 Eurosesterces. Please take your card.” Dimitri understood Breton like most of the educated leaders of the Federation. It was a chic and snob language used in intellectual circles, just like Latvian, neo-Occitan and Basque. The voice repeated the information in Russian, as the credit card suggested this was Dimitri’s mother tongue.
The automatic vehicle made an abrupt start. Guided by its electronic maps, it whizzed towards the station. At that hour of the day, the traffic was indeed running smoothly, with only a few carriages, cyclists and knights on the road, and a phaeton drawn by a sturdy white horse. After a few sharp swerves, electro-taxi 606 stopped in front of the station run by the TKU (Trans Kontinent Ultrarapid, the bullet-train company). A light drizzle was falling from the sky, which looked heavy, low and grey. The weather was hot and sticky. With climate change, the climate of Brittany had become humid and tropical. Dimitri was impatient to enjoy the icy air and blue sky of Dorbisk, his home on the Bering Strait, 20,000 kilometres away, at the other end of the vast Eurosiberian Federation – the “Great Motherland.”
The train silently left the underground station. Dimitri Leonidovich immediately perceived the effects of its powerful acceleration. On the screen embedded on the back of the seat in front of him he studied the schedule and route of his journey: Brest-Paris-Brussels-Frankfurt-Berlin-Warsaw-Kiev-Moscow… down to Komsomolsk, on the banks of the Amour River, in the Siberian Far East. There he was going to catch a plane straight to Dorbisk, as the track for the planetrain to the Bering Strait had not yet been completed. Dimitri would have spent the night with his wife Olivia to celebrate their ten-year anniversary. In Brest it would have been just past 3 pm, but in Dorbisk, because of the time difference, it would have been 2 am…
All this was possible thanks to the planetrain or “planetary train”, as it was officially called. This revolutionary invention had radically changed the world of transport just after 2040. The patent for it was an old one: it had been deposited by the (now defunct) American company Westinghouse in 1975! The principle on which it was based was the following: along a tunnel dug a few meters beneath the earth, a train – or rather a semi-articulated train of 150 metres in length functioning through magnetic levitation and “electro-linear” propulsion – runs in a vacuum-packed atmosphere. Given the absence of friction from either air or ground, the planetrain can travel as fast as 20,000 km/h. It cannot travel at its full speed on short distances because of acceleration and deceleration problems, reaching 1,300 km/h at most. On long distances, however, it attains close to 20,000 km/h. Hence, the journey from Brest to Paris (480 km) took longer than that from Moscow to Irkoutsk (7,000 km), as in the latter case the train could reach up to 17,000 km/h, albeit only for short stretches along its course. On the whole, the planetrain journey from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific took just over three hours.
Following the traumatic occurrence of the Great Catastrophe of 2014-2016, the “Renaissance” of 2030 and the building of the Eurosiberian Federation, which was given the name of “Empire of the Two-Headed Eagle” – for it marked the fusion between the European Union and Russia with the Pact of Prague in 2038 – the revolutionary Federal Governornment had chosen to make a clear break with the ideas of the past in the field of transport as in all other fields. The use of electric vehicles had been extended to all, while a stop had been put to private car ownership; a return had been made to means of transport based on horse power, while the use of engine-driven vehicles in neo-traditional rural communities had been banned; highways had been abandoned and replaced with railway tracks for fast trains carrying lorries and containers; air travel had gradually been phased out in favour of planetrains; cargo-airships had been introduced for shipping goods; the canal network had been restored; and finally nuclear energy was being employed along with wind energy for maritime transport. The Government had been imposing these radical changes – a clear break with the past – since the ‘40s, and this had been possible because it was necessary to start from scratch. Once destroyed or rendered unserviceable by the Great Catastrophe, economic systems and infrastructures had been rebuilt on completely new foundations.
The construction of the planetrain, like other great continental projects, had enabled the launching of a new techno-scientific economy between 2040 and 2073. Unlike in the 20th century, this was no longer extended to all areas of the earth or all people: only 10% of humanity benefited from it. These people were grouped in cities – far smaller and less densely populated than twentieth-century ones. Within the Federation, 20% of the population lived in techno-scientific industrial areas. This had made it possible to repopulate deserted rural areas and solve the problems of pollution and energy waste – the planet could finally breathe again. The biggest city of the Federation, Berlin, only had 2 million inhabitants. Still, it was too late to stop global warming, the gashouse effect and the rise of sea levels caused by wide-scale toxic emissions in the 20th century. Science had made rapid progress, but it only affected a minority of the population; the others had reverted to a medieval form of economy based on agriculture, craftsmanship and farming.
The reason for this dynamism is that the global volume of investments and budgets, both public and private, no longer had to meet the various needs of 80% of the population, who now lived in neo-traditional communities based on an archaic socio-economic systems and personally managed their own production and exchange of goods. So from around 2040, techno-scientific innovation had resumed the level it had reached in 2014, but only in certain spheres: transport, computer science, genetics, energy, space exploration, etc. In all other sectors, given the limits of the market, technological products were rather primitive. Basically, a two-tier economy had been established.
Seven planetrain lines had been built between 2040 and 2073, all of them connected: Brest-Moscow-Dorbisk, Rome-Edinburgh, Lisbon-Oslo and St Petersburgh-Athens were already finished, while others – such as the Helsinki-Vladivostok line – were still under construction. Outside the Empire, only China (Peking-Shanghai) and India (New Delhi-Bombay) had bought plaintrains, which were jointly produced by the Typhoone and Eurospace companies. America, which had never really recovered from the Great Catastrophe and had almost entirely reverted to a pastoral economy, could not afford to pay for them. Besides, long distance connections down there only interested very few people: for only 8% of the American population lived in a techno-scientific system, chiefly along the Pacific coast and around Chicago. Even air connections were rare and were mostly made via airships for – after the Great Catastrophe and the devastating consequences of the greenhouse effect – a phobia of jet planes had spread. The days in which people – like Dimitri Leonidovich’s great-grandparents – dreamed of supersonic jets were truly dead and gone…
The screen in front of Dimitri showed the speed of the underground train: 1,670 km/h. On a simple map, a luminous dot indicated its position: ten minutes away from Paris Montparnasse. Paris… A city that must have been magnificent in the 20th century, Dimitri thought. He had few memories of it. He was only ten in 2016, when his family had fled the city plagued by anarchy and hunger to return to Russia. Most of the monuments had been burnt and destroyed, and its museums and treasures had been pillaged during the civil war that had broken out before the Great Catastrophe. Today, the autonomous state of Ile de France was carrying out restorations and reconstructions, but Paris was unlikely ever to return to its former glory. The only way to learn what the Mona Lisa, Sainte-Chapelle, Eifel Tower or Louvre looked like was to visit virtual websites with 3D images.
Dimitri Leonidovich gave a sad sigh at these unpleasant thoughts and took out his multifunction laptop computer – every high-ranking imperial officer had one –from its case. This was a genuine wolf-fur case decorated with a double-headed eagle on a red and white chequered background.
Dimitri opened the small object, which served pretty much any purpose. He adjusted the screen and keyboard and immediately Vega, his “virtual secretary”, appeared in 3D. He had created an ideal female helper for himself on his quantum computer, as an antithesis to Mrs Groux, the dreadful and all too real secretary that worked for him in the headquarters of the Imperial Government in Brussels – a fat and repulsive old hag. His virtual secretary Vega had perfect measures, always appeared in scanty dresses and made lightly erotic remarks from time to time; she knew all of Dimitri’s life and shared his intellectual outlook. Named after one of the shiny stars in the Siberian sky, she was the woman of Dimitri’s dreams. He had created her in secret, keeping her existence concealed from his wife Olivia, who ignored the access code to the programmes of this extraordinary GPT (Giga-Power of Treatment) quantum computer which the huge Typhoone company had exclusively produced for the new aristocracy: the upper echelons and high-ranking civil and military engineers of the Federation. The GPT also served as a mobile phone, fax and multifunction terminal connected to Euronet, and could reach the whole world by satellite, even from inside railway tunnels.
To avoid that those next to him could overhear his conversation (the planetrain travelled in the vacuum, magnetically suspended, and so made no noise whatsoever), Dimitri put on his earphones. He switched the machine on and then typed “Vega”.
The first words of his virtual secretary were: “I went for an evening dress. It’s black and diaphanous. Do you like it, Master?” A luscious and curvy brunette with a mischievous nose and sultry look, Vega had meticulously been fashioned by Dimitri with the help of a VSP (Virtual Service Personnel) programme. She sensuously moved across the small screen in 3D. Dimitri replied:
“That’s perfect, Vega. I am now on the bullet-train, returning from an arbitration meeting in Brest. I will be spending fifteen days’ holiday at home, in eastern Siberia, before visiting Brussels again.”
The beautiful girl smiled and stroked her hips.
“Master, I suggest you disconnect from the small screen of the GPT computer and plug into that of the seat in front of you. You’ll be able to see me in a larger format.”
Dimitri hadn’t thought about this. He unrolled a tiny wire which he plugged into the screen embedded in the seat. Immediately the image of the virtual girl appeared in a larger size. She continued:
“I would like to remind you that today is your wedding anniversary. You should get your wife a present.”
Dimitri was bringing his wife a Celtic jewel in solid silver from the autonomous state of Brittany: a cross inscribed within a solar wheel with interlaced motifs and a large ruby at the centre. He had found it in a crafts market in the rural community of Landeda, near Brest.
“I disconnected my private phone. Has anyone called?”
“You have received two messages. Would you like to hear them?”
The first message was from Olivia, who confirmed she would be waiting for him at the airship port in Dorbisk.
The second message was from his friend Hans Gudrün, the governor of the state of Bavaria and a member of the central committee of the Federation (the body representing autonomous regions before the Imperial Government.
The Bavarian had called him on his videophone. An icon appeared on the top-left corner of the screen showing the smiling ruddy face of the governor, who was wearing a green feathered hat.
“I hope you managed to solve our problems with those stubborn Bretons and defend Bavaria’s perspective. Expect a far more difficult negotiation after your holidays. Bavaria disagrees with the federal project for a solar-power high-energy plant. I hope you will take account of our point of view, my friend. Send my regards to Olivia and your children. I have booked a place of honour for you at the Munich Bierfest in September. Tschüss!”
Dimitri would have phoned him back later. Gudrün was very kind, but oughtn’t put pressure on him like that, using their mutual friendship as an excuse.
“Any other news, Vega?”
“Yes, Master. The last EKIS bulletin contains information that might interest you.”
The EKIS or, “Euro-Kontinent Information Service”, was an information network exclusively reserved for the leaders and cadres of the Federation. The media system that in the 20th century had been open to all had gradually disappeared, for it was thought to paradoxically lead to disinformation and to the erosion of the public spirit by engendering panic. With the help of keywords, Vega had selected news of interest for Dimitri.
The image of the virtual secretary shrunk to the size of an icon as a background voice commented the images now flashing on the screen. Vega had selected many items of news, according to the centres of interest programmed by the Councillor. Dimitri focused his attention and fastened his seatbelt, for the train was rapidly decelerating and entering the underground station of Paris.
“Demo outside St Peter’s in Rome for the return of the Pope” (a crowd was shown holding placards outside St Peter’s, which was covered in scaffolding. The Roman Republic was rebuilding the basilica, which had been destroyed during the war against the Muslims). The background voice spoke on:
“As is widely known, since the murder of the last pope, John Mary I, in 2017, and the Great Catastrophe, no pope has been elected. The Holy See collegially administers the Church. Since the schism of 2020, with the election of popes Pius XIII, Pius XIV and now Pius XV, who is residing in Avignon, the traditionalist Church – which has been declared ‘impious’ – has been calling for the return of ‘its’ pope in Rome and the Vatican. The Holy See is refusing to meet this request, hence the present traditionalist demonstration. Some protesters have travelled all the way from Poland by cart – a three months’ journey. No accidents have been reported so far. The Senate of the Republic of Rome is backing the Holy See and opposing the return of the popes, in compliance with the Concordat of 2022 and in agreement with Father Diaz Fernandez, superior of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The Imperial Government has issued a bulletin stating that in conformity to the principle of religious neutrality it will take no side in the conflict, for this concerns an authorised religion within the Federation, Christianity. The druidic representatives of the Great Brotherhood of Cernunnos, assembled in a conclave in London and representing all Celtic pagan cults, have issued a statement calling traditionalist Catholics ‘to join them’. The Imperial Government and the central committee of the Party remind all civilians and members of the armed forces that they are not to get involved in these disputes and must keep a strictly neutral stance.”
