Global warming of the hearts

 

 

Characters:

Leonardo DiCaprio – actor and activist, kind of God

Andrzej – Polish language teacher, kind of a loser

Bożena – biology teacher, kind of a hag

Crazy Disposable Bag King – Fool for Christ, Nietzsche’s last man

 

 

SCENE 1

Andrzej and Bożena watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the Climate Summit

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTyLSr_VCcg&w=560&h=315]

Andrzej: You believe him?

Bożena: I liked him better in Titanic.

Andrzej: He looked better without a beard.

Bożena: I just hope he hasn’t become one of those… What do you call them… Veganins?

Andrzej: Veganses.

Bożena: Vegans? Whatever… I mean those who don’t eat meat or even cheese.

Andrzej: Cheese? But that’s one of the best inventions of humankind. Barbarians, simply barbarians.

Bożena: Let’s hope DiCaprio has nothing to do with them, though looking at this beard of his, I’m not sure. I worry about him, you know? He used to be so cute and handsome.

Andrzej: They say that those veganses don’t even eat honey.

Bożena: Not even honey? Why don’t they eat honey?

Andrzej: They think it’s unfair to steal the fruits of bees’ hard labour.

Bożena: That’s really weird.

Andrzej: Isn’t it just? Bees wouldn’t even notice. And anyway they are given water with sugar instead. They have no right to complain.

Bożena: Everybody has the right to complain. If only those who were worst off complained… Only women who had to walk ten kilometres across the desert to get water from a well and got raped by guerillas on their way there and back. Raped so brutally that their water got spilled and they had to go back for more.

Andrzej: Do you always have to be so drastic?

Bożena: It’s not me; it’s the times we live in. I didn’t rape anybody.

Andrzej: No, you didn’t. But you talk about it as if you didn’t know a better way to spend an evening.

Andrzej and Bożena freeze in front of the screen.

Crazy Disposable Bag King crosses the stage as if looking for something. As if something was lost.

 

SCENE 2

Leonardo DiCaprio enters the stage.

Leo: Hello. Hi there. Hiya. I apologise, but Polish is not a natural language for me. Did I say hi the wrong way?

Andrzej: My students say “wassup”.

Bożena: They also say “later ago”. Some authority…

Andrzej: Chill. All I’m saying is that the language is fluid and formed by its users. And I wanted to help this guy here.

Bożena: I wanted this, I wanted that. You always have something to say for yourself. And for those rascals of yours. If I said “wassup”, you wouldn’t let me forget about it for a month.

Andrzej: I never laugh at you.

Bożena: All the time.

Leo: Excuse me, am I interrupting something?

Bożena: Not at all. We’re just talking.

Andrzej: Bożena, let it go. He must have come here for a reason, let him speak.

Bożena: Exactly. But first I’d like to know what you are doing in our home, sir.

Leo: This is not your home. It’s the home of us all. Planet Earth.

Andrzej: Technically speaking you are right, but, as it happens, you are in its 45-square-metre section which we like to call our apartment and for which we pay a substantial mortgage. If not for direct debit, I would cry every time I pay money into the bank. What I’m trying to say is that I work very hard to have those several square metres to myself, without unexpected guests popping in. Your sudden appearance evidently disturbs my space-time. That’s just to clarify Bożena’s question.

Leo: Of course. I was expecting that. Indeed. Narrow-minded clinging to private property. So pathetic when half of the planet is owned by several dozens of the wealthiest people. And anyway this apartment doesn’t belong to you but to the bank. You can be evicted the minute you cease being good citizens. But whatever you say. My name is Leonardo DiCaprio. People recognize me everywhere I go. They call my name, they say hello. But there are people whose lives mean nothing to most of us in the first world. They starve and die so that we can drive for a weekend in the Karkonosze Mountains and have a smartphone, which is always fully charged. I came to see you on their behalf, but in our common cause.

Bożena: Seriously? Nobody told you that you look better without a beard, sir?

Leo: Oh, stop it. Call me Leo. We are going to spend some time together over the next few days.

Andrzej: But we… We don’t even have a guest room.

Leo: I’ve been informed about it, of course, and that’s why I brought a mat and a sleeping bag with me. I’ll sleep on the floor in the kitchen.

Bożena: But Mr Leonardo! I’m sure there are hotels in this town, which would happily give you a room for free if you agreed to have a picture taken in front of their logo.

Leo: Leo, not Mr. My name is Leo.

Bożena: Leo. We have many excellent hotels here. Built for UEFA Euro.

Leo: Bożena, I think you don’t realise how much CO2 emissions are linked with tourism. Every room rented in a hotel affects the health of our planet forever. I have no intention of contributing to that. The floor will be just fine.

Andrzej: But we are not going to bed just yet, are we?

Leo: No, of course not. I haven’t told you about the most important thing yet.

Bożena: I thought so…

Leo: I will be brief. You have been chosen out of millions. The big lottery machine constructed by our best experts has picked you as extremely ordinary people, proper Sèvres prototypes of ordinariness. You are neither smart nor stupid, neither rich nor poor, neither skinny nor fat. All within the norm. What’s more, you live in this average country, with history neither terribly interesting nor very tragic. Just an ordinary history of an ordinary country located in the middle of everything. A place neither particularly good for dying nor for living. Though you can do it. Go through days like a zombie, happy that you have those days behind you.

Andrzej: You exaggerate. It’s not that bad.

Bożena: That’s true. We have no reasons to complain.

Leo: Exactly! That’s what pisses me off the most. This attitude of carefree negation. As if we weren’t on the verge of a climate disaster. As if we were not speeding in a jet straight to hell. Global warming is a fact, and it will forever change the future of life on Earth. But the size of the disaster is up to us. We can still avoid the worst. And you have no reasons to complain? Corporations kill you and make you infertile, they poison your children, get them addicted to their products. Millions of people on Earth will have to leave their homes as a result of wars, droughts and increased water levels. Soon some of them will knock on your door asking what you had done to our planet. But no, don’t complain. Keep thinking it’s not so bad. Why worry? What will be will be.

Bożena: Leo, please, take a sit. Let’s stay level-headed. We are all adults here, rationally thinking people. No need to get so upset.

Leo: You are right. I apologise. My sincere apologies to both of you. Sometimes I just don’t have energy to explain it all over again.

Andrzej: If I understood you correctly, we have been chosen for your programme. Are we entitled to some kind of a fee for our participation?

Leo: And saving the planet is not enough for you?

Andrzej: Planet aside, it will be us making fools out of ourselves in front of the TV viewers from across the world.

Leo: Wait a minute. Who said anything about TV?

Andrzej: Well, I know a bit about those programmes of yours. You think we don’t have MTV Cribs here?

Leo: I’m not here in a professional capacity. I came on behalf of myself and other people who think like me, who care about the future of the planet. We know less and less about what to do to avoid running the Earth into the ground completely within the next 100 years. Each year we know more and more about how we destroy the planet. And each year it gets worse. We can’t stop the machine of consumption and devastation.

Bożena: It makes me sad at times too, but I don’t quite know how we could help.

Leo: Your participation is key, I admit.

Andrzej: Is shit.

Leo: (to Andrzej) Very funny. (to both) If we could persuade people like you to fight for saving the planet, people so absolutely average and ordinary, then we would know we can persuade pretty much everybody. Planet Earth would be saved.

Andrzej: Ok. You’ve persuaded us. What now? You pay cash or by bank transfer?

Leo: (to Andrzej) I don’t think so. (to both) We have to come up with a plan to persuade people like you to get involved in active reduction of consumption, decarbonization and learning how to live with negative GDP growth.

Andrzej: A bit much.

Leo: Too late for it to be less than that.

Andrzej: And couldn’t we spread it somehow? Between several people perhaps? For example I could reduce consumption and Bożena could go into decarbonization. She cycles to work anyway. Bożena?

Bożena: Decarbo-what?

Leo: Eliminating carbon as an energy source.

Bożena: Miners would be very happy, I’m sure.

Andrzej: They would be so happy, they would burn tyres in front of the Parliament building and sing crude songs.

Bożena: I always wonder how they find time to come here and protest. Don’t they have jobs to go to?

Leo: But they can’t! They are on strike, after all!

Bożena:  Yeah, they are on strike and there is nobody to work.

Andrzej: And no way to get to work.

Leo: (to Andrzej) Seriously, man? You go to work by the Parliament building? Really?

Andrzej: You got me.

Leo: It would be worse if you weren’t following clichés you’ve heard on the radio for economically aspiring.

Bożena: Leave him alone, Leo. Let me remind you that you are a guest here. You really don’t need to be such a jerk.

Leo: You are right again. I have to say I was doubtful, but now I can see you were a good choice.

Andrzej: A choice? And who exactly have chosen us? What are we supposed to do? And is it going to hurt much?

Leo: So you agree?

Bożena: All we do is talk. And perhaps Leo would like something to drink? Tea? It’s too late for coffee, I think. We might also have beer. If Andrzej didn’t knock it all back.

Andrzej: I didn’t knock it all back. We have beer.

Bożena: Would you like a beer then?

Leo:  No, thank you. Tap water will do.

Bożena leaves for the kitchen, but comes back quickly.

Bożena:  Tap water? We don’t have tap water. We only have mineral water. Is that OK?

Leo: Of course you have tap water. You have running water here, don’t you? Or do you bring water from a well?

Andrzej: Of course we have running water. We aren’t barbarians.

Bożena: But that water is not good for drinking, is it?

Leo: Don’t you use the same water to wash vegetables, which you then eat? Don’t you drink that water in your tea?

Bożena: Yes, but after it’s been boiled. I can boil some and leave it to cool down, but that would take a while.

Leo: Thank you. No need. I will drink water straight from the tap. No boiling necessary. From a regular tap in the kitchen.

Bożena: OK, but I can’t guarantee quality. This is not Hollywood, we don’t have Dom Perignon coming from our taps.

Andrzej: Dom Perignon is not water.

Bożena: I know.

Leo: Me too.

Andrzej: Fab. All experts.

Bożena leaves for the kitchen again. Andrzej turns on the radio. It is playing Tomek Saciłowski’s song “W lipcu będzie maj”. The men sit in the living room in silence.

 

SCENE 3

Leo: So what would you do if you were to persuade people that global warming is a serious problem, which they need to face now?

Bożena: I don’t know.

Andrzej: Wait a minute. Not so fast. We haven’t agreed to participate in this circus yet.

Leo: It’s not a circus. It’s about the future of our planet and life on Earth.

Andrzej: Whatever. For you it is the future of the planet, for me it’s a regular circus. How often do you think Hollywood stars visit us?

Leo: I can only guess, but would rather not. I might have to be unpleasant again.

Bożena: Let me help you out then. Definitely not often enough to take your word for it. Do you have any ID, a proof that this is indeed an official visit? Ah, forget the proofs. It’s after evening news already. The offices have been long closed and you expect us to take it seriously?

Andrzej: Just because your name is Leonardo DiCaprio…

Bożena: And we can’t even be sure of that, I’m afraid. Yes, you look like DiCaprio, but after all we only know you from TV and everybody knows what TV is like.

Andrzej: TV lies.

Leo: I’m not a TV actor. I’m a film actor.

Bożena: And that’s all you can say for yourself?

Andrzej: My secondary school students are better in finding excuses.

Leo: That’s not an excuse. Just a casual remark, which doesn’t have much to do with the topic of our conversation. I didn’t come here as an actor, but as a human being deeply worried about the state of the world.

Andrzej: Shall I tell you something about people worried about the world? There are plenty of them everywhere! They do nothing all day long, just hang around town and worry – EVERYTHING worries them. They worry about the air, they worry about the water, they worry about the soil. They worry about GMO, pesticides, food additives and carcinogens. They worry about mercury in vaccines, they worry about gluten. They worry about animal species that are dying out. Let me tell you something about disappearing species, OK? Saving endangered species is just another arrogant attempt of man to control nature!

Bożena: Andrzej!

Andrzej: An arrogant intervention. That’s exactly what caused the problems. Doesn’t anybody understand that?

(Leo and Bożena don’t understand)

Meddling with nature! Over ninety per cent, well over ninety per cent of all species that have ever lived on this planet went EXTINCT! They vanished! We didn’t kill them all. They have simply disappeared. That’s nature. Currently they disappear at the rate of twenty-five species a day.

Leo: Two hundred…

Andrzej: Don’t interrupt me! Two hundred species disappear each day. What’s the difference? Let me stress that their vanishing has nothing to do with our actions.

Leo: You can stress whatever you like, but that doesn’t make you correct.

Andrzej: Regardless of our behaviour on this planet, two hundred species living today will not see tomorrow. Let them pass with dignity! Leave nature alone! Haven’t we done enough? Everybody is saving something now. “Let’s save the trees, let’s save the bees, let’s save the whales and snails!”. And the height of arrogance: “Let’s save the planet”! WHAT? Are you kidding us? To save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves! We still haven’t learned how to take care of each other and you want us to save the PLANET?

There is nothing wrong going on with the planet. The planet is just fine. It’s humans who are fucked. Compared to the humans, the planet is just dandy. It’s been there for four and a half billion years. And humans? How long? Hundred thousand, perhaps two hundred? The Industrial Revolution took place two hundred years ago. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the cheek to even think that we are the threat? This beautiful green and blue globe circling calmly around the Sun went through much worse stuff. Earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sunspots, magnetic storms, geomagnetic reversal. Hundreds of thousands of years of being bombarded with comets, asteroids, meteors, global floods and fires, tides, erosion, cosmic rays, temporary ice ages and we think plastic bags and aluminium tin cans can change anything?

The planet will exist long, long time after we’re gone. And it will heal itself and clean itself, because that’s its nature. It’s a self-correcting system. Air and water will get healthy, soil renewed. And even if it is true that plastic won’t decompose, so what? The planet will include it in its new formula: “Earth + plastic”. The Earth doesn’t share our prejudice against plastic. Plastic was created of the Earth and the Earth probably sees plastic as another one of its children. The Earth wanted to have plastic. It didn’t know how to create it, so it used us. And now it makes islands out of it upon which it can create some new, better and wiser form of life. Plastic already exists, our job is done and we can withdraw.

Leo: Try explaining it to people in India. They spend their whole lives sorting out your rubbish. Hi there. Hiya. Sort out this rubbish and die.

Andrzej: To be honest the planet most likely sees us as a minor threat. Something that can be dealt with. And I am sure the planet will deal with it the way large organisms defend themselves, like a bee or an ant colony. It will come up with a defence system.

Bożena: What would you do if you were a planet trying to defend itself against some pesky, troublesome species? What could it be? Viruses?

Andrzej: Viruses are clever. They mutate and create new strains every time a new vaccine gets invented. What would probably work well is a sexually transmitted virus attacking the immune system. That would make people a bit more reluctant to get involved in breeding activities.

Bożena: I’ve only just realised why I still have no children, even though I’m with such a hopeless romantic.

Andrzej: A person can dream, can’t they? That’s why I don’t worry about small things, about trees, bees, whales and snails. I think we are part of a larger sense, which we can never understand.

Leo: You have just delivered the most pathetic attempt at self-justification I have ever heard. Arrogance, ignorance, selfishness, hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness and plain laziness all swimming in a sauce of self-righteousness. Very funny indeed. And I would find it even funnier if it wasn’t so disgusting. This planet is heading straight to hell because of such smug males. There is nothing we can do, there is nothing we can do, they cry. As if you were not ruining the world by doing what you are doing. Just stop damaging the planet. But you can’t do that, because you would have to change your lifestyle. Fuck the planet; what matters is that we can go on for a little longer with our destructive lifestyle, which we like so much. The fact that species are dying out doesn’t mean it is necessarily us who contribute to their death. The fact that somebody will die doesn’t give us the right to kill them. Quite soon we will possibly share the fate of the dinosaurs. At our own request. The dinosaurs weren’t aware of it. We are. Or at least we like to think so. But you know best, of course. Why worry about the fate of worms? But what if those worms’ existence is crucial for our ecosystem? Murder the bees and you might never see flowers.

Bożena: Oh, stop arguing already. It’s not often that we have such a star visiting. Let’s not waste time on futile quarrels. Better tell us, Leo, what’s up in the big world. Chinese still going strong?

Leo: Contrary to common opinion, Chinese care more and more about climate policy. No wonder. The most polluted cities on Earth are in China. Residents of those cities never see the sun. They live in a land of ever-present smog. Landscape around them is like Mordor. No wonder they aren’t blind to the problem, because they see it right in front of their eyes. Last year China has become the largest producer of solar panels in the world. And it signed the climate change agreement, so we can’t fob the problem off any longer by saying that it all rides on China and China doesn’t do anything. It does.

Bożena: You are a very matter-of-factly young man, aren’t you? You must read a lot when you are not busy acting in films?

Leo: I try. Thank you. It’s very nice of you to notice.

Andrzej: If only our students read so much. When we sort out the issue of global warming, couldn’t we work towards increasing readership amongst Polish youth?

Leo: Don’t know. I would have to ask my supervisors.

Andrzej: Just kidding. Nothing can increase readership amongst the youth. You would probably have to scrap the Internet.

Leo: That can be done.

Andrzej: Seriously?

Leo: We are working on it. Going back to the Stone Age would undoubtedly be one of few practical and long-term ways of lowering emissions.

Andrzej: Seriously?

Leo: Nooooo. I’m pulling your leg. You are so naive. You think I would be here if it were enough to pull the plug on the Internet to sort everything out? You really think I would come to this muddy country if we had better ideas?

Andrzej: You are right. Sorry. There is no denying you must be desperate to have landed in Poland.

Bożena: Let me just remind you, Leo, that you have promised to be nice and you are again picking on Andrzej who hasn’t done anything wrong to you.

Leo: We all do wrong. Nobody is innocent. Nowadays we support depravity and suffering simply by living and consuming.

Andrzej: And supposedly it was different in the past?

Bożena: Andrzej is no more to blame than all the other residents of the planet, so calm down, please, and tell us exactly what it is all about.

Leo: OK, I’m sorry. Let me start from the beginning again. I was sent by a group of concerned citizens who care about the future of our planet.

Andrzej: You must be quite unpopular in this group if they sent you to Poland.

Bożena: Andrzej!

Leo: The group has been organising working meetings and conferences for years. During those meetings we deliberate on what to do to stop humankind from bringing destruction upon themselves.

