The Pulse: Paris
Au Bord de la Seine
Matthew read that the historical sites of Paris were spared, as were those of Rome, Florence, old Madrid, Padua, Borobudur, Dubrovnic, Kytoto, Granada, Guanajuato, Bagan, Uxmal, Angkor Watt, Siena, Aix, central Moscow, Macchu Picchu, Beijing, Suzhou, Cuzco, old Quebec, etc. Since the Baulians had very different standards of beauty and historical value, they picked the sites based on the way humans ranked them in tourist pamphlets and guidebooks.
The Baulians also preserved 83 newer places -– Shanghai, New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Tokyo, central Buenos Aires, etc. In total there were 700 historical parks, staffed largely by a selection of the original inhabitants.
Many of the sites were kept as close as possible to their original form. In Paris they left intact most of what was inside the eight-lane Périphérique. They replaced the Ring Road itself with orange-maglev circuits and OM junctions, most of which remained at the traditional gates of the city, such as Porte de Clignancourt. Four key junctions — Place de la Nation, Place d’Italie, Gare de Montparnasse, and Batignolles — were razed completely. In their place the Baulians built population hubs three and four hundred stories high. These spots overlooking the charming primitive town were especially prized by Baulian anthropologists.
The whole depressed and industrial area that lay north, east, and south of la Goutte d’Or was annihilated. The Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord were recycled and in their place the Baulians established a massive OM Central Station. Rising on both sides of the Station was a twin-peaked tower called Sèvres-Babylon II, modelled on the Great Temple of Baulis Prime. Crisscrossed with tropical gardens and sinuous rills, the New Tower was 196 stories deep and 700 stories high. At the top was a pleasure dome where Baulians could relax in orange essence pools, communally joined and free to get up to whatever they pleased.
In some places, extensions of Paris proper were permitted — such as the extension of the Champs-Élysées along avenues Grande-Armée and Charles de Gaulle, leading to La Défense. When Matthew saw the extension he initially suspected that the planners were mocking the French, with their Foreign Legion, their Résitance, and their Force de Frappe nuclear weapons. But then he saw that the Baulians had no such intention. Their historical notes made it clear that defence was a logical and admirable trait they shared with humans.
Once, la Grande-Armée and Charles de Gaulle were clogged with cars, trucks, and buses. Now, OM corridors created rainbows above the pedestrians. Gardened pathways crisscrossed all the way from Bois de Boulogne to the larger park of St. Germain. The railway line that once ripped through the Forêt Domaniale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye was recycled and the series of watery loops northwest of Paris were converted into a vast leisure park. The Baulians called it The Five Loops. Pleasure boats, called Bateaux Mouches et Abeilles (Fly and Bee Boats) plied the waters and forests, which hummed and sang with insects from over a thousand compatible worlds.
Matthew could see the beauty of it all. And even the necessity. Every scientist knew where humanity was taking the planet. Who knows what sort of Armageddon would have occurred if not for the deus ex machina of the pink cubes?
Prior to the Invasion, the world was in a hopeless state. One doom-laden sign of this was that the American president, the most powerful man in the world, pulled out of the Paris Agreement to stop global warming. Nick-named ‘Trumpet of Doom,’ the president proceeded to envelope Iran in a cloud of toxic fumes. The contagion spread to the neighbouring countries and eventually blew up all the oil in the Middle East. Israel, including its trumpeted capital in Jerusalem, went up in smoke.
And then there were the intractable problems of demography and history. Demographically, if humans remained in their abysmal economic state millions would continue to suffer and starve. If, on the other hand, they improved economically, and started consuming like the fat cat counties of Canada and Saudi Arabia, then the environmental dangers would mutate and multiply like cancer cells. China was the most obvious example of this, yet similar consumption explosions were expected in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Brazil, and Nigeria. The demographic threat was the most basic problem in the world, yet humans in general hardly ever talked about it. Instead, they assumed that population growth ensured economic growth, which to them was the most important thing.
The deep animosities on Earth suggested that the disaster of war would never end. There was hatred between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent, tribal horrors in the Congo, a Sunni-Shia split in the Muslim world, a trigger-happy America, Islamic extremists, Maoist Naxalites in India, and gang violence throughout Central America. There was racism, sexism, inequality, ethnocentrism, nepotism, cronyism, organized crime, and fraud. From the Baulian point of view, the worst problem of all was that humans were destroying their home planet at an alarming rate. They polluted the water, ground, and air, and they tortured, killed, or ate every living thing that wasn’t human.
Considering these problems, many humans could only hope for some alien power to come down and straighten it all out.
But what, Matthew wondered, would be lost?
Matthew thought of the old universities of central Paris, and of the two years he spent at the Sorbonne when he was in his mid-twenties. He wondered what they would be teaching now.
He imagined a French priest looking up at the silent towers of Notre-Dame. The towers seemed so big because the sky seemed so familiar. It became a two-dimensional backdrop, a canvas to be coloured pastel or dark blue, pointillist or surreal, depending on what the artist on Place du Tertre felt a tourist might fancy. From their hilltop pulpits humans projected whatever they wanted into those infinite depths. Cherubs. Blue serene. Winged horses and bare-breasted angels.
No one could say that the gods — or a singular God — weren’t up there somewhere, although the problems of astronomy got to be more difficult the more humans looked into them. Still, no one in their right mind suspected that there were aliens monitoring our planet, or that there were aliens who looked exactly like humans walking among us.
Matthew call his priest Jean-Luc, after the great figures of the Bible: Luke the Evangelist, who was a physician (Jew or Gentile); John the Baptist, who heralded the Saviour to come (but whose head ended up on a plate); and John of Patmos, with his nightmare vision of the Apocalypse.
Matthew also named him after the intellectual captain of the starship Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard. Yet Matthew’s Jean-Luc wasn’t threatened by Romulans or the Borg. His real-life counterpart, Patrick Stewart, would have laughed if anyone took the Borg seriously. Giant cubes flying in space — ridiculous!
Matthew’s Jean-Luc was more like a distant ancestor of the captain, hailing from some rural town in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. He’d come to the bright lights of Paris to find truth and wisdom. Yet the problem was that he was a product of his past, from the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian civilization of the Middle Ages to the demolition of this civilization at the hands of his own countrymen — starting with Voltaire and ending with Camus. This Jean-Luc was burdened by the ideals of Greece and the Middle East, by the love of Saint Francis and the alienation of Sartre, by the aim of Vatican II and the aim of the particle accelerator at CERN.
Matthew stared at his screen. He wanted to show the Baulians where humans came from, and how they struggled to forge a meaningful world. He wanted to strike a balance between the horrors of the human occupation of the earth and the beauties of human art, literature, philosophy, and religion.
Matthew opened a file and called it “Rivers of God.”
Next: Rivers of God