Black Sheep

Interception of Monsieur Perrault 5/5 (1)


“Beauty in a woman is a treasure rare 
Which we are never weary of admiring; 
But a sweet temper is a gift more fair 
And better worth the youthful maid’s desiring. 
 
That was the boon bestowed on Cinderella 
By her wise godmother – her truest glory. 
The rest was “nought but leather and prunella.” 
Such is the moral of this little story –  
 
Beauties that charm become you more than dress, 
And win a heart with far greater facility. 
In short, in all things to ensure success, 
The real Fairy Gift is amiability! 
 
Talent, courage, wit, and worth 
Are rare gifts to own on Earth; 
But if you want to thrive at court –  
So, at least, the wise report –  
You will find you need some others, 
Such as godfathers or mothers.”  

Charles Perrault

1697, Paris.

Charles Perrault hurried down the steps of the headquarters of Academie Francaise, as fast as his aging knees could allow and was escorted into his carriage by his footman. His wig drenched with sweat and heart racing faster than the hooves pulling him home, he sat bobbing up and down, as his plush coach bounced on the cobble streets of his hometown.

“Take me to my study rapide!” He commanded the page boy who had come to receive him, as soon as their carriage halted. One shouldn’t have to deal with such perilous pranks at the age of seventy, he thought ruefully, panting as he plodded red faced, along with his page, up the steps of his opulent mansion. He burst into his study, to the enormous mahogany table where a copy of the manuscript titledHistoires ou contes du temps passe was resting. Only, now it had vanished. He rummaged about the stationary with trembling hands but failed to find it, and sank into his armchair with a sinking heart. He drained the glass of water before him to calm his agitated nerves.

A proponent of modernisation of art, he had been dealt with a heavy blow when the ruling monarch had ruled in favour of the ancients, in the century old literary debate that had been steeping between the ancients and the moderns His illustrious career among the royals now fading with senescence and the death of his patron, Jean Baptiste Colbert, he had turned his scholastic energies to reinventing folklore into the fairy tale format.

As he shuffled restlessly in his chair, his eye caught by a wasp, blissfully whizzing around. It landed on the corner of what appeared to be a thick card of the purest white, that stood out in his ivory stationary. Charles reached for it and found it harder and smoother than paper, almost metallic. On the touch of his hand the front of the card lit up, displaying a letter in a very novel French style. Spellbound, he began to read.

 

Dear Monsieur Perrault,

I shall begin our correspondence by congratulating you on your latest literary venture, a high-water mark of your scholastic exploits, that is to stand the test of time and transcend borders both geographical and social.

Your genius in placating the royals and nobles with tales of common folk, with your charming rhymes and magical prose, in the sparkling conversations of your literary salons while also introducing your son to society, is commendable indeed. Pierre, who is credited for this work, is incredibly fortunate to have a doting father such as yourself.

However, a burden of responsibility often, nay, always accompanies the privilege of influence. In your stories of damsel in distress, you took away her voice, endowed her with virtues of beauty, goodness and silent forbearance. Her wit and enterprise, as depicted in old folklore, is snatched from her and handed over to fairy god mothers to bestow in answer to her silent sobs, beautifully packaged in glittering glass slippers. Generations of starry-eyed little girls will look to emulate this goodness in glitter hoping to win.

Your portrayal of royalty as the ultimate reward is a mockery for the peasant class, your revered patrons choose to heavily tax. That silent forbearance will free them from their shackles of oppression is a thought that tickles me. I can see a revolution brewing.

To spare the generations across times and borders of impossible virtues and triumphs, I have chosen to tweak your timeless Little Glass Slipper, a tiny bit. The original manuscript you had gifted to His Royal Highness’ niece Elisabeth, has been altered too. There is no trace of the original work.

Long live Cinderella.

Mother Goose.

 

Flummoxed, Charles set down the prophetic ‘tablet’ on to the table which vibrated at the touch and was instantly pulverised in a flash of light. He shifted to rise and enquire about its appearance in his study but discovered that his body was tingling. Agitated he rung the bell for his page but found himself incoherent and confused.

The poor page was at a loss, unable to comprehend the stuttering Master who was robbed of his speech and memory.

***

 

2485, Geneva.

Ruth stormed through the corridor towards the cabin of Senior Command Officer for Space Collaboration Projects. Anger robbing of her composure, she banged on the sealed metallic doors, which would have simply slid open, had she turned towards the biometric device onto her right. Her effort produced the desired effect however as the said officer and friend, better known as Cory Dummings, opened the door.

“And the formal notice of impropriety in premises has been uploaded to your account. Whatever is the matter with you, Ruth?”

“Were you the one to propose the crew for Odyssey 120?” Ruth blurted.

“You don’t look like you are here to thank me.” Cory said tentatively, “I thought you would be pleased. With Matthew as command pilot you can be assured of a glitch free mission. Both Greg and John are experienced. So, what’s with the banging your fists around. You have the finest crew for the validation of your discovery.’

“You well know, I intended to be a part of the validation myself.”

“But we need you here! Who is the best person to present this to our world, if not you? The implications of discovering lithium isotopes in such abundance are huge. You have become the face of this mission, Ruth. We cannot afford to lose you, should anything go wrong.”

“And things are bound to go wrong with me being in the ship, is it?”