The demonstration outside the Vatican disappeared from the screen and was replaced by the image of a knight in an armour from Poland, waving a white flag with the monogram of Christ amid the applause of the crowd.
After a “beep”, a new image appeared. In a hangar, a bizarre engine was shown with huge solar panels, as big as a wagon and surrounded by engineers at work. The background voice explained: “This is IPC, the new Ionic Propulsion Cruiser developed by the Typhoone company and by Euromotor on the basis of a 1995 project that was lost and has now been rediscovered. More efficient than space vehicles with conventional propulsion, the IPC can reach our base on Mars in two rather than nine months thanks to its ‘gradual acceleration’ from the orbit of the moon. It is fuelled by xenon, a rare electrically charged gas that can easily be stocked and which sets off a flux of high-energy ions. This sequence of images was filmed in an IPC assemblage factory in Toulouse, in the Occitan Republic.”
This was followed by another scene: a huge missile bearing the red and white chequered flag of the Empire was launched with a pyrotechnic show of lights and smoke. The voice explained: “Yesterday, at 2.45 am GMT, the first IPC with five astronauts onboard was sent into lunar orbit by a Leonida missile, which left our floating platform for equatorial launching in the middle of the Atlantic. This revolutionary space vehicle will reach our base on Mars in 60 days. We are now well ahead of the Chinese and have a decisive advantage over them for the conquering of Mars.”
The image of the missile, whose white banner disappeared above the clouds, was replaced by that of a gaily coloured feast: bare-chested men, girls dancing with embroidered dresses, beef roasting on embers… – a merry crowd of farmers. This was taking place at the centre of vast clearing. The camera moved across the landscape: mountain peaks dotted with tight rows of white villages. The voice commented:
“This is the feast of the summer solstice in the Republic of Lacedaemonia, which includes the Peloponnese. Since 2030 we have been witnessing a huge renaissance of this ancestral custom and it now represents a key moment in the life of many rural communities of the Federation. On the night of the 21st of June, the shortest of the year, a large pyre is lit [the image of a brazier was shown]. For three days, huge agapes take place. Farmers, sailors, craftsmen, as well as engineers and imperial officials assemble from the four corners of the Empire to take part in this folk celebration in the ancient city of Sparta that stretches back to the mists of time.”
This was followed some interviews: one to a Provencal mutton farmer who had travelled forty days by horse to reach Sparta (“My rams are well protected against wolves: I have three daughters and two war hounds”), and another to a Swedish cosmonaut and Odinist who had arrived with his wife and six children on the Northern Europe-Athens bullet train and then a mini-airship taxi (“We live near local people, in a rustic house, and wash with water from wells – but it’s still a good deal more comfortable than the moon base!”).
The commentator, most probably a member of the Party, ended his report with the words: “All members of the Federation should bear in mind that the Sparta Solstice celebration is entirely self-funded.”
The planetrain came to halt in the underground station of Berlin. Time – and the stops in Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt – had passed by unnoticed for Dimitri. During each acceleration and deceleration he had mechanically fastened and unfastened his belt.
A flock of screaming playful children swarmed into the compartment. From their uniforms one could tell this was a group of “Eaglet” scouts, the youngest division of the federal youth organization. They were over-excited at the prospect of boarding a bullet-train for the first time. They were no doubt going to attend a camp in some forest in the Urals or Siberia. These camps were very popular.
One of the kids accidentally hit Dimitri on the face with his backpack. The leader of the group – a Valkyr with a sculpturesque body – apologised profusely (seeing Dimitri’s prestigious plenipotentiary councillor’s uniform). She shouted in German to the kids, who suddenly became silent and took their seats.
Following the 2030 Renaissance, the demographic winter and the depopulation caused by the Great Catastrophe, demographic levels had risen again, as if the collective biological unconscious had been awakened. It was now full of children everywhere. Losses needed to be made up for, although 18% of births among members of the elite were ensured by genetic engineering: pregnancies in incubators – saving women the trouble – ensuring a “planned genome improvement”. Use of this technology, however, was strictly banned in the neo-traditional communities and in any case subject to the approval of the Imperial Eugenics Committee. Children born through artificial procreation were often consecrated as “wards of the Empire” and assigned to educational centres where they were trained to become hyper-performing cadres. China, the Federation’s great rival, had also adopted this policy; in the field of eugenics, it even held a certain advantage.
The train decelerated again. It was now reaching Warsaw. A dark-skinned and very beautiful girl with long jet-black hair down to her shoulders and dressed in a violet sari stopped in front of the empty seat next to Dimitri.
“I haven’t made any reservation, but can I sit here?” she asked in English, pointing to the empty seat.
“Please do, Miss…”
Dimitri’s heart pace slightly increased. The foreign girl gave off a sweet scent. As was customary, she introduced herself with an enticing smile.
“My name is Nafissa Godjab. I am the daughter of the Maharajah of Gopal, the Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs. I have just completed a two months’ study programme in the Eurosiberian Federation.”
Dimitri in turn introduced himself, specifying his rank:
“I’m the Plenipotentiary Councillor of the Inter-State Court of St Petersburg, which I am answerable to. My role is to solve controversies within the Federation. I am also responsible to the Imperial Government in Brussels, where my offices are located. I am now returning from a meeting that took place in one of our states, Brittany, and will be joining my family for a ten days’ holiday in my native town, Dorbisk, in eastern Siberia, on the shores of the Bering Strait.”
The Indian girl gazed at Dimitri’s uniform with a silent smile.
“So you’re an important man, then? And no doubt a very cultured one too?”
Dimitri wasn’t sure what to answer. The young aristocrat was making a strong impression on him and he could feel himself blush. He said:
“I have a daughter your age. Her name is Lizia. She looks like you, although she’s blonde; she’s as charming as you are. She’s studying history… As for whether I’m an ‘important man’, this is a different matter. I serve the Great Motherland and travel across it far and wide to ensure its unity…”
The girl didn’t answer. She lowered her eyes and took a small recorder out of her tiger-skin bag.
“Mr Councillor, in the Indian Empire they don’t teach world history very well. It is as if they wished to hide what happened. Not even my own father will speak a word about it. What happened after the end of the 20th century? In my country people speak of a ‘Great Rapture’.”
Nafissa was speaking in a low voice, staring at Dimitri with her wide black eyes. The Councillor couldn’t refuse any request from a daughter of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Indian Empire on a study exchange in the Federation. It was a diplomatic requirement that he answer. And besides, she was so pretty… So Dimitri decided to hold a short history course.
Acceleration pinned them to their seats. The screen in front of them showed the speed of the train: “7,800 km/h. Next stop Kiev, in 15 minutes.” A list of airship connections for a dozen Ukrainian cities followed.
“The world you know today – Dimitri started explaining the girl – has little to do with that of the 20th century. The civilisation that had developed between the 16th and 20th centuries and had progressively spread globally – that which reactionary backward-looking idiots continue to refer to as the Age of Gold or ‘500 years of glory’, and which they would like to restore – was founded on utopia and ended with a deadlock and monstrous collapse. In line with the scientific predictions made in the late 20th century, and which governments ignored, this global civilisation and politico-economic system brutally plunged into chaos because of a dramatic convergence of disasters of all sorts that multiplied , according to the ‘theory of chaos’ or ‘catastrophe theory’ developed by 20th-century mathematicians René Thom and Ilya Progogine.”
“How did this happen? Have you got any memories of it?”
“I was ten when it all happened. The explosion hit suddenly, without any warning, in 2014. But of course you are so young…”
Dimitri insistently gazed into the eyes of this 20 year-old Indian beauty. His gaze then lingered, almost involuntarily, on the girl’s breast, which was protruding from under her sari.
“Please answer my question, Mr Councillor, and stop giving me the eye – it’s not proper. I should remind you that in the Indian Empire inter-ethnic love affairs are strictly punished, even when they take place abroad.”
Nafissa was speaking calmly, with a smile on her face. Dimitri blushed and cleared his throat.
“But that wasn’t at all my intention. Now, let me answer your question. First off, ‘chaos theory’: any system, be it a civilisation, moving vehicle, drop of water on the wing of a plane, climate condition, human relationship or living being, is a form of balance deriving from complex interrelations. It is enough for a single parameter to change for the whole system to suddenly fall into unbalance: the civilisation will crumple, the drop of water will fall off the wing of the plane, a storm will break out, a couple will divorce, signs of illness will appear, and so on. The system, in other words, will disappear – this is the ‘catastrophe’. Then after a period of latency and resetting – the ‘chaos’ – a new system will come to light, one based on different interactions. This is precisely what happened to the global civilisation of the 20th century. It was too big a bubble not to burst.”
“I think I understand. But how did it all happen? I’m interested in this because I also study traditional theatre and would like to write a piece about this mysterious ‘Great Catastrophe’.”
“What?” – Dimitri said with surprise – “Don’t they teach you anything in Indian schools? Have you never studied history?”
“No. In my country, the people in charge have decided to keep this matter silent. They pretend nothing happened – that the ‘old world’ never existed. No doubt, because they fear people may want to restore this ancient civilisation and return to the Western model. Besides, we don’t have any ‘history courses’. The word itself doesn’t exist. History for us doesn’t exist: what we are taught about are our ancestral traditions and the lives of our gods. Of course, I belong to the caste of those who have preserved a technological lifestyle and have a passport to travel abroad, but still…”
“But what?” asked Dimitri, who was impressed by the intellectual brightness of the Indian girl.
“Your ‘theory of catastrophe’ is simply what our poets call the mechanism of tragedy. As I told you, I’m studying theatre. The ancient Greeks too used to say the same thing.”
A beep was followed by a blinking red light. The screen announced: “Fasten your seatbelt. Deceleration level G2. We are arriving in Kiev.”
Dimitri went on:
“It was the year 2014 and my parents were working as Russian diplomats in Paris. I was ten years old at the time and was attending an international school in the 16th arrondissement, near the embassy. I can remember it as if it had happened yesterday. I was very mature for my age. That year, 2014, really was a black one. It took us by storm: tragedy, as you say, occurred all too suddenly.”
The Russian councillor was speaking in a low voice, broken by emotion. Clearly, he was reliving a traumatic moment in his life. Only the charm of beautiful Nafissa persuaded him to continue his narrative.
“Were there any signs of warning?”
“Yes. Symptoms of the tragedy had already started becoming clearly perceptible, according to historians, in the late 1970s and then became even clearer in the 1990s. According to the chaos or catastrophe theory outlined by Thom and Prigogine, the changing of a single parameter is enough to make a system collapse. This is the so-called ‘butterfly effect’. In this case, a dozen changed parameters were converging!”
The girl was hanging from Dimitri’s lips.
“So, how did it all start?”, she whispered.
The train came to a halt in the underground station of the capital of Ukraine. Some people got off, while others filled what seats still remained vacant. Dimitri noticed the presence of several imperial and military officials wearing a dark-violet uniform with a golden shark on its collar badge. These were officers from the H.L. – the “Hoplite Legion”: the elite troops of the Federation.
As the planetrain set off, they were again pinned to their seats. On the screen a sign in various languages read: “We are currently travelling at a speed of 14,000 km/h and will be reaching Moscow in 10 minutes.”
Dimitri went on:
“Ethnic revolts had been breaking out in Paris and other big European cities for a number of years. No government had managed to curb unemployment. A year of slight improvement was following by an even more serious decline. Poverty spread and it became practically impossible to leave one’s house after sunset. The aging of the population had destroyed the social security and pensions system and the flight of brains and unchecked immigrations made things even worse. Gangs of thugs and descendents of immigrant families led to a climate of unbearable insecurity in the cities, including in neighbourhoods that had previously been spared this plight. A sort of rampant and endemic civil war had broken out, which the police could hardly control. Starting in 1998, particularly in France, ethnic gangs from the banlieues took the habit of regularly pillaging and looting town centres.”
“But why didn’t people and governments react?”