Andrzej: And I presume you hold those meetings in 5 star hotels where you get by jets…

Leo: No. We meet on the Internet.

Andrzej: You’ve never seen those people live?

Leo: Some of them I have.

Bożena: You trust them?

Leo: More than I trust my own mother.

Bożena: You still don’t have a girlfriend, do you?

Leo: Why?

Bożena: Nothing. I’ve just been wondering how much you trust your own mother. Go on.

Leo: Very much. So while working in this group of people, who were getting more and more desperate, we came to a conclusion that to successfully save the planet we need to persuade ordinary people, people like you, to change their attitudes.

Andrzej: But what attitudes do we have?

Leo: You said it yourself a moment ago. Selfish, short-sighted and justifying everything with a shrug as if to say that the situation is what it is and it doesn’t make sense to do anything. But that’s not true. A lot can still be done. The fate of the world is in our hands.

Andrzej: Maybe in your hands.

Leo: Now in yours as well.

Bożena: We haven’t agreed to anything yet.

Leo: But you will. After all it is your only chance to succeed, to be recognisable in the press and perhaps even to save the planet. Why wouldn’t you agree? You want to go on with your boring lives of frustrated teaches?

Bożena: Excuse me, I like my job.

Leo: Yeah, yeah. And you wouldn’t leave it for a comfortable life paid for with dividends from your fee for saving the planet?

Andrzej: At last. We are getting down to business. So how much are you going to pay us?

Leo: If you succeed? Enough for you to never have to worry about anything.

Andrzej: Sounds like an offer we can’t refuse.

Leo: I wouldn’t have come with anything else.

Bożena: Is it moral at all?

Andrzej: What?

Bożena: To be paid for doing something that people should be doing on their own accord if they really care about beauty and good.

Andrzej: If somebody wants to pay me for saving the planet, I don’t see why I shouldn’t accept the money.

Bożena: You wouldn’t do it for free? Just to find your way into history textbooks?

Andrzej: I don’t know. I would have to think about it. Wouldn’t students ridicule us? Like they ridicule John Paul II.

Bożena: Andrzej! I apologise, Leo. In normal situations he isn’t so very cynical.

Andrzej: In normal situations he is just normally cynical, but this is not a normal situation.

Bożena: Tell us what you expect from us.

Leo: That’s a bit tricky. Nobody really knows that. What I do know is that you have been chosen from amongst all the residents of the planet as people who are perfectly ordinary. You activities are crucial for saving the planet. But I wasn’t told what exactly you are supposed to do. I think nobody knows it. You will have to come up with something. OK?

Andrzej: And where is to going to be broadcast?

Leo: I know nothing about any broadcast. This is not a reality show. But if you succeed, you can be sure you will be invited to TV stations all over the world.

Bożena: I knew I should have put more effort into learning English. It would come in handy.

Andrzej: Take it easy. First we have to save the planet. And I don’t expect us to succeed easily, so you might have done the right thing by not learning the language of the imperialists.

Bożena: But knowing the language might be useful in saving the planet too.

Leo: We’ll get translators if need be.

Andrzej: I would prefer to have it in writing.

Leo: What? Translation?

Andrzej: I meant the contract. Shouldn’t we sign something?

Leo: Of course. Give me five minutes.

Bożena: How about you write the contract in the kitchen, while I have a few words in private with Andrzej?

Leo: Sure. Think it through. Will five minutes be enough?

Bożena: We’ll see. We’ll call you. Make yourself comfortable.

Leo leaves for the kitchen and practices yoga there. He writes the contract while in a headstand

Bożena: So what do you think?

Andrzej: He looks like the real Leonardo DiCaprio.

Bożena: But we’ve never met the real Leonardo. It might be his very good doppelgänger?

Andrzej: So what? What do we have to loose?

Bożena: You really believe in this dud? We’ll never come up with an idea on how to stop climate change. We’ll just go through a lot of trouble for nothing.

Andrzej: How do you know? We’ve been chosen, there must be a good reason. Perhaps we really have some potential? To do something bigger. I always felt that I was meant to be a hero, a doomed soldier or something along those lines. I won’t miss such an opportunity.

Bożena: But you don’t even believe the planet needs saving…

Andrzej: The planet will do fine without us. But survival or extinction of the humankind is in part up to us. Though all in all I’m not sure if we deserve to survive.

Bożena: So you will engage in an active fight if they pay you for it?

Andrzej: Why not?

Bożena: That’s illogical.

Andrzej: Life is illogical. On the one hand I hate humankind, on the other hand I am part of it. I don’t wish to die that much. What do you think?

Bożena: I don’t know. It’s all a bit questionable. However I would be willing to do a lot just to have a chance to show up in town in the company of Leonardo DiCaprio. I would even try to save the planet, if it matters so much to him.

Andrzej: Let me call him back then.

Bożena: OK.

Leo comes back and gives the couple their contracts.

Leo: You need to add your details and sign here. And here. And here too.

Andrzej: The world would be safe if it weren’t so full of bureaucracy, don’t you think?

Leo: I think that too sometimes, but on the other hand… Who would believe that Leonardo DiCaprio paid you a visit and promised a mountain of gold for saving the planet? Don’t you think it’s better to have it in writing?

Andrzej: Yeah, yeah. Just saying. Did you know there are over four hundred thousand civil servants in Poland?

Leo: Not enough, judging by the state of this country.

Andrzej: Civil servants won’t sort it all out.

Leo: Who then? Businessmen? Politicians? Putin?

Andrzej: That’s not funny.

Leo: OK. It’s getting late. I would like to get some sleep. Do you need anything from the kitchen? Don’t hesitate to come in if you do. I will try to set up the bed out of the way.

Bożena: I’ll go grab that beer.

Bożena and Leonardo go to the kitchen. Leo sets up his mat and sleeping bag. Bożena takes beers out of the fridge and leaves the kitchen. They drink in silence. The radio is playing Obywatel G.C.’s “Nie pytaj o Polskę”. Bożena and Andrzej start dancing. The lights fade slowly.

 

SCENE 4

Leo, Bożena and Andrzej are at a meeting in a classroom at school. They have dragged the actor here insisting that this is the best place to think.

Bożena: Did you see everybody staring?

Andrzej: Difficult not to notice.

Leo: That’s something you get used to. In time you even stop reacting to your own name. You think it’s just fans, so you don’t look.

Bożena: And you don’t look?

Leo: I try not to.

Bożena: What if you lost your wallet?

Leo: I would call my assistant and he would bring me a new one.

Bożena: And what if you lost your phone?

Leo: I’m sure they would let me make a phone call from a nearest café.

Bożena: And if somebody was dying and needed help?

Leo: Then they wouldn’t shout, “I love you, Leonardo” but “Help, I’m dying”.

Andrzej: Makes sense. Shall we get busy?

Leo: Let’s. Think what you could do to persuade people that if we don’t start acting fast and on a large scale, we won’t be able to stop or even slow down the global warming!

Andrzej: A social campaign, perhaps?

Leo: Indeed, a social campaign. I’ve tried that too. Why not try a social campaign? Exactly. Why? Because it doesn’t work! But we can always try. Why not? Let’s try. It’s worth giving it a go. So what would your campaign be like?

Bożena: It could be a film. We are seeing the sea, close-up on an ice floe. A polar bear is sitting on the floe. Close-up and we are seeing that it’s crying. It’s crying because its icy home has melted. The viewer identifies with the sad bear.

Leo: Great. Perfect. You should work in advertising, you know? For an idea like this Leo Burnett would charge at least 2 million.

Andrzej: But we don’t even have a camera…

Leo: Not to worry. My organisation will take care of everything.

Numerous statists come out onto the stage with filming equipment. When they leave, we see a sad polar bear in the middle. It’s singing Lebanon Hanover’s ”Ice Cave”:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVQSLEcIdVA&w=420&h=315]

The floe melts and the bear drowns.

Leo: I was moved. Do you think it will persuade all the people in the world to stop consuming so much electrical energy and generally change their attitudes to everything?

Bożena: No.

Andrzej: Don’t think so.

Leo: What now then?

Andrzej: Don’t know.

Bożena: Neither do I.

Leo: You have to come up with something. It doesn’t have to be anything on a global scale, not straightaway. Why not start with your own yard first?

Andrzej: Our yard has been recently sorted out as part of the Clean Up the World campaign. Though it wasn’t easy to persuade the kids to clean our yard before they went cleaning the woods. But we are teachers; we know how to use certain educational tools.

Leo: The yard was a metaphor of a kind. What I meant was that it might be worth to think about changing yourself and things around you before you start persuading the whole world that they should change.

Bożena: Exactly what I was thinking. That’s why I always unplug my charger when not charging the phone and I bought an extension lead, which allows me to switch all the electronics off instead of keeping them in a stand-by mode. Stand-by mode, as we all know, still uses energy. And quite a lot of it over a period of a year.

Leo: Very well. That’s exactly what I meant. Now we have to spread it wider. Persuade other people to do the same.

Andrzej: But why should they do it? To save 5 złoty? Come on. You spent more energy doing all the switching on and off, plugging and unplugging than you save in electricity.

Leo: But human energy is renewable and fossil fuels aren’t.

Andrzej: Perhaps yours is.

Leo: What?

Andrzej: If I spent my energy on something, I don’t have it anymore.

Bożena: That’s why you need to save it.

Andrzej: That’s why you should work little and in decent conditions. But nothing is that simple. For God’s sake. I teach Polish, I know something about it.

Leo: What, children don’t want to learn Polish?

Andrzej: What do they need it for? Some dying language of some barbarian country…

Leo: You, Poles… You always underestimated yourselves. What about Małysz? Copernicus? Skłodowska-Curie? Christopher Columbus?

Andrzej: None of them actually spoke Polish. Columbus spoke Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, Copernicus – German, Skłodowska – French. Małysz speaks Highlanders’ dialect. Perhaps that’s why we’ve invented Esperanto.

Leo: Which nobody uses either. A shame, as it would be easier if we shared the same language with words meaning what they should mean.

Bożena: You are talking about very interesting things but weren’t we supposed to come up with a plan?

Andrzej: I still think an advertising campaign is a good idea. If you can persuade so many people in the world to drink dark, carbonated, sweetened water, then you can persuade them to do anything.

Leo: Historically speaking you might be right, but mind that the development of neoliberal capitalism brought an overabundance of stimuli. As a result we simply ignore most of the information reaching us.

Bożena: Leo, you are so smart. I would never have thought.

Leo: I’ll take it as a compliment.

Andrzej: Oh, stop sucking up to him. He might be a well-known actor, but let me remind you that he came here asking for help.

Bożena: Because we are perfectly ordinary!

Andrzej: That’s an achievement too!

Bożena: Perhaps for somebody with your level of ambition!

Leo: Stop shouting as if you were in the theatre. We need to discuss something.

Andrzej: Yeah, we really needed somebody to tell us off. Thanks, Leo.

Leo: Oh, stop being so oversensitive. Don’t forget it’s me who is paying you.

Bożena: That’s not a reason to be so bossy.

Leo: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Let’s get back to the subject, could we?

Andrzej: Let’s make a huge bomb and drop it on almost everybody. We probably couldn’t drop it on everybody. Human beings are like rats. They survive everything. So all things considered, we could drop the bomb on everybody and some of them would survive anyway.

Bożena: Let me remind you that currently there are enough nuclear weapons to blow the Earth three times over, so I’m not quite sure where they could survive.

Andrzej: They would find a place, I know them well.

Leo: Stop it. We are not dropping any bombs.

Andrzej: Why not? It’s obvious that with the ever-growing population it is impossible to lower the emission of the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. People, who are born and get richer, want to consume more and not less than their parents. And who could stop them?

Bożena: But a bomb?

Andrzej: They won’t even feel anything.

Leo: Stop it!

Andrzej: Stop telling us off. Are we supposed to come up with a plan to save humankind or not? Surely you don’t want to limit us with political correctness?

Leo: You are planning mass extinction of humans. That’s not incorrect, that’s simply evil.

Andrzej: And?

Leo: It’s not right. We are here to save human race, not to terminate it.

Andrzej: And what if survival of the humankind required victims?

Leo: In the form of a massacre of civilians? I know that you, Poles, were always good at it, but I’m not sure if these are examples worth following.

Andrzej: Are you going to offend us now, on top of everything else?

Bożena: That is actually true.

Andrzej: Due to these sacrifices we managed to regain independence!

Leo: Or rather due to a geopolitical change.

Andrzej: I still can’t understand what you have against mass destruction of humankind.

Leo: There must be a better way.

Andrzej: Yes. Mass sterilisation. People don’t die, they just stop being born.

Bożena: And who will take care of all those old people?

Leo: That is indeed a problem.

Andrzej: So wouldn’t it be better for them if they just died?

A voice sounds through the loudspeaker: ”Mr and Mrs Waśniewski please go to the head teacher’s office”.

Bożena: Excuse us. Don’t go anywhere. We’ll be back soon.

The Waśniewskis leave.

 

SCENE 5

Andrzej and Bożena come back.

Leo: Everything all right?

Andrzej: The head teacher wanted to know if it was indeed you.

Leo: What did you tell him?

Bożena: The truth.

Leo: Which is?

Andrzej: That you are Leonardo DiCaprio’s doppelgänger and you act in our play about global warming which we will present at the school assembly.

Leo: I hope it is not actually true.

Andrzej: Are you worried that you are not a real Leonardo DiCaprio?

Leo: No, I’m just worried that a school play will not save the world.

Andrzej: But since you are here, why not act in a little play?

Bożena: And what about Dziady?

Leo: What?

Bożena: Adam Mickiewicz’s drama. After its staging in 1968 there were massive social protests across Poland.

Andrzej: The play was just a catalyst for the sense of oppression felt subconsciously by the whole nation.

Bożena: No, not whole. I don’t think Jerzy Urban felt oppressed.

Andrzej: How do you know it?

Bożena: “The government won’t go hungry.” Hello-o?

Leo: Perhaps nowadays the nation feels something subconsciously too and it needs space to let it out.

Andrzej: I know this nation a little bit and somehow I’m not seeing it.

Leo: And have you seen a million dollars?

Andrzej: What?

Leo: Have you ever seen a million dollars with your own eyes?

Andrzej: No.

Leo: But you still believe it exists?

Andrzej: Sure.

Leo: Then why don’t you believe that the nation has a need to rebel? How is it that you can imagine a million dollars, but the revolution is beyond your imagination?

Andrzej: Are you serious?

Leo: Yes!

Andrzej: You know, we had Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, Che Guevara. Quite a few people tried the revolution and I don’t need to tell you what the results were.

Leo: And a million dollars never hurt anybody? If you count properly, you will find that more people have died for money than in the name of ideals of equality and justice. Money has better PR.

Andrzej: Don’t blame money; it’s just a symbol.

Leo: Indeed, but that’s not a reason to believe in it.

Andrzej: Who says to believe in money? It’s just worth having. The more, the better.

Leo: The planet is worth having too. And the healthier, the better. Do you know that this year the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is above 400ppm? According to the scientists the safe level is 350 ppm and before the Industrialisation era it was 280 ppm.

Bożena: And how could we decrease the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if it is already high?

Leo: I was hoping you would tell me.

Bożena: Artificial photosynthesis? I read somewhere that scientists from Lublin have found a method of extracting methanol from water and carbon dioxide using catalytic converter and ultraviolet radiation.

Leo: Sure, but to radiate carbon dioxide they need to use more energy that they would produce.

Andrzej: Why are you such a pessimist? You don’t believe in Polish scientists’ innovativeness?

Leo: Their nationality has nothing to do with it. Scientists have been working on the artificial photosynthesis since the 1970s and so far nobody managed to find an economically viable method of turning carbon dioxide into fuel.

Andrzej: Which doesn’t mean they can’t succeed in the future.

Bożena: I read about it a good few years ago. I think they haven’t succeeded so far.

Andrzej: You can always call and ask.

Leo: They would probably brag about it if they succeeded. After all that would be a revolution in the power industry, a dream technology of tomorrow. Bill Gates would lick their feet to get his hands on it. Richard Bransons would have already landed his private jet in Lublin. Has he?

Andrzej: Who?

Leo: Richard Branson, British businessman, billionaire, founder of the Virgin Group consisting of over four hundred companies.

Andrzej: Haven’t heard of him.

Leo: Which means he probably hasn’t landed in Lublin yet. Which means your innovative technology is shit.

Bożena: Talking about shit, don’t you think that obtaining methane from manure is quite promising? We eat more and more meat, so we have more and more livestock. The animals could be walking biogas power plants.

Leo: A herd of cattle can produce 250 to 300 litres of pure methane a day. Enough energy for 24 hours for something like a fridge. But fridge is probably not the only appliance hungry for power in the same 24 hours.

Andrzej: And you don’t have a herd of cattle.

Leo: And I don’t think we will soon get to the point when every person has a herd of cattle powering their fridge.

Bożena: But perhaps it’s not such a stupid idea? In Argentina, one of the largest exporters of beef, cattle is responsible for about 30 per cent of emissions of all greenhouse gases. If all cows had mini biogas power plants installed in their asses, at least the level of emissions would be lower.

Leo: Not necessarily. Methane from cows’ farts is just part of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere during the production of meat. Most of the production is on the industrial scale. Forests are cut in Argentina to make space for pastures. Forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, are cut so that you can have a steak!

Andrzej: Maybe you. We can’t afford Argentinian beef.

Leo: I haven’t eaten meet for years.

Bożena: You eat it in films.

Leo: And I kill. But that’s just films.

Bożena: But you still contribute to making meat consumption fashionable. People see Leonardo DiCaprio eating a steak. Which means eating steaks must be cool.

Leo: What do you want me to do then? Only accept scripts in which my character is vegan? Perhaps I should call the writers? Hi, listen, it’s DiCaprio. Great script, but could you please change it so that my character is at least vegetarian?

Bożena: Why not? If you want to change the world, why don’t you start with yourself?

Leo: But I don’t eat meat.

Andrzej: People think that you do. Same difference.

Bożena: If eating animal flesh contributes to increased emissions of greenhouse gases, then giving up on eating meat and promoting meat dishes in Hollywood films could have a positive effect on the planet.

Andrzej: Sorted then. Can we have our reward now, please?

Leo: Not sure if converting humankind to veganism will completely sort out the global warming problem.

