Southern France, #NudeMinds 2033
"At Gilles & Juliette, every fifth exploration is on the house!" Writes and speaks the text in the hologram, idly rotating around a golden pyramid. This shiny billboard, well, not exactly a billboard because it is three dimensional (and round), is one of a kind. Or so you'll hear Gilles bragging on the terrace about every morning. Tourists, hikers and casual bikers, stop for a sip of coffee, a bite of croissant. They drink the crystal water from the spring and aim for the valley of the eternal shadow. Not before a last exercise in cordiality: "Yes, merci monsieur, your offer is enticing. The pyramid logo is really cool. Thank you!"
"This is no logo, sir. But a miniature hologram of the real one. We've got the pixel pyramid and every fifth exploration is on the house. Ain't that a deal?"
"Indeed it is. We'll keep in touch. Au revoir."
Gilles knows that the tourists are making a fool of him. Or they think that he's making a fool of himself. Whatever, what do they know, these citizens chasing for a shadow.
"The square silhouette over the valley baffles them, mon amour."
"Oui, Juliette. What a tourist attraction. Works great for madame mayor. The biggest business in the modern history of Peillon. Amazing, don't you find?"
"Easy to find things that amaze the many." Responds Juliette tossing a handful of pineapple cubes in the artichoke juice that she just poured in two coconut shells. "Here, lunch is ready!" After serving her man, she stretches herself out on the divan to rule the terrace, and the entire street ahead.
"Yes, dear, spread a bit wider if you can. It's more likely to catch new customers with your celestial charms. Hope you didn't shave..." He's bending to peep. "Oh mon Dieu, told you not to shave!"
"But I didn't. Look!," she spreads at 165 degrees, "didn't touch the hair around the pussy, just thinned the landing strip."
"Thinned? You call that a landing strip? It gives me the sensation that you're playing string theory pleasantries with me. I can barely see it. Why did you do that?"
"A guy told me that my pussy looks beautiful when smooth. He said something about the curvature of mons pubis and the modest pre-eminence of my clitoris." As she speaks, Juliette allows three fingers from her left hand to gently caress the geometrical parts that she described.
"Hey, monsieur! Would you mind sharing your lady with us?" Three bikers have halted their buzzers on the roadside. Each of them stands up, bike between legs, smiling his teeth out while exposing his manhood like an introduction for the lady. De bon ton et comme il faut.
"Ah, monsieurs, soyez les bienvenus! Did you know that at Gilles et Juliette..."
"...every fifth exploration is on the house!... Yes, hah, hah, we certainly know. You don't remember us, do you?"
"Well, no... not exactly..."
"Early in the morning, on our way to the valley of the shadow, we've stopped by for a hot coffee, a crisp croissant and this heavenly water from the spring. You told us about..."
"Sure. I remember now. Come up here with us."
The first to jump over two steps with every leap on the stairs has reddish-brown, long and rebellious hair. Up to the knee white cotton gaiters in flagrant contrast with a pair of black boots, hiking boots. And a green, dark green, rucksack strapped to his sturdy but somehow hobbity looking body. About eighty percent of named body covered in coarse ginger fur.
"Bonjour. I am Erik."
"Hi Erik. Have a seat." Responds Juliette invitingly. Her eyes involuntarily scanning for Erik's penis, still lost in a fiery pubic forest.
The second man seems to have an age. No less than twenty. No more than twenty-five. Tall, athletic and blonde. So fair his hair that you'd say he's shaved all over his body. Hiking black boots, white cotton gaiters, kneepads, armpads, shoulderpads... and the rucksack... all black and white. The chain helmet, folded backwards around his neck, is hidden under the gear but we shall assume that this guy is sporting an all black helmet on the highway.
"Bonjour. My name is Sven."
"Oh, Sven. Hello Sven. What a wonderful dick you have! Like a weapon! Please, sit down." Juliette couldn't help herself.
The third biker is taking his time to reach the rustic roadway patio of Gilles and Juliette's. Short dark hair, vivid hazel eyes, a fully tanned and aesthetically pleasing body. No textile lines, no gaiters, no boots, no gear whatever. This man is completely naked. In his early thirties, probably. And all natural. He looks around.
"Buongiorno a tutti!... Ciao bella! Io sono Luigi."
"Ciao Luigi!," giggles Juliette, "vieni qui, siediti." She offers to share the divan with Luigi, who kisses her hand before making himself comfortable next to her. Buttcheek near buttcheek. The coziest divan of the entire Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur area.
"Would you guys enjoy a glass of pineapple juice?" Asks Juliette in a crystal voice while capturing the attention of her man with the tip of her nose. The guests nod in agreement and Gilles rushes to the kitchen.
Before he returns, Luigi has already seized the second. "He's submissive, your man. Guess that he loves cuckolding, your man."
"He does, dear. He is bisexual and very submissive when I want him to."
"Good. Sometimes I play the servile slut for Erik and Sven and..."