“They were paralysed by a jumble of old humanitarian ideologies. And besides, after the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999 not only did individual European governments hardly have any real power, but even the embryonic European federal government still didn’t have any. This interregnum was a time of paralysis. To cut a long story short, between 1999 and 2014, the year of the global detonation, France dragged Western Europe into the abyss. Everything came together and added up with a multiplying effect: economic crisis, impoverishment, latent ethnic conflict… Starting in 2002, the gross domestic product of Europe dwindled and then hit rock bottom.”
Nafissa continued recording the Councillor’s words.
“You are contributing to my thesis with some extremely interesting facts. We know nothing about these things in India.”
The girl drank a glass of “Regenerator” served by the hostess. This was a vitamin-rich drink with slightly euphoric effects which was perfectly harmless but was completely unavailable to ordinary people. Dimitri continued staring longingly at Nafissa.
“In fifteen days I’ll be back in Brussels. Come visit my office: I can give you many documents on this historical period in support of your thesis… I would also like to take the chance to invite you for dinner in an excellent tavern run by some monks.”
“Does ‘Vitalist Constructivism’ authorise you to do so?”
Vitalist Constructivism was the official ideology of the Federation.
“Considering your rank, I don’t think this will be a problem. You must have an international alpha level certificate, right?”
“Yes, thanks to my father. I have the right to come and go wherever I like in your Empire.”
With a smile, she took out a plastic-coated golden card adorned by a white dove with a red key in its mouth: the pass the Federation issued for foreigners. Nafissa burst out laughing. She then stopped and asked:
“Did no one resist? Why did the state give in? Why didn’t people react? I’m talking about France, the place where you say it all started…”
“Well, yes: some people did react. There was a political party, the National Front. They had been seeking to prevent the catastrophe since the 1980s. But theirs was an impossible task. The party was demonised by the elites – deeply masochistic elites, which collaborated with the enemy. A dying folk is always fascinated by the abyss. The Font national tried to react but in vain. In 2014, it received 30% of the votes in France despite the increasing number of descendants of immigrants and newly arrived immigrants from southern countries.”
“In India there is a saying that goes: ‘It is never men who do things, only Shiva.’”
The wagon started lightly shaking. It lost speed and entered the underground station of Moscow. Dimitri explained:
“The atmospheric pressure is getting back to normal. The bullet-train is shaking because air molecules are hitting its cockpit. Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid. In India they also teach us some physics….”
“Your Indian proverb is most apt. Humans have no wisdom: they always do things at the very last moment. People only react when cataclysm hits them – which usually means when it’s too late, as was the case here. Instead of carrying out reasonable reforms before the tragedy occurs, they prefer to carry out brutal, terrible revolutions later. This is exactly what happened. It is God who forced us to reset out clocks. It is He who governs our destiny.”
“No. It’s the gods”, Nafissa said in a low voice.
“The sinister year 2014 witnessed the convergence of four events: in France, revolts of an unprecedented level of violence broke out; the police was overwhelmed and the powerless government did not dare call in the army. That year, the endemic uprisings caused by the (usually armed) ethnic gangs that moved from their lawless enclaves to attack city centres turned into a real insurrection, which ravaged France between 2014 and 2016. The political elections of February 2014 only brought things to a head. An increasing number of voters were of immigrant origin and so what had been predicted in the 1980s finally happened: the Parti Populaire Musulman (Popular Muslim Party or PPM) received 26% of the votes and the National Front 30%. Things quickly escalated from there. The “secular and republican” centre-Left coalition was no longer able to govern. The demands of the PPM became increasingly inacceptable. Some people accused them of wanting to turn France into an ‘Islamic Republic’. One of the party’s extremist leaders gave the following reply: ‘Yes, for within ten years we well be in the majority. By then, France will be an Islamic land. This is our revenge against the Crusades and colonisation!’ The National Front then issued a call for ‘Resistance, Reconquest and Liberation’. It is in this context that the extremist Muslim leader head of the PPM group in the National Assembly was murdered.”
“By a member of the National Front, I guess?”, Nafissa asked.
“No. Probably by the Algerian secret services, in order to spark a revolt among Muslims in France. Bear in mind that since 2004 North African countries had turned into fundamentalist Islamic Republics that were extremely hostile to France. In other words, this murder signalled the beginning of a widespread revolt of an unprecedented level of violence.”
The girl gave Dimitri a wide-eyed look of astonishment. He went on:
“In a short time, the plague spread to England and then Belgium and Holland – countries which also hosted large immigrant communities and where Islamic parties similar to the PPM had many voters and an ambition to seize power. The European government in Brussels was utterly at loss. That’s when the first wide-scale strikes took place. The economy was gradually paralysed and there started to be a shortage of basic goods like water and food. My family stayed in the embassy with other diplomats. We didn’t dare go out. The rioters were setting fire to buildings in the town centre and the streets echoed with gunshots. Still, no order was given to the army to intervene! The police was overwhelmed. The National Front set up ‘patriotic self-defence militias’ and a ‘National Resistance Council’. But it was too late: the French republic, civil order and the economic system were all collapsing. Gradually, people fled the cities. A terrible economic crisis followed the civil war.”
“Did no one manage to re-establish order?”, the Indian girl asked in amazement.
“No. Ours was a society that was growing old and was undermined by the viruses of pacifism and humanitarianism. It was incapable of defending itself. Consider that between 2014 and 2016 part of Western Europe – France, Great Britain, Belgium and Holland – quite simply returned to the Middle Ages. Even international aid could not reach us because of the civil war. It is now believed that 40% of the population in this area died as a result of war, famines and epidemics! In only three years, part of Western Europe plunged into anarchy. States simply disappeared. The government in Brussels no longer was of any use. Armed gangs scoured the countryside in search of food. Trains and cars stopped running. The French fled to refugee camps in Germany, Italy and Spain. And there were no longer any television broadcasts…”
“Television broadcasts. The television was an old on-screen broadcasting system whereby the whole world could view the same images at the same time. It had turned into a kind of religion or drug. But let’s move on, this is just a thing of the past…”
After suddenly leaving the Central Kremlin Moscow station, the bullet-train took up speed. “Further on, towards the Urals, lies my homeland – Siberia,” Dimitri thought to himself. He imagined the train like cobra dashing towards its prey… Again they were pinned to their seats, like Tintin pressed against his bunk by the formidable acceleration of an atomic rocket in his journey to the moon. Tintin – that old comic character from the 20th century, whom only men of letters knew now…
“And what about you and your family? Did you return to Russia?”
“Yes, along with all the members of the embassy. We were repatriated in a rather extraordinary way two months after the revolt had broken out. Things in Russia weren’t that great, but compared to France it was paradise! After the fall of Communism in 1991, the new regime proved incapable of converting to the free market economy. The country was collapsing. Then in 2002, a nationalist and neo-communist military regime seized power. Since 2014, something close to a dictatorship had been installed: Russia was autarchic, but still – despite widespread poverty and the collapse of the capitalist dream – there was enough food for everyone. So I resumed school in my own country. Russia, which in the year 2000 had been the sick man of Europe, fourteen years later, in the midst of all the chaos, was just about the only country in which civilisation hadn’t collapsed and one could find a degree of safety and order.”
“There is one thing I do not understand.”
The girl’s dark-green eyes met those of Dimitri.
“How can the collapse of the countries of Western Europe, which made up only a small percentage of the world population, cause what has been called the ‘Great Catastrophe’?”
“By an avalanche effect. According to the mathematical catastrophe or chaos theory, for a stable system to topple over it is not necessary for most of its elements to disintegrate. All that is needed is the alteration of a central parameter. Now, the Western portion of the European continent was a main parameter for the balance of world civilisation and economy. Besides, as I already mentioned to you, what occurred was a convergence of various other ‘mini-catastrophes’ that affected the planet but had already been quite foreseeable by the 1980s. Starting from 2015, Mediterranean and central Europe, including Germany, experienced the same tragic events as France, England, Belgium and Holland, and to their full effect.”
Dimitri searched in the girl’s eyes for the effect of his words and only found great curiosity. “She has a really enchanting gaze,” Dimitri said to himself. He focused for a moment on the image of Olivia, who would be waiting for him in Dorbisk tonight. He then continued his narrative:
“The European economy as a whole collapsed like a deck of cards. Between April and December 2014, a civilisation disappeared just like that.”
“And what were the consequences for the rest of the world?”
“The events taking place in Europe, which had been the greatest economic power in the world, caused a recession such as had never been seen before. In June 2015, the President of the IMF uttered words that are now part of history: ‘This is not an economic crisis. This is not a recession. This is the end of the modern world: this is the apocalypse.’”
The Indian girl smiled:
“That was the gods’ will.”
“And what were the other three tragic events of the year 2014?”
“The first was a global financial crisis, similar to that which had occurred in 1998, only a hundred times worse. This crisis coincided with the outbreak of civil war in France. So there was a cumulative effect. The world economy, grown weak because its financial and speculative foundations, exploded like a balloon. The second event was a nuclear war between India, your country, and Pakistan. It is as a consequence of this that you have annexed Pakistan and recreated a unified subcontinent like the one which existed under British colonial rule.”
“This I know, but it is Pakistan that attacked us!”
“In war no one is simply the attacker or the attacked: one is both things at once. Relatively speaking, this war didn’t cause a huge number of deaths – two million at most – but it was a global shock that destabilised the system. It was China, which threatened to intervene, that brought an end to the conflict and authorised the annexation of Pakistan, following a bizarre plan and despite its historic enmity towards India. The United States could not prevent this from happening. What had been a leading world power that had dominated the 20th century disappeared like a comet as quickly as it had emerged.”
“United States was the name of North America, right? Today it is almost impossible to imagine that this region dominated the planet in the late 20th century…”
“Indeed. History is unpredictable: it is written by blind madmen and sleep-walkers. The same thing had happened to the Spanish empire a long time before.”
“And what was the third event?”
“An environmental catastrophe similar to what humanity had already experienced in the 1990s, only this time on a far wider scale. In January 2014, millions of hectares of rainforest caught fire in the Amazon – deforestation work on the part of large agricultural companies. The Amazon, the green lung of the planet, lost 30% of its surface in one year (which is as long as the fire lasted). The smoke and dust that filled the atmosphere blocked the rays of the sun for six months, causing major climatic accidents across the world: devastating cyclones, torrential rains and draughts which further contributed to the environmental damage that had already long been wrought in a variety of ways. The psychological impact of all this was huge. To make things even worse, the ocean level rose as a consequence of the greenhouse effect: the use of greenhouse gases since the onset of the industrial revolution ultimately led to global warming and the melting of the icepack. In September 2015, with the equinox tide, a huge wave hit the Atlantic coast. In the centre of New York the water reached two metres in height and coastal cities in Europe were devastated… All these events added up with consequences on both a physical and psychological level. For the whole world the years 2014-2016 were those of a great upheaval. The civilisation of ‘modernity’ disappeared in three tragic years to make way for a different world.”
The train left the underground station of Yekaterinburg. After that 2,000 km leap, cruising speed reached 12,000 km/h in just a few minutes – about half the speed of the orbital station Leonardo Da Vinci. Dimitri pictured the taiga a few meters above their heads, crossed by packs of wolves and by the heavy wagons of lumberjacks making their way back along some path from their clearing areas.
“Please continue your narrative, Mr Councillor. I am learning a lot of history from you.”
“Things took place – or rather exploded – between 2014 and 2016. It was like the collapse of the Roman Empire, only on a vaster scale and with an acceleration of history. By 2016, the area that included France, Great Britain, Belgium and Holland had plunged into complete chaos: 40% of the population had died as a consequence of the massacres of the civil war, of famines, epidemics, and the collapse of an extremely fragile technological civilisation and global economy. There were no longer any states and the cities were empty. In the rest of Europe frontiers were strengthened to avoid the incursion of armed gangs or refugees. The inevitable consequence of this was that the ‘global system’ crumbled. These events all occurred with frightening speed, spreading like a cancer causing widespread metastasis in a living organism.”
