The West had just been through its longest day. This was the shortest. In five minutes everything was settled. And although the shock left a score of cadavers lying on the beach, evenly divided between the two sides, still, it wouldn’t be right to speak of a battle, or a skirmish, or even a scuffle in fact. It was, without question, by far the least deadly of all of mankind’s total wars. What struck the Western observers the most — those few who would speak to historians later — was clearly the smell. They all described it in much the same terms: “It stunk to high heaven ... It bowled you over, wouldn’t let you breathe. . .” As the decks sprang to life with their myriad bodies — men, women, children, steeping in dung and debris since Calcutta — as the hatchways puked out into the sunlight the sweating, starving mass, stewing in urine and noxious gases deep in the bowels of the ships, the stench became so thick you could practically see it. At the same time, a strong, hot wind had gusted up from the south, the kind that always heralds a storm, and it smelled as if some vile, rotting monster, jaws agape, were blowing its lungs out in huge, fetid blasts. Not the least of the reasons for the rapid defection of the bulk of Panama Ranger’s doughty band. Later, when the history of brotherhood’s D Day was officially rewritten, their rout was explained as “the forward unit’s march to the rear, to prepare appropriate welcoming procedures.” (How’s that for a laugh!) The plain, simple fact was that, half in shock and half in terror, the sweet little dears held their noses and ran. How could a good cause smell so bad? The thought had never crossed their minds. They were too immature. They should have known. It’s the evil causes that smell the best. Like progress, prosperity, money, luxury, ethical conduct, and nonsense like that. Or maybe it suddenly struck them — too late — that they really had picked the wrong side after all. And although, in their anguish, they didn’t cry for Mommy, the image that sprang up in many a mind was a little white fifth-floor kitchen — staircase K, building C, low-rent housing unit outside of town — and in it a nice, trim, middle-class mother, vision of happiness now lost and gone forever . . .

“What a goddamn mob!” said Dragases. “Not going to give us much breathing room, are they! Good God, what a stink!”

He tied his handkerchief around his face. Only two sardonic eyes shone under his helmet. And he watched as Jean Perret and the twenty hussars did likewise. Then he added:

“See? We’re outlaws all of a sudden! It doesn’t take much!”

“Well, Colonel old boy,” the undersecretary interrupted. “I think our job is cut out for us now. That’s something, at least. Why stand on ceremony? Let’s see how you’re going to get out of this one! Look, it’s so thick with bodies, you can’t see any water between the boats and the beach.”

True. But for that matter you couldn’t see the boats now, either. Their sides were alive, like an anthill slashed open. Using whatever they could lay their hands on — cords, cables, hawsers, worm-eaten rope ladders, loading nets lowered along the hulls — the horde was slipping down into the water. Endless cascade of human flesh. Every one of the boats, teeming, gushing with bodies, like a tub brimming over. Yes, the Third World had started to overflow its banks, and the West was its sewer. Perched on the shoulders of strapping young boys, first to land were the monsters, the grotesque little beggars from the streets of Calcutta. As they groveled through the wet sand like a pack of basset hounds, or a herd of clumsy seals exploring an unfamiliar shore, with their snorts and grunts of joy, they looked like an army of little green men from some remote planet. Behind them the bulk of the mob marked time: up on the bridge stood the dwarf, cap on head, staring blankly at the beach, as if waiting for a message from his hideous cohorts, some kind of report telepathically transmitted. And the monsters snuffled and sniffed at the sand, mouthed it by the handful, struck it with their fists to make sure it was real, and, convinced that it was, sprang somersaults over their horrid, twisted limbs. Yes, the country would suit them fine. No question . . . They jumped up all at once. Clearly that was the sign. A great hue and cry rose over the fleet. The human cascade began pouring again down the sides of the ships, swelling into huge wave upon wave of flesh, bodies upon bodies, pushing, shoving toward the shore, rolling in to the monsters and moving them along.