"Come on, Luigi, will you shut up? We're here to fuck the lady not to hear your gay stories," punches Erik with a nerve under his red moustache.
"This makes us three, I suppose..." Whispers Juliette in Luigi's ear.
"Voilà le jus d'ananas!" Gilles walks the five massive glasses on a plastic plate until everyone has grabbed one. Then he comforts his ass on a green pillow, at the end of the bench. In lotus.
"Erik!," speaks Juliette, "what's your plan with me?"
"I find you very attractive, Juliette. Noticed you from afar, up on the street. You seem so at ease in your birthday suit. And you don't wish to make it obvious, like forcing out your nudity on the watchers. Not at all. You're rather shy, even when daring to spread your legs wide, the way you did when you made us stop our bikes. My brains short-circuited. I wish to taste you, to sniff the hair from your armpits. Hope you're not shaved there too..." She raises her hands up, slowly, taking care not to spill the pineapple juice. Sparse and short brown hairs wake up to the breeze. "Oh! Wonderful armpits," exclaims Erik, "cannot wait, cannot wait! Then I'll feast on your pussy, lick your ass and..."
"No ass licking, dear. No anal." Points Juliette drily.
"...Oh... Why not?"
"Because! This is rule number one, dear. Go on."
"Then I'm gonna fuck you, lady. Hope that pussy fucking is allowed..."
"It is. I'm quite a fan of cream pies," infers Gilles on a pertinent note from the corner of the terrace.
"Sven?" Asks the lady to keep the conversation going. "How about you?"
"I wish to hold your ass in my arms and fuck your pussy like there's no tomorrow."
"And you, Luigi?"
"Well, well, adorable Juliette. This may sound a bit complicated. My desire is to romance you. Tell me everything about you and I'll stay and listen for hours and hours. Ask me anything you wish to know about me and I'll answer with most consideration. I want to dance with you, to sing and to laugh together with you. Want to breathe in your marvelous hair, to tongue you behind the ears, to sense your erect nipples against my torso, to squeeze your buttocks in my palms, to sniff and lick your moisty pussy and then, eventually, to make love to you. Slow and gently. Long and nicely. Soft and courteously. I wish you to think of me after I'll be gone. A lot. I wish you to miss me."
"You sound like my man, Luigi dear."
"I'll think about talking to him as well. But first, it's you, our prima donna!"
Silence settles over the patio, allowing for sporadic road buzzers to be heard and noticed. The lady and her four men indulge their minds in contemplating the traffic. Many minutes later, Erik's vigilant eyes detect no more pineapple juice in the glasses. This makes him sip the air from his for a last time. Standing up on his hiking boots, he exclaims with the courage of a leader.
"I'll be the first! Is there a room or can we do it right here, on the terrace?"
Gilles regards the stocky man with a sarcastic smile. "They had laws before but now they've changed. We did it here then but now we're commuting to the pyramid."
"Pardon, sir. The pyramid? Which pyramid?" Erik's hand returns above the level of his elbows. The man looks a bit staggered. No less than Gilles himself.
"The pixel pyramid, sir. Take five and get one for free. Haven't I told you?"
"Take five? What five? Don't understand..."
"Five explorations. A hundred euro per tour, one is free, the fifth. It makes four hundred euro for five explorations. Per person!"
"Ah. I definitely understand that we must pay. This is okay. A hundred euro is a good price and let me tell you that your lady is priceless, by the way." Erik winks at Juliette. She winks back at him. "But the thing with the pyramid, or pixel pyramid, that's way beyond me. Could you please enlighten us, Gilles."
"That will make twelve hundred euros upfront. Before my man begins to prepare you. This is our second rule." Marks Juliette candidly.
"And no anal? Not a bit of it?"
"Not a bit. No anal. This is our first rule. Told you, dear." Standing up, the redhead walks among her clients with a colorful cube of glass. She takes Erik's hand, first, turns his palm upwards and puts the cube in it. "Keep tight!" He tightens his grip on the transparent device. Like a squeezed lemon, the cube sprinkles a fair amount of rays up. A vaporous face of a nice young lady, intertwined by the beams of light emerging out of the cube, smiling at the holder, asks Erik to confirm the transfer of four hundred euros to the account of the commercial entity 'A Gilles et Juliette' - given IBAN, given address, given bank, tracking number and comment 'sexual services' included in the protocol. Erik confirms verbally, then with an iris scan, then by moving the cube in his left hand so that the second palm print will conclude the transfer.
Juliette takes the cube from Erik and passes it to Sven, then to Luigi.
Gilles brings a blackboard on the terrace.
With a corner of chalk between his fingers, he commences.
"This irregular line represents the mountains surrounding us. See? They look the same. More or less. This square, I drew it in perspective, is the shadow in the valley. The one that you've just visited. And this, six hundred meters above it, is the pixel pyramid. A pentahedron. This is where..."
"But, excuse me, Gilles," interrupts Sven, "I can't see this object floating above the valley. Is it there?"