“I heard that there was a Muslim invasion of Europe? Is this a fabrication or is it true? As for us, in India we’ve completely solved the Islamic problem…”
“In 2017, the Islamic republics of North Africa, which had been established following the 2003 revolution, took advantage of the complete chaos that reigned in France. An invading army landed in Provence and occupied it militarily. It tried to set up an ‘Islamic Republic of France’ and band together the armed ethnic gangs that scoured the country and fought each other, but failed because of the widespread chaos. It was a new Middle Ages: a return to the 6th century, with pockets of resistance in various areas setting themselves up as new baronies. The most powerful one was centred around Brussels, the old capital of the European Union. Here, in 2018, the ‘Duchy of Brussels’ was established by a member of the Belgian army, which had managed to protect the city and free it from the ‘ethnic gangs’, as they were called at the time.”
The Indian girl asked in disbelief:
“But why didn’t the armies of these countries intervene?”
“This is a good question. The reason is that the governments of these countries, which were guilt-ridden and filled with fear, gave orders too late – in the early months of 2017. By then, the economy had collapsed: there was no electricity and no fuel, and the army was paralysed. In fact, there no longer was an army. As had happened in Russia twenty years earlier, soldiers were no longer being paid and so were deserting en masse. Only certain areas were protected by officers who managed to restore some order, defeat the armed gangs and ensure supplies in their cities through the control of the surrounding countryside. By the use of force, they also managed to reopen some energy and purification plants. Clearly the regimes of these duchies, which were hardly connected to one another, were of a highly authoritarian military sort. Still, they ensured safety and bread for the people, and that was enough. These ‘baronies’ housed 20% of the population, exclusively comprised of native Europeans. Clearly, the standard of living in these places had returned to be that of – say – the 17th century. All forms of modern medicine, for instance, had vanished, as there were no drugs available.”
“Where were these ‘baronies’?”
“There were only a dozen in Western Europe: the Duchy of Brussels, the Republic of Brittany – the largest of all, governed by officials of the old French war navy – and various other small ones, centred around Western European cities. They kept in touch with one another by radio.”
Nafissa made sure not to miss a word of Dimitri’s description of this apocalyptic past.
“This civilisation must have been a fragile one indeed to have collapsed in such a short time…”
“Well, not exactly. This civilisation was actually born in the late Middle Ages, in the 13th century. As 20th-century political scientist Carl Schmitt noted, it bloomed in the 16th century, in the age of ‘great discoveries’, when Europeans set off to conquer other continents. Its apogee can roughly be situated between 1860 and 1980. Still, already in 1921 – about one century before its end – a German philosopher called Oswald Spengler had seen the first signs of the future collapse. This civilisation lasted seven centuries – a little less than the Roman Empire. As is the case with all civilisations destined to collapse, its end was very close to its apogee… For the ‘viruses of decline’, after being invisibly at work for a period, tend to suddenly become deadly when a civilisation has reached its high peak.”
“You seem to be obsessed by ‘catastrophe theories’!”
“I’m not obsessed by these theories. These are laws that explain the course of history, as well as many other phenomena. The worm may already be in the fruit, but the fruit looks amazing. The old oak might be at the height of its vigour, but it is rotting inside and will be uprooted at the first storm.” Dimitri suddenly added:
“Fasten your seatbelt, Nafissa. We are about to slow down – we’ve reached Novosibirsk.
Dimitri continued his improvised history course:
“Between 2018 and 2020, the rest of the world also plunged into chaos.”
“The global financial system and stock markets continued to fall, and environmental and climactic disasters did not abate. In two years, the depletion of fishing resources, the impoverishment of the soil and desertification caused a terrifying series of famines. It is estimated that by 2020 two billion people had died…”
“Paradoxically, Russia kept going. This is very important for the rest of my narrative. Russian had been the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the late 20th century, following the collapse of Communism. But the new and largely militaristic regime enabled the country to resist. Your country, India, also resisted, as did China and Japan. These areas preserved their unity, as they were ancient civilisations that hadn’t forgotten their archaic self-defence mechanism. Despite the huge crises, they preserved their political homogeneity and technological economy, which slowed down but still functioned. By contrast, multiethnic societies in which traditions had been destroyed or marginalised to make space for a cult of economy imploded, for they no longer had any social or political thread holding them together. This is what happened in Western Europe and North America. But it is interesting to note that this global hurricane and pandemic spread from France: the country of the Revolution and philosophical birthplace of modernity was the first one to commit suicide. Poison always affects the head first…”
After some silence, Nafissa asked:
“When in 2017 the Muslim army entered France why didn’t neighbouring countries try to defend it? Weren’t they all part of this ‘European Union’?”
“They didn’t intervene because of cowardice, although this is not the only reason. Since 2014, the European Union had been little more than a fiction. The various European armies practically no longer existed, nor were they motorised. In these conditions, how could they ever have faced a North-African and Muslim army equipped with fuel, armed vehicles and resolute leaders?”
Stop in a Tunnel
Nafissa didn’t answer Dimitri. Suddenly, there was a violent tremor. An artificial female voice confirmed the information flashing across the screen in front of them: “The train has come to a halt because of a minor accident. We shall keep you updated.” The train shook as it made an abrupt break.
“This is quite normal at this speed. Accidents often occur when the train is making a break. I just hope I won’t miss my connection in Komsomolsk with the airship for Behring.” (Dimitri’s voice betrayed a certain anxiety).
The lights dimmed inside the carriage because of the loss of electric power. The screen of the computer on the seat in front of them switched off. Things were getting rather unsettling…
“Don’t worry, Mr Councillor. The gods of ancient India will protect us.”
She started laughing and shook her black hair. “What a sorceress,” Dimitri thought. An almost perfect silence reigned inside the carriage, which was enveloped in the half-darkness. Passengers’ whispers could faintly be heard. An ill-boding burnt smell filled the air…
They were blocked like prisoners in a tunnel in the heart of Siberia, under the taiga… Dimitri could picture the forest of pines and birches above them: alternating black and white trunks and rippling streams in the woods. He closed his eyes. Five meters above their heads he imagined a carefree moujik dressed in fur and leather with his dog and an iron-tipped gnarled old stick gathering dry twigs to light the evening fire in his isba.
With a very Zen attitude, Nafissa continued with her questions:
“So how did liberation come about in the end? Why don’t there seem to be any more Muslims in Europe now? Please answer me and relax. Take some deep breaths…”
Dimitri did so, and Nafissa rested her sweet warm hand on his. Again she urged him:
“Relax. My gods will protect us. Now please answer my question.”
Dimitri spoke in a low voice:
“In 2025, the ‘baronies’, or areas of European resistance, which were living as if under siege, chose to ask for help from the national-popular Russian Federation. What led to this decision was the Muslim conquest of the free state of Lorraine, which included the city of Metz and its surroundings. The acts of reprisal the Islamic army carried out there were atrocious: the city cathedral was burnt down and the Russian ambassador was slain along with all his family in reprisal for the anti-Islamic policy Russia and Orthodox Slaves had long adopted.”
“So Russian launched a sort of Crusade, but this time to the West?”
“Yes. I see you actually know history quite well, Nafissa. So on 6 June 2025, which is now celebrated as the day of the ‘Proclamation of the Reconquista’, General Alexander Ivanovich Dukachevsky, the lord of Russia, accepted the plea of the besieged cities of Europe. In December 2026, an army of over a million men backed by tanks and jets crossed central Europe into the ‘Western Europe occupation zone’, which included France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Holland, as well as portions of Germany and Scandinavia. A second army of 300,000 men from Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic, Finland, Serbia and Greece, as well as troupes from the states under Russian ‘protection’, landed in Brest. Here they joined the Breton army – 80,000 men strong – and marched to the east in such a way as to close on the Islamic forces like a vice. The Russians provided fuel and ammunition. The decisive battle took place in the Brie area, east of Paris, near the ruins of a huge 20th-century American theme park. Most of the Muslim army was destroyed and the survivors were made prisoners. A second battle took place in the Maurienne valley on the Alps. The victory of the liberation troupes can be explained on the basis of two factors: on the one hand, the Muslim troupes were badly organised and suffered from inner divisions resulting from quarrels among their leaders; on the other hand, the Islamic republics, which had been hit by the global crisis, could not afford to provide them with ammunitions and fuel. Theirs was no longer an organised military force: it was more like a horde. The victorious army entered Paris and was cheered by the meagre population still living there (the city had almost been abandoned). What followed was the ‘Reconquista of 2025-28’, which was unfortunately an extremely violent one.”
A humming noise was heard. Suddenly, the light came back and the screens on the back of the seats switched on again. An artificial voice announced: “The accident has been repaired. The damage was caused by an electro-magnet that had caught fire. The light smoke will be cleared by the air conditioning. We will be running eight minutes late. Trans Kontinent Ultrarapid apologises for the inconvenience caused. The connecting airships will be waiting for all passengers. Thank you.”
“You see, Mr Councillor. I told you everything was going to be ok.”
Nafissa withdrew her hand. The train took off again, sliding at a reduced speed (450 km/h) down the tunnel before coming to a halt in Novosibirsk station.
The bullet-train stopped for three minutes. It then departed again in the direction of Lake Baikal. The screen said: “13,000 km/h. We are reducing our delay to two minutes.”
Nafissa went on:
“Why did the United States not intervene as they seem to have done with other invasions in the past, such as when they freed Europe from those merciless German dictators?”
The Indian girl had a naive attitude. The Russian councillor smiled and answered in a professorial tone:
“The reason is very simple: the United States had no longer any means at its disposal. And besides, it had no wish free Europe from the Islamic yoke. It had other things to worry about! Following the huge global economic crisis I mentioned, the United States imploded. It had been the leading world economic power, but its unity was only based on widespread economic wealth and financial investments. From 2020, people in the United States started fleeing from the cities, as was happening in Europe, but for other reasons: the increasingly impotent federal state disintegrated, the economy came to a halt and famines and epidemics broke out, as well as ethnic conflicts – such as the terrible clash that took place between Hispanics, Blacks and Asians in October 2020 in Los Angeles. The same scenario occurred as in Europe: 35% of the population disappeared, as states proclaimed their independence and withdrew to themselves. Blacks regrouped in the South and Whites fled the areas in which they were a minority. A new ethnic map was drawn in this vast area. Only two regions managed to keep their industries and economies running, if only at 20% of their former capacity: the American Republic of the Pacific, situated on the coast between San Francisco and Vancouver, and which became a sort of Sino-Japanese protectorate (and remained such to this day), and the Old American State (OAS), which stretched from Michigan to New England and included south-eastern Canada, with Chicago as it capital…”
“And what about New York, this legendary ancient city?”
“All that remains of it today are huge ruins that can be visited…”
“I know – the Indian girl replied – my father, like all high-ranking officers in our Empire, received an advertisement on his video-programme that said: ‘Don’t avoid the fantastic vision of New York’s ruins.’ It was an offer from the Indian Touristic System to get a view of the remains of the city from an airship.”
“I see… Right from the onset of the economic crisis New York turned into a living hell. With the rise of the sea level, at each great tide it was devastated by floods. Riots, fires and famine did the rest. New York lost all its population in a very short time. As you know, there is no such thing as a ‘short-acting catastrophe’. Catastrophe theory speaks of a ‘final acceleration’. This is the famous law of 80-20: 20% of a system will collapse in 80 units of time and the remaining 80% will collapse in 20. New York, a world symbol of modernity, could not survive its brutal end. I should add that Los Angeles, as you know, met the same fate as New York…”
“Yes, I’m aware of this. But apparently the ruins of Los Angeles are far less striking when seen from an airship.”
“Well, that’s because they were largely knocked down by a huge earthquake in 2043. There were hardly any victims, though: the area had already been abandoned.”
Dimitri’s computer made a beeping noise. He typed “18” on his keyboard, to enable the flow of information. Suddenly, Vega showed up on the screen. She had changed her dress and was now wearing an ancient Greek peplum. In the background, a Greek pipe was playing a languid song from the 1970s, “Millisé mou hos agape mou” (Tell Me That You Love Me) – an incessant, ternary motif from ancient Thessaly.
Nafissa broke out in a laugh:
“You certainly did a good job in designing your virtual secretary! It really matches your fantasies, Mr Councillor! I hope your wife doesn’t know about her…”
“Of course not. This super-powerful quantic computer is for high-ranking officials only. Surely someone my age has the right to a little fun?…”
“What’s going on, Vega?”
“Master, the Supreme Inter-State Court of Saint Petersburg wishes to inform you that the Kingdom of Albania is asking for a two-year delay in its payment of the debt it contracted with the Federal Bank and the Republic of Kamchatka in 2070. They are anxiously waiting your verdict.”
