by: CJ Fogarty
By the time we finally arrived to where we had set out, it was not only raining lightly but also dark. Apparently we had lost track of time whilst imprisoned inside that floating metropolis, and we didn’t end up arriving at our destination until around 5 AM. The island of St. Helena itself was still the small, terribly isolated British realm Duke and I had known, but, there were significantly more signs of life this time around. This sleepy island whose lights went out at 10 was instead bright with a few blotches of twinkling, white lights covering the mountainous surface.
As we knew it, St. Helena was just about one of the most secluded places in the world, its surface being shaped largely by prehistoric volcanic eruptions, the place covered with lush flora and a variety of wildlife, but not native mammals. As I recall, there were only two reasons why St Helena made it into popularity, the first one being as a preserve for several endangered species of birds.
We touch down as the rain still continues, arriving at the very modern but very small Jamestown Airport. Getting outside, we find a sleek black car waiting for us. Surprisingly, this one has actual wheels, and when we get it, it remains on the ground.
“Well, this is a familiar change of pace”, I think out loud, “I thought everyone had converted to flying cars.”
“No, messiuer”, the strangely French-sounding driver responds, “in many places and with many people, aerocars are very expensive and more, ehh, difficult to drive. It is really only in America or in big cities that aerocars are common. You Americans always seem to have such fetish for your cars.”
And you Frenchies always tend to have a fetish for being pretentious snobs. I don’t say that out loud, of course. In fact, I really shouldn’t think that way anymore, given how many Frenchies have saved my arse in the past. Still, when you adopt a nation, you adopt its friends and its rivals.
“Well, we have some bigger distances to travel, Philippe.”, Miri replies with familiar cordiality, then, to us, “boys, this is Philippe, he works for the curator of Longwood House, where we’ll be going.”
Ah, so we’re going in that way, eh? Interesting.
“Well, Philippe, it’s good to meet you”, Duke replies, sounding more tired than cordial, “and frankly, I’m happy this damn thing doesn’t fly.”
Ah Duke. Given this unnatural schedule and lack of sleep on the less than smooth transport, Duke was naturally bothersome. I should think that he’d kiss the ground we landed on considering all the time we’ve spent above it in the past 16 hours.
Heading south from Jamestown, the capital of the territory, and going I east, I believe, if memory serves, we drive along while the rain keeps falling lightly down. St. Helena had been a British territory since the 17th century, and was by far its most isolated domain, the nearest civilization being off land in Angola, and no one wanted to go there back in our day at least.
“So”, the driver, eh, Philippe, states, “I’ve known Miri for many years, but who are you two?”
“Duke Bishop, at your service”, Duke replied, gruffly, but not rudely.
“And Richard Saint as well”, I reply, foiling Duke’s mood by sounding much more cheerful.
“Hm”, the driver replies, then,”Où avez-vous trouvé ces chiens mouillés?”
I chuckle silently at this remark. He said, “where did you find these wet dogs?”
Obviously, the man doesn’t know that Duke and I, regrettably, know French. I look at Duke, and I can see in his eyes that he’s thinking the same thing, and we silently agree to let them play along.
“Ces chiens, Philippe, sont trés importants. Vous souvenez-vous de ma mission?”, Miri answers.
(These dogs are very important, Philippe, do you remember my assignment?)
“Oui! Il a été fait vous arracher les cheveux”, Philippe replies, playfully sympathetic.
(Yes! It was making you tear your hair out)
“Eh bien, Philippe, nous les avons trouvés. La Grande Gardiens.”, Miri replies.
(Well, Philippe, we found them. The Great Guardians)
At this, the driver flashes his blue eyes widening in the rear view mirror.
Then, back to English, “I am sorry, messeurs. I didn’t know that you were…eh, them. I would have been more, eh, formal, had I known.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it”, Duke replies, smirking across Miri at me.
I deliver the punch with, “but, um, next time, don’t assume your passengers don’t know French.”
“Mon Dieu!”, Philippe suddenly exclaims, half joking, half scared, “I am indeed sorry.”
“If it was anyone’s fault, it’d be mine, Philippe”, Miri replies evenly, then, more sarcastically, “I mean, if you’ve been in the Guardians for five or so years, you’re bound to learn a language or two. Or is it five-thousand with you guys?”
“Miri, I can’t talk if you want to believe us, or if you think we’re playing a game”, I reply, only half-joking myself.
“Well, the answer is, “No, I don’t”. But, if Philippe here is scared of you, and you two suddenly know French, then there’s certainly more than meets the eye, let’s put it that way, hm.”