"It is. You'll enter it shortly. Five times! The fifth for free, remember?"
Sven, like his other two companions, stares mute at the naked man, with the tiny piece of chalk in his hand, drawing now a dotted line from "Here is the terrace..." to "...merely two meters below the basis of the pyramid so we can jump and press the surface with our hands to get inside."
Pushing a Persian rug away from the middle of the terrace, Juliette reveals the rectangle made of stainless steel, almost as large as the carpet.
"This is our shuttle," says she. "Erik, you're the first. Join me!" Hesitant, the leading customer allows her hand to pull him in the wake of her seductive moves. Like a scared calf, he follows her. Intrigued and proud to beat his fears, Erik wants to produce a gorilla gesture of victory but the iron had already swooshed him, and the woman, off the terrace.
The next second, they are back. Copious swarms of sweaty droplets hang, and often drip, off his tired fur. Wheezing, the man bends to press his fists against his knees. "She... whee... is... whee... the... whee... sex... wheez... machine... She..."
"Take your time, Erik. Take your time. Relax now."
"Sven, you're next!" Juliette has to make a few steps aside in order to grab Sven's hand. She pulls him after her, up over the middle of the iron plate. And swoosh. They're gone.
A second later, Sven is brought back by the woman. He fainted, apparently, because what other explanation to provide for a man lying down on the plate with his escort kneeling and holding his hand in hers.
"The pulse slows down. Hey guys, would you please carry Sven to the armchair? He will be just fine. Give him a couple more minutes."
The only apt guys, Gilles and Luigi, do what Juliette has asked of them. Erik is not yet done wheezing. Taken aback by Sven, wishing to say something, he enters coughing... "Wa... water... some water, please."
Allowing gravity to press Sven's shoulders against the soft leather, Gilles speeds up, down the stairs, with an empty recipient. Few moments and he's back, handling Erik a liter of fresh spring water. Still sparkling.
"Drink!" The other half, that didn't land in Erik's stomach, washes the sweat off his chest and belly. "Are you okay, sir?"
"Yes, Gilles. I am now. Take care of Sven. Maybe he needs some water too."
The servile host runs down the stairs again, runs back up with a refill and attempts to wet Sven's lips.
"Let me do this," comes Luigi with a hand on the recipient. "First, I kneel close to my dear friend. Then I take his pulse, to make sure that everything is alright. Now I'll fix his head with my other hand. Bit forwards, like this. Here, to his mouth. Oops..." Luigi spills all the water on Sven's chin, neck and torso.
"What the...?" Sven makes eyes wide and springs on his feet. Confused, he looks at the faces around, until encountering Juliette's. "Oh, my darling, are you all right?"
"I am, dear. I am. How about you?"
"Glorious. Did I come for three times in a row inside you?"
"Four times, dear."
"And did you enjoy it?"
"Why can't I remember the fourth time?"
"Because you collapsed as you ejaculated. Falling unconscious inside the pixel pyramid is quite risky, dear."
With an astute eye, Luigi measures Juliette from the tip of her nose down to the tips of her toes. Pensive for less than a second, he pats Sven on the shoulder.
"You're good now, aren't you?"
"Heavenly good, my dear Luigi. This woman knows how to get the best out of us."
"Very well then. Seeing that Erik is coming together as well..." The water has energized him. Realizing that he needs more water, hating to be treated like a patient, he went down the stairs, to the spring, to drink and sprinkle his hairy body with more water. As he returns on the terrace, Luigi cuts it short. "Hey Erik, it's my turn now. To go with the lady."
"Yeah, yeah. Take your time. We'll have lunch. Think a steak will do. A huge one!"
Unimpressed by the perspective of eating a steak, Luigi walks to the center of the iron plate and stretches his right hand towards Juliette. An inviting gesture that she rushes to accept, taking his hand and stepping on the plate. When both her feet were pressing, like his, against the magic carpet of steel, the three men around hear the swoosh. And see nothing.
Gilles waits a moment, or two... Three... "Four, five, six..."
"Why are you counting, Gilles?" Asks Erik, a bit surprised.
Gilles won't answer. He is counting. So Erik turns to Sven.
"Did Gilles count all the 3,426 seconds that I've spent out there with his lady?"
"Nope. He didn't. Because you were back in one sec."
"You don't understand, Sven. I have spent about an hour chasing, catching and fucking that lady out there in the woods."
"Woods? What woods? I had her at the gym. All my buddies were watching. I lifted her. I played with her. She is amazing!"
"Have you counted?"
"Yes, three ejaculations. But then she told me that there has been a fourth... when I fainted."
"No, stupid. The time that you've spent in there with her?"
"Dunno. Two, maybe three hours. Or more... Can't remember exactly."
Erik throws a suspicious look towards Gilles. From the receiver's end, the doubts of a furry red man can be as well perceived as hostile.
"Do you wish to learn some new information from me, sir?"
"Yes, Gilles. This is what I wish. For you to tell us what the hell is going on inside that pixel pyramid!"