Dimitri typed on his laptop: “Grant them a 16-month delay – no more than that. If the Albanians don’t accept these terms, the Federation will consider revoking its funding for the wide canal between Tirana and Sofia. I’m fed up with these good-for-nothings.”
The computer remained silent for a moment. Then there was a hiss. Vega’s image remained motionless, before coming to life again.
“Will I write ‘good-for-nothings’ in my answer to the Court, Master?”
“No. Delete the last sentence and rewrite the whole thing in an administrative jargon.”
Dimitri typed “81” and the image of his virtual secretary disappeared. The Indian girl had witnessed the whole scene.
“You make decisions fast…”
Dimitri felt flattered and answered, shrugging his shoulders:
“I have to. The Federation includes 125 autonomous states, each of which has its own egoistical demands. The rule of general consensus can no longer be applied, as it was in the 20th century. Decisions must be made, in the name of the Imperial Government and of the common interest.”
“What if a state does not agree with you decisions?”
“It can hold a referendum and leave the Federation. This is what happened with the tiny state of Corsica, with Euzkadi or “Basque Country”, with Sicily, Estonia and others too. Some of these have now made their way back in the Federation, while others are begging us to accept them. This is quite natural, as they no longer benefit from our federal solidarity and military protection.”
“We’ve faced exactly the same difficulties in the Indian Empire. Nepal first left the Union but then joined it again out of fear of China…”
“With the states of Brittany, Bavaria, the Flanders, the Île-de-France and Sweden we’ve had the opposite problem: they are highly dynamic and are trying to get their hands on everything. They make their presence felt in all ministries and commissions. The worse of all are the Breton. They’re everywhere. They would make you believe it’s them who are governing the Empire. Not that this is far from the truth… The current President of the Imperial Government, our head of state, is a Breton.”
Nafissa stared at Dimitri in amazement. He added:
“Well, despite superficial disagreements, there is understanding between us, as we’ve all realised that we’re part of the same folk – although there are over 20,000 kilometres between us. Disputes about egoistical economic interests are part of life. What ultimately matters is agreeing about the important issues.”
“And what are the ‘important issues’, then?” , Nafissa asked in a mischievous voice.
“Identifying our common enemies – and our common friends.”
“Oh, I see. I pretty much agree with you.”
The girl then changed subject.
“You were saying that the ‘Reconquista’ which took place between 2025 and 2028 was a very brutal one… Would you tell me more about it?”
Dimitri could read a taste for tragic stories in the Indian girl’s eyes. She fastened her seatbelt. The loss of speed was very sudden. The screen said “3.2 G”. The train stopped in Irkutsk for less than two minutes. A man with long hair and a vermillion uniform took a seat near them, at the other end of their row. Along with his travel bag, he was carrying a pine-wood easel. Dimitri realised this man was a lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Imperial Artists’ Battalion. His collar badges – silver ones on a mauve background – were adorned with a crossed paintbrush and hammer. The train set off again.
Dimitri gave a belated answer to Nafissa’s question.
“Yes, it was very brutal. After the Great Catastrophe, as is always the case in history, people’s system of value had crumbled. It was General Dukachevsky who took things into his hands. The remnants of the Muslim army and the ethnic gangs were captures and assembled in the south of what had once been France, and then forcibly shipped to North Africa, which had no military means to oppose this operation. But something even more serious happened: because of the traumas experienced and the radical changes in outlook, all the descendants of the great waves of extra-European immigration that had hit western Europe in particular since the 1960s were unfortunately… well, deported. We are talking here of several tens of millions of people. You can well imagine how this operation carried out by the ‘European Liberation Army’ was no gentile business… This is what historians call the ‘Reconquista’.”
Beautiful Nafissa looked at Dimitri in surprise:
“Why did you say ‘unfortunately’, Mr Councillor?”
“I find all these events rather shocking from the point of view of my own conscience and my old Christian upbringing – but so it was…”
“As a Hindu, I’m not at all shocked. Well, please continue: what happened then? Did massacres take place? Is this what you’re deploring?”
“No, there were no massacres. These rootless people without a homeland were transferred en masse from Europe to the island of Madagascar by boat. There were 23 million of them. Many were juridically ‘French’, ‘Belgian’, ‘Dutch’ and ‘British’. But this was meant nothing now. The nationality rights of the old world had completely disappeared… Archaic criteria had come to prevail.”
Nafissa gave a wide-eyed look of amazement.
“In India they never told us anything about this….”
“The Government financed the whole operation. The Federation is currently paying the Kingdom of Madagascar 10 billion Eurosesterces. Integration has worked very well down there.
The Indian girl posed a new question.
“How did 20th-century science and technology survive the ‘Great Catastrophe’? How did humanity manage not to plunge into primitivism again?”
“As was the case after the end of the Roman Empire, ‘pockets of survival’ had endured, as if by a neo-medieval reflex. And besides, India, China and Japan all resisted far better than the West. The collapse was contained. Most of the technologies that had been acquired were not lost. Technological expertise was ‘frozen’, not abandoned. Innovation came to a halt, but minorities spared from the general chaos somehow ensured the transmission of knowledge in just about every corner of the world. This made the Second Renaissance possible, which took place around 2030.”
“Tell me about it…”
Nafissa changed the audiocassette of her recorder.
“Between 2030 and 2038, the various ‘baronies’ established mutual contacts, as communication had become possible again and peace had been brought to their lands. A spontaneous regrouping into ‘autonomous states’ then took place in Europe and the continent restored its old capital, Brussels, yet this time on the basis of principles utterly different from those of the former European Union. Nation-states, such as France or Germany, were never re-established, as they no longer inspired any trust in people. This new form of organisation, which was at first called the Community of European States, included the ancient regions of Western Europe – Bavaria, Wallonia, Padania, etc. – which were largely autonomous.”
“So how did you go about creating this huge ‘Eurosiberian Federation’ you also refer to as ‘the Empire’?”
“By 2038, the economic system had been restored, although it only produced 10% of the goods and revenues it had been churning out before 2014 – and no one wished to produce more. Everywhere the countryside was repopulated. A minority living in small-size cities took up an ultra-scientific way of life and soon improved upon 20th-century discoveries. Still, great international problems soon surfaced again, with the risk of nuclear and bacteriological warfare. The Islamic Republics, your own country (the Empire of India), China and Japan, among other states, were involved. Russia and its central-European satellites then invited the Community of European States simply to merge with them, in order to ensure the unity and defence of their ‘kin peoples’. This took place with the Pact of Prague, signed in December2038, which solemnly signalled the establishment of the Eurosiberian Federation. This union immediately assuaged these international tensions… After two years of difficult negotiations, in 2040 the institutions were defined of what we now refer to as our ‘Great Motherland’. In this same year work began for the first line of the planetrane we are riding on…”
The train suddenly lost speed and started shaking as it slowed down. On the screens a red light started flashing.
“Fasten your seatbelt, Nafissa!”
“What’s going on? Is it an accident?”
The girl didn’t look at all afraid, although she acted as if she was. Dimitri lightly touched her hand on the arm-rest. Nafissa withdrew it immediately.
“No, don’t be afraid. Between Magocha and Skovorodino the planetrain track is no longer underground. So the train must slow down and does so suddenly. We’re no longer in the vacuum of a tunnel, but in the open air.”
An icon popped up on the upper part of their screens for a few seconds that read: “Train slowing down. Open-air track. Speed reduced to 420 km/h.”
Dimitri cleared his throat and explained:
“In this region the nature of the soil prevents the digging of tunnels. The planetrain is losing speed because of air resistance. Look…”
With a buzz, a panel electronically slid up, freeing the window. The light of daylight flooded into the cabin and the electric lights went off. The young Indian girl leaned over towards Dimitri to get a better view of the landscape beyond the small Plexiglas opening.
Magnetically suspended on its large raised monorail, the train rolled on across a landscape of forests, misty mountains and boundless horizons – the landscape of eastern Siberia, straight out of a Tarkovsky movie…
The forest had disappeared. The train was now crossing a huge city made of wooden houses, huts and izbas. A brick Orthodox church was seen surmounted by a golden dome, followed by a cattle fair and a wash-house crowded with women. Despite the train’s speed, passengers could make out markets full of people, horse-drawn vehicles, fields ploughed by oxen, farms, the banks of a great river dotted with watermills…
This sight lasted several minutes. In the distance, huge ruins could be glimpsed covered in vegetation – the remains of industries and carcasses of buildings: the old mining town of Magocha, a vestige of the 20th century. Beyond it, virgin nature with its endless forests of pines and birches.
Dimitri went on:
“This is one of the largest neo-traditional communities in our Federation. There is one airship a week connecting it to either Ulan-Ude or Irkutsk. My wife Olivia visited the place last month to buy some smoked yak meat and Vodschkaia, a wonderful liquor made from birch bark which cannot be found anywhere else. This community has at least 50,000 inhabitants. They have more or less the same standard and way of life as people in 13th-century Europe. They are very happy as they are…”
“Is it true – the Indian girl asked Dimitri – that before the Great Catastrophe they had tried to make all of humanity adopt a technology-based form of economy?”
“Yes, this was the great utopia of the 19th and 20th century. It originated in Europe and America, but it was not at all viable. It contributed to the collapse of the old civilisation and to the migration of people from south to north. Today only 19% of the inhabitants of the Eurosiberian Federation partake in the techno-scientific economy and way of life. I believe it’s even fewer people in India…”
“In my country only the caste of the Abishamis, which I belong to, lives that way. I think we make up about 5% of the population, which still means tens of millions of people. And in any case, according to what my father the Maharaj of Gopal says, society is far more just and balanced today than it was in the old world. India has rediscovered its traditions.”
“Clearly, it’s no longer a ‘democracy’…”
Nafissa raised her eyebrows.
“What’s ‘democracy’? I’ve already heard this word…”
This was one of the kind of questions that disturbed Dimitri, so he tried to give an evasive answer…
“Initially democracy wasn’t a bad idea. In ancient Greece it meant power to the demes, or townships. But then it spread to all peoples, including in very populous countries, and this cultural grafting proved disastrous. Democracy only fits the European mindset. It cannot be exported: each folk has a specific mode of government it has adapted itself to. When badly applied, democracy can lead to injustice and disaster or become a front for tyranny.”
“I really cannot understand how Westerners could have believed that the whole of humanity was meant to live according to the same regime. What lack of commonsense and what pride!… In India we’re not ‘democratic’, but ours is not an unjust or tyrannical system and all works well as it is…”
After a moment of silence, Nafissa added:
“And what about the Federation, have you re-established ‘democracy’ within it?”
Dimitri gave the girl an ironic smile.
“Let’s put it this way: we no longer have the kind of democratic system that was in force before the Great Catastrophe. We are now applying the notion of ‘organic democracy’ inspired by Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher. A fixed and uniform model of democracy would be completely unfeasible for a geographic entity such as ours, in which vast differences exist between the way of life in rural communities and that of the minority of people, like the two of us, who have resumed the techno-scientific lifestyle. Besides, each of our autonomous region-states is free – in all those areas which are not within the province of the Imperial Government – to organise its institutions as it wishes. All these states have to do is appoint – by whatever means they please – a fixed number of representatives for the Federal Senate of the Empire, in proportion to its population. But rest assured: no state has the right to oppress its population, lest it be expelled from the Federation. The state under the rule of law is our norm.”
Nafissa gazed at him intently with a half-smile.
“I understand. You really are very tolerant! My father would have a good laugh! But then again, every folk has its rules… Please continue with your explanation.”
Dimitri didn’t react.
“In the Federation we have tried to combine two principles: on the one hand, absolute authority and quick decision-making on the part of the leading political body – the Government elected by the Imperial Senate; on the other, great freedom of organisation for individual region-states. Some of these – about 30% – have remained or turned into hereditary monarchies ruled by kings, dukes or other rather folkloristic sovereigns. As you see, we try to be both tolerant and efficient.”
* * *
The stewardess interrupted their conversation to serve them some cubes of raw fish from Lake Baikal, mixed with hot vegetable soup – a typical dish from the area they were crossing. Nafissa was ravenous and devoured her food.
“Your cuisine is good, Mr Councillor. It’s almost as tasty as that of my own country.”