“Fair enough”, both Duke and I respond.
“But, do be warned, Miri”, says Duke, “in this Order, everything has more to it than meets the eye.”
“Well, I am the grandmaster, Duke”, Miri assures, “and there’s very few things I don’t know about.”
“You are still young though, lass”, I add.
“Right, and young people always act like they know everything, right?”, Miri fires back, “but, your point is taken. Still, it would make me pretty inefficient if I didn’t know everything I’d needed to at this point, right?”
Duke and I both nod, but inside we’re a little unsure as to why Miri has been kept in the dark about us in particular. What was Johnny boy thinking?”
Not receiving an answer from us, Miri changes the subject with, “So, Philippe, you wanna re-introduce yourself to these wet dogs”?
She smiles when she says this of course.
“Ah, oui!”, Philippe replies almost nervous, “Philippe Trenaux, at your service, messeurs.”
“Trenaux!”, both Duke and I exclaim. We have known the Trenaux name for many decades, ever since World War II. They’ve been good, honest Guardians.
“Is your, father Jeanne-Claude Jr. by any chance?”, I ask excitedly.
“His father?”, Duke replies incredulously, “Rich, the guy’s gotta be in his seventies by now.”
“Wait, how do you know my grandfather?”, Philippe suddenly says. Suddenly the cars gets very quiet, and even Miri’s eyes betray a tinge of shock.
“Is he still alive?”, Duke asks, breaking the silence.
“Oui, but I don’t see how you could know him?”
But Philippe is drowned out when Duke and I suddenly issue cheers of happiness. Jeanne-Claude Jr., grandson of the originally Jeanne-Claude Trenaux who joined the Guardians over a century ago, was just a young lad when we knew him. The fact that he was still alive was a God-send to us. Finally, somebody who’d remember us! The joy was simply too much to incapsulate after all this time of not knowing anybody. Of course, however, the rest of the car is nominally unaware of this.
“Just let us get to Longwood, mon ami”, Duke replies triumphantly, exercising a little French “et il diviendra clair (and it will become clear). I just hope he remembers us.”
“As do I Duke. As do I.”
We pull into the long field in front of the house before we reach Longwood itself. A one-story residence, the building comprising one hall with two wings extending to the right, all underneath a simply, red-brick roof. The sign outside reads, Maison de Longwood, propriété historique du gouvernement français. Naturally, however, it wasn’t the museum-house itself we were looking for.
Getting out, the rain still coming down, we perceive a budding light on the eastern horizon. We step out of the car, the rain still pattering down from the roof and splashing to the ground. Philippe knocks on the door and a stout old man answers it. Wearing an old, red sweater and sporting a pair of glasses with very round but very large lenses, I was almost saddened by the sight. If it was Jeanne-Claude Jr., then age hadn’t been quite kind. Stooped over and frail looking, a picture of youth in our time has suddenly been turned quite in reverse before our eyes. I have to look hard for some evidence that it’s actually the Jeanne-Claude we had known. I am happy to say that it’s found nearly right after he opens his mouth.
He welcomes Miri with an affectionate hug, and states playfully, “Ah, Miri, vous avez ramené mon petit-fils. Est-ce qu’il chassait encore les filles anglais nouveau?”
(Ah, Miri, you have brought my grandson home. Was he chasing English girls again?)
Ha-ha, well, the boy’s got a sense of humor about him still. A sense of humor and lightness rarely seen in the Order, our long lives, and, frankly, in the Trenaux family in general. I gather all of this before his formal introduction, which is given to us with a fluid bow, and the name Jeanne-Claude Trenaux II is given to us.
After a period of laughter from the old man’s quip, Miri begins with, “Jeanne-Claude, you don’t know these two but they are-“
“Monsiuer Trenaux! Happy to make you acquaintance!”, Duke suddenly interrupts her, “now, from what I gather, you are the curator of this museum.”
The old man looks curiously at Duke, as if to ask why this bear of a man was suddenly asking him such a question at this time of night. I suppose he doesn’t recognize us then. I think with a little more familiarity, he will soon enough. In fact, I’d say that’s exactly what Duke is trying to do now.
“Uh, oui, messiuer”, Jeanne-Claude replies hesitant. The looks on Miri and Philippe’s face convey an equal amount of confusion.
“Well, then, would you mind showing us around for a bit, messiuer?”, Duke inquires, turning on his would-you-kindly inflection.