Hostile it looks, hostile it sounds.
"I was about to delve into more detail," politely responds the man with the chalk in his hand, moving closer to his blackboard, "but Juliette took you out for the first exploration."
Finding a tabouret, placing it next to Sven's armchair, Erik sits and commands. "Tell us what you know about this pyramid, Gilles."
"Back in 2024, our mom and pop porn shop went bonkers. We couldn't sustain the business any longer. A tough year. Contemplating the desolate perspective, comforting my anxious Juliette, sharing her suffering and inspiring hope by day, I went down to kick some tyres by night. Doing this for years... In the basement, where I was tinkering with an amateur construct that I'd wish to call a cyclotron."
"A cyclotron in your basement? Ain't that a huge circling magnet? Or something like the thing they had built at CERN? It took them the 'basement' of an entire mountain..."
"It took me seven wine cellars, long forsaken since the Middle Ages..."
"What about the components? All those magnets and stuff?" Inquires Erik.
"Wondering about the power... How many megawatts would it take?..." Chimes Sven in with his vivid blue eyes.
"Six petawatts. I've collected the hardware from scrap. For pennies. You know, with the advent of the new portable body scanners and all this micro drone revolution, those huge MRI's ran out of business. I just had to rent a truck and collect them from the hospitals around the country."
"Yeah, nice drone revolution. But do you know what's the most disruptive thing of all?"
"Too many to count..."
"The levitating modules! We still have wheels under our bikes because we're traditionalists. But each wheel is flanked by two magnetic modules and that..."
"...Makes for a hybrid bike."
"Never mind about the sissy hybrid slang. We can climb over stairs, any kind of rough terrain, no touching, no bruising. It's phenomenal!" Erik speaks and wings deploy out of his electrified mane. Alas the momentous climax falls short with a swoosh. The plate is back in the middle of the terrace, half a meter from the chairs. On it, Juliette and Luigi hold hands and kiss goodbye like if their imaginary train, whistling white clouds of steam sideways, backed up by gruesome mechanical reverberations, is about to depart, ripping up their romance.
"1,876 seconds. Have you been married out there?" Wonders Gilles with a smile.
"How many years?"
"Twenty-five magnificent years. In Italy! I know this country like my pockets now."
"Pockets? Do you have pockets, Juliette?"
"It's an idiom, dear. Hope you're not jealous..."
"Just a bit. Mind you. I've taken the chance to explain to the two gentlemen how this system works. Maybe Luigi will want to join them. I can repeat if Erik and Sven won't mind."
"Ah, my dear Gilles, no worries. I've learned everything from Juliette. Please allow me to congratulate you for your fabulous wife. She is one of a kind."
"You mean 'our' wife."
"No. No. In this world she is all yours. We've agreed upon this: during exploration one I seduce her, romance her, conquer her, marry her. Our ever after has taken twenty-five heavenly years. It's over now."
"Hey chap," barks Erik, "what did the lady told you about the pyramid? Make it short because I'm afraid that Gilles may be too enamored with his invention."
"Not an invention, sir. It's a discovery."
"To make it short. Although I'd be inclined to narrate about my romantic marriage..."
"Okay, okay. The theory goes that this reality, that we're perceiving with our five generally accepted senses, is a virtual one. Like a sphere or a bubble floating inside a multidimensional existence that we can perceive as well, but with some of the other senses that equip our bodies, or meta-bodies. We don't know much about these extra senses. Mainly because our knowledge lacks on interdisciplinarity."
"Fuck, Luigi. Since when do you speak like an academic? You used to be our cook."
"Juliette taught me about arts, law, psychology and stuff, ya know..."
"Yeah, sure, I can imagine. Or can I?"
"By accident, Gilles induced a resonance in the boson field. Hijacking on the nearby experiments from CERN. And he is the only person that can see the pixel pyramid. He calls it a pixel because he believes that the super-reality should be an x-dimensional monitor with a screen made out of pixels, like any screen, right?"
"What the fuck are you talking there, chap..."
"Let me finish! Once you know how to enter this pixel thing, there's no distance and no time to limit your imagination, your will, your desires."
"Well, Luigi, if you allow me," whispers Gilles gallantly, "there are limits. Any thing, any device, has limits. I've tested some of them but have to admit that many more are awaiting still."
"Boys, boys," Juliette steps her curvaceous body in, "science is boring, sex is exciting. Have you considered the second exploration yet?"
She stroke a chord. Yes! No matter how fantastic the pyramid, there will always be outstanding and uncharted territory out there, waiting for man to stumble upon. But the soul of a woman begs to be discovered every evening, to be deciphered every morning. And who can tell when the woman would obey to man's will, like any thing, any device... Or when man obeys to woman's desires...
"A second exploration... a second exploration..." involuntarily, Erik's hands braid his hair as his mind scouts the steppes of passionate ideas.