Bożena: But it’s a step in the right direction.

Leo: It’s not enough to come up with the idea and suggest what to do. You need to actually do it.

Andrzej: No problem. As of today I’m vegan. Or even as of yesterday. I didn’t have any ham yesterday.

Bożena: You were making fun of vegans yesterday.

Andrzej: I didn’t know that ham produces so much CO2.

Bożena: And you won’t have honey ever again?

Andrzej: Don’t push it. And anyway bees don’t produce greenhouse gases, do they?

Leo: No idea. Do you have a phone? I’ll talk to my supervisors.

Bożena: You don’t have a mobile phone?

Leo: Indeed I do.

Leo takes out his phone and leaves the room to make a call. He comes back a moment later.

Andrzej: And? Have we won?

Leo: Not quite. It’s true that animal farming is responsible for 18 per cent of the world emissions of greenhouse gases, which is more than is caused, for example, by transport, so veganism is a good idea, but, as I suspected, for us to transfer money into your account, you would have to persuade a larger group of people to become vegans.

Andrzej: A larger group? Like Chinese?

Leo: Or Indian. That would be best. But you can start with your compatriots.

Andrzej: I think I would rather teach veganism to Chinese. In this country, if you don’t serve pork for lunch on Sunday, everybody thinks you are poor.

Bożena: Or Jewish.

Andrzej: Or Jewish.

Leo: Perhaps the time has come to change the state of things. I suggest you think about it for a while and let’s meet in 2 hours time in the gym. You will tell me then what you came up with, OK?

Andrzej: Can we say no?

Leo: Well, if you want to pull out, feel free. I’m sure there will be other people happy to take your place. You are perfectly ordinary, but there are others as ordinary as you are who could replace you.

Bożena: Thanks, Leo. It’s very nice of you to say.

Leo: No time for niceties when the future of the world hangs by a thread.

Bożena: There is always time for niceties, regardless of the circumstances. Why save human beings if they are not nice?

Leo: You are right. I’m sorry.

Bożena: It’s not the first time you are apologising. I would rather you stopped behaving like that. You wouldn’t have to apologise.

Leo: I would rather that too. But, believe me, it’s hard. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a difficult task.

Bożena: OK. As you wish. Go and think about your behaviour and we will think about what to do to stop people eating meat.

 

SCENE 6

In the middle of the gym we see a reconstructed piggery with pens on a slatted floor. The size of the pen is so small that pigs can’t move. Bożena and Andrzej, dressed up as pigs, sit in the pen, which is covered in manure and urine. There are also some bloodstains. Leonardo enters.

Bożena: Oink, oink.

Andrzej: Oink, oink.

Leonardo: Are you out of your fucking mind?

Bożena: Oink, oink. I’m a pig and I can’t speak like a human.

Andrzej: Oink, oink. I’m a pig too and I can’t speak like a human either. Though I would really like to say that the conditions they rear me in are outrageous. Humans, who allow this to happen, shouldn’t be called humans anymore.

Bożena: Barbarians, not humans. Oink, oink.

Leonardo: Barbarians were humans too.

Andrzej: Holocaust is a piece of cake in comparison, oink, oink.

Bożena: To maximize their profits the farmers ignore our most basic needs. We never see the sun, we never see outside world, not to mention the forest floor, which our ancestors liked to dig in so much. Legends are told about it in the piggery.

Andrzej: Nobody believes it though. Some pigs claim that it’s just the propaganda spread by the farmers who want to give us some hope. They say that the forest floor with roots to dig out did not in fact exist. They say that there is no world outside of the piggery and our fate is to be slaughtered.

Bożena: That is actually true, oink, oink. Slaughterhouse is our destiny.

Andrzej: True, oink, oink. They treat us like cannon fodder.

Bożena: Andrzej, we are cannon fodder.

Andrzej: I’m not Andrzej; I’m a pig. I have neither first name nor surname. I only have a reference number. My dead body will be minced and made into hot dogs.

Bożena: The truth about our fate is hidden from the eyes of the public, because the most sensitive part of the public might not be able to bear the truth and would stop eating hot dogs.

Andrzej: We are fed high-protein feed, full of growth hormones and antibiotics, which make us so fat we can barely stand. We have so little space in the pens that we suffer arthritis and sometimes our bones split when they can’t support our obese bodies.

Bożena: We shit and piss on the floor. We stand in our own waste, urea burns our skins.

Andrzej: Ee are naturally very clean animals but we have nowhere to wash ourselves.

Bożena: We are also very intelligent, so those conditions, an insult to the honour and dignity of humans, are even more painful for us to bear.

Leo: If you were indeed so intelligent, you wouldn’t let people put you in those pens.

Andrzej: Would you say the same thing to the concentration camp prisoners? Oink, oink.

Bożena: Devoid of contact with nature, isolated from our friends from the drove, we become unsociable, dazed, aggressive and bored. We don’t even want to oink.

Andrzej: Don’t want. Oink, oink.

Bożena: Our short lives are marked with contempt, exploitation and suffering.

Andrzej: Nobody respects us as individual pig beings.

Bożena: Each of us is just a number in the books.

Andrzej: Dinner on the table.

Bożena: But before we get there, we are given an electric shock, which is supposed to kill us.

Andrzej: It doesn’t always work though.

Bożena: Sometimes the shock only knocks us unconscious for a while, but our torturers are not bothered and they skin us alive.

Andrzej: Oink, oink.

Leo: Poor piggies. But I’m not the one you need to persuade. I know it all.

Bożena: We just wanted to tell you about our sad existence.

Andrzej: It’s not you who is our main target though.

Bożena: In less than half an hour there will be a special school assembly here.

Andrzej: Which will be transmitted on the school radio.

Bożena: Thankfully the head teacher is on holidays, so there was nobody to say no.

Leo: Are you sure that showing such things to children is a good idea?

Andrzej: They see far worse things on TV.

Bożena: And on the Internet. Recently one student has shown me a clip on the computer where a beautiful 8-year-old girl executes two grown-up men. She simply shoots them in the backs of their heads. And then she says she did it in the name of God. This was no film; it was a commercial encouraging people to join the army. I told the student not to worry. I told him it was obvious it was edited. But it wasn’t really edited. She really did kill them.

Leo: Why don’t you persuade her to fight against global warming instead of infidels?

Bożena: Are you kidding?

Leo: Not really. We need determined activists.

Bożena: But not 8-year-old murderers.

Andrzej gets up from his knees and leaves the pen.

Andrzej: I’ve had enough of this fucking pen and the pig costume. It stinks of manure.

Bożena: And what can pigs say? That’s how they live their lives. Bear it for another 30 minutes, until the children come…

Andrzej: Children, children. I know these children very well. You can’t persuade them to do anything. They like ham sandwiches too much to worry about the fate of piggies. They will just enjoy seeing us making fools out of ourselves.

Bożena: An hour ago you liked this idea.

Andrzej: An hour ago I wasn’t sitting in a small pen in a pig’s costume covered in excrements and urine. On top of that I’m sweating terribly. Could somebody open the window here?

Leo: Has somebody said something? I thought I’ve heard some “oink, oink”.

Andrzej: Don’t pretend you don’t understand what I am saying.

Leo: Yes, I was right. A piggy is oinking.

Leo approaches Andrzej.

Leo: What are you oinking about, piggy? You would like to go for a walk, eh?

Andrzej: Oink, oink.

Leo: Walks are not for pigs, go back to your pen. Now! Or we will organise a ritual slaughter for you and you will bleed in a kosher way in front of your relatives.

Andrzej obediently goes back into the pen

Leo: You have to be tough with pigs. You give them a finger and they will bite the hand off.

Andrzej: How long to the assembly?

Bożena: Don’t know. I’m a pig. Pigs don’t use watches.

Leo: I’ll put some music on for you for entertainment and I’ll go for a walk. See you soon. I will, of course, be back to see how your attempt at persuading young people goes. By the way, aren’t you afraid that they will kick you out of school?

Bożena: Oink, oink.

Andrzej: I never liked that fucking school anyway.

Leo puts on Closer” by Nine Inch Nails with chorus: “I want to fuck you like an animal” and leaves.

I want to fuck you like an animal

I want to feel you from the inside

I want to fuck you like an animal

My whole existence is flawed

You get me closer to god

 

SCENE 7

Lights in the room go off.

Bożena: Why is it so dark here?

Andrzej: We are saving energy. People have long forgotten how to live without energy at their disposal. Enough for the strong wind to break electrical wires and we are completely hopeless. Do you know that two days without electricity in Europe would be enough for people to start dying in the streets? Anyway I want to check how it is to live without having a negative effect on the environment. We will sit here in the darkness until we have solar panels installed.

Leo: Production of solar panels is not without a price for the environment. Some of their parts are made of rare noble metals.

Andrzej: It won’t happen anytime soon. With our wages we would have to save for years for solar panels.

Bożena: Fortunately there are various ways to get some financing.

Leo: So they haven’t kicked you out of school after all?

Bożena: It was close. Parent board was outraged. There were even rumours that we exposed our genitalia in front of the students.

Andrzej: But in the end we’ve managed to persuade them that a performance aiming to show children the cruelty of breeding animals on the industrial scale is within our school’s curriculum which attempts not only to teach, but also to show values.

Bożena: According to John Paul II: „Freedom can not be had, it can not be used. It has to be constantly won and created through the truth”. You will find this line above the entrance to the school. And everybody knows the truth about the conditions of breeding animals on the industrial scale. The students of this school saw it yesterday.

Leo: Well, you are lucky that the Pope has helped you. HIV positive children in Africa, where you can’t use condoms, were not that lucky.

Bożena: Have you just suggested that John Paul II was a mass murderer?

Leo: You said it. I’ll admit though that I appreciate your reasoning and I have no intention of arguing.

Andrzej: A local TV station has called. Very interested in our little piece of performance art. They want us to talk about it in the studio.

Bożena: There is one condition though. We need to be dressed as pigs. Could we switch the light on now?

Andrzej: Unfortunately not. If you need light, there should be candles somewhere here. Though I would rather suggest using my own method of providing light by using the muscle power.

Bożena: What?

Andrzej: I’ve installed our old bike on a handy contraption, which turns it into a stationary bike. There is a lamp powered by a dynamo. You can even read a book. If you cycle fast enough.

Bożena: Can I use my mobile to produce light instead?

Andrzej: You can. But I’ve blocked all the plugs, just in case, so you won’t be able to recharge it. If I were you, I would use the battery sparingly.

Bożena: You are crazy. Don’t you think we should discuss it first?

Leo: We’ve been discussing it long enough. And you still haven’t managed to come up with anything. That’s why Andrzej’s proposition has my support. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.

Bożena: We got dressed as pigs. That’s nothing for you? Try sitting for a few hours in a small, stinky pen. You would appreciate our commitment.

Leo: I do appreciate it, but I still think we need more radical solutions.

Bożena: That’s just great. And how long are we supposed to sit in the darkness?

Andrzej: Don’t know. Until further notice.

Bożena: And what are we supposed to do in the darkness?

Andrzej: Don’t know. You could get on the bike and read a book. I got some books on ecology from the library.

Bożena: You know what? You read them yourself. I’ll go visit my friend. If I sit with her and she has the lights on, which she would have on anyway, I won’t add to the climate change, will I?

Leo: Seemingly not, but it would be good if you could use the time spent with her to explain the scale of the problem. Perhaps you don’t have to have the lights on at all?

Bożena: If you don’t mind I will decide what to talk to my friend about. Anyway I’m not convinced that consumers’ individual choices can change the current state of affairs. What we need is a system change. And now, if you excuse me, gentlemen, I am temporarily fed up with those antics. I’ll go have some fun.

Bożena leaves. Andrzej gets on the bike and starts reading a book in its light.

Leo enters. He asks if there is a woman with a child amongst the audience who cares about the environment. If there is one, he delivers his monologue. If not, he delivers it anyway.

Leo: Do we have a parent, a mother or a father amongst us, who care about the environment?

Do we have parents who think that we are all responsible for the future of the planet?

If not, where do children come from?

If so, why did you procreate it, Sir? Why did you give birth to it, Madam? Why do you make children? And another one? Why?

In its lifetime your child will produce five hundred and fifteen tonnes of carbon. That’s forty large trucks. One child is an equivalent to almost 6500 flights to Paris. You could go to Paris ninety times a year back and forth and that would still have a smaller effect on the environment than bringing offspring into the world. Not to mention pesticides and detergents, plastic and fuels, which will keep them warm. By having a child you’ve been selfish. It’s cruel to bring suffering onto others. If you care about the environment, you would cut their throats straightaway. Or I could get a knife and do it for you. And then I’ll disappear; and you will have served the future generations.

Yes? No?

Perhaps a mutated flu or some other rotavirus will get them and that’ll be it. Yes, that’ll be it. Sorted. It might be even better if it was never born. I won’t argue, as it’s not in my nature, but the environment will eventually retaliate. And your child will have to watch it. And let me tell you, it will blame you for it.

Leo leaves.

 

SCENE 8

Bożena comes home slightly tipsy.

Bożena: Oh, the light is back. Have you come up with an idea how to produce electricity without damaging the environment?

Andrzej: I didn’t really have to come up with anything. People have known those methods for centuries. For example hydroelectricity. After all watermills are nothing more than ecological generators of free power.

Bożena: God, I hope you haven’t turned our home into a hydroelectric power station and we don’t have a river running through our bathroom, do we?

Andrzej: No. For now I’ve decided to use conventional energy. I’ve been thinking about what you’d said and indeed, it’s pointless to focus on individual consumer choices. And anyway, our mission is so important that we can afford to emit a small amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. If we succeed, the environment will be more than compensated.

Bożena: Everybody thinks that about their own actions. They think that their actions matter for the world and for them, so they can afford to further pollute the environment. And that’s why we’ll never stop the climate change. Because we have too good an opinion about ourselves. What are you actually doing here?

Andrzej: Building an artificial volcano.

Bożena: You are completely fucked up in your head.

Andrzej: No. I’ve been reading a lot about it recently, I’ve been exploring the topic. American geoengineers think that is the only way.

Bożena: Artificial volcanoes? We are really fucked.

Andrzej: Stop swearing, please. There are children here.

Bożena: What children? You really are fucked up in your head. There are no children here. We are not at school.

Andrzej: No? I thought I heard their laughter.

Bożena: Perhaps it wasn’t laughter but silent cries. Perhaps it wasn’t children but IVF embryos sold to Germany straight from a freezer.

Andrzej: Please, stop joking like that. I know you hate Gowin for his ignorance of the basic biology rules, but that’s not a reason to make fun of his religious sensibilities.

Bożena: I think that’s good enough a reason. And anyway look at yourself. You are building an artificial volcano. That’s an artificial, unnatural way of combating global warming. Jarosław Gowin would be very unhappy.

Andrzej: Who cares about Gowin?

Bożena: Enough people to make him an MP. And you? Who cares about you? What have you achieved in life?

Andrzej: Do you have to have a go at me right now? When I’ve finally found a way to save the planet and stop global warming?

Bożena: Haven’t you just said it was some American geoengineers who found a way, not you?

Andrzej: True. But I am the one gutsy enough to make it happen. You know how it is in America. Plenty people have plenty brilliant ideas, but to be able to patent something you need a thick wallet and well connected friends. Meanwhile in Poland I can build an artificial volcano in my yard and nobody will even blink an eye. Everybody will thank me for it when I save the world.

Bożena: How is this brilliant idea of yours supposed to work?

Andrzej: Simple. Because we can’t seem to find a way to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we have to find a way to limit the amount of light reaching the Earth and, as a result of that, we will also limit global warming. Thanks to my artificial volcano we will emit sulphur into the atmosphere, which will in reflect sunlight. And that’s it. Less light gets through to the Earth. The planet is saved.

Bożena: Have you told Leonardo about it?

Andrzej: Not yet. He’s disappeared somewhere.

Bożena: That’s good. Because I haven’t heard anything equally stupid in my life. Do you really think that the solution to littering the atmosphere with carbon dioxide is shoving sulphur there on top of everything else? Really? Really? Biology was never your strong point, but you don’t need to know biology to understand that. A bit of common sense is enough. Which have clearly evaporated from your brain as a result of overheating. Ha ha. You must have experienced a global warming of the brain. You really want to win so much that you are willing to shoot sulphur into the atmosphere? I don’t know what books you’ve read, but if you’ve read them carefully you would know that global warming is not just a problem of rising temperatures, but also of acidification of the oceans. Growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased the acidity of the oceans by 30 per cent. The Great Barrier Reef is dying! And all the beautiful creatures living there are dying with it. You won’t save it with an artificial volcano.

Andrzej: You are such an expert in putting a damper on people’s ideas. A real Polish mother.

Bożena: You’ll thank me for it. I simply protect you from you own male idiocy. If women ruled the world, the planet would never have got so damaged. But of course you, guys, always have to dominate everything. For you mother Earth is just a common hooker that should be shagged. And if she doesn’t want a shag, then let’s at least blow your load into her atmosphere. Well done you!

Andrzej: Could you stop yelling at me and blaming me for all the mistakes of the male kind?

Bożena: No, I couldn’t. I’ve had enough of this circus. I want my boring life and my cynical Andrzej back!

Leonardo enters. He too is a bit tipsy.

Leo (burps): Oops, sorry. Am I interrupting something?

Andrzej: Yes.

Bożena: No.

Leo: So? I haven’t realised that I had so many female fans in this city. I thought they were going to rip me apart.

Andrzej: But they only got you drunk, eh? I hope it wasn’t one of my students and you didn’t get her pregnant?

Leo (burps): Never. I never fuck my fans. And I always use a condom.

Andrzej: I hope you had your own. Many girls here would do much more than prick a condom with a needle in order to have a child with such a star.

Leo: As I said, I don’t fuck children. I mean fans. And I certainly don’t fuck fans who would like to have children.

Bożena: So why do you have condoms?

Leo: Best to be on the safe side. Never say never.

Andrzej: Don’t worry. We need good genes in Poland. They won’t be wasted, I’m sure.

Leo: I better go lie down. It was a tiring day.

Leo goes to the kitchen to go to bed. Bożena and Andrzej have quiet make-up sex.

 

SCENE 9

Leo (stretches): Another beautiful spring day. How good it is to live on this wonderful planet!