“I organise culinary competitions between the various autonomous states of the Federation on a regular basis.”
“And who wins?”
“It’s annoying: it’s always the states from old France…”
“Open the competition up and then the Indian Empire could take part…”
After a moment of silence, Nafissa said:
She was again leaning against him, her face against the window. Her long black hair brushed against Dimitri’s uniform. He focused on the sight outside.
The train was moving between a rock face and a clearing. Dozens of animals with a grey fur were running in the undergrowth. They only caught sight of them for a few seconds.
“It’s a pack of wolves. They’re multiplying everywhere. In the 20th century wild animals had disappeared, but now they’ve made a big comeback. Clearly, this is causing quite a few problems…”
“It’s the same with tigers in India. From time to time they devour a villager. But they’re so beautiful! Look, I’ve got a bag made of tiger fur…”
“I’ve seen it. I’ve recently had to settle a controversy between the Duchy of Provence, the State of Padania and the federal Ministry of Agriculture. They were complaining about the proliferation of wolves, which destroy flocks, and asking us to send them 5,000 trained dogs to protect them. But the cost of this was too high and the negotiations dragged on.”
“What was their outcome?”
“The two states have 25,000 shepherds with huge flocks and I came up with a brilliant idea to solve the problem.”
“I’m not surprised… Tell me.”
“On my request, the AHG (Animal-Human-Genetik) labs, a branch of the huge Typhoone company, developed 1,500 ‘biotronically manipulated creatures”, two for each threatened herd. These were far cheaper than 5,000 trained shepherd dogs.”
“What are these biotronic creatures?”
“They’re biological animal-robots: genetic hybrids of various species, including man, which wolves are naturally afraid of. They are crammed with electronic chips that multiply all their faculties tenfold and enable them to do without sleep. So at night they remain awake to guard the flocks. Clearly, no wolf dares approach them now…”
“And what do these things look like?”
“Pretty much like the gods of Hindu mythology!”
Nafissa frowned. Dimitri went on:
“Oh, I’m sorry! Well, they walk on two legs, have huge limbs and a head that is halfway between that of a monkey and that of shark… They look a bit like a dinosaur from the Jurassic, the Velociraptor. They’re guard animals equipped with exceptional bodies and there’s no need to train them because they’re already programmed beforehand. Their cost has considerably dropped, as the AHG has decided to sell a modified version of them to the police forces of the Federation’s states and to the federal Army. Clever, huh?”
“Indeed… This lab should canvass the Indian market. But tell me, Mr Councillor,” Nafissa remarked in a flattering voice, “you must have some great responsibilities…”
“Well, my job is both very simple and very complicated: I must settle disputes among autonomous states and make everyone respect the laws of the Federation. I command 2,000 federal officials – if you really must know,” Dimitri added, stroking his epaulette.
“I’m happy for you, Mr Councillor. My father, the Maharaj of Gopal, has about a hundred times as many people under his control!”
Nafissa broke out laughing, as Dimitri scowled in his corner.
The train kept travelling on its raised rail and sped across a deep forest.
The girl again pointed to something beyond the window. She had glimpsed a bizarre object shining in the sun on the pine tops behind a slopes.
“It’s a ‘Barge’ of the F.A.F., the Federal Armed Forces.”
The object was a large oblong parallelepiped, slightly curved at its ends, measuring some good twenty metres in length. It vaguely looked like a flat-keeled river barge. The object was fluctuating and spinning on its axis as it surveyed the forest. It was kaki green in colour and both its sides and bottom appeared to be covered in tubes.
“What’s that machine for?”
“That ‘machine’, my girl, is one of the most promising new inventions by Euromotor, a rival company of Typhoone. The principle behind it is this: the Barge is made of a new super-light material, keflon, which weighs less than cotton but is as resistant as steel. It floats in the air because a vacuum is created at its centre. It is piloted from the ground and moves thanks to neutron-based mini-reactors. It is equipped with radars, 3D cameras and by a miniaturised and highly sophisticated electronic detection system.”
“So it’s like a flying radar?”
“Exactly. But it’s an extremely accurate one. It is used to discretely identify all possible threats, from local to wide-scale ones. It is far more efficient than the old radar-planes. It can fly between 10 and 15,000 metres without making a sound and is difficult to spot. The Typhoone company recently announced that it is perfecting a new generation of rival Barges which perform even better as they are based on an anti-gravitational system…”
“And what’s that ‘Barge’ doing there?”
“It’s probably a military operation or some kind of experiment,” Dimitri answered evasively. “In eastern Siberia such things are quite common because China’s so close.”
The girl’s voice took on a more perfidious tone:
“So, Mr Councillor, is the vast Eurosiberian Federation planning to go to war? And against whom?”
“Don’t believe it, Nafissa! 21st-century history has made us pacific but not pacifist. We simply wish to make sure that no one will ever be able to attack, invade or defeat us. Our aim was that of creating a federal army that no one would dear face. The only goals of the military policy of the Government are to protect our ‘common home’ and prevent human folly from destroying the planet – dissuasion based on the potential threat of our power. But don’t worry: we have no intention of attacking anyone, and certainly not your marvellous civilisation… In this respect, we’re following the ideas of De Gaulle and Gorbachev.”
“And who are they?”
“Oh, they’re European heads of state from the mid-20th century. They were hardly listened to in their day…”
The train entered another tunnel. The lights went on, the windows closed and passengers were pushed against their seats as the train gained speed. The screen read: “A speed of 12,000 km/h will be reached within seven minutes. Acceleration level G3. If feeling unwell, contact your stewardess.”
A few minutes later the train had reached its terminal, the underground station of Komsomolsk. Dimitri took bitter leave of the Indian girl. The two exchanged their electronic coordinates on the platform.
“Call Vega to get in touch with me,” Dimitri said with a note of sadness. “My invitation to Brussels is always open.”
“And you and your wife are welcome to visit my father’s palace in Srinagar.”
“Where are you headed for, Nafissa?”
“I will continue my study trip. I’m going to China. The Governor of Manchuria is a friend of my father’s. I’ve booked a sleeper carriage on a classic train for Changchun.”
“It will be a very long ride – 1,200 km, more or less…”
“Oh, it will be very comfortable. And I’ve got all the time I need. Besides, I’ve brought something to read: Trifles, an English novel from the 20th century. It tells a horrible story: the voyage of the Titanic; this time, though, the ship doesn’t hit an iceberg but safely reaches New York. It describes frightful things. I love it.”
Dimitri’s gaze followed the slender figure of Nafissa, her hips swaying, as she disappeared in the crowd. With her dark skin, she was almost a living version of his virtual secretary Vega. Would he ever see her again?
* * *
Dimitri took an escalator and reached the surface. He had left Brest just over three hours before, early in the morning. Now because of the time difference it was already night. The cold hit him – it was only 10 degrees Celsius, despite it being already June. Eastern Siberia had hardly benefited from global warming. The skies twinkled in the black sky. Outside the station building, the fires of chestnut and grilled fish sellers glowed.
There were no electro-taxis here… Dimitri headed for the carriage station. There was a queue of about twenty people waiting. He entered the stationmaster’s cabin and showed his high federal official’s card. His uniform would have been enough…
“Please follow me, Mr Councillor…”
A few minutes later, Dimitri was sitting in the basin of a carriage pulled by a small black horse with a lively trot. On the seat was a small heater with some burning coal.
“Where shall we go, Sir?”, the coachman asked in Cumikan dialect.
“To the airship harbour. Hurry!”
The coachman cracked his whip and the horse quickened its trot.
Once jets had been abandoned as a means of civilian transport and replaced by airships, airports no longer required long landing strips and constituted a source of pollution and noise. So they could now be built rather close to city centres. It is often updated versions of old technology that prove the most efficient, as was the case with the new wind-based systems of propulsion used for ships. Airships were not as fast as the old jets, but helped gain time in the final lap of one’s journey.
Dimitri has booked a first-class ticket on the airship that directly connected Komsomolsk to Dorbisk, his town of residence on the Bering strait, 2,300 km away to the north-east. The airship also made a stop in Petropavlovsk, in Kamchatka.
After a ten-minute bumpy ride, the carriage stopped outside the station run by Siberik Sideral Flot, the public company owned by the United Republic of the Siberian Far-East. There was no way Dimitri could have paid with his credit card here, so he gave the coachmen a two-Eurosesterce silver coin.
It was an amazing sight: there stood a dozen mooring masts measuring a hundred metres in height, lit under the starry sky. At the summit of each mast a huge black cylinder lightly danced in the wind, its position lights on. These were the airships.
A blonde stewardess with violet eyes led them to the base of the mast for flight 788. Dimitri boarded the aircraft via a lift and stored his travel bag in the baggage hold, keeping only his laptop with him. He took his reserved seat, by a window. It was even more comfortable than the planetrain. There was a screen on the back of the seat in front of him and a light meal on the table, including a glass of Vodschkaia, the liquor made from birch wood. As they waiting for departure and the propellers of the airship starting to turn, SSF advertisement images flashed on the screen. An electronic voice accompanied the text:
“Thank you for choosing our air travel company, the safest in the world. We ensure connections across Siberia, with departures from 80 cities, serving 35 rural communities. This airship is an Albatros 350 built by Typhoone. It is driven by six propellers with different blades fed by a rapid-neutrons nuclear reactor. Its level of atmospheric pollution is zero. We are supported in the air by two systems: a helium compartment and a vacuum one. The aircraft holds up to 200 passengers, including 50 in first class. A bar and prayer chapel are available for passengers on the first floor. We will travel at an average altitude of 3,500 metres and with a speed of 490 km/h. With favourable winds, we can reach a top speed of 580 km/h. We will land in Dorbisk, our final destination, in just over six hours. The commander Markst and his crew would like to wish you a pleasant journey. We are now ready for takeoff.”
On the Airship
There was a humming noise from the reactors and then the huge aircraft, unmoored from its mast, set off at a great speed, flying over the city and its lights. The airship then gradually veered left. Dimitri looked out of his windows into the darkness. They were already crossing the Sea of Okhotsk. The cabin was flooded by a bluish light.
It was now time for Dimitri to get to work. He switched on his computer and connected it to the screen in front of him. Vega immediately popped up. This time, Dimitri’s virtual secretary was wearing a tight-fitting, long muslin dress, in an early 20th-century style.
“I am listening, Master. I have just received a message from Commodore-Count Ron Schneider. He is waiting for your report and is growing impatient. He is complaining that you have switched your mobile phone off… He cannot get directly in touch with you.”
Dimitri had switched his phone off as not to be disturbed when speaking with Nafissa on the planetrain. A small lapse in professional etiquette…
“It’s no big deal. Make a note of my report, which includes a recording of the most important moments of the Brest conference, and send it immediately off to Schneider in St Petersburg, via Euronet.”
This means of communication, which had already been known in the 20th century, had started being developed in 2010, before the Great Catastrophe brought things to a halt. Only around 2050 was this technology resumed – and improved – thanks to the superpower of quantum and bionic computers (“ADN chips”), although clearly it was only reserved for the ruling elite.
Dimitri started dictating his report over the microphone. His words were immediately being transcribed (and translated) in the form of a trilingual text (in Russian, French and German) by the computer and would then be sent via satellite to Schneider’s fax machine. Dimitri was then going to insert the micro-disks containing the recordings of the debates in the disk-reader on his laptop. These too would then have been immediately transcribed as texts and attached to the report would have reached Schneider in the headquarters of the Supreme Inter-State Court within less than a minute.
Dimitri grabbed the microphone and started speaking in a low voice, so that the other passengers could not hear him.
“Are you ready, my beautiful Vega?”
“I’m ready, my wise Master…”
Dimitri’s virtual secretary shuffled on the screen, with a killer pout on her face. He had programmed her very well indeed… And to think that this dream girl didn’t really exist!
“What follows is the introduction to the report.” Dimitri was speaking slowly and the transcribed sentences flashed on the screen in Russian. Typing on his keyboard, he would change a formula or expression here and there.
“From Dimitri Leonidovich Oblomov, Plenipotentiary Councillor, to his Excellency Commodore-Count Ron Schneider, Provost of the Supreme Inter-State Court of the Eurosiberian Imperial Federation.