“They’re too horrible to look at,” said the colonel, coldly. “It’s too much, damn it! We can’t let something like that go on living. They don’t have the right And he shouted out, “Captain!”

He was calling to the officer up on the roof, squatting next to his machine gun, ready to fire.

“Come now, you’re not going to shoot into that!” exclaimed Jean Perret.

“Yes, precisely! That! I can’t stand the sight of those miserable, ugly bastards leading the pack, like a goddamn flag. The least I can do is shoot down the flag!”

“But you won’t make a dent!”

“Maybe not. Too bad. But we’ve got to put some order in that filthy mess somehow. Even if it won’t make a damn bit of difference. We’re a symbol. Those freaks are a symbol. So we’ll spray them with a round of symbolic bullets, and if some of them croak, well, so much the better! At least yours truly will know the reason why.” And he called out, “Let’s go up there, Captain. If you’ve still got a conscience, now’s the time to forget it. Sit on it, damn it! And for God’s sake, fire!”

The machine gun loosed a long, crackling volley. Like target practice. Then silence ... There’s nothing more ghastly to watch than misshapen gnomes or mental misfits writhing in pain. Caricatures of suffering bodies. Blank, gaping stares, trying to comprehend. Blood flowing from monstrous, malformed flesh. Inhuman cries from the lips of the dying ... Ten lay there on the sand, in the throes of death.

“Nice martyrs,” the colonel observed. “A present to the new world, compliments of Constantine Dragases! You’ll see, it’ll put them to damn good use!”

On the roof, the captain fired off his last shot. From his pistol, this time, stuck into his mouth. Ten helpless dwarfs, lying murdered on the beach. And a first-rate officer ... Pffft! Just like that!

“He had no choice,” said the colonel, very matter-of-fact. “I knew that would happen. Once the sun came up, it started him thinking. Plain as the nose on his face. Started him asking questions, but not about himself. About them, and how he fit into the picture. If he thought like a leader, it would have been different. Like a real man, I mean. But no, not a chance! You can bet your sweet ass, when he pulled that trigger, he felt like one of those grisly bastards! Tried his best, but just couldn’t hold out. Got sucked in by all that brotherhood crap! Like a goddamn epidemic. Well, you see where it got him! . . . All right, let’s beat it. No time to stand around and chat ...”

“Then you practically killed him,” Jean Perret interrupted. “Why? If you knew ...”

“Look,” Dragases replied, “we may as well clean out all our traitors right now, even the ones who don’t know that they are, who could screw us to the wall, good intentions notwithstanding. Last-minute traitors are the worst kind of all. Once we’re up in The Village ...” (He pronounced the words with a touch of solemnity that merits the use of capitals from now on.) "... we’ll refuse to admit they exist. Take a look behind you. You’ll see, they’re on their way.”

Jean Perret turned away from the water. In front of him, nothing but the flashing of boot heels, beating a quick retreat between the trees, and the backs of speckled uniforms disappearing in the distance . . . The last of the hussars were turning and running. One of them shouted, as he dashed from the villa, with the long, silent strides of an old campaigner, “Good luck anyway, Colonel!” And the sound of his voice made it clear he wasn’t joking. A sad farewell. A couple of words that said it all. Sorry, Colonel, we can’t go along with you this time, this is how it’s got to be, we’re taking our conscience but we’ll leave our hearts behind . . .

“No regrets,” said the colonel. “No, no regrets, really. Though I guess I should have let them all be killed, last night, like Commander de Poudis. And their officer with them. What kind of a world will it be for them now, dragging out their useless lives? . . . Monsieur Perret ...” (He was smiling again.) “. . . let’s be on our way! Forces of law and order, regroup!”

One truck was enough. Law and order didn’t amount to much. No more than a handful. A sergeant and three hussars, the marine commando captain and five of his men, the colonel, and the undersecretary. Twelve in all.

“Nice number,” remarked the colonel, as he jumped in next to the driver. “Now step on it!” he told him. “Turn right out the gate, then your second left. That’ll take us to the highway. And if anyone tries to get in your way, run the bastards down ...”

