The Bullet from Nowhere
Future Mysteries of Paris, Volume 1
My name is Sacred Temple of the Radiant Dawn, but you can call me Tem. For a hundred euros a day plus expenses you can also hire my services. I am a private detective. My main talent? The gift of transparency, which allows me to go around unnoticed. But which also obliges me to dress correctly in order not to be unnoticed.
Paris 2063. A half-century after the Great Primitive Terror, which rocked the foundations of society (for better rather than for worse), is when the first of the Futurs Mystères de Paris begins and where the murder of a physician behind closed doors is investigated.
The Futurs Mystères de Paris series, first published by Fleuve Noir in 1996 (six volumes issued), continues at Atalante where each new publication will be initially accompanied by a re-issue. These books, written in answer to "an irrepressible need for humour and optimism" and in homage to the great popular novelists Eugène Sue, Léo Malet, and Frédéric Dard, have been awarded many literary prizes. (Prix Rosny-Aîné 1998, Prix Ozone 1998, Prix de l'Imaginaire).
Colonel Fischer had the honor of being the man who had passed the greatest number of years in space, and everyone else was left to think that the honor was merited. But, unlike the Heroes of Humanity, those legendary astronauts who had made the first voyages to Mars and the Belt, he had never quit the local neighborhood of the Earth. And, if he had often sojourned on the Moon, he had never returned to the world of his birth, down in the depths of the gravity well.
He examined the young man standing before him, on the other side of the metallic desk. Tall and thin, the intruder was dressed in a white Nehru jacket, and a pair of incredible pantaloons with violet flowers printed on them. A black turban, with a large button that bore the inscription FUCK THE ARMY in yellow letters on mauve, completed the ensemble. His feet were shod with the special sandals which everyone wore on La Vigilante: shaped from a fractal polymer whose numerous holes formed suction cups, their soles were able to cling to any smooth surface. An invaluable property in a place ruled by weightlessness.
How had this person managed to pass unnoticed for so long with such an outfit? That remained a mystery to the colonel. The space station wasn't large enough for someone to be able to hide from sight for more than a few hours, even with the aide of accomplices. Nevertheless, the intruder had lived for some time on board before being found out. He had slept, ate, strolled around, perhaps even studied or worked, without anyone wondering who he was, where he had come from, or what he was doing there.
"Sit," said the colonel.
The man obeyed, choosing a straight-backed chair. His movements, supple and loose, possessed a natural elegance. He seemed completely at ease, even though he risked being tried for espionage.
"So, you're the one who'll decide what sauce they'll serve me with?"
The tenor of his voice betrayed his youth. He couldn't be much more than eighteen years of age, a fact confirmed by the sparse scattering of hairs on his cheeks and chin.
"In a way," replied the colonel. "Being the highest-ranking officer aboard La Vigilante, it is for me to decide whether to simply throw you out, or to put you before a military tribunal."
It seemed that the young man had never even considered this eventuality. Who could he be? How long had he been here? And why hadn't anyone noticed him until now? The goal of this interview was precisely to obtain answers to these questions, so that Fischer could furnish a complete report to a competent authority. In theory, that would help to prevent such a thing from reoccurring, but the colonel hadn't held any illusions about his superiors for a long time now. The Armée Européene was no more than a scarecrow, a paper tiger incapable of playing a serious role in a conflict.
It was obsolete. Useless, like all armies. Because, if one were to believe the sociologists and historians, forward-thinkers and psychologists, politicians and philosophers, there wasn't going to be any more conflict. Ever again.
Humanity had started to wise up, finally.
"Your case is a very serious one," explained the colonel. "You have introduced yourself surreptitiously into a military zone forbidden to the public. During the Turkistani War, you could be shot for much less than that. But now..." He made an evasive gesture with his hand. "What is your name?"
"Sacred Temple of the Radiant Dawn, but you can call me Tem."
"My parents were. I grew up in the tribe at Haut-Auvergne, in a rural community. But I don't consider myself to be a millenarist - more of a sort of mystical syncretist."
Colonel Fischer swept away the last part of that sentence with a gesture. He had given up interest in extraneous religious questions years ago, in favor of concentrating on a simple, comforting faith. Down-Below, on that blue and white ball sitting at the bottom of the gravity well, dogmatic spirituality was more in vogue than ever, but here, in orbit, at an altitude of thousands of miles, a man had no choice but to listen to that which was in his heart. That feeling of immenseness, bordering on the sacred, which filled the colonel's heart when he contemplated the infinite reaches of space had nothing to do with the "metaphysical" quarrels of the Novel Sons of the Unprecedented Renovation, or the Little Lysergical Church.
Raised Protestant, he had never questioned the teachings received in church during his youth. To his eyes, a mystical syncretist was nothing more than a strange creature whose spiritual quest led him straight to the sects most successful in matters of publicity - the Church of Scientology, or the Cult of Michael Jackson, for example. At the least, he would be no more than an agnostic, which would be even worse. How could one believe without accepting some sort of revelation?
The colonel shot a glance towards the elongated porthole to his right. A large crescent moon shone there, on a field of stars - the imprint of the Creator.
He brought his attention back to Tem, not without some difficulty.
"By what means did you arrive here?"
"I got on the weekly shuttle to Kourou Astroport. I hung around in Guiana for a week or two, and then I said to myself, I should go take a tour of Up-Above, see if it's like what they say."
"And you had no other motivation?"
"It was exciting to sneak into an army base. I was raised in a spirit of non-violence and respect for others. Soldiers are the means by which human violence is externalized legally. Let's say that I was curious to see what life would be like among militarists. Without a priori."
The colonel's brow wrinkled. He was wondering if the young man was not trying to mock him. But there was no trace of irony in Tem, neither in his voice or in his eyes. As difficult to believe as it might seem, he spoke the truth.
"Well then, so you managed to board the shuttle without being remarked upon. In what manner did you accomplish this?"
"I grabbed a flight jacket from the cloakroom, and mixed with the other passengers. There were more than a dozen of them there, so it wasn't too difficult."
"And no one asked you anything?"
"No. You know, in general, people tend not to pay much attention to me..." The young man hesitated. "I should tell you now, I'm a transparent."
Something chill ran down the nape of the colonel's neck. He should have suspected that the child of millenarists might have some sort of parapsychic Talent, and he now regretted not soliciting the presence of a psychologist for this interview. He had always felt ill at ease in the presence of one of those whom the Multimed claimed as "mutants".
"You mean to say that others remain unconscious to your presence? But I see you, I hear you, I speak with you. I know you are there..."
He recalled the effort it had required to take his attention away from his reflection of the Moon shadowed by the Earth; for a brief instant, he had forgotten all about the clandestine guest who sat in his office.
Tem smiled. Try as he might, the colonel could not keep himself from finding the expression sympathetic. He was only a kid, a slightly delayed adolescent who did not yet fully understand the consequences of his actions. But did he have the right to such an indulgence? It was that which Fischer was going to have to decide in the next few moments.
"That's normal, now that you've noticed me. Once you've got your eye on me, it's easy to remain focused. But, once I'm out of your sight, you'll begin to find it difficult to say exactly what I look like, and the memory of our discussion will flow away..." Suddenly talkative, he continued after a brief moment of reflection. "I'll try to make it a little clearer. When you're in a crowd, you cannot keep your attention on as much as you might think. Let's say you look around, and notice one person out of ten. I will always be one of the other nine people. Most people have the tendency to truly not see me; they erase me so quickly from their memory. None of my childhood friends remember me, and my mother, when I call her, takes a few moments to realize that she also has a son named Tem."
Spain (Por la tangente)