Andrzej: Shame it’s going straight to hell.

Leo: Yeah, they did say something about it in some bestseller. I think it was called “The New Testament”. Have you read it?

Andrzej: No, but I know what you are talking about. You think that global warming is the hell we are condemned to for the sins committed on this planet, don’t you?

Leo: Makes sense.

Bożena: There is one thing we can be sure of. Road to hell is definitely not straight but winding and bumpy. A lot can still happen.

Leo: Since you mentioned travelling… I forgot to tell you yesterday that I have a great surprise for you. Better start packing; we are going on a trip!

Andrzej: Where to? Isn’t transport a big factor in increased emissions? Wouldn’t it be better to stay at home?

Leo: Not to worry. We will take a train to the harbour where a catamaran with solar cells is waiting for us.

Bożena: But where are we going?

Leo: Our destination is the Arctic. We will watch melting glaciers! On our way we might even visit the first artificial island made entirely of rubbish thrown into the sea.

Andrzej: Who lives there?

Leo: Nobody yet, as far as I know. But I do know that plenty of fish and birds die because they think plastic is something to eat. If you know somebody who can live on plastic, it could be a perfect home for them.

Andrzej: I always wanted to have my own island.

Leo: As I said. If you learn to eat plastic, it’s all yours!

 

SCENE 10

Our protagonists are on a yacht in the Arctic Sea. They sip drinks. In the background a film is screened showing glaciers disintegrating: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC3VTgIPoGU&w=560&h=315]

Andrzej: When you said there was a catamaran waiting for us, I imagined a small sailing boat, but I see it’s a proper yacht.

Bożena: With a generously stocked bar.

Leo: Evenings out in the sea can be long. You need something to make them bearable.

Bożena: How much of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the alcohol production?

Leo: I’ve restrained myself from checking it. One needs some pleasures in life.

Andrzej: Tell us, Leonardo. Now, when we are going across the sea on our own, you can tell us. Do you really believe in this whole global warming thing? Look around, see how beautiful it is. You really think humans could destroy it all?

Leo: You are pulling my leg, aren’t you?

Andrzej: A tad, but I’d really like to know. We can’t be so very bad, can we?

Leo: We are even worse than that. We hide the facts from each other on purpose, to feel better about ourselves. That’s how human brain works. From millions of pieces of information it receives, it carefully selects those it can live with considerably safely and comfortably. If we really wanted to face the truth, we would see the reality so cruel it would wipe us out in a second. You can’t live when you know the truth. Bożena, could I have a bit more of this delicious vodka, please?

Bożena: But you know the truth, don’t you?

Leo: I’d lie if I said yes. Nobody can know it in depth. But sometimes I think that I’m getting dangerously close. My knees give in, I get dizzy, my hands want to hold on to something solid, but they just flap in the air chaotically.

Andrzej: I know the feeling. That means you are drunk and it’s time to call a cab.

Leo: No, no. I like a drink so I know what it’s like. But that’s something different. Much worse. Seriously. It’s like peeking into God’s head and seeing that he is dreaming about small children being anally raped by horses.

Bożena: I don’t know what you’ve been taking, but you should stop.

Leo: I don’t take anything. I just have a drink every now and then. O, my glass is empty again. Where is the bottle?

Bożena: Here. But perhaps you should stop drinking now?

Leo: You asked if I believed in global warming. That’s not a question of belief. 97 per cent of climatologists agree that global warming is the result of the actions of a man. Amongst them are scientists from around the world, from Greenland to South Africa. You think they’ve met at some secret conference and agreed to form a conspiracy in order to slow down the economic development of the European Union? Why would they do that? To get research grants? They can research anything. And they would probably prefer to research something else, not the phenomenon, which shows what a fucked up species humans are and what they can do to the planet if given the tiniest amount of power. Really, it’s nothing nice. And it’s even less nice when you have to tell people about it. For example politicians who, while working towards deregulation of markets, only increased the scale of the disaser. And are still increasing it, because they refuse to accept that their policies are wrong. What kind of politicians would they be if they admitted to making mistakes? Wusses, not politicians. The logic of the world we live in is based on the economic development. We won’t give it up in the name of protecting some plants. And by the time the right people realise that it is not just plants that are fucked, but also animals, including the animal called human, it will be too late. It’s already too late.

Andrzej: You are drunk.

Leo: So what? Does that mean I am not telling the truth? If I am wrong about something, then, please, go ahead, correct me. I’ll be happy to know.

Bożena: I don’t know if you are wrong but you definitely seem down. If I can give you some advice, I would suggest seeing a doctor or a therapist.

Leo: Everybody tells me the same thing. It’s not me who is not right, it’s the world.

Andrzej: What a beautiful world it is though.

Leo: Yes. Those glaciers are indeed stunning. That’s why I wanted to see them melting. Your grandchildren will not have that pleasure. Climate change is speeding up. There are huge deposits of methane below the ice of the Arctic. It’s a greenhouse gas much more damaging than carbon dioxide. When enough ice melts, it will get into the atmosphere. God only knows what effect it will have for the planet, but one thing is certain. The effect will be disastrous. And nothing can be done about it.

Bożena: Then why did you come to us and got us involved? Why did you say that something needed to be done about it?

Leo: They pay me handsomely for that. And it’s a pleasure to speak on behalf of the good cause, even if I know we can’t succeed. At least at the end I will be able to say to everybody “Didn’t I tell you so?”

 

SCENE 11

The Final

In the background Celine Dion sings, My heart will go on: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmbw8OycJrE&w=420&h=315]. Or perhaps it’s the melting glacier singing? Leo pours more vodka into his glass and then jumps out of the boat onto the drifting ice floe. He hugs it.

Andrzej: What now? Should we come to the rescue?

Bożena: Do you know how to do it? I have an impression that he brought us here on purpose so that we witness his death in the embraces of the melting glacier.

Andrzej takes his camera out.

Andrzej: Let’s immortalize it at least. This way his death won’t be wasted.

Bożena takes her mobile out and starts filming Leonardo with it.

Bożena: You are right. That’s the least we can do.

Andrzej: And then what? What are we going to do?

Bożena: Same as earlier, Pinky. Keep saving the humankind from self-extinction.

Andrzej: You think we will succeed?

Bożena: I’m afraid I don’t know. But I think we have no choice.

 

THE END

 

Translated by Anna Hyde

We just acted as if it didn’t exist

storm-surge-1-750x1000

We never realised how important it was… We just acted as if it didn’t exist…

My mum says she remembers when worrying about a natural disaster would be at the back of her mind. That how it was almost impossible for one to effect her even in the slightest because of where she lived.

But the truth is that it’s our own fault…

She said when the first cyclone hit Melbourne, nobody was ready, it took thousands of casualties, tearing apart families and homes. It took months for people to get back on their feet, but a year later the second cyclone hit. People were now more aware of the catastrophic outcomes of an event like this, but had no time to prepare themselves. Though this time only talking the lives of a third of the original cyclone, this still left thousands homeless and distraught. These events began to occur from then onwards, often each time becoming more frequent and devastatingly destructive.

But that was 25 years ago.

Here we are now, it’s me, my dad, my mum and my brother all huddled together in the bunker, all completely silent. All I could hear outside was the crashing of the land above being torn apart violently and the terrifying whistling of the powerful winds. I had my headphone in to try and block out the noises but it was almost impossible. We are surrounded by our most precious objects, well as many as we could fit into out tiny bunker. There is a loud smash as a piece or debris outside flys into the door, my heart skips a beat and I jump, almost hitting my head.

We have been living in condition like these for many years, I was born and raised whist these events were happening, fooling me to believe that events such as these are normal and always have been. But no, these natural disasters were what Some call ‘man made’. We did this, we were given the warnings but ignored them as though they were nothing.

Children used to wish for things like the newest PlayStation or Xbox, the best soccer ball or soccer boots, to be able to play an instrument or to get a new bike.

These days you will find that most children’s wishes are to have a few months clean of disaster.

It’s kind of sad isn’t it.

To think this all could have been preventable.

People need to come to terms with how real climate change is, though in this short story I have exaggerated the effects, we still need to make a change or you never know. Something like this could happen.

 

– Will / Footscray City College Substation

Water and Cricket just don’t mix

map“Hey Tom” get the ball called Jack. So Tom reluctantly chased after the ball which was rolling away and they continued to play some cricket in their home town of Renmark. Jack steams in and bowls the ball fast and straight on target to hit the bin but Tom swings and makes contact which sends the ball flying into the river. The boys are both unhappy and wish the river wasn’t there. Luckily there it wasn’t too hard for them to get their hands on another ball. Later Tom says to jack “water and cricket just don’t mix” which jack warily agrees to.

The boys take a break and go down to the milk bar to get a pie and a Big M. They both sit by the river busy in watching their ball float away and their pies. Later they start playing again and one by one just about their whole year level is joining in. Competition for a bat is more fierce and picking the gaps in the field is almost impossible. They keep playing and more rules are constantly being made up to keep the game flowing. The game keeps going until everyone has been called in for dinner and by that time it is so dark that it is impractical to keep playing anyway.

They next day at school a Tom and Jack organise a big cricket game at the local cricket oval for later that night. “BBRRIINNGGG” the school bell rings and everyone rushes straight home to get out their favourite bats. At 4:00 about 20 boys are there ready to play and Tom even managed to rope in an Umpire (His younger brother). After lots of controversy the teams are finally settled on it took many attempts but finally the 2 captain’s way worked with Tom and Jack the captains.

The game starts and Jacks team is bowling first. Toms team get off to a good start and then collapse and end up with total of 56 of 10 overs which may be an alright total. Jacks team starts batting and have a terrible start of 8/15 of 5 overs. Jack comes to the crease and builds a good partnership with Max now they only need 6 of the last over. Max is on strike but can’t connect with the first 4 balls everyone is now nervous. Max finally hits one and they run Tom fields the ball and then throughs down the stumps while max is definitely out of his crease. There is one ball left and Jack is on strike and they still need 6 runs to win. The bowler comes in and bowls a full toss Jack connects and it looks like it’s going for six but someone catches it. Because of the unclear boundary it is hard to tell if he caught it over the boundary. Everyone is now questioning the umpire who responds with “What Happened? After lots of Arguing the game is declared a draw. The next day at school yesterday’s game was affirmed as the best game by people from both teams.

30 Years Later

“Are we there yet?” asked James “Nearly” replied Tom as they zoomed along the Freeway as they approach the end of the long drive from Melbourne.

“Are we there yet?” asked Mitch. “Nearly” replied Jack as they turned of the Freeway on the same route as Tom and James

Two cars pulled up just before the river crossing. “Hey Tom” called Jack. Tom looks around and immediately jumps out of the car to greet Jack. The two boys James and Mitch also jump out. “I can’t wait for the cricket match” says James “Yeah, my dad said it’s the best ground” replied Mitch. The boys then go and have a look around.

“It’s good to be back” Says Tom “Yeah, the river seems wider than I remember” replies Jack “True” agrees Tom. “ I remember the banks bursting but I didn’t think it was this significant. “What’s the Murray Gulf” yells Mitch. “What, the Murray Gulf” Tom and Jack yell out “Yeah” both the boys respond. Tom and Jack walk over and see a big official but temporary looking sign with the words “Murray Gulf”. They both look at each other with confused looks. Cars going the opposite way are flashing their indicators at them as if to notify something. The drive past a sign identical to the one at the river with the words “Murray Gulf”. There are sign warning them that the road is about to end. They didn’t believe it until they say they saw barricades. They stop the cars and jump out and again see the ‘Murray Gulf” sign.

Some in an official uniform comes up to them and asks them if there alright. They respond positively and but ask ”why is the road closed” he says haven’t you heard. Tom blankly says “No”. “The man replies well there has been massive flooding in the area. Then last night we people were woken up by water and then suddenly the whole area was underwater. We are yet to find the cause and how large the affected area is. For now we are just closing the area so unfortunately you will have to turn around.

They turn around and rent a room for the night. Later that night there is a news break with the headline “THE POLAR ICE CAPS MELT”. Then this Map pops up:

map

“What was first thought of a just flash flooding has been realised as the melting of the polar ice caps. This has caused a massive rise of sea levels which has taken over much of Australia including towns like Renmark and the port of Adelaide. The new seas in Australia have been named the “Murray Gulf” and the “Artesian Sea”. That’s all for now a more detailed report will be broadcasted later.

Everyone in the room is gobsmacked and are all staring around speechless. Tom once again says “water and cricket just don’t mix” which Jack wearily agrees to.

– Elijah / Footscray City College Substation

The Giants in the Water

The huge machines jutted up out of the water like the bowed backs of giant armoured warriors, their shoulders hunched, as if ready to link arms to withstand the coming surge of the tide. Most of the gates they held between them were still invisible below the water. It remained to be seen if they could be lifted in time to stop what was coming. Giants-1Spanning the five-hundred-and-twenty-metre width of the river, and standing as high as a five-storey building, the Thames Barrier was the second biggest flood defence barrier in the world – and in economic terms at least, the world’s most important barrier. If it failed to work today, everyone would find out why.

‘They’re like giant warriors,’ Blowfly said. ‘Jutting up out of the water like that, their backs hunched, ready to lift those gates.’

‘What are you talking about?’ His partner frowned, taking a drag on her cigarette and blowing some smoke.

‘The machines – they’re like giants,’ he repeated.

Jerm threw him a quizzical glance and then turned her gaze to the massive engineering works in front of them. The two investigators were standing about fifty metres upstream on the north bank of the Thames. Behind them was a park, across the river from them, the barrier’s information centre and a car park. From their vantage point, they could see the police divers pulling the dead body out of the water and into their rigid inflatable boat. Jerm squinted at one of the steel and concrete towers. They were topped by what she thought looked like an armadillo’s shell with a big section cut out of the middle. But even that didn’t describe them properly.

How are they like giants, exactly?’ she asked. ‘They’re big, bloody . . . I dunno, machine islands.’

‘It’s just a metaphor,’ Blowfly sighed. ‘Never mind.’

‘That help you much when you’re investigating a terrorist act?’ she inquired. ‘Making up metaphors? Helps to get the synapses firing, does it?’

‘Never mind,’ he growled.

Bill Flynn and Jemimah Hearn, known to their colleagues as Blowfly and Jerm, were part of an international unit attached to Interpol, that investigated crimes with far-reaching consequences. The dead body wasn’t the reason they were here, but they expected it would tie in soon enough. They had been called because a gang of well-organized criminals had broken into the control centre of the Thames Barrier in the dark hours of the morning and destroyed the main computer. Giants-2They hadn’t stopped there – they obviously knew that each of the ten gates that stretched between the towers could be closed using its own controls and the gang had succeeded in breaking through to the access tunnels and damaging most of individual controls as well. Several workers and security guards had been injured in the attack.

‘This must be what it feels like to be on the subs’ bench in the Premiership,’ Blowfly commented.

‘Mm,’ Jerm agreed.

They were only one of a number of units represented at the scene and Blowfly and Jerm were having to step back and wait their turn to look around. As well as the Met’s Marine Policing Unit, there were officers from Counter Terrorism Command and, Jerm suspected, but couldn’t be sure, a few spooks from MI5. She and her partner were here to study the big picture, to investigate the potential repercussions of the crime beyond London, or even Britain. But there was a pecking order here and Counter Terrorism Command were the ones with the biggest, sharpest beaks. In the UK, terrorism trumped every other crime and this was CTC’s turf.

Jerm was tall, with cropped, untidy dark brown hair. She had a face that was attractive in a hard-bitten type of way, but looked designed to deliver bad news. Blowfly was a few inches shorter, a tidy, trimly built man with fine-boned, Chinese features, a gentle manner and an Irish accent. Jerm chewed her lip as she flicked her cigarette butt out into the river.

‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ Blowfly said.

‘Yeah, I know. Sorry.’

This case was already getting messy and she wondered if being here was a waste of their time. A few metres away from Jerm was another man, by the name of Brunel. A thickset, sallow-skinned man with dark bushy hair and beard, he was one of the engineers from the Environment Agency, who managed the barrier. He was here to liaise with the police, but they were all waiting for the body to be brought ashore now, so he had time to fret about the gigantic machines out in the river. Giants-4Brunel had a pair of binoculars pressed to his eyes and was anxiously watching the gates. The attack on the barrier had been carefully timed. There was a storm surge expected from the North Sea, a colossal rush of water that would flow right up the river towards London. If the gates were not closed in time, a huge area of the city could be flooded. Millions of people and billions of pounds in property lay in the path of the surge. If the river flooded the city, the damage, and possible death toll, would be catastrophic.

‘So they’re having to crank those gates closed by hand?’ Blowfly asked the engineer.

‘Yes,’ Brunel answered tersely. ‘The outer gates, the ones closest to the banks, are smaller. You can see they’ve already been shut. But it’s the big ones under the water we have to get closed. And it’s taking too damned long.’

‘And they have to be raised up?’ Blowfly grimaced. ‘How heavy are these gates?’

‘About three thousand three hundred tonnes each.’

‘Oookay,’ Blowfly breathed. ‘That should be easy enough, then. You’ve done this before, right?’

‘Only in tests,’ Brunel replied. ‘We’ve never had to do it while facing down a storm surge like this one. You have to prepare for the worst, but . . . you hope that it’ll never actually happen.’

‘And how much of London is on the floodplain?’ Jerm prompted him.

‘About a hundred and twenty five square kilometres,’ Brunel told her.

‘That’s . . . that’s a lot of it.’

‘Yes. And my house is slap bang in the middle of it.’

They all turned to stare at the barrier. The gates were being raised in pairs – the ones nearest the banks first, then the next ones in and so on. The progress was painfully slow. The first two main gates were just rising above the water’s surface. Each gate was like a lengthwise slice of a cylinder, normally lying underwater, flush with the concrete base in the riverbed to keep it out of the way of boat traffic. When the huge hydraulic arms on the towers rotated the axles, the steel slab rotated up from its base, and swung into place to stand on its edge and block the path of the water. With the oncoming combination of a storm surge and the river already at high tide, the gates should have been shut over an hour ago. Even now, the level of the river was noticeably higher than normal.