Object: settlement of a dispute among the following autonomous region-states: the Republic of Ireland, the Kingdom of Scotland, the Duchy of Wales, the Duchy of Cornwall, the Popular Republic of Brittany, the Duchy of Normandy, the Free State of Vendée-Poitou-Charentes, the Duchy of Aquitaine, the Socialist Republic of Euzkadi, the Republic of Galicia and the Federated States of Portugal and Lusitania – all of which are all members of the Association of Economic Interest known as ‘Atlantic Arch’ and represent the respondent party. To these states is opposed the accusing party, comprised of: the Kingdom of Île-de-France, the Socialist Republic of Ukraine, the Kingdom of Bavaria, the Unified State of Padania, the Kingdom of England, the Czech Republic and the National-Popular Republic of Serbia.
Nature of the dispute: the aforementioned accusing autonomous region-states (ARS), the plaintiffs in the case, are charging the aforementioned respondent ARS of the Atlantic Arch of having acquired a de facto monopoly over the fish market, fishing reserves and farming of shellfish and seafood. As high yields allow these states to keep fish prices low, they are damaging the agriculture of the accusing ARS by providing unfair competition for their exports in the Federation, causing them great economic losses. According to experts, this complaint is well-founded. The aforementioned accusing ARS are asking for the states of the Atlantic Arch to provide financial compensation by subsidising their produce. The latter states have refused. My mission was to find a solution by enabling these states to reach some sort of agreement.
Location of the meeting: Federal Navy Ministry, Brest, Popular Republic of Brittany, 20 June 2073.
Participants to the meeting: 1) the presidents of the parliaments of the aforementioned autonomous region-states; 2) two experts from the Federal Financial Delegation; 3) myself, your servant. The meeting was chaired by Father Wencslas, President of the Republic of Lithuania, a state not affected by the economic conflict.”
“I’m first sending your Excellency the recordings of the most interesting moments in the negotiation.”
Dimitri inserted the disk with the recording into his computer.
“First there’s an exchange between Mrs. Gwen Ar Pen, President of the Parliament of Brittany, and myself:
‘There’s no way we will ever fund the produce of those agricultural states! All they have to do is be productive, like us, and come up with innovations so they can export their rabbits and sheep at a cheaper price. I also wish to point out, Mr. Plenipotentiary Councillor, that the Breton state is an agricultural power too and that we manage to export our pigs, fruits and vegetables at competitive prices! We scrupulously respect the federal law imposing organic farming and banning industrial produce and GMOs. If a Breton pig is 50% cheaper than a Czech one that’s because we’re better organised. Our neighbour to the south, the Free State of Vendée-Poitou-Charentes, which is also a maritime and agricultural state like us, does the same with its butter and spirits. The states of the Atlantic Arch also respect the federal laws banning the use of trawl-nets for the preservation of fishing resources. As a solution to the problem, I suggest the Federal Financial Delegation from Frankfurt fund the agricultural produce of the plaintiff states. I’m certain the latter will gladly accept such a solution.’
‘Madam, this is quite impossible. In this case, we should also be funding the agricultural produce of all 125 autonomous states of the Federation, so as to avoid making anyone envious! And this is not a realistic financial prospect. Besides, it also goes against the principle of financial responsibility for the Federation’s states. Let us not forget that the federal budget is already entirely funding the rearing of workhorses and the spatial programme of low-orbiting nuclear plants, as well as the Hipparcus Crater mining base on the moon, a space programme which was initiated by your own state – I would like to remind you – in partnership with the Republic of the Flanders, Bavaria and Moscow, amongst others. You are autonomous and cannot expect everything from the Federation. It seems to me that the Breton state is often taking too many liberties with respect to federal agreements…’
‘Such as, Mr Councillor?’
‘For instance, why is it that the Breton language is so badly taught in Brittany? You are contravening to the norms of decree R.567 of the Language Committee. Each nation of the Federation must teach its subjects its own ethnic language. You are far behind compared to all the other bilingual states! Be careful, because I’ve heard there are some sanctions in store for you – they may for instance reject the allocation of funding you requested for the space monitoring station on the Monts d’Arrée.’”
The text of the recorded conversation appeared on the screed and was immediately received and translated by Schneider’s printer in St Petersburg.
Everywhere regional languages and dialects were flourishing again, both in neo-traditional rural communities and among the urban elites. Even the Île-de-France attempted to recreate its dialects, including Parisian slang, which was now being used in various artisan guilds.
“This debate is really stupid,” Dimiri thought… With temporary “sleep-chips” implanted in his ear, connected to a teaching robot via radio, an individual of average intelligence could learn a language of the Federation in 200 nights – just over six months. Each language cost around 230 Eurosesterces. Because of his job, Dimitri had already learned fourteen languages.
The debate in this case had taken place in French.
Other recordings followed, including that of the final agreement. Late at night, after some fiery arguments, the representatives of the Atlantic Arch had accepted the suggestion made by the Siberian councillor. Dimitri informed Schneider:
“Subject to confirmation on your part, I have drawn the following plan: should we be going ahead with the plan of bringing food aid to North America (which would be of central geopolitical importance for us), the federal authorities could purchase large quantities of cereals, meat and milk from the plaintiff agricultural autonomous region states, in order to export them to the North-American states in the grip of famine. In exchange for this, the Federation would ask these American states to accept its protectorate. Your Excellency, who has a good command of history, will realise that this would be a sort of reverse Marshall Plan. This solution would help solve the hoary controversy between the states of the Atlantic Arch and the others.”
An hour later, Schneider’s laconic reply flashed on the screen:
“Report received. Brilliant solution. Suggestion accepted. Inform the Ministry of Defence.”
By contrast to the catastrophic practices of the old world, and in agreement with slogan no. 65 of Vitalist Constructivism (“Like the Eagle in search of prey, politicians make decisions fast because everything is urgent”), federal authorities reacted quickly and took clear and rapid decisions, without letting problems deteriorate or loosing themselves in a labyrinth of consensus-making, consultations and commissions.
Dimitri was pleased with himself: he had done his job well. He was hoping that Schneider this time would promote him to a higher echelon – and salary – by appointing him Plenipotentiary Legate, thus enabling him to sit in the Supreme Court for Inter-State Disputes, which solved the most difficult problems. He would have added a new star – a fifth one – to his collar badges, adorned with the symbol of his corp: a silver scale on a black background surmounted by a double-headed eagle.
* * *
The airship made a stop at Petropavlovsk, the capital of Kamchatka. The city and its harbour sparkled with lights. In the distance, under the moonlight, stretched the Yspetsas mountain chain, from which a beam of greenish light could be seen extending up to the starry sky. This was the HEPL, or High-Energy Photon Line, which connected the Earth to the Cortez moon base in the Hipparcus Crater. The line transmitted over a million megawatts of energy produced in the solar furnaces of the moon.
The airship pitched and moored to the mast. Its propellers continued to turn at a reduced speed with a light humming noise. A dozen passengers took their seats. From their iron-grey uniform, bearing the spiked wheel insignia, Dimitri recognised them to be officers from the Engineers’ Legion. Among them was a tall man in a uniform adorned with the Order of the Stone Sun who greeted Dimitri with a hand gesture. It was Engineer-General Jean-Maxime Tiernon, the man who had developed the spearhead of the armed divisions of the Federation: the Tyrannosaurus tank.
The stop in Petropavlovsk lasted no more than ten minutes. After takeoff, a steward brought passengers a light meal: smoked swordfish from the Fishing Community of the Commanders’ Island, reindeer steak from the hunting tribes of Srednekolymsk and – curiously enough – some organic camembert from Normandy. The cheese had travelled quite a distance and you could tell…
There was a beeping noise. Dimitri’s laptop wished to get in touch with him. He typed “18” and Vega popped up, with yet another outfit. In a tutu, she was taking a few dance steps, salacious and provocative.
“Master, His Excellency Commodore-Count Schneider has received your suggestions regarding the Brest case and approved them.”
“I know. What else, my beautiful dancing girl?”
“The High Court, in the person of Judge Kortchak, who is entrusted with negotiating with autonomous region-states that have acquired independence, is urgently asking for your opinion on the Corsican affair. He is asking me whether you suggest redeeming or invading it.”
Corsica had sought complete independence in 2059. It had been granted it, following a referendum, in accordance to the federal constitution. But things had not gone as planned. Today it was a colony of the Sultanate of Tripoli, an obscurantist and brutal regime which made misery and oppression reign. In the meantime, a resistance movement called Corsa Libre was begging for a return of the island to the Federation.
Two months earlier, in a smart restaurant in Milan, Dimitri had discussed this problem with his friend Luigi Sutti, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federation and the former President of the Parliament of the Republic of Padania.
Dimitri had made the following observation to the elegant Milanese:
“According to our informants, many Corsicans simply wish their island to be reunited with Provence. For geostrategic reasons, Corsica, which is located in the heart of the Mediterranean, cannot stay in Muslim hands. What do you reckon we should do?”
“Proceed through invasion and war?” Luigi Sutti had ironically asked. “We would no doubt reach our goal, but at the cost of many useless deaths. It would prove more expensive than redeeming it. The Sultan of Tripoli would be quite happy to get rid of Corsica. He needs money because of his ongoing war against the Bey of Tunis and the Islamic Republic of Egypt.”
Dimitri remembered this conversation. He had studied the case. On his keyboard he typed:
“Tell Kortchak that I’m of the following advice: we should offer the Sultan of Tripoli to redeem Corsica at the price of a billion Eurosesterces. I believe he’ll accept. But we should not annex Corsica to Provence. We shall make negotiations for a gradual return of the occupants to North Africa. We should avoid military confrontation with the Sultanate of Tripoli, who must become one of our protégés and allies in the region.”
Dimitri felt like a new Choiseul.
* * *
The steward cleared the tables. He moved rather unsteadily because of the wind that was shaking the aircraft. The airship, which was now flying above the northern Pacific, appeared to be caught in a storm. Because of the greenhouse effect and the environmental catastrophes it had caused, cyclones had become increasingly common. Through the window Dimitri could see the propellers spinning in all directions, like animals gone wild, to contrast the effect of the wind.
As was always the case in these scenarios, music was played to soothe passengers. From the loudspeakers a muted version could be heard of a popular hit by Slovenian band Elektrock – in English, The Wind Blows in Gusts. Broken by the rumble of the storm and that of the motors fighting to stabilise the airship, Dimitri could make out some of the words sung by Arno Magister:
The wind blows in gusts, carrying our songs
The wind blows in gusts, carrying our destinies…
Cold is our reign and the frost makes the blue steel of our swords sparkle…
The Albatross bent on one side. One of the suitcases fell from its net. A woman started screaming. Dimitri thought of Nafissa, who was probably sleeping by now on a carriage headed to China.
The wind blows in gusts, bending the black firs.
The music suddenly stopped. All that was heard was the wild scream of the six propellers striving to straighten the huge airship. Were they going to make it? Dimitri started praying. An advertisement about Albatrosses from the Typhoon company sprung to his mind: “Our aircrafts are getting stronger and stronger.” It sounded reassuring…
Suddenly, all grew quiet. The storm had unexpectedly stopped and the airship had straightened itself up. A smiling hostess comforted the passengers by handing out glasses of vodschkaia.
* * *
Dimitri got back to work, but this time not via Vega. In accordance to Schneider’s orders, he had to inform the Minister of Defence of the solution he had come up with at Brest concerning the purchasing of agricultural goods as a means of bringing food aid to North America.
On the screen he started reading the text of a report from the General Legation on World Information (the information services) in Berlin regarding the situation in North America. This area had never recovered from the Great Catastrophe and had broken down into many states, some of which (the central) had completely reverted to the Middle Ages, with no traces of industrial or technological economy. Dimitri looked at a map of the region. Only four organised states still existed: the Pacific State, which was in fact a Sino-Japanese protectorate occupied by Asian military garrisons; the Old American State (OAS), the most advanced of all, which included the Great Lakes region and southern Quebec, as well as former Ontario and New England (in these two states about 9% of the population lived a technological lifestyle); the Confederation of the South, entirely agricultural and with Atlanta as its capital, which had largely sought to re-establish the Confederate way of life, stabilising its citizens’ quality of life on an 18th-century level; and finally Dreamland (with New Orleans as its capital), a vast agricultural state in which most of the Black community had gathered following the Great Inner Exodus of 2024 – although Hispanics made up 50% of the state’s population. Dreamland was beset by ongoing ethnic clashes and actually found itself under the strong protectorate of its Mexican neighbour, which in 2031 had quite simply annexed former New Mexico and southern California.