Noticing that she must invest more, Juliette approaches him, kneels at his side, kindly offers her hands to finish the braid, and to initiate another one. With hands busy, she smartly pushes her medium sized breasts until her nipples feel the fur, then she retreats a little, to stir attention and emotion, eagerness and anticipation. "Erik darling, have you ever considered saving me from a castle? From the tower where I've been locked by evil forces... You know..."
"Hum... I know, like Shrek saving Fiona..."
"Only in a haze of red. Look, you are a valiant Viking and I will be, say, Brunhilda."
"She needed not to be saved. That gal knew how to fight."
"Doesn't matter. Let's find another name then. Let's play something medieval, with haunted castles, knights and dragons. With ghosts and vam..."
Gilles feels obliged to interrupt. "Ghosts don't work inside the pyramid. It's either real persons or no persons at all. No phantoms. It's a limitation of the system."
"Fuck the system, Gilles, can't you see that I'm trying to inspire Erik?" Our kind and comforting Juliette roars back at her husband, like a fierce and red cougar.
"I have an idea, everyone!" Erik stands up in front of the tabouret. Juliette follows, continuing to braid his unruly red hair. Smiling herself back into submission. "I always dreamed to be Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red. To discover Greenland and North America. To Conquer!"
"To do what one couldn't in a man's lifespan..." Implies Gilles.
"Yes. To impersonate the man and take his deeds further. Ain't that great?"
"The intention, for sure. We may see this as an extension to our preservation instinct. But still, it sounds more aggressive than pensive."
"And? What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing is wrong. Only off, when you're looking to seduce, and conquer, a woman."
"Don't understand. Please, Gilles, enlighten me."
"The knight's horses and swords and ships and servants and shields are altogether a good pretext to impress the lady. But they're still a pretext, not a purpose. Because the purpose of the knight, and of all his gear, is The Lady herself. He exists to save her and to love her for ever and ever. This is what she wants. This is where so many knights lose the picture."
"Damn, how I hate this queer speech. A man is a man, not a woman. Not a sissy!"
"Gilles! Erik! I shall submit to your domination. Come with me!" She knots his third braid, takes his hand in hers. They step together on the iron plate and swoosh.
With a knee pressing the plate and the other sustaining his elbow, Erik kisses her hand. "Juliette! You are my Queen! I am your humble servant."
"How long?" Whispers Gilles.
"Master Erik! Welcome back to France! How do you feel?" Explores Gilles with a touch of sarcasm.
"Enamored. Seduced. Humbled. In love to your wife. May I ask, how did you find this marvelous woman?"
"In college. I've been her pimp."
"My best pimp. So I stayed with him. Makes sense, no?"
"All the sense in the entire world, dearest Juliette."
"Sven, tell me!, where do you wish to take me for a second ride?" Her question takes Sven out of some sort of reverie. Or attempts to... "Sven? Can you hear me?"
"Oh... Yes, yes, I can hear your majestic voice. Take you? Yes, yes, I wish to take you... Definitely..."
"Where, Sven, where do you wish to take me?"
"To a drag racing show. Wish you watch me win!"
"So be it." Juliette pulls her recently acquired chevalier up from his knees and, responding with a hand kiss to his uninterrupted hand kisses, she wishes him well and a tidbit of patience. Grabbing the big blonde boy by his left hand, she mightily brings him to the center of the rectangular plate of steel. Swoosh.
"I need your help. All of you! Hurry up! Here, around me. Move!" She returns alone and desperate. At her screams, and demands, the three men around the plate (Gilles, Erik and Luigi) respond at once. Swoosh.
The invisible narrator of this story, left alone on the patio, stares at the empty iron plate. Yes, It came back with no one on it, within the second it left. Counting four or five buzzers dashing the street back and forth to the valley of the shadow, the narrator gets bored. So bored that, saying "what the heck," she jumps on the plate and... yes... swoosh with her.
The shiny piece of metal turns translucent, then transparent, like glass. Under the narrator's feet, in all its terrestrial glory, deploys the valley of the shadow. From six hundred meters above, the shadow looks like a darkish square where people, like ants, swarm, appearing and disappearing from and under the outskirts of a little forest.
Looking above her head, our narrator sees gold. All over. Matt gold. Instinctively, she raises her hands for a touch. The touching is cold. The kind of cold that burns your fingers. Yet too short-lived to feel any pain.
As the narrator stands on the freshly mowed lawn, less than a meter away from a vast area of concrete and asphalt, painted with white lines and markers, she wonders... Ah, there they are!
Hard to miss the black pillar of thick smoke rising out of the flaming inferno that engulfs two weird machines, or the remains of them. A couple of tyres burn far away, surrounded by people with fire extinguishers. The firemen are flooding the wrecks with white foam, pumped out of the red heavy trucks nearby.
Stupefied, the narrator approaches the crowd.
"He is dead, Gilles! He is dead! Dead!"
Juliette keeps agonizing in Gilles' arms, soaking his shoulder in her tears.
"We've gotta find a way out of this. You stupid hen."