“Wait, ’’Jean Perret shouted, suddenly remembering. “What about the monks?”

Dragases shrugged. The truck was already rolling, picking up speed down the sandy path outside the villa, shifting from first, to second, to third, sharp turn at the gate, motor rumbling and roaring. Submachine gun on his lap, the colonel pressed his nose against the window, peered out at the street, poised and ready to fire. But the street was empty.

“The monks?” he repeated, finally. “My dear Perret, in a righteous cause like ours, we’ve got to have our martyrs. Got to even the score, if you know what I mean. Our side and theirs. Their freaks, our monks. Without a few martyrs, it wouldn’t be healthy. If it makes you feel better, we’ll stick up a monument to them in The Village. In front of the church. How’s that? With a nice little inscription: ‘To the twelve monks of Fontgembar Abbey, massacred on Easter Monday, victims of the barbaric ...’ Barbaric what, in fact?”

Like law and order, the monks had amounted to little or nothing. Victims of their trade, in a manner of speaking. The moment the monsters had bitten the dust, splashing in their blood just a few yards away, the good monks had rushed to their side without thinking. Reflex action of sorts. Very fitting and proper, professionally speaking, at least if one stops to consider their age, which imposed certain rather outmoded ideals. At any rate, there they were, kneeling on the ground, each one beside his expiring little creature, all moving their lips and waving their hands in the sign of the cross. A scene hard to imagine. Even harder to believe, if you think what they were doing. Baptizing, no less! Perfectly correct and according to the rules, this slapdash rite for infants dead or dying. God’s mercy allowed it in times gone by, before today’s clerics got a notion to change things. “I baptize you Peter, or Paul, or whatever, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost ...” As simple as that. Ten seconds, that’s all. Which is just what the addled old monks were doing, caught up in a sudden flash of grace. (How else can we explain that return to the quintessential, to the source of it all, when everything around them, in fact, was about to end?) And so, ten ignorant, mindless Ganges monsters, misery incarnate, absolute zeros in the warp and woof of life, rose to Heaven that morning, no doubt to a blare of trumpets triumphant, as millions of the Blessed cooed a sweet, celestial welcome to their tardy and most unexpected brethren! If there really is a guard at the gates of paradise, he must have given a wry little smirk, with a roll of his eyes, pretending to be cross: “Who on earth sent me up such a bunch of crazy names? Baptitian? Podiatron? Never heard of them! . . . Hmm! Oh, all right, go ahead. You may as well go in ...” In the heat of the moment, the monks had dredged up whatever they could find in their worn-out old brains. But if there are still any Roman Catholics left today, any priests who still believe in baptism’s power and glory, they needn’t have the slightest qualms. Yes, Podiatron and Baptitian! Good names to know, proper saints to pray to! Protection guaranteed! Grotesque little duo, wrenched from the womb, now grown handsome as gods and wise as the Holy Ghost, sitting at the left hand of the Father Almighty, who indulges their every silly, saintly whim. Ora pro nobis . . . The ten seconds were up. Then death passed through, whisking off monsters and monks together. And after the horde, there was nothing left of the mingled corpses but a hand sticking up from the blood-soaked beach, a naked foot, the tip of a chin or perhaps a nose, an occasional face, vaguely seen through the sand, like a mummy in its wrappings. The shock of the first wave streaming off the ships had taken the old monks completely by surprise, as they knelt, heads bent, over each upturned brow, as if to unite them in the last breath of life. Moments later, the mob had trampled them all to death. Surging blindly forward. Unthinking, unwitting. Already gazing at the seaside villas, reveling in the windblown trees and flowers, probing with countless hands the first elegant railings that lined the beach, clambering, climbing, swarming through parlors and out other doors, pouring into the streets, still the same dense tide; but for those twenty martyred corpses the stampede had barely begun, stretching back to the ships, where the boa-like mass of starving human flesh was winding about in ring upon ring, each one waiting its turn to uncoil and strike.