“Duke, I think we’d better get down to what we actually came here to-“, Miri begins, but is cut off with
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll only be a little while. I mean, I am curious about this place after all. It was Napolean Bonaparte’s final exile, right? I’m sure a man of your esteem and experience, would know a lot about it.”
Obviously flattered, Jeanne-Claude replies with a hearty laugh, “Well, okay. I’m sure have some time, no?”
At this, he glances at Miri, but doesn’t give her enough time to object beckoning the four of us inside.
Gesturing around with an elegant air, Jeanne Claude begins, “Now, this is the parlor where the guests were welcomed in and also where they would wait in order to meet with the Emperor himself and his officers in the neighboring parlor, which, we shall visit next.”
As Jeanne-Claude waves his hands about, pointing out every minute detail, I recognize that Duke is trying to put him at ease. In his manner of seeing things, it’s almost as if the old boy were there himself back in eighteen and one-five, ushering people in to meet the little dictator. Such is the power of history after all. I, however, know it all too well.
Now, despite the best attempts of his grandson, the old man ended up taking us all around the entirety of the house. That is the Trenaux family for you. When they’re passionate, everyone goes along for the ride.
When we reach the parlor again, I am listening to Jeanne-Claude make his account of the final days of Napolean when I glance to my left and find a leather-clad, neon haired girl, standing next to an equally-modern young man in a thinning black sweater and slacks, in this contrarily old-world villa, but, I don’t see Duke. I turn around and find that the door which we had entered Longwood was slightly ajar.
I look back toward the old man, and I realize I don’t have the heart to stop his lecture so suddenly, so I simply turn around and make my way toward the door, Miri being the only one whose eyes I catch following me.
Outside, I notice that the rain has stopped. There is a seaborne breeze. The only other sounds are the echoing inhabitants of the sphere of night, or rather, the peepings of dawn, as I attest to the sky adopting a lighter shade of blue and gray. I find Duke, his great frame leaned over the rail of the verandah, staring off into the garden.
I adopt his gaze, and find that he is fixated on the field below the garden, and I wonder what has him so vexed…..until I see it for myself. You see, for us, history has a different sort of light. History, to us, is not a story, but a memory, lodged away somewhere in our minds. We have seen the rise and fall of empires, and when we perchance to visit whatever remains, we find ourselves unwittingly transported back to a day in the past, often, the long past. As you’ve already seen, this at many times brings back painful experiences of violence and chaos, and you begin to wonder why at all, we decide to keep on living despite how much we have done so. How our human minds can compartmentalize such a vast amount of trauma and tragedy, and, worse, if we are still even human after all these years.
Well, I will tell you how: moments like these, when we are suddenly transported back to a place of serenity away from the chaos of the past, and given a place to think and contemplate. I look at my surroundings and, suddenly, the Sun is shining bright, the overgrown vines on the verandah shed, and the entire house adopting a tone of bright white and a new quality. The grass is green and bright, the flowers flowing in the breeze. Down below on the field is an army camp, and around a small track race bright red officers on steeds. That’s when I start seeing people as well, well dressed soldiers walking around with their air of definition, the Frenchies turning up their noses at the my and my men, making us almost feel that they were our captors, not the other way round.
Are you starting to get the picture? I and Duke suddenly find ourselves away from the real world of flying cars, androids, flying cities and clones and, instead, we go back to a sunny day in a serene world, where the fires of war and bloodshed see themselves cooled. It’s kind of a happy place sometimes, although, we are always reminded that there is a job to do and a real world to live in. Bitterly reminded of course. Still, St. Helena was a time to analyze one’s life choices and a respite from the escalation of war, for the three of us: me, Duke, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Still in reverie, I turn back to Duke, watching the races. His worn trench coat and dirty outfit are replaced with a clean and shining uniform, a Légion d’Honneur star pinned to his chest, for his services rendered to the little emperor. Of course, Duke would attest that his part in that conflict was far more than he ever signed up for, considering the hell he suffered in Russia. Not to say that that war, and the years of it, hadn’t taken their tole on me as well. As I look down, I don’t need to fumble for my Victoria Cross, since I know exactly where I’d always where it. Every time I woke up back into the world, I’d find myself earning one soon enough, courtesy of the king or queen for services rendered. Gripping it, it feels quite real to the touch, yet, the greater sensation is the feeling that the medal is pinned not into my coat but directly into my heart.
I don’t know why, but that seems to bring me out of it, and suddenly the world fades back into dawn, the vines return to show Longwood its age, and the year is 2069. I move towards Duke, ever so carefully, and lay my hand on his shoulder. He turns to me sharply, but not in shock.
“Seeing ghosts again?”, I ask, knowing full well that he is.