"Why do you insult me?"
"Two reasons: the least important, you deserve it; the most important, it will wake you up to your senses. I need you to think, not to wimp. We've got minutes, perhaps seconds, to come up with a solution. We must bring our client back to life. Right away, before his friends would begin asking questions and throwing accusations at us. Do you read me?"
"Loud and clear!" Between two hiccups and a cough, Juliette informs her man that she's manning up.
"But Gilles, we had never faced a similar situation."
"Never. Indeed. But then, our access to the pixel pyramid is quite recent. After all, we haven't got much experience with this kind of stuff."
"Who does then?"
"You wish to send me to New York? Back in time? Again?!" Kind of rebels the redhead.
"You did it before. He followed you. Bring him to me! Again, yes!" The placid Gilles speaks, and stands, of a totally different manner, compared to what the reader has learned of him, so far in this story.
"Here's the ring." Juliette handles her wedding ring to her husband. "Fuse them now. We don't have time."
Gilles puts her ring on the same finger with his and presses them together. "I've got you. Take care!"
Hallucination or not, the lady vanishes for an eyeblink prior to returning at the arm of a well groomed old man. Tall enough to dominate the presence. Mannered enough to catch the eyes of those tired of watching the fires. Serious enough to keep most of these freaky nudists at a fair distance.
In all honesty, for an observer coming from mid/early twenty-first century, Mr. Nikola would have been the most bizarre appearance on the drag racing tracks. Crashes? Fires and death? All these have happened, are happening and will happen. But a strong nineteenth century character in a black suit, arm in arm with a naked redhead, facing the frenzy of a gesticulating French nude guy, this was something to remember.
If remembering had been actually in the cards...
"Bonjour, Gilles, comment ca va?"
"Pas très bien. Pas du tout. See the accident down there? One of our clients is burning inside the wreckage, presumably dead. Only if..."
"Who do you think I am? Jesus of Nazareth? You're asking me to bring people back from the dead? For Christ's sake! Gilles, wake up, I'm no god. Damn. How did it happen?"
"It..." But Juliette couldn't continue her phrase.
"Hey, look at this guy. He's dressed like Nikola Tesla."
"Steampunk, brother, steampunk. Older hipster guys have a cult for Tesla, ya know..."
The passersby take their conversation away, with them.
"It... it... His name is Sven. I don't know his surname. He is a client. He paid for sexual services. He wanted to impress me. A car enthusiast..." Juliette breaks in tears while Erik, approaching with another genre of flames around his head, seizes her words.
"...An outstanding biker and my best friend. I am Erik, Erik Dorl. And you, you are... Mister Tesla!, Nikola Tesla, I presume." The sturdy man stares almost three heads upwards at the grey-haired man from the past.
"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Erik Dorl. Indeed, I am Nikola Tesla. As you correctly presumed. How may I help you?"
"Look, you've been dead for, how long?, yes!, ninety years now. But still, you're here, arm in arm with the Red Queen of our hearts, exchanging pleasantries with me. Dunno if these guys have informed you how much I care for Sven, Sven Olafson, who is carbonized in the dragster down there. I want him back!"
"I see. I fully understand your concerns and I am terribly sorry for your best friend. But I am no god. I cannot bring people back from the dead."
"Mr. Tesla, listen to me," this Erik character is a stubborn breed and loves showing it, all the time, "if Juliette was capable to bring you back, then why couldn't you? You look smarter than her!"
"She did not bring me, neither back nor forwards. She visited me and asked me to follow her. Which I consented. I am here by my own will, not by hers."
"Well, whatever, then please make something... Well... Some... Anything... What is your take on Sven?" The fiery Viking is a bit at lost. Speaking out loud, he has realized that Sven cannot manifest his own will any more.
Sadness snows on Erik's beard. He closes his eyes, possibly digging for a prayer.
"Mr. Dorl, I need you to bring me Sven's body." Suddenly, hope shines again in Erik's heart.
"But... but... the wrecks are smoldering... What should I do?" Erik's expectations fall short.
"No problemo! I've got him." Surprised, Erik turns around to see a fireman... no... Luigi dressed as a fireman and pushing a levitating stretcher towards them. The charred hand of their friend slips out from under the silvery sheet.
Nikola asks, sternly. "Are we all here?"
"Yes," hurries Gilles, "our three clients, us two and you. We're complete."
"Good," says Nikola. "Juliette, how many hours have you spent together with Sven in the aperture?"
"Aperture? What aperture?" Wonders Erik.
"We call it a pyramid, or pixel. Tesla calls it an aperture. Different generations, different slangs," clarifies Gilles while fixing Juliette for the answer.
"Let me see," says her. "One week on Tuesday... Mhm... 199 hours and twenty-eight minutes."
"Till the crash. So... forty-one minutes until now."
"Listen to me very carefully. I don't know if this may work. Can we collect a token, a golden token, from Sven's body?"
