Chapter 11. The Péridot
“Mon colonel, on enregistre un événement d’arrivée. Identification de Madame Rebecca Johannson, mais c’est pas elle.”
I barely hear this female voice because my ears are buzzing. As the glassy fog dissipates, in front of my eyes, I make an effort to distinguish the marks on her uniform. A rather practical field uniform. Or maybe a desert uniform. The colors remind of of Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
In contrast to the uniform, the skin of this woman is rather black, or chocolate-like. Short haircut, brown big eyes, nubian nose, fleshy lips. She speaks, showing me her perfect white teeth.
“Monsieur, votre identité?”
“Hauptmann Rolf Radetzky, Deutsches Reich Luftwaffe. À votre service.” I answer, hesitating a bit.
“Adjudant-chef Laura de Rochefort, la Légion Etrangère. Soyez le bienvenu!”
“Where am I?”
“Just a moment please.” Miss Laura turns around to make a few gestures with her hands. An entrance opens at my three o’clock and lights turn on all over the walls, the ceiling and even under the floor. Ochre lighting.
A tall soldier, wearing the same uniform, approaches me in a hurry.
“Colonel Alain Johannson, French Foreign Legion.”
“Captain Rolf Radetzky, German Air Force.”
“Make the trade again? Yes, she did.”
“Welcome back to Earth, Rolf. May I call you Rolf? You can call me Alain. Rebecca told me everything about you. I am really happy to meet you, after all these years.”
Alain is a very tall man. White hair, blue eyes, bony face, prominent nose, thin lips, tiny ears. “You look like forty.”
“Ah, thank you. I am ninety.”
“So you two—Rivkah and you—you went there and back again?”
“We did go throughout old age and, thank God, there was a way for our bodies to regain what they had lost. At least in part. But what am I talking here, you look fantastic for a person born 106 years ago!”
“Ahem, you know too well that I am just twenty-nine years old. It was only one week for me out there.”
“Yes, Rolf, out there. I am terribly curious to learn about your last week. Shall we?”
Alain invites me out of the arrivals hall. I wave to Miss Laura. She salutes. I salute back.
The doors slide sideways with a shiver up my spine. Mein Gott, calling these ‘doors’ is a pathetic understatement. These are megaliths! Dark yellow green shaded megalithic doors. When they move I can hear the sound of a cascade. When they stop opened I cannot hear but the accidental screech of Alain’s boots walking on the floor. Which floor looks quite similar to the doors. No tiles, just… Wait, yes, there is the next tile. Huge tiles on the floor. The French got themselves a megalithic military base. Albert Speer couldn’t have fathomed this kind of underground architecture, not in his wildest dreams. Let not mention it falling into the hands of the French!
“What material is this?” I ask Alain with my finger pointed at the walls.
“We call it péridot. This soft rock is rather fluid unless treated with water. For the sake of accuracy, I must tell you that we step on, and stare at, serpentine minerals because these are the results after washing péridot with water.”
“So you’ve carved these spaces?” I ask.
“Only the tunnels, Rolf. The caves were already here when we came.”
“When did you come?”
“December 12, 2013.”
“Via a concealed access point next to the Richat structure.”
“The Eye of Africa. Uhm, I remember flying above it in one of the three Messerschmitts Me 264.”
“…Test flying the Amerika Bomber, yes. They brought me to co-pilot that bird. I have flown better birds in my life for sure.”
“How did you like it?”
“Very difficult to handle. High wing loading. Thought I’d never take off from the Canary Islands.”
“No, Rolf, not the airplane, but the Richat structure. What was your impression of it?”
“A huge blue eye half buried in a desert of sand. Next to a little mountain, like an eyebrow. A helluva lightning strike, said I to my colleagues. One of them answered with a surprising note: what if the lightning stroke from down under? And we all laughed, then pulled up to gain some altitude.”
“That fellow was right.” Says Alain patting my shoulder.
Done touching the walls, I turn around to face Alain, because during our chatter I showed him my back in favor of studying the coating and stupidly trying to scratch for the deeper layers of péridot. But Alain is gone. How did he vanish out of sight so rapidly? Hope I don’t experience hallucinations. Ah, there he is, running towards me. Approaching as fast as he has left.
“Pardon me, Rolf. I forgot that your body hasn’t been enhanced yet.”
“Enhanced? My body?”
“You’ll see. Look here.” Getting closer to the wall, Alain handles a lantern that generates a green beam of light, rotating it with a gentle move.
“So this is the tool that cuts the coating. Can I see the péridot now?”
“Yes, but hurry! Peek at it before the water will flood it and a new coating will come in place.”
I haste my eyes ahead of my feet. Wish to press my finger inside the hole, to feel the péridot.
“Can I?” My hand cannot wait for an answer to what my brain has deemed as a rhetorical question. “Auweh! This stuff burns. Verdammt.”
“It sure does, because this stuff is molten rock. What would you expect?” Laughs Alain my way, reminding me of all the tall men that laughed down at me.
“Molten rock? Incredible. Are we inside a volcano?”
“No, Rolf, we are not inside a volcano. It happens that we are walking through a network of underground tunnels right above the upper mantle. Our current position is 50,345 meters beneath the Richat structure.”
“You must be kidding me, fifty kilometers under Sahara?”
“Yes. Under the Eye of Africa.”
“How did you dig all this way down?”
“So all of this…”
“Almost all of this was in place when we arrived. However, our pioneers opened more tunnels between these bubbles. I’d rather call them bubbles instead of caves.” Alain smiles up to me, as he squats and jumps on the dripping disc that he carved out of the wall. It seems to be dry now.
“Come closer, Rolf. Take it and shake it a bit. Make sure there’s no more water left inside.” I do as he says. What a lightweight material!