The rest of North America was still in the grip of chaos: communities and tribes waged ongoing mutual war amid famines and the ruins of cities and old infrastructures. Now, the Imperial Government had received a petition from the Old American State and the Southern Confederation. The two states were asking for emergency food relief, as climate change made agriculture extremely difficult, particularly given the return to pre-industrial methods of farming. The question was whether to send the Americans the millions of tons of flour, milk and cattle they were asking for. Of course, with the heating of the atmosphere, increased productivity in Ukraine and southern Siberia had led to a significant agricultural surplus, even now that organic farming had been adopted. But in the name of what help the Americans? Their petition ended with the following appeal: “in the name of our belonging to the same civilisation.”
Dimitri remembered that some members of the Imperial Government were in favour of providing food relief for geopolitical reasons. Admiral Almagro, Baron of the Empire, Duke of Extremadura and Minister of Defence, had declared that: “The Asian powers control the Pacific coast. Their ambition is to strengthen their presence in those areas, further to the east, and ultimately to rule North America down to the Atlantic. Would it not be in our interest to establish a protectorate over the Old American State and the Southern Confederation, in such a way as to halt this expansion? A favourable answer to the petition we have received for food aid would be a good way of extending our influence in that region. Besides, the people in these states are almost exclusively of Euro-Caucasian origin – and have been since the middle of the century. There are around 18 million of them on the whole.”
Dimitri was absorbed in the thought that the population of these two states was about five times smaller than what it had been in the 20th century. He immediately chose to fax a text to the cabinet of Admiral Almagro. He typed it in on his keyboard, as he didn’t quite trust the microphone, fearing someone might overhear him. He thought of his carreer plans: the Minister of Defence would probably have appreciated the brilliant solution he had come up with, following the contention between the states of the Atlantic Arch and the others.
Dimitri opened his text with the ritual “Your Excellency” and then went on to illustrate the aim of the mission of the High Court in Brest. He concluded: “The two parties, the states of the Atlantic Arch and the aforementioned agricultural states have reached an agreement regarding my suggestion. Federal authorities will purchase part of the produce of the plaintiff agricultural states and send it to the other side of the Atlantic as food relief. The expenses faced here will not be in the form of gratuitous funding, so to speak, but will rather serve our foreign policy plans, according to Your Excellency’s views.”
Dimitri faxed the whole thing off, proud of himself, even if what he was suggesting was a small breach of the economic doctrine of “autarchy for wide areas”.
The economic organisation of the world had indeed little to do now with the anarchic and catastrophic globalisation of the baleful years at the close of the 20th century. The Eurosiberian Federation practiced free exchange within its boundaries, but outside these it was protected by extremely high customs. A bunch of bananas from the Antilles cost 90 Eurosesterces… Each great continental block lived according to its own rhythm and was economically independent. There were no longer any international financial flows and investments.
* * *
An artificial voice announced: “The Orthodox religious service is about to begin in the chapel on the first floor of the aircraft.”
Many people got up and took the escalator. Others chuckled. Despite the humming of the propellers and the soundproofing, Dimitri could hear snippets of songs and formulae. “They should thank God for having spared us from the storm,” he thought.
Dimitri was not religious, but his wife Olivia was. Following the Great Catastrophe and the expulsion of Islam from Europe, there had been a marked increase in religious practice. This hadn’t benefited the Protestant Churches, which had collapsed. Catholicism had witnessed a very modest revival, hampered by the new schism and by the lack of an official pope in Rome. By contrast, following the 2030 “Renaissance”, there had been a real boom in Orthodoxy, in a bizarre form of Buddhism, and of neo-pagan cults of all sorts – from the most superstitious and wacky to the more sophisticated. The latter found inspiration in an ancient philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, whose work served as a central point of reference for what might be termed “philosophical paganism”. This current had developed a kind of syncretism between the Hellenic, Scandinavian, Germanic, Slavic and Roman traditions and was in close contact with the Hindus.
As for Dimitri, he was both agnostic and superstitious. He believed in a sort of higher godhead indifferent towards humans, who possessed a superior intelligence and was very powerful rather than omnipotent, subdividing itself into a myriad of powers Dimitri usually referred to as the “Devil”. Dimitri, however, was in very good terms with all religions, as required by the official ideology of Vitalist Constructivism.
* * *
There was a roar from the sky. Dimitri leaned over towards the window. Despite the darkness, he could make out a greyish, oblong and inflated object far larger than the Albatros. Some two hundred meters away, slightly above them, another airship was crossing their route.
It was a new cargo aircraft, travelling at slow speed (200 km/h) – an eight-motor Whale. Dimitri gazed at the huge suspended carrier, which housed the freight and cockpit. On its dark frame was a black rampant horse on a yellow background: Ferrari. Following the disappearance of Boeing, four big companies were now vying for the world aero-spatial market: Ferrari, the pride of Padania; Euromotor Airbus Gesellschaft (EAG), Typhoone and Tao-Wang Air Industries. The last of these was a formidable Sino-Japanese company producing Wang-wa-sii or Flying Dragons, vacuum-filled airships that could travel at a slightly greater speed than the others. Typhoone had announced it could match them with its new “electromagnetically suspended airships”, which could reach a speed of 500 km/h and carry ten times the cargo of old jets while consuming ten times less energy.
The only planes now were the superlight ones of the Golden Youth. Goods were freighted via airships or ships, which partly ran on wind and hydrodynamic energy and were less polluting but just as fast. Military planes had been replaced by hypersonic missile-throwing drones that could be piloted from the ground – these were known as Sharkies or “Flying Sharks” and were produced by Typhoone – and by low-orbit satellites with powerful lasers.
The person sitting next to Dimitri, a young officer from the Engineers’ Corp, addressed him:
“Do you know what they’re carrying, Mr Councillor?”
“I don’t. Tell me, Lieutenant…”
“Chimeras from the bio-genetic industry in Kort. They’re taking this cargo to Port Arthur.”
Chimeras were man-animal hybrids – an old dream of ancient civilisations which had become reality thanks to bio-technologies (what were now called genomics). A patent for them had been deposited by two American researchers in 1998 to prevent – so the voice went – these ethically shocking practices from developing any further. Chimeras (“pigmen”, “anthroporats”, “humanzees”) served all sorts of purposes: to produce improved sperm, as anti-rejection organ banks, as haemoglobin donors… These doped animals with human genes were filled with biotronic control chips. They were born in incubators – artificial amniotic uteruses – in the Typhoone labs in Kort, which the aircraft was flying over that very moment.
After 2050, incubators and “supersperm” had been of great help as means of increasing birth rates and especially improving the genetic performance of the ruling elite. Most of the population of the Federation and the world had merely reverted to the archaic demographic balance of traditional society – the age-old natural order based on high birth and death rates. As slogan no. 405 of Vitalist Constructivism stated, “Faustism is a form of esoterism.”
In the early 21st century, following the Great Catastrophe, techno-science had swept away what had been the dominant outlook for the past three centuries. Humanist and anthropocentric dogmas had collapsed. But despite this, the partisans of the old ideas enjoyed freedom of speech. On Euronet they even had a site of their own: “The Golden Age”. The government turned a blind eye: it was good for these nostalgic old people to have a way of venting themselves.
* * *
There was a change in the speed of the propellers. “We will be reaching Dorbisk, our final destination, in fifteen minutes,” the artificial voice said. The aircraft was gradually losing altitude. The loud speakers played a muffled version of “Douce France”, a song by one Charles Trenet written about a century and half earlier.
The hostess leaned towards Dimitri. Her movements were jerky and she gave off a scent of Ah!, the “ultramolecular” aphrodisiac perfume by Eros Konglomerat. Dimitri immediately realised she was a biotronic hybrid. The hostess was handing out a coloured leaflet. It was Metamorphosis, the official magazine of the Government, printed on glossy paper.
On the cover of the magazine was a photo of the Christopher Columbus base on Mars, which had been operative since 2062. On a rocky light-red soil, under a dirty grey-orange sky, stood some inflated or half-buried structures; next to them were men in white spacesuits seated in small vehicles with great wheels. The title read: “On Mars we are multiplying our territory tenfold.” The article illustrated a deal that had beensigned with the Chinese Empire for the division of the red planet along an equatorial frontier: the north hemisphere would have been left to Eurosiberia and the southern to the Chinese and Japanese. Eurosiberia’s Asian rivals had thus set up a base on the south pole of the planet. Dimitri flicked through the index of the magazine: “The Kingdom of Naples is offering rural communities hyper-resistant, low calorie maintenance work horses. The Imperial Government is signing an agreement with the Amerindian Union for the reforesting of the Amazon. The construction of the Re-Educational Penitentiary City in the Caucasus is now complete, etc.”
The Plenipotentiary Minister leafed through the magazine. The articles were replete with official slogans and techno-realist illustrations. For instance: “Federation! Our sun never sets over our fourteen time zones,” “The Great Motherland is not only a heritage: it’s a project too,” and so on…
On a glossy inside page was an advertisement for a laser mini-disk: Our Hymns: those of our astronauts, sailors, ploughmen, lumberjacks, liberated women, etc. Dimitri reflected that his son might have liked this – he wished to become a musician.
Below, Dimitri could now see his town, Dorbisk, surrounded by snow-topped hills glittering under the waning moon and by the sparkling waters of the Behring Strait. The aircraft came to a halt and people disembarked using the lift. On the summit of the floodlit control and landing tower, the great red and white checkered flag of the Empire fluttered in the night, lashed by an icy wind.
Dimitri reached the entrance hall. The radio-topographic short-wave chip set in his watch informed him that Olivia was waiting for him in Hall no. 2. Thanks to the electro-biological signals of her wrist, it took Dimitri less than two minutes to find her.
“Did you have a nice day, Dimitri Leonidovich?”
“An excellent day, Olivia Fiodorovna. How’re the children doing?”
“They’re in bed. You’ll see them tomorrow.”
She embraced him.
“I brought you a fur coat. You must be cold, coming from the warm regions of the Empire.”
Olivia covered Dimitri’s shoulders with a huge wolf-fur coat.
There was a sledge waiting for them nearby. The driver grasped the horse’s reins and the snow started crunching under the sledge’s runners. Their house was only ten minutes away from the airport.
In the main room of the house a large peat fire gave off pleasant, scented and sweet heat.
As Dimitri sat in front of the fireplace, Natcha, his young maidservant, served him a platter of raw fish marinated in a sour wild-nettle sauce – a traditional Siberian dish.
Olivia watched her husband eat with her large blue eyes and a questioning, almost anxious air.
“Did you accomplish your mission?”
“Are we going to spend fifteen days holiday together, then?”
“Did you see, Dimitri? The sun is rising.”
Beyond the wooden frame of the window, light shone from the east. Far off, the snowy peaks of Alaska were visible, enveloped in the morning mist. In the violet sky, a musical roar and fast-moving streak of smoke revealed the presence of a Sharkie 27 – the aeronautical pride of the Typhoone company. At Mach 7, 25,000 metres above the ground, it crossed the icy sky. The stratospheric patrols of these flying sharks were securing the frontiers of the Empire.
Dimitri unpacked and gave Olivia the jewel he had brought her from Brittany for their ten-year anniversary.
“Come, let’s go to sleep.”
Facing the bed was a painting by the 20th-century French artist Olivier Carré. It was a small green and grey oil canvas entitled Fin (End), with a steel frame the artist himself had made. The painting depicted a monster, “Le Grand Albert”. His eyes appeared red and threatening, although there was no red in the picture. It was dated 1982.
Half asleep, Dimitri could hear his children laughing in the room upstairs. The white radiance of the Siberian sun always woke them up early.
The last image Dimitri Leonidovich Oblomov held before his eyes before falling asleep was the huge red and white checkered flag – the living symbol of the Great Motherland. Red: like the blood shed and that received; white: like the radiance of the rising sun, like pure strength and loyalty.
* * *
All the scientific information provided in this story is accurate and not merely the product of the author’s literary imagination. For the inventions, described patents have been deposited in the late 20th century. They were only developed later, however, in the Archeofuturist age, with a very different perspective…