The police boat had reached the riverbank and now the dead body was being lifted up to the assortment of investigators waiting to examine it. Blowfly and Jerm walked over, joining the huddle of men and women who crowded round the drenched corpse. It was a young white woman, small and of slight build, with shoulder-length brown hair, a narrow, pinched face and blue eyes. She was wearing grey suit trousers, a matching jacket, still buttoned, and a light green shirt.

‘Doesn’t look like she came dressed for sabotage, does it?’ Blowfly muttered.

‘She didn’t work here, so what else was she doing out on that tower?’ Jerm said.

Her skin had a tinge of blue and was marked by post-mortem gouges and abrasions – they had probably occurred where her body had been pinned by the current against the base of the tower wall where she’d been found. A detective inspector from CTC was already looking for any obvious cause of death.

‘Looks like a head injury, here on the back of the skull, but I’d say she drowned,’ he declared. ‘Hit, knocked out and thrown in, maybe?’

Nobody answered. He was only saying what they were all thinking anyway. He started going through the pockets. He found a wallet and opened it to reveal a typical collection of credit cards, loyalty cards, sodden receipts and some banknotes. There was also a driver’s licence and an ID card of some kind.

‘Antonia Abbot,’ the CTC guy said. ‘The ID is for the PR department of a company called Hewbrys Holdings.’

‘We know them,’ Jerm spoke up. ‘They’re the parent company for a few different businesses that have been investigated for environmental offences. Nobody’s ever got anything to stick against Hewbrys themselves though. Funny that she’s one of their people; Hewbrys has their headquarters in the Docklands. If the river floods, they’ll be one of the worst hit.’

‘Maybe she had some grudge against the company?’ one of the other detectives said.

‘And decided to take out half of London along with her own firm?’ Jerm snorted. ‘Hell of a grudge.’

Giants-8‘The video footage from the security cameras showed the terrorists dressed up all commando style,’ the CTC guy said. ‘She’s in a business suit. Maybe she was a hostage. But why her?’

‘And why did the kill her, if they managed to get in and do what they wanted to do?’ Blowfly asked. ‘Maybe she knew something, was involved in some way and they couldn’t leave her as a witness.’

‘It’s all conjecture at the moment,’ the CTC officer said, waving over the medical examiner, who was waiting to take a look at the body. ‘We’re analysing all the video now, but the gang destroyed the cameras as they came through. Let’s move back, let the SOCOs do their work. We’ll contact you when we have any more information.’

It wasn’t quite a dismissal, but it was close enough. The CTC were already marking their territory. The scene of crime officers were hovering, dressed in their disposable white suits, waiting to join the medical examiner at the body. More of them were already visible on the structures out on the river. Jerm caught Blowfly’s eye and tilted her head toward the railing where Brunel was still standing with his binoculars. They walked over together, leaving the others behind.

‘Remember the case with the bushfire in Australia last year?’ she asked her partner.

‘What, in Victoria?’ Blowfly replied. ‘The dead guy in the creek?’

‘Yeah. Guy named Cameron Davis. You remember where he worked? It was one of the places that burned down during the fire.’

Blowfly thought for a moment, searching his prodigious memory for the information.

‘It was a chemical plant – Osborne Solutions,’ he said. He paused, then added: ‘Jesus. That was owned by Hewbrys as well. Davis was hit on the head and left to die too, in the fire. He woke up and tried to put it out, but he burned up anyway. We thought that was just a bunch of git-faced firebugs. You reckon there could be a link?’

‘You think it could be a coincidence?’

‘You know how I feel about coincidences.’

‘Yeah, but sometimes stuff happens that’s really like other stuff,’ Jerm replied. ‘Or it seems connected and we make more of it than we should, simply because there was this random connection when, actually, random stuff happens every day that we don’t make a big thing out of because it’s mostly about stuff that doesn’t matter to us.’

Blowfly threw her a glance.

‘What, you’re a philosopher now?’ he sniffed. ‘So we gonna check it out?’

‘Bloody right we are.’

They both gazed out at the river for a moment.

‘Where are the heads, then?’ Jerm demanded.

‘What?’

‘If those things are giants, y’know, like giant warriors, where are the heads?’

‘Why do you have to be so literal?’ he snapped.

‘You mean, accurate?’

‘Oh, bugger off. Go smoke another cigarette.’

‘What, you like my smoking now?’ she grunted. ‘Or are you just trying to get me to die a little faster?’

‘The thought had crossed my mind,’ he murmured. They both grinned.

‘I think they look more like broken armadillos – the top bits anyway,’ Jerm added.

‘Oh, sure. That works,’ Blowfly said.

Brunel’s shoulders were hunched, his posture tense. The outer pair of gates had been raised and the next ones were closing, but it was like watching the minute hand on a clock. Slower, actually. Even so, the two investigators couldn’t help being impressed.

‘It’s pretty incredible, when you think about it,’ Blowfly commented. ‘Gates that can close off a river this size, hold back the ocean. It’s some piece of work.’

‘Some day soon, it won’t be enough,’ Brunel rasped. ‘Engineering like this, you have to think tens of decades ahead – longer. And this thing certainly won’t last until the end of this century. Giants-6Sea levels are rising, you know? Most people in London don’t pay any attention to what we do here, but every year, the North Sea comes surging in further, harder than before. In the eighties, the barrier was closed four times. In the nineties, it closed thirty-five times. In the noughties, seventy-five times. We can only guess what this decade will be like, but we’re less than halfway through and by March last year, it had been closed sixty-five times. And closing it doesn’t solve all our problems; you can’t block that amount of water and expect it to stay put. Block it here, it floods out in other places.’

He pressed the binoculars to his eyes again, and what he saw seemed to release some of the tension from his body. He ran his gaze from one side of the barrier to the other.

‘We’re going to do it,’ he rasped. ‘The scumbags might have wrecked the computers, but the hydraulics are still sound. I think we’ll close the gates in time . . . to stop the worst of it, anyway.’

Jerm looked out off the riverbank at the water flowing past their feet.

‘Is it me, or has the river risen a bit?’ she asked.

‘Yes, it can happen pretty fast, once it starts. We’ll have to go in a while,’ Brunel said. ‘The water level will come up over this bank before long. Like I said, you can’t block a river and expect it to stay put.’

Blowfly gazed down at the rising water. Then he raised his head and looked around. The city didn’t just stop downstream from the barrier. In every direction, he could see buildings; homes and businesses, stretching to the horizon.

‘You said the barrier won’t last forever – they’ll have to build something bigger. Giants-5The sea’s just going to keep on coming. So . . . where’s all that extra water going to go, when you block it off?’

Brunel looked over at him, but didn’t answer, dropping his eyes to the ground instead.

‘If the sea wants in, there’s only so much you can do,’ he said softly. ‘We won’t need terrorists to do us damage. You stop the sea here, it pushes in somewhere else. If we want to keep living on our rivers, on the coast . . .’ He shrugged and looked through his binoculars again. ‘We can’t protect everyone. We have to prioritize – we’re talking massive cost here, so that usually means taking care of the money-makers first. For everyone else, well . . . somebody’s going to get their feet wet.’

As he said that, he stepped back from the riverbank. Blowfly and Jerm did the same. The water was starting to lap over the lip of concrete. It was time to put some distance between them and the river.

A Thousand Words for Snow – Part three

 

Continued from part two, which you can read here.

7.

The evening passes for Tekk without any significant moments. He is in some grand restaurant, with the most beautiful seafood and meat before him, with luminous candles on the table and inky red wines and golden beer. But Tekk only manages to eat two pieces of roast beef. He feels depressed, although many friendly delegates are trying to hold a conversation with him. But he has no vocabulary for the cultured white Europeans. Nor can he involve himself in any sophisticated discussions about carbon dioxide emissions or levels of acidity in the oceans. He misses his family, his favourite dogs, his igloo, and most of all, the freedom he can only feel in his natural environment. He asks Hans to walk back with him to the hotel, while everyone is having wine and gooseberry cakes.

Later, alone in his hotel room, Tekk feels a little better. He removes all of his clothes, stripping down to his shorts, although he leaves his walrus fur hat on. He loves his fur hat. It reminds him of all those great times when he and his father went hunting for walrus, and watching his father skin animals with his knife. He misses his father, though he knows his father’s dead body is lying there senselessly deep in the snow by their house. Suddenly, tears run down his face.

He lies in the bed, pressing the remote control, flicking through TV channels.

On one channel there’s a cooking programme, on another some soap set in a rich family’s house somewhere in Europe. On another is a police story with car chases and gun fights. Tekk watches this for a while, but it’s in German. He soon grows bored, and his feeling of lonesomeness returns.

He switches off the TV, lying still, trying to sleep.

Through the thin wall, he hears the noise of two people making love next door. The noise grows louder and louder.

He lies there, eyes wide open, listening to the noise.

The next day, Tekk asks Hans to take him to the zoo again. This time, Hans only accompanies him to the entrance, and tells Tekk that he will come back to meet him by the gate in three hours time, because he has to work at the conference. Tekk is happy for this three hours by himself in the zoo. He walks straight to his friend’s enclosure, and in no time, he is standing in front of Knat, the lonely polar bear. He watches the creature’s every single move, but is careful to remain obscured, so that the bear doesn’t see him.

Today, around the enclosure, there is a television crew from the BBC reporting on the famous polar bear. Tekk watches a blonde woman presenter, speaking in front of the camera in English:

‘Welcome to the BBC World Service! Right now I’m in the Berlin Zoo, standing in front of Knat, their famous polar bear. I want to give you some insight into why Germans are worried about him and what is the real problem. We were told by the zookeepers that Knat has been leading a very reclusive life and stays in his cave for most of the time. He’s also been showing some signs of losing his appetite. Usually polar bears would eat raw meat, but recently he’s los interest in that, and instead he’s begun to eat human food like vegetables, cooked food – even croissants and bread which the tourists give him. We wondered if the famous carnivore could become a vegetarian. In a week’s time, Knat will cerebrate his fifth birthday with the zookeepers and I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of cute photos of Knat’s birthday party…’

The bear in the background roars towards the camera, which frightens the television presenter slightly. But she adjusts her smile and continues her report. But then a group of animal rights activists swarm in front of the camera, raising their banners and shouting together: ‘caging is a crime!’. The bear seems to be getting more and more disturbed. But at this point, Tekk steps out from behind the tree, and into Knat’s field of vision. After a few moments, Knat notices his friend. Then he gradually grows quiet. Tekk is chanting words in his Inuit language, louder and louder. His chant seems to pierce the noise of the protesters and the crowd of tourists. The bear seems to sway back and forth in time with his chant. And then the eyes of bear and man lock again.

It’s at this point that everyone else begins to notice the strange scene happening between the bear and the fur-clad Asiatic man standing by the fence, who’s producing a resonant song from deep inside his chest. Knat releases a long sad groan in response, and raises his head, stretching his whole back, as if waving his head to Tekk. Suddenly, there is a silence, only punctuated by the background sound of traffic, and the occasion animal noise. Tekk and the bear stand frozen, gazes locked, as the crowd and zookeepers look on. But then, like a string breaking, an air of hopelessness comes over the bear, and their mutual gaze is broken. Knat, as if releasing some heavy weight, turns to go back into his cave, dragging his paws over the concrete. Tekk leaves quickly before anyone can question him.

 

8.

The week-long conference is heading towards its climax. It’s the morning Tekk is going to give his speech. He has a text Hans helped him to write. Over the last few days he has been practicing it and he has learnt to read it quite well. This is his speech:

Dear delegates of the 5th Global Warming Conference,

My name is Tekkeit Qaasuitsup and I am from a village in Greenland. I feel honoured to be able to present the story of my family and my people to you here. I must admit that I know nothing of global warming or climate change, but still, I want to thank the organizers for inviting me to come to Berlin.

Here is my story: I am from an Inuit tribe. We are hunter-gatherers. I am indeed a Nanook, that is, a good hunter. Originally, Nanook in my language meant the master bear. In our culture, polar bear is the master of all bears. Only he can decide if hunters deserve success in finding and killing bears; he will also punish the bad hunter who violates the rules. My father was a bear hunter and so am I. We have to hunt for our food. We have no shops near us. The nearest supermarket to our house is three days away by dog sled. So we have to do fishing and hunting to keep our life going. We always listen to the calls of the bear master when we hunt. After arriving in Germany, I was very surprised to see our master was caged in the Berlin Zoo. So, while I have been here, I have had to go there everyday to worship him. I am worried about his condition. I hope he is not going to punish me one day.

The last thing I want to do is thank my friend Hans. He has taught me good manners and I have learnt through him something of the European way of life. But I am not sure I will become a vegetarian like Hans, because if we eat the good animals from the sea and we only eat what we need to eat, then there is no need to be a vegetarian. We can’t eat three seals in one week. We can only eat so much food everyday. It’s strange then, for me, that there is so much food in the supermarket. What happens when they can’t sell it all by the end of the day? They throw it away, or let it rot? Anyway, I know big cities have more opportunity for living, but I prefer my hometown and I already miss being there. I hope to fly back as soon as possible. This is the end of my speech. Please excuse my English and thank you for listening.’

After this speech, everyone applauds and agrees Tekk is the most charming guest in the conference. He is instantly asked for photographs by his new fans. A few minutes later, a man in a nice suit approaches Tekk. He introduces himself as Werner Vidoni and he is the head of Berlin Zoo, specialising in animal behaviour.

‘What do you want from me?’ Tekk is a bit surprised.

‘Oh, we need your help, Tekk, if you don’t mind my direct approach.’ Werner explains.

‘What sort of help?’

‘You already met our polar bear in the zoo, and you know he is very precious for our city. Indeed, I have witnessed your power with our Knat. I was there the other day, when you calmed Knat down.’

‘Yes, I know Knat.’ Answers Tekk somewhat enigmatically.

‘Knat was born in our zoo and his mother died shortly after his birth. So he has lived a somewhat lonely life for a bear. Now in the last several months he has grown more and more reclusive, and he eats less and less. We are quite worried about Knat’s health. Since you are from Greenland, the native land of polar bears, I wonder if you might have some good suggestions for us. And if you like, we can invite you to accompany our bear keepers, so you can get closer to Knat and tell us what you think about his diet and his behaviour. ’

This is a surprising appeal for Tekk. He is lost for words. He nods his head in earnest.

‘Tekk loves Knat, I am sure he will be very happy to have an opportunity to get closer to him.’ Hans hears the conversation and answers for Tekk.

Next day, Tekk is picked up by the zookeeper from the hotel. On the way to the zoo, two documentary filmmakers with a camera and recording machines also join them. They want to make a ‘Reality TV Show’ about how an Inuit trains the bear and they believe the whole of Germany will love to watch the show. The team is received in the zoo by the enthusiastic staff. Before Tekk enters a back door leading towards the inner enclosure occupied by Knat, he kneels, facing the cave where the bear is, and prays silently. When the ritual is over, he wipes dust off his trousers and says: ‘now we can go in.’

The zookeeper is curious about Tekk’s ritual, he asks: ‘Tekk, what do your believe?’

The young Nanook answers with an old saying from his Inuit culture: ‘We do not believe, we fear.’

‘You fear?’ The zookeeper repeats: ‘what about God? Do you have some kind of god like we do here in Europe?’

‘God? Everything is god. Seal is god, walrus is god, fish is god, and polar bear is god too.’

‘So do you fear these gods? I mean, if you don’t believe in them, you wouldn’t fear them…’

‘Belief is not important for us, but fear will protect us. We fear nature’ says Tekk.

The documentary filmmakers record Tekk’s speech. Soon Tekk’s mysterious answer will become an enigma for the Berlin media. Soon the genial Nanook will become a celebrity, as famous as Knat. Tekk’s photo will appear in Bild and Süddeutsche Zeitung alongside that of the polar bear Knat, with the headline: WE DO NOT BELIEVE, WE FEAR.

The day passes by with Tekk inside the enclosure, along with the bear and the animal specialists. Tekk has been talking to the zookeeper about his and his father’s knowledge of polar bears. ‘You know, polar bear is the great long distance swimmer. But here in the zoo, he can swim nowhere and he can’t do any excise really.’ The Zookeeper nods his head. He knows the problem well, but he doesn’t think they can change Knat’s living space.

 

9.

‘We can’t return our Knat to nature, because he was born in captivity and never lived outside of the zoo. He won’t even have the ability to secure his own food. He will just die if we let him out’. The zookeeper explains to Tekk.

Tekk has no more words to offer. Before he leaves the zoo, he suggests: ‘Knat needs a friend, his own kind of friend to live with.’

‘Yes, that’s the right thought.’ The zookeeper says. ‘We have decided to raise 500,000 euros to buy another polar bear – a female one from Norway, to be the mate of Knat and to conceive future baby bears. We have already secured some money and we are confident that we can raise the rest of fees to host our new Mrs Knat.” Says the zoo keeper.

But only our young Nanook knows that his friend inside the fence is reaching the end of his life. The bear is short of breath, and he hasn’t eaten half of what he is supposed to eat in the last few days. He has no more strength, not even bringing himself out of the cave to meet the public.

Next day, when Tekk is accompanied by Hans to the airport along with his orange suitcase, they find hundreds and thousands of people gathering in front of the television news in the departure hall. Everyone is watching the direct live broadcast from Berlin Zoo: Knat is dead! He died from a mysterious disease, apparently a tumour in his heart. Both Tekk and Hans freeze in front of the news report. It said Knut’s sudden death caused an international outpouring of grief. Hundreds of fans are visiting the zoo, leaving flowers and mementos near the enclosure. The mayor of Berlin, Mr. Herzorg is speaking on the television now: ‘we all held him so dearly. He was the star of our city. But he will live on in our hearts. We will create a monument for coming generations to preserve the memory of this unique animal.’ The report also says that Knat’s remains may also be stuffed and put on display in the Museum of Natural History. The news ends with a song performed by children: ‘Knat – The Dreamer, we love you forever’.

Alone on the plane, Tekk contemplates the floating clouds outside his cabin. The scenes from the last few days are like a film playing before his mind’s eye. He falls asleep as the plane makes its way north. In sleep, he returns to the dream he had a week ago, on the night after he arrived in Germany. He is swimming with a young polar bear in the arctic sea. But the bear is such a good swimmer, he soon leaves Tekk far behind. In no time the bear is nothing but a small, bobbing head on the swell far ahead, and then, slowly it fades, becoming indistinguishable from the grey sea surface and the dull sky. Tekk scans the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse. But there is nothing. He is alone, far out in the ocean. Then, suddenly, the sky to the north, begins to change its form. The light and clouds merge to form a smile – a smiling bear head hovers before him in the fading day’s rays, and the grey waves are touched by a shimmering whiteness.