The strangest conclusion one can draw from these five crucial minutes of that shortest day — though it would have been perfectly clear, had one bothered to read the signs — is the fact that the refugee horde seemed so blithely unaware that this land it was about to make its own could possibly belong to others already. It had, indeed, been drained of its human substance, and offered no resistance.

And yet, there were many and sundry on the beach, though all for very different reasons: the monks, Dragases and his men, as well as a rather goodly number of die-hard idealists who had stayed behind with Panama Ranger when the rest of his troop had gone running.

With only one exception — a deliberate, gratuitous murder that we’ll go into later — the mob, as we said, was merely passing through. If it happened to trample a few bodies in the bargain, it had no idea, surely, whose they were, or why. It crushed them to pulp just because they were there. Ganges monsters, Western monks. It made no distinction. It saw itself now as the one and only race. All others, quite simply, had ceased to exist. The Fontgembar monks died, not because they were white, but only because they were standing in the way. Not at all like the victims of the Gata affair, white strangers, members of an alien race, foreign body summarily rejected from the flesh.

In fact, from Gata on, the woebegone fleet had begun to lose its loathing of the stranger. The emotion no longer served any purpose. It had simply dissolved and melted away. Much the same as with the Africans massed at the Limpopo, the Chinese along the Amur, the swarthy millions roaming the streets of New York and London, or the myriad blacks and Arabs ready to spew from the cellars of Paris. For them, the Gata dead spelled the end of the white race in toto. And that was that. It would have had to rise, miraculously, from its ashes, before they would give it a second thought now; and obviously, there on the southern coast of France, nothing of the sort was about to happen.

Their attitude became even clearer when the horde, in its second bound over the beach — beyond the puree of blood and sand that covered the bodies of monks and monsters — came up against two men dressed in black robes, who seemed to be waiting for them, calm as could be. If we point out that one of them, an old man, was facing the mob with a golden monstrance held up at arm’s length, and that the other, hands together, was praying intently, it’s only to recall that the two were, in fact, Dom Melchior de Groix and Abbe Pierre Chassal. Because as far as the mob was concerned, it couldn’t care less, but plowed on, utterly indifferent, without so much as a second’s worth of wonder. It didn’t even notice. Not the monstrance, ablaze in the sun, nor the curious clothes these men were wearing, nor the whiteness of their skin. Kneeling, they would have been crushed, like the monks. But since they were standing, and since they held fast before the first ragged ranks, they found themselves surrounded, enveloped, absorbed, sucked up in the welter of humanity, and digested. Whisked off, still standing, packed body to body like the rest of the herd. Ganges refugees now, for all practical purposes, anonymous flesh in the midst of that mass, unknown even to those pressing in at their sides. Precious little time for their philosophic musings. True faith? Mere pose? They would never know now: both pose and faith were swallowed up forever, and nothing was left but the great gaping void, if the chaos of their minds thought of anything at all, as they felt themselves swept up in the huge human flood, it was only how foolish their illusions had been. They had pictured themselves standing, holding high the Sacred Host in the face of the invaders, stopping them in their tracks, even if only for a second, one single second before they died their martyr’s death, but one that would have made it all worthwhile. . . . But their cherished second never happened at all, not a billionth of a second, or a billionth of a billionth, and that much, at least, their minds seemed to grasp. Caught in the crush, unable to move, Dom Melchior let the monstrance slip out of his hands, and it rolled along the ground, kicked by thousands of feet, like a rugby ball in a gigantic scrum. And he barely even noticed that his tight-clenched fingers were clutching at nothing but the empty air. Then the torrent split at a fork in the road, and the two men were swept their separate ways, never to meet again. What became of them, no one knows. Most likely, the old abbot — miter and all — died very quickly of fear and fatigue, not far from the beach. Pierre Chassal must have wandered and wandered, like a poor, lost soul, uprooted and aimless. To this day, in the dull, drab egalitarian mass, impoverished and mindless, one still sees occasional flotsam of the sort, relics of the past, oblivious to the new order, and untouched by it. Like political prisons after any revolution, their ranks number many of the former leading lights. Businessmen, generals, prefects, writers. And a smattering, too, of the everyday people that the privileged classes — aristocrats, first, and bourgeois, in time — have always dragged along to disaster on their coattails, in part to flatter their own need for retainers, and in part because a few poor wretches will forever yearn to stand out and be different. But the new order needs no political prisons. The brainwashing will last for a hundred years. A thousand. The powers that be put up with these rare exceptions, and treat them rather like harmless tramps. No danger. They have no convictions. The worst they do is to stand, in some minds, for a kind of vaguely conceived resistance. They don’t reproduce, they don’t band together. As soon as they find themselves more than four or five, gathered outside on the steps of a church, or under the plane trees of some village square, they steal away, without a word, as if by some tacit agreement, avoiding the slightest temptation to indulge in communal existence. Since all of them are filthy and more miserable than the rest, and since all of them are white, they serve to make the great mulatto mix — the universal mongrelization — seem all the more desirable, not to mention the spirit of sacred solidarity that they steadfastly ignore. One look at them, and everyone can judge for himself . . .