"Mr. Tesla, he has our engagement ring. Must be on his right hand. If not melted away by the crash and the fire."
"Let us check," responds Nikola to Erik's hesitation. "Indeed. Here it is. Not exactly in a perfect state. However, so far so good."
"Mr. Tesla, would you mind explaining us..."
"Of course, Mr. Dorl. First, we shall fix our perimeter. Which is the village of Peillon and its surroundings, including the so-called valley of the shadow. This has to be your entry and your exit."
"Are we moving Sven's body out to the patio?" Asks Luigi.
"No! Under no circumstances. If his dead body exits the aperture then Sven will be unrecoverable. To us, at least. For this experiment to be a success, we have to alter the logic succession of events, somehow creating a sortie, I don't know how, and have Sven alive, on his feet, before sending him to the exit, along with Juliette. The way they have entered the aperture."
"These tokens, Nikola, these rings, are some sort of buoys then?"
"Very well said, Gilles, the rings are navigation marks. Juliette has given hers to you and she was good to leave the aperture, for me, only after you had your ring fused with hers. Becoming one token, her body acquired a point of reference (in your body) before jumping over time and space, throughout the ether, to ask for my help."
"Holy cow! This sounds like bungee jumping." Exclaims Erik, quite excited about the collation.
Nikola wastes no reply and continues his logic. "Erik! Before I shall jump, together with Juliette and Sven, across the abyss, I am politely asking you to tell me more about Sven's ring. Is there a history behind it. Details that I should be aware of?"
"Oh yes, sure. Back in Malmö, I teach magnetohydrodynamics at the university. Sven is, was, my brightest student. His dream is, was, to build a flying suit. Something way cooler than these lame skateboards that levitate. A suit that you can wear and leave Superman behind."
"Sort of an Iron Man suit," chimes Luigi in.
"Yeah, yeah. Just with no jet propulsion. No smoke. No bang. No fuss. Only a gracious swirling slipstream."
"The invention that you are mentioning, the creation of the flying man, interests me in the highest degree, Mr. Dorl."
"One more reason to bring back my Sven, Mr. Tesla."
"Please correct me if I am inaccurate. Your engagement, with exchanging rings, means that you have been married to your scientific work, dedicating your lives to the invention?"
"This for one. You are right. And then, nights after nights spent together, only the two of us, in the garage, or inside the karstic caverns under the Alps, have brought us closer together, corporally. We ended up in this engagement, not just to our research, but to each other."
"Hum, interesting fact. Too bad that I cannot mention this in the interviews of my time. Nobody would understand, to say the least. But you still love ladies. Seems that we share the same passion for Juliette. Or am I missing something?"
"You're spot on, Nikola," enters Gilles, "many men are bisexual nowadays. Different societal norms."
"Mr. Tesla, it is from your life that I've learned about the contradiction between having a wife, with children, and dedicating your life to science. Pussy is a commodity that we can afford without the afferent bondage, commitment, romance and all those female fantasies."
"May I infer, Mr. Dorl, that our colleague Gilles disproves us both. I had wished to find a lady like Juliette during my lifetime but..."
"Excuse my intrusion," speaks Luigi, "I'm no scientist, just a cook and a vineyard owner, but shouldn't we all focus on recapturing Sven first?"
"Precisely! Back to our experiment. The way Gilles, bearing Juliette's wedding ring near his, was the hook for her when she jumped through the ether to invite me here, so will Erik, bearing Sven's engagement ring near his, be the hook for his dead body when jumping, together with me and Juliette, through the ether."
"Doesn't matter where, Mr. Dorl. Our main concern is for us to return within the aperture at a sequence prior to his death."
"And bring his dead body next to his living one? Oh my goodness. What then?"
"No one can tell. It is an experiment that I had never thought of. But if you've got a better idea, please, proceed, Mr. Dorl."
"Nothing, Mr. Tesla. I have no idea." As he speaks, Erik puts Sven's ring on his finger, next to the ring that Sven placed there one year ago. "You are go! Juliette, Mr. Tesla, please bring my friend back to me."
It's a swoosh because the levitating stretcher sounds like the iron plate. More or less.
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.9. Nothing. No one shows up.
About one hour later. Still nothing.
"Think we'd better move around. Even if only to flex our muscles. Don't you, Gilles? Hey, Gilles, what are you doing?"
"Waving. Erik, Luigi, look at the sky. Up there. How about you wave too?"
The three stranded men wave their hands. Not exactly sure at what precisely.
An all black flying man, carrying beautiful Juliette on his back (she actually rides him, like a red haired witch would ride a monster black broom), descends from the skies. Five meters in front of Erik, Gilles and Luigi. Right on the edge of the concrete platform.
"He's alive! Nikola fixed it. C'est magnifique! I'm so happy that I can't tell. Don't know what to do."
"Let us see Sven. Off with the helmet please."
The flying man makes a series of cryptic signs across his abdomen and chest. The final diagonal unleashes an unboxing sequence that will reveal the Sven we know, the way we've seen him first time, when with his bike between his legs, on the street, facing the patio.