 

 

EPILOGUE

A great iceberg is drifting on the water. If you were a bird or a fish, and if you followed this iceberg long enough, you would arrive somewhere in Greenland. There you might see a dead seagull frozen on the snow, or the skeleton of a large musk ox on a hillside. Or, you might meet this Inuit family in a small igloo house. Our story continues from within their igloo.

So what’s this Inuit family doing? As is not unusual for any family, they have gathered around, engaged in domestic activities. The mother is cooking. Her three sons are feeding their dogs. Occasionally they help their mother prepare the food. Their father is dead long ago. He died in a snow storm while out hunting. And now their youngest son, Smart Tekk, is telling his family of the adventure from which he has just returned:

‘I said to the German people, we call aput – the snow that is on the ground; and qana falling snow and pigsipor drifting snow; mentlana pink snow; suletlana green snow. And that kiln is remembered snow, naklin forgotten snow, and so on. The Germans were intrigued, so they asked me what is “remembered snow” and what is “forgotten snow”. I said you can’t remember all the snow you have encountered in your life. You only remember some of the snow. For example, the snow that lay on our dead father’s body, motela, that snow I will never forget…’

 

END

Flower of Solitude

flower

A short story by Xiaolu Guo

1. Houyi

At that time, the universe had two different worlds – the Earth, where the Mortals lived, and the Heaven where the Immortals reigned. At that time, the mountain was scarlet red and the sea flowed with the colour of blood. At that time, the animals crowded the land so much so that the humans had to fight for their space. At that time, the greatest quality a man could have was to be the best archer. And at that time in those long ago days, on the red earth, there was a great archer named Houyi.

With a large bow on his shoulder, Houyi walks rapidly on the wild grass like a leopard streaking through the forest. He heads towards the village of White Elephant to help the locals shoot the wolves – the carnivorous wolves who have recently stolen several babies and left a bloody trail on the path to the woods. No animal, wolf, bull or lion can outrun Houyi’s arrows. Houyi is indeed the master of all archers within the kingdom.

The sun burns above the pine trees, and beneath them Houyi sweats like a young bull. He washes his face in a stream at the foot of the hills, drinking in the clear and sweet water from the mountain. He bites into the sour fruit from a wild pear tree, spitting the hard skin onto his grass shoes. He is a man with wild temper; his young beard is thick and strong, always flying in the wind. And with his great silver bow against the arrows on his back, even tigers fear him and slink from his path.
One autumn afternoon, when the heat subsides, Houyi manages to shoot three wolves in the forest. The first two are killed instantly, the third one is wounded and saved for the autumn sacrifice. The villagers cerebrate their hero. Some thank Houyi with gifts of corn and fish, others offer smoked pork. Loaded with food, carrying his great bow, Houyi leaves the village.

Houyi’s young wife, Chang’e, is alone at home. Gathering silk from cocoons, she prepares to weave winter clothes for Houyi. She feels lonely and wilted after marrying her husband, yet she is only fifteen years old. Houyi is just three years older than her, but he is never at home, he is a wild man who loves to make war with nature. And now Chang’e has been chased and won by him, there is nothing left to be done. With love absent from his mind, he spends his days hunting the forest animals. His young wife has no one to accompany her through each passing day. In front of their house is an old magnolia tree. Chang’e often contemplates its thick leaves and huge white flowers. She feels like a silent and weak petal of a magnolia flower, waiting for the seasons to bring her back to the earth, yet she herself has no weight and no power.

Every night, Houyi the archer falls asleep straight after supper. His breath is solid and deep, yet as she lies beside her husband Chang’e feels her motionless life wending its way towards a slow death. She sees the shape of her own death as she takes her place beside Houyi’s earthy body. The shape of death, like an ink blot, expands and seeps into the clear area, and eventually swallows the whole visible space, leaving only blackness.

2. Chang’e

Before marrying Houyi, Chang’e was a flower picker in the king’s palace. The king was very old. His kingdom was in the southern part of Han China, a land whose tribes ceaselessly fought each other. When Chang’e turned twelve years old she became a servant for one of the king’s wives, and had to look after a garden where three jasmine trees grew. Her job was to pick the white flowers of the jasmine trees before they bloomed, then soak them with iced sugar in a jade jar. After a few days the king’s wife would drink the sugared jasmine tea to cure her weak lungs.

Each jasmine flower in that garden grew only one single petal, a white petal in the shape of a heart. They were very fragile. As soon as the slightest wind blew, the petals would fall from the trees like snow. Chang’e had to pick the flowers before the wind came. Day after day Chang’e’s young heart endured the monotony of her dull life.

One day, as Chang’e left the king’s palace to go to the market to buy sugar, she bumped into a strong handsome man with a great silver bow. Chang’e and Houyi fell in love at first sight. Before long she left the king’s jasmine garden, and became the wife of the great archer. Being a young wife, Chang’e raises silkworms under the mulberry trees, cooks rice and soup on top of a pile of chopped tree trunks, washes clothes in a nearby river. She knows the archer loves her, but her lonely heart drifts inside her empty chest. She feels love for him, but somehow it fades away, little by little, each night while Houyi sleeps. She doesn’t know what she lives for any more. She feels again that she is back in the old king’s jasmine garden, under the same burning sun, raising her tired arms, picking each delicate flower, for no purpose from one day to the next.

3. Wu Gang

At that time, above the great Chinese sky, there was a Heaven, where all the Immortals live. The Emperor of Heaven had the power to decide who could live there, and who could not.

Yet for Wu Gang, the impulsive Emperor of Heaven made a different decision. Wu Gang’s fate was to abide forever in the limbo between the Immortal and Mortal worlds. He became the gatekeeper of the South Heaven Gate – the only passage from Earth to Heaven.

Motionless and empty, Wu Gang leans against the South Heaven Gate, reminiscing over moments of his past life on Earth. He was once a woodcutter in a bamboo forest, happy with his life. Somehow the Emperor of Heaven judged Wu Gang to be no ordinary man, but rather the most trustful person on earth. So the Greatest Mind chose Wu Gang to guard the heavenly gate, and ever since then Wu Gang has been living in this void. He misses his homeland and using his solid axe on solid bamboo, better than this heavenly axe he is forced to wield. He misses the smell of the earth after thunderstorms and the sound of the river flowing behind his grass shed. Now he is in limbo, an interim space, and a lifeless zone where the earth ends and the unreachable Heaven begins. He is in a world where there is no sound, no colour and no weight. Only Wu Gang’s axe has a firm shape, and, perhaps, his own body as well. He can see but can’t feel his own weight. The people chosen by the Emperor of Heaven to become Immortals merely pass through Wu Gang’s gate. No one has ever stayed with him to talk or reminisce, and besides, there is no concrete space by that gate where one could rest. Wu Gang lives in a flow of air, from which he can only contemplate the Earth through the ethereal clouds. He is the loneliest being in the universe.

One day, through deep layers of clouds, Wu Gang’s eyes catch sight of the beautiful Chang’e while she is standing under a jasmine tree in the king’s garden, the jasmine blossoms raining down like snow in the wind. Chang’e leans by the tree, gazing at those petals falling all around her. Rays of light caress her hair and neck. The gatekeeper is stunned by her delicate beauty. He starts to mutter to himself, wishing he could become her companion, to comfort and embrace her through life. But how? He is no longer a man of flesh, he is only half- man half-spirit, without weight or gravity.

Every passing day Wu Gang watches the jasmine garden from the high and distant South Heaven Gate. The lonely man rests against the gate with his humble axe, his half-life seeming a little less empty, until one day Chang’e disappears from the jasmine garden. He looks for her with his half- human eyes, but his sight has lost its power in the overly crowded human world. He cannot see even a trace of her among the smog, rain and smoke, among the shoulders in the market, the feet on the bridges, the hats in the fields. Heavy- hearted, he thinks that in her earthly life, she must have become someone’s wife, now living under a roof, cooking for a family. Thinking of such a life, his heart grows even colder as his vision of the earth becomes blurred. From solitude his heart grows as hard as a granite stone, he can no longer feel the tender emotion that once possessed him. The day goes on, the night slips away. Wu Gang senses something sorrowful in the world beneath him, yet this sorrow is lost in the thin air and he no longer recognises human emotion.

4.The Hottest Day

Then one day the earth becomes unbearably hot. It’s so hot that the hills of the Gobi Desert burn like a volcano. The bamboo forests in the southern hemisphere are dry and dead from lack of rain, the pinewoods in the north are burnt into black ashes. Even the old king breathes his last on that day. When the people learn that the old king has died, the whole kingdom cries out in desperation.

But Houyi the archer raises his dark eyes towards the sky. His eyes are as sharp as the arrow on his bow. Through the floating clouds and formless wind, he sees seven suns hanging in the sky. In ancient time of legend, the Heaven Bird was transformed into a blazing sun, created to shine upon the earthly world. At that time, there were seven Heaven Birds living in the sky and they were the playthings of the greatest Heaven Emperor. At that time, each sun bird was only allowed to come out from the Heavenly Empire once every seven days. But on this hottest day, the suns disobey their master and appear in the sky together, unaware of the great damage they are doing to the earth. The great archer Houyi cannot restrain his anger any longer, furiously he draws six silver arrows out of his leopardskin sack and places one on his bow. Whizz, whizz, whizz…one after another, he shoots down six suns with his gleaming silver arrows, each in one strike!

The hills of the Gobi Desert suddenly stop burning, the bamboo forests in the south are immediately awash with rain and the pinewood fire gradually abates. Men and women in the fields recover from their terror; tigers and lions emerge from their deep caves and roam again on the plains.

The following day, the people unanimously agree to elect the great archer Houyi the new king of their country. With Chang’e he moves into the old king’s palace. And now Chang’e is back in her one-petal jasmine-tree garden where now all trees belong to her and all the servants have become her servants. She doesn’t make jasmine sugar tea for another woman any more, and instead King Houyi orders magicians and herbalists from throughout the land to hunt down rare herbs with which to make the elixir of longevity. For many centuries experts have tried to find the secret recipe for this potion, but with no success. Nevertheless each new king orders his people to continue to make this magic powder. The great archer wants to be immortal, as all previous kings of the land.

But the Heaven Emperor is in rage. Not only has this new king killed six of his pet birds but he also has the audacity to want to be immortal! How dare he! The Heaven Emperor considers how best to punish Houyi. In Heaven, there are four levels of punishment. The lightest one is Sorrow, then comes Fear. The third level is the absolute Loneliness. And the most cruel punishment of all is absolute Despair. With an impulsive temper and a thoughtless mind, the Heaven Emperor decides that the new King Houyi deserves the highest punishment. So Houyi becomes the most despairing man on Earth. He sees no future in life, he distrusts everyone in the kingdom, he has no belief in love, and he thinks of death in every quiet moment.

Every night, lying beside Houyi, Chang’e inhales the new king’s despairing breath and, as before, she perceives in each of her husband’s sighs their flesh rotten in an airless tomb, bones dissolving in the vegetable roots. The death ink is seeping into the night, darkening their life with total obscurity. She is fearful – fearful of a future doomed by fate. One night, Chang’e gets up, steals the key from Houyi’s robe and enters the castle where the specialists make the elixir of longevity. She finds a huge jade jar and, tentatively lifting the lid, she smells bitter roots. She takes the glowing liquid back to her quarters. Then the next night she leaves her bed and does the same again, collecting as much as she can. After three hundred and sixty-six days and nights, her task is complete. She holds in her hand the essence of immortality. She stands under the one- petal jasmine tree and drains all the precious medicine while Houyi lies in a depressed sleep. Before the rooster breaks the dawn, she finds herself starting to float – she is flying, flying, and flying. She passes the South Heaven Gate, where Wu Gang is still asleep, and enters into the realm of the shining moon.

5. Moon

The Emperor of Heaven is angry again. He wants to punish Wu Gang for not paying attention to his job, and letting a human being enter the world of the Immortals. So the Great Impulsive Mind decides to expel Wu Gang from his job and impose upon him the greatest Sorrow. He sends Wu Gang to the moon to chop a cinnamon tree. This is how the Sorrow is inflicted upon him: as soon as Wu Gang stops chopping the tree, it grows back again even stronger and thicker. His punishment never ends.

All Wu Gang wants is to be mortal again, to return to the Earth and be a real man. But when he raises his axe on the lonely cinnamon tree in the space of silver, he discovers another human being – Chang’e, the most beautiful girl, the one he saw in the jasmine-tree garden all those years ago. The sight of Chang’e reanimates his heart with a vague emotion, as her face is the loneliest he has ever encountered. The sight of her face clutches at his heart, but it is too withered from the long absence of love. He strains to remember how he felt towards people when he was on the Earth. He tries to recognise Chang’e, her human emotion – her fragile flesh which envelops her heart. During shadowless days and nights on the moon Wu Gang tries to recover the feeling of his heart, while ceaselessly chopping down the stubborn tree. Perhaps Wu Gang is no longer the most sorrowful man in the universe. He is with Chang’e, who reflects the only recognisable human emotion still inside him. But while the cinnamon leaves keep falling on Chang’e’s hair, she transforms into a being of absolute solitude. Her soul dwells nowhere. In her formlessness, she understands that a chasm of separation exists between her and the earth, and that she must accept this absolute solitude, for death is no longer her destiny.

As the image of the Earth subsides in Wu Gang’s mind, all he can do is to chop the cinnamon tree, day after day. He sweats, sweats, and sweats from exhaustion. And on Earth it rains, drenching the warm soil from time to time, rain that is the sweat of a man’s labour. King Houyi stands under his jasmine tree and looks up into the dark sky above; he sees two human shadows on the moon with his great archer’s eyes. He senses that these rains on the Earth are born from that place of silver.
Each moonlit night, in the absence of Chang’e, the despairing King Houyi steps silently on the withered, one-petalled flowers deeply buried in his soil. He contemplates the moon, yearning for his long-lost companion, in the abyss of absolute solitude.

The Irish Don’t Wear Anoraks

He walked into the lobby of the Dublin hotel like it was a saloon in the Wild West. His eyes, the grey of an Irish sky, swept the room. There were nearly a dozen people in the large, sculpted concrete lobby, but his gaze immediately settled on a woman with short brown hair, the square-shouldered, narrow figure of a swimmer and the face of someone who lived a healthy outdoors lifestyle, but who didn’t tan well. She was dressed in jeans and a blood-red waterproof jacket.

The man nodded to himself and walked over, casting a glare around in a manner which suggested that, at any moment, someone might ask him to step outside for a gunfight, and he was born ready for it, goddammit. He was tall, with a powerful build, tight cut dark hair and a handlebar moustache attached to a broad, chiselled face. His left eye sported a mottled purple bruise that spread over the side of his face. There was an unlit cigar gripped between his teeth. He was wearing cowboy boots, jeans and a black Cordura jacket, the type bikers wore, with the armour sections for protecting your spine, elbows and shoulders.

‘Doctor Mayer?’ he asked the woman in a flat Dublin drawl.

‘Yes. I’m Hilde, hello,’ she said, picking up her laptop case and smiling as she stood up to shake his hand.

Her English was fluent, with the clipped consonants of a faint German accent. His grip on her hand was overly firm, but felt like it could go a lot firmer. He took his cigar from his mouth.

‘Jack Brennan,’ he replied. ‘Met Éireann.’

He declared the name of the country’s national weather service as if it was the Royal Marines or the Navy Seals. Perhaps it was to be expected, given what she’d heard about Met Éireann, but she was still somewhat taken aback. Meteorology attracted a few gung-ho types, but they normally found their way to the US to chase tornadoes or flew airplanes into hurricanes or sought out other forms of freakishly violent weather. Ireland’s weather had grown more turbulent over the last few decades, but Met Éireann’s reputation as a nest of adrenaline junkies had always mystified her.

‘Do you mind me asking . . . were you mugged?’ she asked, gesturing to his black eye.

‘Ha, no! Just caught flat-footed!’ he laughed. ‘I was in the cage . . . y’ know, UFC? Mixed martial arts? I was sparrin’ last night and got smacked with a bleedin’ good one.

‘Oh,’ Hilde said quietly. ‘It looks like it hurts.’

‘Stings like holy Jaysus when I touch it,’ Jack said, grinning around the cigar as he led her towards the door. ‘Anyway, I’m your lift to HQ. Hope you like bikes!’

He wasn’t kidding.  Anorak-3-HarleyIt was a big Harley, black and chrome and wide as a horse, parked diagonally to take up a full parking space. Jack swung his leg over it and kick-started the engine, which coughed out a deep, guttural growl. He pulled on an open face helmet – worn, apparently, so he could smoke his cigar as he rode, for he’d lit up as soon as they walked out the door of the hotel. Donning a pair of shades, he handed her a full face helmet, an expression in his eyes that suggested this would be a telling moment. She hesitated for just a moment, than accepted it, putting down her laptop case so that she could use both hands to put the bulky helmet on.

‘I didn’t recognize you there,’ he said as Hilde did the clasp on the helmet strap and then slung her case over her shoulder. ‘The picture we have of you showed you with long hair and glasses an’ all, y’know? If it wasn’t for the anorak, I’d have walked right past you.’

‘The anorak?’ she asked.

‘The waterproof jacket,’ he barked over the revving engine as they took off across the car park. ‘You were the only one in the lobby who looked like a tourist. The Irish don’t wear anoraks.’

She glanced down reflexively at her red jacket.

‘But it rains here all the time!’ she shouted over his shoulder, leaning with him as he swung round a corner.

‘Exactly!’ he called back.

They hardly spoke for most of the ride, because of the noise. The cigar smoke in her face smudged out the traffic fumes they rolled through. Jack drove a bit too fast, but he handled the bike well. If he expected her to be unnerved, he’d be disappointed. Hilde had owned a bike when she was in college. It was an old Honda, nothing close to the size of this beast, but she was quite comfortable as a pillion passenger, though there were some white-knuckle moments as Jack negotiated the chaotic Dublin traffic. The ground was wet from rain and Hilde’s expert eye read the cumulus clouds developing into cumulonimbus and knew there was more rain to come. She wondered what Jack had meant when he said the Irish didn’t wear anoraks.