Very different, indeed, was the way in which Panama Ranger and his diehards melted into the refugee ranks. Let’s go back a few seconds. The horde has just climbed the first railings along the beach. Dragases and his truck are already hurtling over the winding highway that leads to the mountain and up to The Village. Now that the first surprise is past — the long-dreamed-of event hasn’t come off quite as planned — all those determined to see it through to the end come pouring from the villas, and cottages, and gardens, down to the beach to greet the Ganges armada, to welcome the refugees and guide their first steps. They will. They must. For their own self- fulfillment. Life is good. Life is love, and all men are brothers. No, we don’t speak their language, but we’ll understand, and so will they, our looks will say it all. Hands will clasp hands, arms fling about necks, bodies lock in embrace. With some good hearty slaps on the back, no doubt . . . Panama Ranger throws down his weapons, begins waving a welcome. Back a few hundred yards, he’s managed to scout out an abandoned supermarket, full to the brim and ready for action. He’s staked out the path. His pals stand waiting on every corner, already making great joyous signals, like traffic policemen who, somehow, suddenly seem to love their job. In the houses, the girls are bustling about, getting things ready for the long-awaited guest. Some of them are heating up huge vats of coffee. Lydie has hung white sheets from the windows. White, the color of peace . . . The stench in the air is even worse than before, but the diehards don’t notice. Today they’re fulfilled, beyond their wildest hopes. And again, guitars. And more singing voices: “. . . I’ll give you my kingdom, for now the thousand years are ended, yes, the thousand years are ended now ...”