“Oh, come on, don’t be difficult! You know that’s not the reason. Matthew may cruise along galaxies but acts like a malfunctioning robot in front of cameras. Why are you even complaining? I’d love the attention you are getting.”

“And I’d love sitting on your highchair making the minions miserable! Look, I’ve lost out on last three missions and am not going to give up on this! I don’t mind escalating this matter.”

“Look, I was asked to suggest candidates best for each job, but it’s not for me to decide. You may escalate your matters to the moon. My advice: tone down a bit, not everyone will take your outburst kindly. You could do well to direct that brilliant brain of yours to learn some tact. You are wonderful till you open your mouth. Now, if we’re done discussing, please excuse me. I have other matters to escalate.”

“Having confided my explicit and earnest interest in this venture, I had expected your good opinion, Cory. Sorry for having wasted precious time.”

***

 

Ruth watched as Odyssey 120 blasted off to its destination. All her tactics of persuasion had failed. She had directed and exhausted every ounce of her resolve into this mission of alternative energy sources and this lost opportunity crushed her.

Her life to the point of getting into the United Nations Space Agency had been a Cinderella story. Very few women in the agency could boast of the respect she had garnered over the years. However, an accident during simulation of a launch early in her career had made her the black cat. Her frank opinions never helped her case either. Her sharp tongue had landed her in trouble on several occasions. In her recent years she was put in stark contrast of a talented and glib Marcia Jennings.

Hers, were the times of extreme speeds, enhanced manoeuvrability and absolute accuracy. With little tolerance for mischiefs, strict rules for decorum were outlined. Individuals wearing stiff upper lips, and high belts, roamed around with robotic precision. Though religious doctrines were abolished, stereotypes were more sharply outlined for greater good. Productivity became the most important factor. Privacy was opted out in favour of monitoring perfect transparency in dealings. The world was stiflingly perfect.

Grappling with the irony of her times where intelligence could be fabricated artificially but not her emotions, as was natural to some of her species, she retired redirecting her time to an altogether different project.

***

 

“Welcome aboard the Ouroboros. You are requested to punch your final destination and reconfirm. You are advised to breathe in deeply, hold your breath at the vibration of the floor and hold your appendages close, lest you wish to be stretched into different times. If all goes well, you may exhale at your destination. Bon Voyage!”

Ruth closed her eyes at the end of the ominous announcement by the Temporal Agency voice command, accompanied by a white docublet and a tiny wasp-bot clutched in her hand. No amount of space training could prepare her for this. Bracing herself for the momentary crushing gravitational force Ruth stood with her arms folded tightly about her. Leaving the controlled ambience of present and stepping into the unfiltered archaic air instilled a deep sense of fear. Chanting, “Let go… let go” she felt the floor vibrate before blacking out.

***

1697, Eastern Façade Louvre, Paris.

The wasp bot projected the recording of the incapacitated Monsieur Perrault onto the wall of a deserted hall. Ruth clicked the bot to sleep mode and dug up a pit beneath a loose tile where she was pleased to see the wasp bot lay hidden. She replaced the one she found with the one from her hand and lodged it under the tile carefully. What she now had in hand was eight centuries worth of data. The wasp was programmed to reactivate after 800 years, having collected information in form of radio waves while in the sleeping mode, and retrace its path to what had been the Temporal Agency of Ruth’s original timeline and if it existed in this alternate timeline too,  find its way back to Louvre where Ruth was waiting.

***

2415, Geneva.

“… And so, Cinderella was gifted a special furnace by the King, where she spent most of her time, by the cinders, blowing beautiful patterns of glass, for the world to see.

“Beauty in a woman is a treasure rare 
Which we are never weary of admiring; 
Though a sweet temper is a gift more fair 
Enterprise shall prove contriving. 
 
That was the boon bestowed on Cinderella 
By her wise godmother – her truest glory. 
The rest was “nought but leather and prunella.” 
Such is the moral of this little story –  
 
Beauties that charm become you more than dress, 
And win a heart with far greater facility. 
In short, in all things to ensure success, 
The real Fairy Gift is integrity! 
 
Kindness, courage, wit, and worth 
Are rare gifts to own on Earth; 
But if you want to thrive at court –  
So, at least, the wise report –  
You will find you need no other, 
Be your own fairy god mother.”

~Mother Goose.” 

Ruth, the retired astronaut, read out the story to her daughter, from the docublet, and tucked her in, blissfully unaware of the origins of this tale. Not much had changed in terms of the direction the human race took in the alternate timeline. except it got around faster. The fluttering of wasp wings had managed only a drizzle, that was enough to satisfy Ruth as she sat admiring Perrault’s work on Louvre. Whether Ruth, the astronaut, was satisfied, well, that’s another story.

***

This is work of fiction and intends to hurt no sentiments.

References:

  • “The slippery genius of the Cinderella story” -Constance Grady, June 5, 2019, vox.com
  • Wikipedia Histoires ou contes du temps passe (The Tales of Mother Goose) by Charles Perrault
  • Wikipedia Charles Perrault
  • Time-travel terms inspired by All you zombies by Robert A Heinlein.
  • Ouroboros- Ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail.

Martin Rees (British cosmologist) stressed “the intimate links between the microworld (subatomic)and the cosmos (galactic), symbolised by the ouraborus”,  tail and head meet to complete circle.

Glossary:

Docublet- Digital library with editor, photocopier and printer.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: Black Sheep, Legends