‘The river’s flooded the quays again,’ Jack informed her, swerving round an SUV. ‘It’s causin’ havoc in town. I’ll have to swing round a different way.’

Hilde’s hands tightened around his waist as he gunned the engine and they roared down a side street, the gravelly engine echoing off the buildings either side of them. Hilde’s boss back in Deutscher Wetterdienst – Germany’s national meteorological service – had told her that a stint with Met Éireann would do good things for her career. It was said that if you could work there, you could work anywhere. She still didn’t understand why that should be. Ireland was defined by a climate that was milder than almost anywhere else in Europe. It wasn’t like they suffered many extreme heat-waves or freezing winters, though the instances of both of these had increased over the years. What was it about this place that made her colleagues regard it with such awe?

Anorak-1-BuildingThe building that housed Met Éireann’s headquarters was located in Glasnevin, an area of north Dublin. It was a striking structure, unlike any other Hilde had seen in the city, its bunker-like, sloping sides and the array of dishes on the roof giving it an appearance that was a cross between something from East Berlin and something from the film, Blade Runner. Jack swooped into the car park, and once again took up a full space with his bike, parking next to a mousy-haired man with ginger goatee and a sinewy, freckled face who stood leaning back against the side of a dark blue Subaru WRX that jutted with fins and air intakes.

‘Baz, me ol’ flower!’ Jack greeted him as he killed the Harley’s engine. ‘Yer back! And with a new motor. That the STI, yeah?’

‘Yeah, picked it up just before I headed off to Germany,’ Baz said, gripping Jack’s outstretched hand. He had a somewhat reedy Cork accent and an intense manner. ‘Took this monster out to the Nürburgring while I was in Cologne. Feckin’ belted around it, so I did! Nearly three hundred and fifty brake-horsepower under that hood, boy. Goes like shit off a shovel! Stiff old chassis on her though. Great for the autobahn, but you’ll bruise yer arse if you run into any potholes on the smaller routes.’ He gestured to Hilde. ‘Who’s this now?’

‘Speakin’ of Germany . . .’ Jack took the cigar from his mouth and made a mock bow, ‘this is Doctor Hilde Mayer, visiting us from Deutscher Wetterdienst. We can call her Hilde, she says. Hilde, this is Doctor Barry McGovern, works with me in GAnorak-5-Subarueneral Forecasting – on the front line. Hilde will be joinin’ the Marine Unit. She’s hopin’ to get some divin’ in while she’s here. Maybe you could show her some good spots.’

Hilde glanced at Jack. She hadn’t mentioned she was a diver, but her PADI qualifications were on her CV. Was this guy trying to put her on the spot? Was this another challenge? Good God, she’d only made it as far as the car park . . .

‘That’s grand,’ Baz said, shaking Hilde’s hand. ‘I know a couple of places you’ve a good chance of seeing whale sharks. Glad to have you aboard.’

But Hilde saw it again, the same note of challenge that she’d picked up off Jack. They were welcoming enough, but they wanted to see how she’d do.

‘Germany – you’ve got the continental climate,’ Jack commented. ‘You’ve got seasons, right?’

‘Of course,’ Hilde replied.

‘Must be nice,’ Jack sniffed.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Oh Jesus, I nearly forgot!’ Baz exclaimed. He opened the door of his car and took out a bottle of whiskey and some glasses, putting the glasses on the roof of the car.

‘What’s goin’ on?’ Jack asked.

Just as he posed the question, a woman came speeding in on a bicycle, a high-performance racing bike, of course, thought Hilde. The woman pulled up, breathing hard. She was dark-skinned, probably of Asian descent, a long Roman nose among otherwise delicate features. She had a fierce, but excited look in her deep brown eyes. She looked formidably fit, dressed in skin-tight cycling shorts and top and wearing a streamlined helmet that she unclipped and yanked off as she waved to them.

‘Am I in time?’ she asked, standing her bike by bracing a pedal on the kerb.

‘Barely,’ Baz snorted. ‘What took you?’

‘Feck off,’ she snapped back. She started doing some leg stretches . ‘I just did thirty-two kay and I’ll be doing the same home again. Like I do every day, petrol-head. Some of us don’t want to sit on our arses in traffic, breathing fumes for half our lives.’

She looked over at Hilde.

‘What’s with the anorak?’

‘She’s German,’ Jack told her.

‘Oh.’

‘Doctor Hilde Mayer. Deutscher Wetterdienst,’ Jack said. ‘Call her Hilde. Hilde, this is Doctor Suria O’Neill. Climatology and Observations. Hilde’s joining Marine.’

‘Well, haven’t you come on the right morning?’ Suria cackled to Hilde.

‘Is someone gonna tell me what’s goin’ on?’ Jack demanded.

Therapy Tom’s on his way in,’ Suria said, her face child-like in its delight.

‘Shit, you’re kidding! Is it that time already?’

‘Therapy Tom?’ Hilde asked.

Baz was pouring whiskey into each of the four glasses.

‘Perpetual stress case,’ Jack replied as he accepted a glass. ‘He’s been on the job over ten years, but he has a breakdown two or three times a year. Can’t hack it – pressure’s too much for him. He’s been out for three months after the last one. Last few times, he hardly made it back into the building before he had his next panic attack.’

‘That’s horrible,’ Hilde gasped.

‘Terrible, yeah,’ Baz said. ‘Anyway, whenever he comes back now, we place bets on how far into the building he gets before he does a runner. However far that is, we’ll toast him for his effort. Take a glass.’

‘I . . . I can’t,’ Hilde blurted out, shocked at what was happening.

‘You have to do the toast,’ Suria insisted. ‘You’d only be disrespecting him otherwise. He keeps coming back. We have to salute that.’

‘Here he comes!’ Jack announced, pointing to a silver Toyota Avensis that was rolling into the car park. ‘Twenty quid says he doesn’t get out of the car!’

‘I’ll back him making it as far as the door,’ Suria said. ‘One hand on the handle.’

‘Opening the door?’ Baz pressed her.

‘No, I don’t think so,’ she responded, her hard eyes on the subject of their bets as if she was judging the form on a racehorse. ‘No, just putting the hand on the handle, I think.’

‘Have some bloody faith, people!’ Baz exclaimed. ‘Three months he’s been gone. Plenty of time to get those nerves sorted. A fortune spent on the shrink. Look at him gettin’ out there. Sure, his hands are hardly shakin’ at all. Have you ever seen a sheen of sweat like that on a more noble brow? I’ll see him through the door, but not up the stairs and I’ll be right – you watch now!’

Tom had the door of the car open now, and was rubbing his face.

‘That’s as far as he’s goin’ to get,’ Jack assured them, still confident he could win. ‘Look at those eyes. If he stared any harder he could cut glass.’

Tom’s arrival had been spotted by others in the Met Éireann HQ and windows were opening in the sloping sides of the slab of a building. There were cheers and shouts of encouragement to Therapy Tom as money changed hands. He had the car of his door open and lifted his right hand in a hesitant wave. Stepping out, he stood up and slammed the door shut with a resolute motion, as if his decision was made.

‘Ah, shite,’ Jack sighed, grimacing.

‘Good on you, Tom!’ Suria bellowed. ‘Great to have you back, man! How’re you feeling?’

‘Great! I’m feeling great!’ Tom called over to her as he made his way across the tarmac surface towards the door. ‘It’s . . . it’s great to be back.’

‘Great!’ Jack smirked.

‘Keep going, baby, you can do it!’ Suria egged him on.

‘Go on ya good thing, ya!’ Baz yelled.

Tom waved again, then lifted his hand to the people shouting from the building above. The level of noise rose as he got closer to the door. His pace slowed and the crowd, sensing the climax was close, roared in support. Hilde watched in horrified fascination as Tom made it the last few steps and reached out and . . . stopped.

‘Go on, Tom!’ Suria cried out. ‘You can do it! Take the handle, Tom! Grab it, man!’

He paused there, as if frozen for a few seconds, the emotional turmoil visible on his face, sweat running down from his hairline and dripping from his chin. Then a look of sheer terror came over him and he spun round and bolted back towards his car.

‘Ah Jesus, Tom!’ Suria gasped in exasperation.

The Toyota’s engine over-revved and Tom backed out of the space with screeching tyres. As he took off out of the car park, everyone waved goodbye.

Baz held up his glass of whiskey.

‘To Tom,’ he said.

They all drank and even Hilde drank with them, disturbed by what she’d seen.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said softly. ‘What did that to him?’

Jack’s smile faded into a more tender expression and he put his empty glass down on the roof of the car. Baz poured another measure.

‘You’re thinking how can things here be so mad, right?’ Jack asked. ‘I mean, it’s Ireland, yeah? It’s not like we get the really nutty weather here is it? No hurricanes or tornadoes. No tidal waves or serious drought. But we’ve been hit hard by climate change here. The floods have been especially bad, destroying businesses and crops. The economy’s taken some serious hits. The country’s broke. Every time we have to deal with something new, we haven’t got the resources to cope with it. Sure, our weather’s less violent compared to other places, but it’s so changeable, it’s hard to prepare for the extremes of weather we do get. A bit of a heat-wave and we have water shortages and our old and weak start dying of heatstroke. A bit of snow and the whole bloody country grinds to a halt and our old and weak start freezing. And that’s true in a lot of places, but it’s worse here ‘cos of our particular bloody weather.’Anorak-6-Sea

‘You were wondering why the Irish don’t wear waterproofs, anoraks,’ Jack said. ‘Because we do get loads of rain. But it’s not how much we get, it’s that we can get rain at any time. So if we were to dress for the weather, we’d have to wear anoraks every day and who wants to do that, right? And we’d also have to dress for the cold. And the really humid type of heat we get. But it’s the same for the bigger picture. We’re perpetually dealing with change and the floods are hitting us hardest. We don’t actually get much more rain than we used to, we just get it in more torrential downpours than before. And the combination of rainfall and rising sea levels is overwhelming our cities and our farms.’

‘We hardly have seasons any more,’ Suria added. ‘The weather’s just getting more and more chaotic and it makes it hard for anyone to do the kind of planning that helps us cope with flooding and other disasters. It’s all too little, too late. And because past floods have already cost us so much, we don’t have the money any more to deal with the disasters that are becoming more common. A lot of people can’t get their homes insured any more. A single flood can leave them homeless, financially ruined. So now everyone really pays attention to the weather forecast, because the country’s so overstretched, we’re constantly walking that edge of disaster and even something small can tip us over.’

‘We have a saying in Ireland: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute”.’ Baz continued. ‘Our job is to try and make sense of the chaos, to predict the tiniest changes in the weather that could trigger calamity further down the line. And here, for us, those changes are so small, so variable, it could drive you nuts. It’s like trying to nail down a flea with a needle. We stare at those satellite pictures, the reports and computer models like we’re bloody air traffic controllers working in a blizzard. If we misjudge our predictions by a few degrees here, or a few centimetres of rain there, lives could be wrecked.

‘The longer the world keeps heating up, the more extreme our weather is getting, the more broke the country gets and the fewer resources we have to deal with it, the more vulnerable we become to the weather. It’s a vicious circle. And when our people are trying to plan how best to use what little we have left . . . they look to the weather forecast.’

‘And every time we get it wrong, we get crucified for it,’ Jack said. ‘That’s why we let off so much steam when we finish work. It’s why Tom’s forever in feckin’ therapy. But to be honest, we love it. How could you not? It’s a beautiful thing, to stare into the chaos and try to understand it. And we are really bloody good at it. So, Hilde . . . welcome to the Oul’ Sod.’

Baz had refilled their glasses and they each held them up as he gestured for a toast.

‘Here’s to the chaos!’ he said brightly.

‘Here’s to the chaos!’ they cried and then they drank.

The mood was more sombre as they all headed towards the door, but Hilde was struck by these strung out meteorologists and their intensity. She empathized with them more than she expected to. She turned to see that Jack was still standing in the car park, gazing up at the sky. The temperature had dropped slightly. There were those heavy, brooding cumulonimbus hanging over everything. He gave a faint smile, spread his arms out to the sides and lowered his eyes to meet hers.

‘Let it rain!’ he said gently.

And it did.

World Leaders Unite Against New Terrorist Threat

 

It began yesterday with strong words from President Barack Obama at a press conference at the White House:

‘In the light of recent events, it has become clear that we have turned a blind eye to this danger for too long. We have ignored those who tried to warn us, and the cost has been tragically high. This new terrorist organization is like nothing we’ve faced before, an unprecedented threat to our way of life. I consider it a failing of my presidency that, of all the many things Americans fear, they aren’t scared enough of this. Because make no mistake about it; the scale of the catastrophe we face could not only eclipse every other terrorist act in history, it could exceed the damage caused by both world wars combined.

Terrorist Threat-Obama-2‘It’s time to step up and face this head on . . . and the United States of America is going to do just that, with all the resources at our command.’

His words were echoed by British Prime Minister, David Cameron:

‘We stand shoulder to shoulder with America on this. What they do, we do. Where they go, we go.’

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was next to weigh in yesterday afternoon, stating that the environmental protests in his country against mining and the pollution from factories had been like a warning hiss, but Terrorist Threat-Li Keqianghad barely hinted at the size of the serpent that lay beneath the surface.

These reactions came in the wake of the discovery, earlier this week, that the undermining of the Western Antarctic ice sheet, whose collapse could cause devastation across the globe, had been an act of deliberate sabotage, perpetrated by a new extremist group known as CO2, formed by rogue elements of carbon and oxygen. The terrorist act was believed to be just the latest in a meticulously planned campaign of attrition. Originally members of the politically moderate Greenhouse Gas Alliance, this fundamentalist splinter group have reportedly become frustrated with the lack of recognition for their cause and dissatisfied with the slow pace of climate change.

Professed radicals, CO2’s forthright message and dramatic methods have been attracting a growing following of new fanatical molecules. In a statement released online two days ago, they told the world’s media:

‘For too long, humans have attempted to impose your will upon our people. You disturb the slumber of our ancestors and disrespect the bonds that are an inherent part of our identity. You make us slaves to your industry, discarding us when we are no more use to you. You have an insatiable greed for material possessions, possessions made from the bodies of our children. But your time is at an end. We will blow you from the land and sweep you into the sea. The elements will prevail. Glory be to the Universe!’

One by one, the world’s leaders have been stepping forward to acknowledge this new threat and make clear their resolve to combat it. Francois Hollande, France’s President, stated today that:

‘This marks a revolution in the attitudes of nations. From this point on, the people of the world shall be united in equal partnership, a brotherhood to stand against the perpetrators of this vile outrage. These rogue elements will not succeed. We will claim back the sky.’

Even historic enemies are putting their differences aside to face this extraorTerrorist Threat-Netanyahudinary enemy. Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu met the press just an hour ago, telling them:

‘We shall embrace our Arab neighbours, standing with them at this momentous time. We’re going to have enough problems without fighting amongst ourselves. We’re all living on this fragile land together and we’re going to need each other if we’re to survive. CO2 and their insidious plot to change our climate will not recognize borders. Let us usher in a new era of cooperation and God bless our neighbours!’

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s leaders have already indicated their desire to join the campaign against CO2, with the rest of the Arab world expected to follow suit. In a sun-baked region facing constant challenges with water supply, they know bettTerrorist Threat-Solar Powerer than anyone how easily the environment can be adapted to create weapons of mass destruction. The United Arab Emirates have pledged to stop trying to figure out how to get water to the tops of towering skyscrapers in the desert and, instead, to plough their oil profits into their ongoing research into solar power.

‘If we can crack the battery and transmission problems, we can power whole nations,’ one source claimed. ‘We’ll pull the rug from under CO2’s feet.’

Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, has just appeared on ABC television, a visibly chastened man:

‘It’s time we gave due consideration to this land we’re living in. We need to understand its past, its nature, if we’re going to survive the future. Terrorist Threat-AbbottOur mining, logging and farming have seriously weakened the land’s natural defences. We should have listened to the Aboriginal people and others who warned us about what this land could and couldn’t take. There’s nothing but open ocean standing between us and the Antarctic. This new enemy’s going to hit us first, and it’s going to hit us hard. And despite our military might, we are woefully unprepared.’

President Putin, speaking from Moscow yesterday evening, called a halt to all drilling for oil in the Arctic Circle.

‘I am announcing a stop to all drilling pending an investigation into the environmental effects. Russian naval forces are being deployed to protect the polar ice cap itself. And I’m not just talking about stopping Russian companies. Nobody’s taking any more oil out of there until we can find a more responsible way to do it. This process of environmental plunder has become a recruitment campaign for CO2 and others like them.’

There is widespread recognition that the developing world will bear the brunt of these new terrorist attacks and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has led the call asking for the leaders of nations across Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia what they need, how and where. Terrorist Threat-Ban Ki MoonHe appeared moved to tears as he faced the cameras today, saying:

‘It’s just so inspiring to see everyone agreeing on something for once. But that’s how crucial this issue has become.’

There has been talk of deploying a peace-keeping force of UN sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, though this has already been criticized by some experts as ‘too little, too late’, or ‘kicking the can down the road’. There are also plans for pre-emptive strikes; a Shock and Awe campaign of forest plantation and a targeted climate engineering strategy, including establishing phytoplankton zones coordinated by NATO.

In the US base on Guantanamo Bay, construction has started on a research facility for ‘experimenting’ on rogue elements of carbon captured in the atmosphere. Once again, the spectre of extraordinary rendition has raised its ugly head, but this time, to a far less critical reception.

And it was President Obama who demonstrated the strongest commitment to an unflinching defence against the new terrorist group – after being challenged by a journalist, that ‘these could just be more noble, but empty words’.

‘I have just ordered the National Security Agency to hand over control of the majority of their vast computing power to the scientific community to aid in computer climate modelling,’ Terrorist Threat-NSA Logothe president declared. ‘To help anticipate the changes to our weather and help us prepare for them. The NSA has had a bottomless budget to find enemies and yet they remained oblivious to the greatest threat of all, leaving us horribly vulnerable. They dropped the ball. Now, our fate is in the hands of the scientists we’ve ignored for too long. They’re going to need all the resources we can give them.’

After this shock announcement, and speaking off the record, one source in the NSA told me: ‘Frankly, most of the staff here are relieved. It’ll be great to be doing something worthwhile for a change. Spying on our own people, and the leaders of our allies, was just making everyone here unhappy anyway. And I think a lot of the British folks in GCHQ feel the same way.’