"Hello everybody! How are you?"
Speechless, Erik rushes into his arms. "I almost missed you, dear Sven."
"I know. I'm sorry for being reckless. Nikola told me everything. I'm so sorry for creating all this mess."
"Don't be. It's because of your mess that we've met Tesla in the flesh. Besides, either I'm delirious or he has helped you with the flying suit, eh?"
"He didn't. So he says. But I don't believe him. 'Look, Mr. Tesla, I'm flying. Thank you, Mr. Tesla!' But he remained circumspect. 'It's not me, Sven. Don't thank me.' He kept saying. Dunno what to believe."
Yepp, the old, same young and full of life, Sven that we've grew familiar with.
"Guys, shall we?" Invites Gilles with both hands pointing to a yellow spot in the green grass. "Please. Be my guests."
One after another, our characters jump in, vanishing out of sight.
The narrator, bit wary, has to follow them, no?
It takes a few extra pounds of faith to jump like this. Out of the pixel pyramid, above a six hundred meters abyss, over the valley of the everlasting shadow. The glass-looking metal plate awaits for the narrator's feet. Transparent but solid. Swoosh.
The patio is an animated scene. Juliette slices half a dozen pineapples. Gilles runs the smoothie machine. Erik burns the stairs up and down, bringing spring water to everyone. Luigi makes a huge pizza. Sven plays with his new flying suit: seems that he needs more time to figure out the final feature of this extraordinary gadget. A dream come true. Shortly thereafter comes dinner. And goes the pizza.
Satiated and tired by the day, our characters go inside to sleep. Until midnight, when they wake up, one after another, to take a breath and a glass of water. Out on the patio.
"Guys," yawns Juliette, "think that I owe you three more explorations. Oh, Luigi, four more for you. Right?"
"Lovely Juliette," responds Luigi, "you owe me nothing. I had you for twenty-five years, only for me, remember?"
"Of course that I'd wish to spend a hundred more in your company. But let me make it very clear: you owe me nothing. Nothing!"
"We're even," marks Erik. "Really. I think that I can speak for Sven as well." He okays with a nod. "You owe us nothing, Juliette. And Gilles, we could never envision what an amazing pimp you are. Skål!!" And two more glasses of pineapple juice went down their throats.
"I've got an idea!" Exclaims Sven. "Wish to fly tonight. Juliette, are you deal for the next ride?"
"Oh, no, no, no. Thanks anyway."
"Why not? Come on!"
"Look, Sven. I need to tell you something. Nothing new. Nikola told you the same thing, in his own words. About fifteen times, if I've counted well. Quite unusual to repeat himself."
"Do you know him well?"
"I do. Have spent a couple of years in his company. He's been helping us with the business. But this is not the point here. Nikola has told you, many times, to cool it down. You should act more responsibly. This new costume is no answer. And no reason to overestimate."
Sven is taken aback. Not much though. "But he fixed it for me. And it flies. I gave you a ride. A helluva ride, no?"
"There's a switch, Sven."
"What switch? Don't understand."
"When I enter the pixel pyramid, or the aperture as Nikola calls it, my body switches to a new avatar of myself. It's still me just in another body. A more enduring one."
"How about your clients?"
"They don't switch. You didn't. This is why you died in the crash. Because you've been using your dying body. The outer avatar, not the inner one."
"Wait, wait, wait a minute!" Erik breaks out. "I wasn't chasing and fucking and saving you out there?"
"Yes, you did chase and fuck and save me. Remember when you've dropped me off that cliff?"
"You've slipped out of my hands. Sorry for that. You said that you've grabbed a bunch of roots. Down the way."
"I did, at 178 kilometers per hour. Wondering what if I had done that with my frail body. What about the inertial forces. Would my muscles, and bones, have had the resilience to sustain the strain?"
"Damn. Didn't think about that."
"Think, Erik. Think!"
"Bugger! Turn around please."
Juliette turns around.
"Now bend and spread your butt cheeks."
She complies. "See? Here's my anus. Can you see it? Erik!"
"I can see your anus. Fuck! But out there, inside the pyramid, you had no butthole."
"Got my point?"
"Fuck fuck fuck! Sven?"
"Where the hell have you been while we were talking?"
"Here. Playing with the flying suit. Guess that I've discovered the stealth mode."
"Fuck the stealth mode. Sven! Turn around and show us your ass. The hole."
"Not now, Erik. I'm not in the mood. Plus, I'm not yet done with all the features."
"Won't fuck you. Promise. Just show us your butt, will you?"
"Okay, okay." Sven turns, bends and shows everyone his ass. Same as Juliette has done the minute before.
The only difference is that no anus shows up between his butt cheeks.
"You have no butthole. He has no butthole. What the hell?"
"Hells or heavens? Who knows." Gilles shares his nightly portion of sarcasm, along with a plastic plate carrying five massive glasses half filled with pineapple juice.