Yes, they’re ended. Period. Panama Ranger scans the surging mob, almost close enough to touch him, trying to find a smiling face, a glance to grasp the friendship in his eyes. But he looks and looks. No smile meets his. No one even seems to see him. And he holds out his hand in helpless despair, toward that solid wall of flesh, as if hoping for another hand to reach out and take it, to tell him a kind of silent thank-you, which would really be enough, no matter how everything else turns out. But no, nothing happens. No gesture of the sort. And a few seconds later, he’s swept up in turn, carried off by the horde. Struggling to breathe. All around him, the press of sweaty, clammy bodies, elbows nudging madly in a frantic push forward, every man for himself, in a scramble to reach the streams of milk and honey, the rivers thick with fish, the fields fairly bursting with crops, growing wild for the taking . . . Hemmed in on all sides, he feels himself slipping, almost falling to the ground in a tangled maze of flailing black legs. Not alone now, though. There beside him, drowning too, an old woman, still kicking and elbowing herself afloat. A kind of frenzy grips him. His fists begin flying, hacking out a passage above his head, like a chimney poking through the mass of bodies, and he crawls out, breathless, pulls the old woman up to the surface with him, as if he were lifting her out of the water, saves her without thinking, without knowing why. Only then does it strike him. She’s his one last hope. His one last chance to find a friendly soul in that wild, milling mob. And he clings to her, clasps her under the arms, that bundle of fleshless skin and bone, his one remaining link with life, one remnant of his noble, altruistic vision. He’s finally seen the light. “They don’t need me,” he murmurs. “They’ll just take what they please. I can’t give them a thing ...” The human torrent has split in two, rushes headlong into several streets at once, branches off with each new fork in the road. Panama Ranger feels the pressure subsiding. He can use his legs now, more or less at will, still caught up in the swell, but at least he can move. And he sets his friend down, stands her gently on her feet. “There, how’s that?” he asks her. “You see? We made it.” His reward: a wan smile. From now on he won’t let her out of his sight. In time, when the ignorant horde starts its plunder, running amok through house after house, through shop after shop, stripping the abandoned supermarket bare, blind to the value of the wealth laid out before it, Panama Ranger will follow the lead. While disorder reigns rampant, he’ll be there with the rest. Pillaging, looting. Amassing his pile of unknown treasures, snatched up right and left. Then at night, bedding down wherever fate takes him — now parlor, now barn — he’ll open his bundle, and his friend will watch as he spreads his booty before their dazzled gaze, and inspects it, counts it: packs of cookies, cans of ham, a six-bladed jackknife, cigarettes, silk stockings, chocolate bars, watches, hunting gear, a flashlight. Anything and everything. Whatever he could grab. The old woman fondles, and paws, and sniffs it, trying to guess what each item is used for. When she does, she laughs. And he laughs with her. Ecstatic, the two of them. In seventh heaven . . . “Now that the revolution’s finally here,” he had said just a few days before, when his troops were holding the tollbooth on highway A7, “the first thing to do is enjoy ourselves, right?” But his mind fails to grasp the distance he’s tumbled, the dizzying debacle. His treasures, lined up in a nice, neat row? The crumbs of abundance! They’ve smashed the machine, the pretty machine, and this is all that’s left. And they’ll never get it back together again. Perhaps he senses it, in a vague kind of way. But really, what’s the difference? Squatting on her haunches, the old woman chortles and cackles with delight, enjoying herself, and that’s all that matters ...

As for his pals, they disappeared too, absorbed and digested in much the same way, though with somewhat less unhappy results. Only a handful were adopted, as it were, yet lots of them did their damnedest to be helpful, scouting the occupied villages, finding the shops that might be of some use, breaking in when they had to, but not without an eye to protecting the essentials — like the pharmacy, the grain bins, the garages, for example. But they soon got discouraged. Though the horde often listened and took their good advice — especially as a semblance of order developed — they no sooner gave it than they felt themselves rejected. The brightest among them were quick to understand: the more helpful they were, indispensable in fact, the more hateful they became. And so, they let themselves melt into the mass, where little by little the whiteness of their skin began to pass unnoticed. Which was all they could hope for. Clinging to their logic to the bitter end, they simply resigned themselves to their fate. Today, in that area of France predominantly Indian in population, they form a new caste of untouchable pariahs, completely assimilated, yet wholly set apart. They have no influence. Their political weight is nil. To be sure, in the two ethnic groups new leaders have emerged who hold sway with glib talk about racial integration, and brotherhood, and such. But nobody really listens. No one wants to have to remember the masters and mentors from the opulent past. They’re just in the way. A curious detail, though: when one of them dies, they bury him in style. Like all the forerunners of important revolutions. Take Lydie, for example. She was one of the first. When she died, they suddenly called to mind those white sheets hanging from the windows in welcome. And the schoolchildren, prodded and coaxed by their teachers, wept their eyes dry with floods of ignoble tears. The fact is that Lydie’ s death was anything but heroic. She died in Nice, in a whorehouse for Hindus, disgusted with everything in general and herself in particular. At the time, each refugee quarter had its stock of white women, all free for the taking. And perfectly legal. (One of the new regime’s first laws, in fact. In order to “demythify” the white woman, as they put it.) By Easter Monday Lydie had been raped — on her famous white sheets, we might add — and proceeded, not unwillingly, in those first chaotic days, to tag after a troop of energetic Hindus, who had taken her over in a kind of joint ownership, since she was very pretty, and her skin was very white. Later, when things (and people) began to settle, they had clamped her away in a studio of sorts, in Nice, with a number of other girls similarly treated. A guard fed them and opened the door to all comers. The enterprise was even given a name: the “White Female Practice and Experimentation Center.” But in time prostitution was outlawed. (No less legally, of course.) Historians tell us that it no longer filled a need, since white women soon lost all pride in their color, and with it, all resistance. Could that be . . . Etc., etc.