Rubbing his eyes with one hand, he replies, “Yeah, hehe, dammit. Looks like we’ve made a bit of a scene.”
Following Duke’s glance again, I find our host, Philippe, and Miri all standing outside the door, slightly confused.
Duke, however, smiles, and, walking toward Jeanne-Claude, “Messieur, it’s true then that the British army was camped down there”, pointing to the field, “in order to keep an eye on Napoleon in his captivity?”
Almost caught off guard, the old man replies, “Eh, yes.”, then, relaxing back into curator-mode, he gestures downward, “and, the military would have regular horse races, which the emperor would often admire-“
“Standing about right here, looking over the verandah”, Duke interrupts him, planting his feet on the ground and fumbling his hand inside his jacket, “with his hand famously placed inside of his jacket. Do you know the origin of that habit, sir?”
Instead of showing the answer outright, Jeanne-Claude turns to Philippe and Miri, gesturing for them to answer.
“Because it was a gesture of nobility and pride?”, Philippe tries, which is answered by his grandfather’s denial.
Miri thinks for a long moment before confessing, “I got nothing.”
“Probably because you were too busy swooning over my grandson in history class”, Jeanne-Claude replies playfully serious.
At this, Philippe starts giggling, perhaps in nostalgia, before Miri elbows him in the gut, folds her arms, and looks away, obviously embarrassed with her tough facade broken.
“You were her teacher?”, I ask old Jeanne-Claude, realizing that it’s the first word I’ve said to him all night since fifty years ago.
“Oui”, he replies proudly, “they were in a private school were I taught her history, but she was always too busy falling in love to learn much.”
“Jeanne-Claude”, Miri protests, “I think that’s for another time, no?”
“Oui, yes, you are right”, he replies laughing, “what I want to know exactly is who are these two? And how does the American know so much about this place?”
“How do I know?”, Duke asks with a revelatory air. This is it then.
“I was there”.
“We both were”, I finish.
“On opposite sides”, Duke remarks
“Naturally”, I reply, “yet always our first duty is protect the weak….”
“…and banish the wicked. Our second is guide progress along..”
“but not let people lose their values in it”, I resound
“our third duty”, Duke goes on, “in a world plagued by fear is to give people hope”
“We are its guardians”
“As much of a pain in the ass that is”, Duke retorts,playfully of course, “but we are not humanity’s rulers”
“We lend them our ears and our eyes across the entire world”, I respond.
Then, together, “thus, we are Godeseye.”
Now, what you’ve just witnessed is what we might call the Guardian’s Creed. As series of heroic, stupid-sounding words that are meant to be noble, or, in this situation, recognizable.
“Who are you two?”, Jeanne-Claude asks, almost cautiously.
“Jeanne-Claude”, I venture, softly, “I know this may be probably the most extraordinary thing you’ll hear all day. You will remember us from a long time ago, when you were just a bright-faced, green guardian. I know you’re older now”.
“MUCH older. Like, holy shit, man, I didn’t even recognize you at first”, Duke interjects, but when I give him a hard stare, he amends with, “but, you look great though.”
The old man, meanwhile looks each hard at us in the eye. Then, suddenly, his entire face lights up in the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. Whether he’s happy or surprised, I cannot, for he almost falls backward, had it not been for his grandson and Miri coming to stabilize him.
Fixing his glasses, and he races at us with, “Mon dieu! Mon dieu! C’est un miracle (My God. My God. It’s a miracle)! Miri, do you know who these two are?”
“A couple of stray operative who were really hard to catch?”, Miri replies, her smile disarming her otherwise biting tone.
“No, not at all.”, he replies, shaking his head, tears running down his face,”These are some old friends, who knew me when I wasn’t old and fat, haha! Long before you two were born in fact! Mes amis (My friends)! It is amazing to see you two again, Duke and Rich! Never in my life would I think this possible again. I had given up hope, after all that had happened, I thought, I thought. *Sigh*”, composing his emotions, he continues more settled with, “it is only a shame that John is not here. You missed him only by three months.”
“We know, that truly is one fuckin tragedy”, Duke replies, quite seriously.
“But, as our experience goes”, I reply, “the Order is well accounted for in his absence.”
“Aye”, Duke chimes in to an outwardly unenthused, Miri, “and he isn’t just sucking up to the boss either. I think we both mean that.”
Smiling back at Miri, his eyes bright through those too-big specs, Jeanne-Claude says, “Well, it is still very dark. Come in, you four. Duke, Richard and I have many years to catch up on.”