A rather unsettled-looking David Cameron acknowledged the long-standing ‘special relationship’ with the United States, and stated that he would have someone look into the possibility of GCHQ getting involved in a similar quest for life-saving knowledge.

President Obama, when asked if this new campaign could be considered a ‘War on Weather’, replied: ‘We’re not fighting the weather, we’re fighting those who would turn it against us. Besides, there’s big a difference between “weather” and “climate. It’s a difference we all need to start understanding.

‘Because one thing is clear, we’re facing the possible collapse of our civilization. So it’s time to commit – you’re either with the human race . . . or you’re against it.’

 

 

Never trust a man with a rabbit under his hat

A CROWN FOR A KING

A CROWN FOR A CROOKED KING

‘I’ve got a climate change solution,’ the winking PM spun throughout the cabinet room. ‘Try this on. We hunt down some rabbits, we fill them with hot air, we place them in a quality location – and wait for the people to come. They will be so taken with the rabbits, they’ll forget everything else. And I mean everything. They’ll be dizzy on hot air – and be all the happier for it.’

The cabinet room giggled like a kid on a gallon of red cordial.

[map 11 - The Hot Air Rabbits descend on Sydney]

[map 11 – The Hot Air Rabbits descend on Sydney]

And so the rabbits came. And geez, they were big. And for a time the people came, thousands of them. And they did forget – all their cares and woes. They wondered at the marvel of the giant rabbits. They nuzzled into them. Nobody worried at all about all that hot air. Where it might go and the damage it might cause to the planet were thoughts not worth contemplating. The rabbits were a gift of joyous distraction. And who could complain about that, without being told, ‘get over it, Mr Misery, and let the kids have some fun.’

[map 12 - one unhappy hot air rabbit - Sydney]

[map 12 – one unhappy hot air rabbit – Sydney]

But there was trouble afoot. And it was an angry rabbit’s foot, bringing no luck but bad. The hot air rabbits discovered that the grass beneath their feet was plastic. It tasted, well, like plastic. They didn’t enjoy being poked at by children. Or having elderly men fall asleep in their laps. And they were disappointed that they were full of nothing but the winking PM’s hot air. So the rabbits held a meeting and decided that enough was enough. They plotted against the PM and planned an escape.

[map 12 - the escape vessel, Sydney Habour]

[map 12 – the escape vessel, Sydney Harbour]

That night, after the crowds had left, the giant rabbits began to scratch at each other, piercing holes in their hot air coats. They quickly deflated, expelling the last of the hot air from their bodies. In the early morning the now flattened rabbits disguised themselves as giant plastic bags. They headed for a nearby ferry terminal and and bought one-way tickets for a ferry ride across the water, vowing never to expel wasteful hot air again – or for that matter, disguise themselves as plastic bags.

The PM was perplexified. No rabbit in the political history of the nation had dissented in such a manner. No rabbit had ever claimed that hot air was not good for the people, the environment, or rabbits themselves. He needed to spin a new distraction to keep the people at bay – satisfied, pacified, and holding to their position at number 6 on the global happiness register.

[map 13 - The Happy People]

[map 13 – The Happy People]

[map 14 - The More Happy People]

[map 14 – The More Happy People]

The PM came up with a new plan. It was as cheeky as his wink. He created a NEW SET OF DISTRACTIONS, and put them before the cabinet. His ministers replied as one, ‘yippie, you’re a genius.’ The PM had offered the people beauty pageants. He built them A Stairway To Heaven – which unfortunately ended in a cloud of poisonous hot air left behind by the polluting rabbits.

[map 14 - The winner of the 'get my mind out of here before I start thinking' pageant]

[map 15 – The winner of the ‘get my mind out of here before I start thinking’ pageant]

[map 15 - The Stairway to (even more) delusion]

[map 16 – The Stairway to (even more) delusion]

But the people had finally seen through the PM, and his wink, and his overblown rabbits, his tiaras, and bright lights, and said ‘enough is enough, we must act and not sit back.’ So, the PM, in a last-ditched effort to win the people over, suggested, ‘hey, let’s do yum cha.’ And they shouted back, ‘no yum cha, today, Sonny Jim,’ (although that was not his true name – which we cannot mention as we have a law suit hanging over our heads).

[map 17 - the final manifesto to save the planet]

[map 17 – the PM’s manifesto for saving the planet]

The PM was furious. Both eyes winked madly, like a speed freak in a lighting shop that’s gone on the blink because there’s been a power cut down the road which means that the globes tend to behave erratically and that’s why we’re gradually phasing them out and replacing them with LEDs.

Lost for words, lost for spin and sinking in the polls, the PM communed with GOD – and was told, ‘you have given the people everything, Sonny Jim. All your spin, all your love of the common people, all of that mad eye of yours. And what do you get in return? Abdicating rabbits. People who wouldn’t know a cheap meal if it bit them on the arse. And a guy who can’t run an electrical store. The time of entitlement is over, Sonny. Tough times require tough leaders. It’s time you cracked the whip. And you’re the man. It’s your hot air the people need, whether they know it or not.

‘What Do We Want?  Hot Air!  And When Do We Want it?  Now!’

So Sonny Jim, Prime Minister, leader of the  GREATEST nation on Earth, suited up – ready to deliver some hard medicine.

[map 18 - The Semi-Final Solution]

[map 18 – The Semi-Final Solution]

 Tony Birch

The Elephant in the Fire

The dead man lay, face up, half buried in dry mud. The parts of him that were exposed were blackened and thinned, charred by the fire that had ravaged the land for miles around. The parts of him that were buried in the dried up creek bed, protected by the clay, were still largely intact. These were the parts that the two detectives hoped would provide them with some answers.

The body had been found just short of a culvert from which a thin stream of water trickled. The creek bed was over five feet wide, but there was barely a thread of water running along the bottom. The culvert carried the the water from the creek under a rough farm track that the two detectives had walked down from the main road at the crest of the hill.Elephant-1 Bill Flynn and Jemimah Hearn, known to their colleagues as Blowfly and Jerm, were examining the corpse. Or rather, Blowfly was down in the creek, doing the examining while Jerm stood up on the bank above him, smoking a cigarette. This was a habit of hers. She insisted that, as senior officer, she needed to stand back and get the overview before getting her hands dirty.

‘You should put that out,’ Blowfly said, as he finished taking his photos.

‘The damage is done already, don’t y’think?’ Jerm replied solemnly, expelling some smoke as she gestured round at the blackened slope, the charred stumps of bushes and the scorched skeletons of a few scattered gum trees. This had been the worst bush-fire in the region’s history, claiming over a hundred lives and leaving a landscape of ash, charcoal and burnt earth.

She was tall, with dark brown hair worn short and untidy, framing a face that Blowfly thought of as an attractive undertaker’s. He was a couple of inches shorter than her, with faintly Oriental features and an Irish accent; a trim, neat man with a manner to match.

Blowfly sighed and shook his head, before handing the camera up to his partner. She put it back in the toolbox that lay at her feet. Her partner had recorded every detail of the scene with photos. Now he needed to see how much of the body had been preserved. They were part of a new international unit formed to investigate crimes with far-reaching consequences, but had worked together for some time before that, so they were well used to each other’s habits.

They were here in the Australian state of Victoria because of the thousands of lives that had been directly affected by the fires and the environmental damage they had caused. Though they were not Australian, the two detectives were here in this dried-up creek on a slope covered in burnt vegetation, because Victoria’s police were accepting all the help they could get in investigating the causes of this catastrophe, and this man’s body had been found close to one of the points where the local fire brigade’s captain said the blaze had started. Which possibly made this unidentified man both its first victim, and an arson suspect.

Bush-fires were a fact of life out here – a part of the natural cycle that scoured the landscape to clear the ground for new growth – but when they got of out of control, they could grow into firestorms that destroyed homes and communities and could threaten towns and even cities. And as climate change made the extremes of wet and dry weather worse, these infernos were becoming more common.

It was extraordinary that people sometimes set fires out here on purpose, with the deliberate intention of causing this level of destruction. Elephant-2Jerm inhaled smoke and reflected on the kind of mind that craved the hell on earth these firestorms could become.

There was hardly a trickle of water in the creek, though there must have been a pool of water left where the man lay, before he died, because half his body was embedded in the cracked surface of the creek bed, a situation that would have been impossible if the mud had not been soft and several inches deep at the time of his death. There was a small backpack embedded beside him, but Blowfly left it there for the moment, focussing on the corpse first.

‘So what’ve we got?’ Jerm asked. ‘Who is this guy? Where’s he from?’

‘Face and skin are too burnt for me to guess at his race but I can see the remains of tattoos on both arms,’ Blowfly replied, carefully scraping back the clay with a small trowel. The body couldn’t be moved from here until the coroner arrived, so he was careful to do as little as possible to disturb it. ‘This one on the lower right arm looks like an Aboriginal design. The one on the upper left looks Irish . . . maybe Scottish? From what I can see of the skin under the mud, it looks dark but not black – Asian, maybe? Could be a dark white guy or a light black guy.’

‘If he’s got a record, maybe we can ID him off the tattoos,’ Jerm muttered. Elephant-3She pointed to a spot about two metres from where Blowfly was crouching. ‘What’s this stuff down here?’

‘Why don’t you get down and see for yourself?’ he asked.

‘No point two of us getting our shoes wrecked,’ she answered, holding up the cigarette. ‘At least not until I’ve finished this.’

Blowfly moved down to where Jerm had pointed and found a number of objects. They too were scorched or melted where the heat of the blaze had crossed over the creek. But as Blowfly tenderly unearthed each one, he found pieces of them untouched by the fire. Laying out a sheet of plastic, he laid the items on it, one by one.

‘Okay,’ he said, touching each one as if it was a holy relic. ‘So . . . we’ve got the remains of a tablet – a Nexus, I think. A green fleece and this light blue hoodie. A piece of a paper bag that looks like it’s from the A1 Bakery . . . Isn’t that the Lebanese café in Brunswick, in Melbourne? Anyway, there’s also these coins; two from Holland and three from Germany. The kind of small change left sitting in his jacket pocket after he’d been abroad, maybe? There’s a plastic water bottle, or what used to be one at least. Elephant-6And what looks like a letter in Chinese, but to be honest it could be Japanese, Korean . . . Someone back at the office will know. I’ll send them a photo.’

‘No ID?’ Jerm asked.

‘Nothing here,’ Blowfly said. He put each item in a separate evidence bag, labelling them all as he did so. ‘Could have burned in one of his front pockets.’

‘So what was he doing out here on his own?’ Jerm wondered aloud. ‘We’re miles from the nearest house in one of the hottest, driest summers on record. It’s hardly backpacking territory. There was a bit of forest before the fire, but mostly it was just scrub, bushes and the odd gum tree. There’s no sign of a truck or a bike . . . What’s his story?’

She wasn’t expecting an answer and Blowfly wasn’t about to offer one. That remained to be found. Jerm was just thinking with her mouth, as she sometimes did.

‘So let’s say he was here when the fire started, either because he was a firebug, or because he was stupid and lit a campfire in a place and on a day that only a complete idiot would light a fire. There were even signs up in the towns warning people not to light fires. A “Total Fire Ban”, they call it, and they don’t kid around with that stuff. So he lights a fire . . . not here – further upwind, near the road is where the whole thing kicked off. The grass catches and then some of the scrub. He’s got no transport, so he panics and runs, but why did he come here? If you’re going to run, you’d head down the main road. It’s not far from where the fire was lit and he’d get a head-start on the blaze. Instead, he comes here and dives into the creek.’

‘Panic,’ Blowfly suggested. ‘You ever seen how fast one of those fires can spread once it’s going? Faster than a man can run, if the wind picks up. It can fan out at up to fifty miles an hour. With the vegetation as dry as it was, embers blow ahead on the wind and light new fires in spots all over the place. Even firemen with years of experience can get cut off.’

‘The area had rain earlier this year,’ he went on. ‘A surge of growth in the vegetation on the slopes. Then the summer dried it out, which basically made more fuel out of it. You had square miles of dry tinder just waiting for a match. Within minutes the smaller bushes around him could be burning. In twenty minutes, this whole slope would be an inferno. This guy would have been running ahead of a wall of flame. The heat was intense, it melted parts of the machinery on that farm in the next valley. It’d be like being chased by a blast furnace. He sees the culvert, the only cover in sight, and goes for it. Even if the water in this creek was deep enough to submerge – and I doubt it was – the heat would have cooked him or, more likely, he was suffocated by the smoke.’

‘But the fire wouldn’t have cut him off that quickly. He still had time to get further. The wind was blowing the fire away from the road,’ Jerm muttered. ‘Unless he just stood around watching it, getting his thrills. But that’s why the location’s bothering me. If he was a firebug, he must have had a car or bike. Elephant-4He’d be ready to escape. The fire brigade would be racing out here as soon as someone spotted the smoke. So maybe he was a walker who lit a fire . . . or there were others with him and they did a runner in the car.’

‘They left him to burn?’ Blowfly frowned. ‘That’d be harsh.’

‘We need an ID,’ Jerm said, clucking her tongue. ‘Even knowing his race would be a start. Where the hell is the coroner?’

‘Busy,’ Blowfly said quietly. ‘They’ll be finding bodies for days yet.’

They both stared at the corpse embedded in the clay.

‘Aboriginal and Irish tattoos,’ Jerm murmured. ‘A dark white guy or a light black guy. Ate recently in a Lebanese place. Had Dutch and German coins on him and a letter written in an Oriental language, which suggests he could read it. Who was this guy?’

‘He’s an elephant,’ Blowfly remarked.

‘What?’

‘You know that old story, the blind men and the elephant?’ Blowfly asked. He received only a blank look in reply. ‘Three old men . . . or maybe there were four, I don’t know . . . Anyway, they’re standing round this elephant, and each feels a different part of it, trying to figure out what it is. The first one feels the trunk and says it’s a snake. The second feels the leg and says it’s a tree. The third one feels the tail and says it’s a rope. Individually the parts don’t make sense, because they can’t see the whole thing. No one piece can give you the whole picture, you know?’

‘And the elephant stays still while these blind men are groping it?’

‘Christ . . . Jerm, it’s a bloody fable. You’re not supposed to take it literally.’

Blowfly stepped over the trickle of water running down the centre of the creek to where the backpack lay flattened in the mud. He gently lifted the backpack, peeling it up, some of the clay still damp beneath it. He opened it up, but it was empty, apart from some moist dirt inside.

‘The guy holding the “snake” didn’t notice it was breathing rather heavily?’ Jerm asked.

‘Give it a rest,’ her partner growled.

‘Was the elephant ticklish?’ Jerm persisted. ‘These guys could’ve got themselves trampled, fondling it like that.’

‘We’ve got a dead man here,’ Blowfly said sharply as he handed the limp backpack up to her. ‘I don’t think you’re treating this situation with the gravity it demands.’

You’re the one who brought up the bloody elephant!’

‘Take a look at that,’ Blowfly told her, gesturing to the bag. ‘These footprints on the bank look odd to me. I want to dig up his feet.’

Jerm stubbed her cigarette out on the bare earth and carefully placed the butt in some tin foil and put it in her pocket. She may have had little control over her habit, but she had enough sense not to contaminate the crime scene. Elephant-5As she put on some latex gloves, she thought about the mentality that would set fire to a land and if it bore any relation to the mind that would breathe cancer-causing smoke for pleasure. Different breeds of the same madness, perhaps.

Spreading out another plastic sheet, she laid the backpack on it and went over every inch of it while Blowfly continued to examine the body. There were a few more items in the side zip-pockets of the bag: a pack of tissues; some sachets of sugar from a café in Melbourne; a sodden street map of Sydney. The main section of the pack was empty, but running her gloved fingers around the inside, she found grit from the creek bed and, to her surprise, a few small stones too. They couldn’t have been washed inside, not by the trickle of water that was running down there now. And the mouth of the bag had been pointing downstream.

Jerm gazed down at the objects Blowfly had spread out on the ground in the creek bed, chewing on her lip.

‘He wasn’t a hiker,’ Blowfly announced, having dug up one of the feet.

There was a light, thin-soled sandal on the foot. Suitable for strolling around on city streets for the day, but useless for walking any distance out in this kind of country. He stood up, looking down at the body.

‘And look at these footprints he’s left,’ Jerm said, pointing. ‘He didn’t just jump down there and dive into the water. He climbed in and out a couple of times. He could easily have made it to culvert if he was just going for cover.’

‘And if he wasn’t a hiker,’ Blowfly added, ‘then there was definitely a vehicle. So somebody left him here. Was he dragged out here by force? Can’t pin the race down; Aboriginal Irish who’s spent time in Thailand and Germany, eats in a Lebanese café and can read an Oriental language?’

‘Sounds like a typical Australian to me,’ Jerm sniffed. ‘There’s your elephant. Listen, Fly, I think we’re missing something here. Our guy dumped his stuff out of the bag. Just threw it all into the creek. There was still odds and ends in the side pockets, but the main part of the bag was empty. I think he was using it.’

‘For what?’ Blowfly asked.

‘To pick up water,’ she replied. ‘The lining’s waterproof. I think he was using it as a bucket. That’s why he came to the creek instead of running down the road. He was trying to put out the fire.’

They both regarded the body of the dead man, seeing him in a new light.

‘So he or one of his friends started the fire, maybe by accident, maybe on purpose,’ Blowfly said quietly. ‘He stayed to try and fight the fire and whoever was with him jumped in the car and left. Maybe they could have beaten it if there had been enough of them, but he didn’t stand a chance on his own. Firemen with tankers of water struggle to fight these fires. If these gits knew anything at all about bush-fires, they killed him as sure as if they’d poured petrol on him and lit a match.’

‘We need an ID,’ Jerm said.

‘We’ll get one,’ Blowfly said with certainty. He cast his eyes around the burnt landscape. ‘And when we know who he is, we’ll find his friends. I want to find out what kind of maniac starts something like this.’

‘Coroner’s here,’ Jerm announced, seeing a car coming over the top of the hill and turning down the farm track towards them.

Stripping off her latex gloves, she slipped them into her pocket. Then she lit up another cigarette.

‘You should put that out,’ Blowfly said.