“So this is dried péridot. Fantastic! Translucent olive-green. Beautiful!” Exclaiming, I notice that the wall has ‘healed’ already, like nothing and no one scratched anything out of it.
“Not so fast, Rolf. Spare your exclamations. You like your disc, don’t you? Could you press it against the wall now? In the same place from where I’ve cut it out. Press hard with your right arm at the middle of it. Hold as long as you can.”
I follow his instructions. Wondering why… Hum, I feel like a tickle in my palm. A growing vibration. An electric jolt maybe? More than one! Oh my.
“Hold fast, Rolf. Press harder.” I do that. I keep pushing my entire body against this shield on the wall. I feel sweat on my temples, on my forehead. Alain keeps smiling, although he considers a more serious glance.
And zap. I am ejected through the air by a yellow flash. The landing against the opposite wall aches, just a tiny bit.
“Are you all right, Rolf?”
“Think so. What is this all about?”
“You’ve marked your personal platform. It has your palm print on it. A new prosthesis exclusive for your body.”
“Why should I need such a thing?”
“Ride it to keep up following me while I am running. Well, you could overtake me on this.” What a wonderful idea this tall French guy gave me. Ever since I was a kid, I always used to be enthusiastic about riding things at fast speeds. The faster, the better. Skiing, skating and sleighing were my all time joys. I remember using an old round shield as a sleigh. Guess I’m on it, again!
“Rolf, Rolf, not that way. Turn it around. Upside down.”
“How? With the bulge upside? Hum, never thought of sleighing that way.”
“Do you see any slope around here?”
“Rather hot for snow. I see. Sorry, Alain, for being taken by the wave of childhood memories. We’re not in the Alps and this is not a Medieval piece of armory. So please, teach me.”
“We call it a glisseur. Its long name in English would sound like: personalized electromagnetic levitating skater. This because it has your palm print engraved in the middle of it, because the planet exchanged energy with your body, thus creating a unique signature in the minerals of this shield. So the thing is useless for me, or any other person, but it reacts to your cerebral commands, just like a prosthesis.”
Alain responds with a large open hands gesture. By the middle of it, I jump on my glisseur and swoosh!, my mind takes my feet away. The air cuts my face. I feel the life in me. I think faster. The thing accelerates. I think faster again. It accelerates more. The tunnel gradually turns to the left. I press my left foot slightly while relaxing my right leg a bit. The thing turns left, gently listening to my feet. I don’t even need much brains to ride this. Amazing. Ah, slalom section ahead. Two or three military men jogging at constant – no, different – speeds. Let them see my tail. Faster! Left them behind before giving it a second thought.
I love it. My new toy. Glisseur is a French word. How should I call it?
Skateboard – comes to mind. Schlittbrett? Hum, better leave it at glisseur – this better describes the feeling. Faster! Few more slaloms later, I notice the blue light at the end of this yellow-green tunnel. Nice, let me see… What… W–What happens to me? Where is the tunnel? Where are the walls? Where is everyone?
Mein Gott, I fly above an abyss, riding rounds and rounds on top of this glisseur. I look up. I almost pass out.
“Rolf. You are okay. Now please, gently step down of your glisseur. Gently. I am here, holding your hands. You are on solid ground. As you notice. You can see, right?”
“W–what happened to me? What was that abyss?”
“Nothing happened to you. Other than your ardour at flying things taking you a jump too far. The pit has brought you back. You’re perfectly fine. Relax.”
“The pit?” I can see the shades of olive through the tunnel behind. Then I turn around. A blueish chasm commences less than two meters from my feet, which feet are standing on a hard tile of rock as Alain holds my gliding disc in his left hand.
“What is this abyss, Alain?”
“We call it the Optical Nerve. The nerve of the Eye of Africa. Or the pit.”
“From what I can see, this is a pit. With a diameter of?”
“Thirty-six kilometers at the current depth. Which diameter varies with depth.”
“Is it narrowing down closer to the surface?”
“Yes, it is.”
“And widening up as it descends?”
“Not sure about that. We never reached the bottom of it.”
“Too hot and too dark to try.”
“Dark and hot. Hmm. Dark and cold – I know something about that. But dark and hot?”
“That’s what I was wondering about as well.” Alain adopts a pensive face and, adding a step forward to it, he looks down the pit. “What daemons lie at the end of it? Who can tell?”
“Uhm, don’t know about this one but I’ve spent a few days inside the core of the Moon. Talked to myself. Well, to an avatar of mine. A huge guy that could hold me in his palm. We exchanged a lot of information. He said that there was Nirvana—some kind of utopia. Hard to define. Who knows, maybe that down this pit… I don’t know.”
“Looking forward to share information with you. But before Easter comes, let’s kill some time by showing you the surroundings.”
“Easter? In November? Colonel Karpenter said that it was Sunday, October 31st, 2021 when he visited me. On Mars, according to Rivkah.” I look confused because I am.
“Indeed. And today is Monday, November 1st, 2021. Colonel Karpenter was exact. So was Rebecca. And I am not talking about Easter as in holidays but about Easter, the bijou goddess, daughter of Astarte, sister of Saturn.”
“Okay, we’ll meet them when they come. But, Alain, how comes that you have no warning signs, no barriers and no nets of any kind, that would prevent ecstatic skaters, like myself, to run into the pit.”
“Have you fallen down the pit?”
“No. I didn’t.”
“See? If you’d have fallen, then no net and no barrier and no warning sign could have stopped you from falling.”
“The pit is also a filter. Is that what you wish to insinuate?”
“I don’t insinuate. I affirm. Yes. We all ran over it. Then we flew back to safety.”
I mute my mouth. Crazy stuff inside the Moon, even crazier inside the Earth.