Clement Dio, too, died the morning of the landing. But all by himself. After the address by the President of the Republic, he had left the Hotel Prejoly, in Saint-Valuer, and wandered off into the night, like a man in a trance. Somehow his feet led him down to the coast. But his eyes saw only one endless image, burned into his brain: his wife, Iris Nan-Chan, and his fruitless attempts to wake her, lying there suddenly limp in his arms, very dead. Sitting on the beach close by Dragases’s villa, he had witnessed, in his daze, a whole series of scenes that, just the day before, would have thrilled him through and through. He had thrived, after all, on always being right, and had spent his whole life avenging one Ben Suad, alias Clement Dio. But today, as his vengeance was about to triumph, he felt nothing whatever. Even the French army’s wholesale defection — that army he had loathed, and locked horns with, and slandered — left him utterly indifferent. He looked on, apathetic, as the last twelve remnants got into their truck and beat their retreat. And it didn’t even seem to cross his mind that much of the handiwork, in fact, was his. As the Ganges refugees stormed ashore, he wavered for a moment, as if he were wondering why he was there, and what he was doing. Then he got up, and all at once something came back to him. Something important. Bits and snatches of things he had said once before: “Monsieur Orelle ... Do you think they have a chance? .... It’s the Last Chance Armada ...” He broke into a smile. “Damn good!” he thought. “I really told it straight! Now here they are, and they’ve got me to thank!” That realization set his blood atingle. “Look, it’s me! It’s me! Dio!” And he waved his arms wildly, called out to the horde: “Let’s tear down this mess! Let’s begin all over!” But being rather small and swarthy — with his elegant crop of kinky hair, and a shifty look in his baggy eyes — and wearing a much too elegant jacket, he looked for all the world like one of those doormen who hang outside nightclubs to huckster the tourists. Death came in the form of a gigantic black, carrying a monster child on his shoulders, with a huge throng following after him, singing. He stopped in front of Dio, grabbed him off the ground, lifted him bodily so the twisted dwarf could see him. The creature, cap on head, took one look and gave a cry. For the third time ever. Our friend Dio, or Ben Suad, knew that he was done for, though he had no time to comprehend the verdict. The turd eater’s fingers tightened around his throat, and his body was flung out over the sand like a limp rag doll. In no time, the trampling feet of the mob made it look like one of those mangled, bloody goats, swatted hither and yon in a game of Afghan polo ... If, indeed, we can speak of a verdict, we can look for the reasons behind it. Here are two men, each in his own way an instrument of fate. One crosses the oceans, finds the other, and kills him, in a flash of inspiration, as if he knew precisely who he was. The one deliberate act of murder that the horde was to commit. Utterly senseless, by all logical standards. But if we choose, rather, to swim in a sea of symbols, deep and profound, a kind of logic begins to take shape. Namely, the Third World’s staunch refusal to admit any debts, to dilute the radical meaning of its triumph by sharing its glory with alien beings. To thank them, or even accept their existence, would merely prolong a form of subjection. The turd eater settled things once and for all. Take it for what it’s worth. Or perhaps there’s another, more natural, explanation, and one that, frankly, we find easier to accept. To wit, that the monster couldn’t stand Dio’s looks. No, he simply couldn’t stand them! . . .


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