4 – The Babelite
The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s: but the earth has he given to the children of men. – Psalm 115:16
Henry, after laughing off the errant confrontation with Andrew, removed himself from the Kneipe. As he tiptoed and swiveled his way through the crowded wateringhole, many patrons beckoned him strongly to stay and tell that story; the drink-fellows in the establishment assumed that Henry was darting off. Henry soothed their worries by saying loudly and boldly that he was only stepping out to get some fresh air.
Pushing through the door, Henry expected to be greeted by the still moonlight of Slovakia, the ex-country. Instead, Henry was met with the stinging glow of mid-summer’s morning sunrise – the heat of it searing the full eyes of the man assured that his sight would instead be chilled by the evening breeze. The wrongful assumption that the day was night led Henry to wonder how he miscalculated the passing of time so egregiously.
Albeit the momentary unpleasantness of a flash of light and heat on one’s sight and touch, and whilst yet being blinded by the said flash of light, Henry’s spatial and muscle memory guided him to a bench just a few meters down the road from the Kneipe. He sat down. When his sight returned full and true, Henry breathed in deep, and exhaled deeper. It was the refreshing breath that he needed after the social mishap. A thing so trivial should not have bothered Henry so, but it did nonetheless. He never felt the need to exit a place so urgently because of the pining for space and air. Henry spent most of his adult life in cramped, crowded, and chaotic social settings. Yet, expecting to see the narrow, blue-eyed face and to feel the lanky embrace of Stefan but to instead lay sight on the ruddy features and to be smothered by the burly arms of Andrew was more mentally jarring (not to mention physically jarring because of Andrew’s inherent strength) than Henry would like to have admitted privately and certainly publicly.
The higher annoyance to Henry, though, was instead having to recall the exact story Stefan wanted him so badly to tell.
“What on earth could Stefan be on about?” Henry said aloud. “Stefan. Stefan! What are you on about? Why can’t he tell me what he wants me to say?”
A jostle between stories, accounts, retellings, and anecdotes took place in Henry’s mind – and the pace at which this bout between the mediums occurred made them all unclear in Henry’s mind’s eye. As hard as Henry could think, no memory could reformulate clearly – he could establish that he was “somewhere” with “someone” doing “something” at “sometime” for “some reason.” It was akin to having a cornerstone word evade an orator while constructing a majestic wonder of a sentence, thus crumbling the sentence into a pile of fine words without purpose. Henry only needed a blip of an image to complete at least one of the memories lying disassembled in his brain.
“I just need a reminder,” Henry said. “Stefan; that story; that ought to do the trick.”
Henry reached for his Memory Box that was not there. The ensuing wash of panic caused Henry to take in one additional sharp breath of fresh air. He cursed the air he breathed: “Damn! Left the Box back in the Kneipe!” The mental pursuit of finding the story Stefan was pining to hear had to stop; Henry slumped into the bench, subdued by this case of lapsed memory.
His slump morphed into a comfortable recline. His eyes adjusted to the brightness of the day, and the warmth of the air comforted him. There was quiet – a commodity in abundance in a now-abandoned world, but it was a commodity rarely used, seldom cherished. Only the suppressed rambunctiousness of the patrons inside the Kneipe could be heard, but it was mere background noise to Henry. His storied travails of public gatherings made him accustom to the raucous vibrations. Quiet used to be rare in the old world. No one knew how to act in quiet, how to use quiet, or how to enjoy quiet. As the populations left and nature returned untamed, quiet fell upon the earth.
Henry could think his own thoughts – not guided by the wills of others or the eye-catching sights of the memories of others. Henry was tranquil. The recent embarrassment was now a bygone memory. Maybe he will recall the errant confrontation later on (it certainly will make a great visual story to be told through the Memory Box, Henry thought). Henry thought of the Kneipe; his friends; Sandra; the encounter to Ruzemberok; Jan, his old friend; what Jan would have thought of Ruzemberok now; and Jan’s measured and frugal use of words to describe the nice things in life. Such pleasant thoughts!
Then came a sudden rushing roar of a sound, sourced somewhere far away but its affects felt very near. The deafening pitch and the violent reverberations of this sound caused struck Henry with power – and it was an experience that Henry knew all too well.
The roar came from was an engine, and a very particular, massive engine at that. Henry knew exactly the type of engine it was after the initial concussion of the blast had dissipated. Henry’s equilibrium of thought and consciousness returned. He did not need to see the engine plaguing the quiet with its deafening roar. It was a Babelite. A cursed Babelite, thought Henry.
Babelites were ships of near unfathomable size; they were likened to cities with volcanoes for engines attached to their rears. The remaining world powers, now gone in space, built these gargantuan spaceships for one purpose: to get tens of thousands of their people off of earth and into the new frontier, towards the colonies of the new worlds. They have more honourable names than Babelites, but the remainers did not bother to know them. Those who remained on earth dubbed them “Babelites”, a scornful moniker, because “the elite and one-minded peoples of our world think they can once again build a structure to reach Heaven.”
There was no return of these ships. Once a Babelite jettisoned from the wastelands of Northern Canada, an ex-country whose wondrous nature was ravaged and transformed into concrete, factories, and launching pads purposed to propel these Babelites into the stars, there was no return destined for that ship. It would dock at an international space station where the tens of thousands of escapees would catch connecting departures towards their respective nation’s or ethnicity’s space frontier.
The roar of the Babelite’s engine shook the earth and rattled Ruzemberok.
There was no more quiet in Henry’s heart. The full realization of a Babelite in Henry’s presence (albeit it was probably somewhere very, very away in the sky, perhaps over the Atlantic, even) ruptured the quiet in Henry’s soul. Henry’s tranquility and peace beset in the quiet drowned.
A vision of Babelite (a different one; sleeker than the present one, even). There was sorrow and anger. An adult Henry stood in a park on a hill, no one else present around him. He cursed the air; he insulted the Babelite. There was sadness. There were tears. A flash of a young woman with two young children. The woman was panicked as she shuttled her children towards a large metal ramp that led up into a black opening. Many others – men, women, children – rushed up the ramp. The woman was distraught. “Henry, we must go now…”
The engine’s roar was at its zenith pitch. Henry pressed his open hands at his temples and then buried his head into his lap.
“…Henry! Henry, please! We must go. We cannot stay. Henry!”
The sleek Babelite zipped away behind a final explosion from its engine. It shrunk into the blue sky. The adult Henry collapsed in grief in the park on a hill. There was a vision of the woman at a younger age. She was happy. She was beautiful. Then this beautiful and happy woman was gone from the vision. Anger and resentment filled the void. An older, still adult Henry sat alone in a large basement room filled with chairs and tables befitting for a large gathering. This Henry sobbed while drinking vodka.
There was loneliness here. There was betrayal. There was a sense of being abandoned. No! Worse than abandoned: forgotten.
The Babelite’s roar softened. Henry felt a tap on his left shoulder. He looked up to see Sandra sitting next to him, and his Memory Box between them.