Metropolis, Chapter 9: The Aeroplane

by Thea von Harbou

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The aeroplane which had carried Josaphat away from Metropolis swam in the golden air of the setting sun, rushing towards it at a tearing speed, as though fastened to the westward sinking ball by metal cords.

Josaphat sat behind the pilot. From the moment when the aerodrome had sunk below them and the stone mosaic of the great Metropolis had paled away into the inscrutable depths, he had not given the least token that he was a human being with the faculty for breathing and moving. The pilot seemed to be taking a pale gray stone which had the form of a man with him as freight and, when he once turned around, he looked full into the wide open eyes of this petrified being without meeting a glance or the least sign of consciousness.

Nevertheless, Josaphat had intercepted the movement of the pilot’s head with his brain. Not immediately. Not soon. Yet the vision of this cautious, yet certain and vigilant movement remained in his memory until he at last comprehended it.

Then the petrified image seemed to become a human being again, whose breast rose in a long-neglected breath, who raised his eyes upwards, looking into the empty greenish blue sky and down again to the earth which formed a flat, round carpet, deep down in infinity — and at the sun which was rolling westwards like a glowing ball.

Last of all, however, at the head of the pilot who sat before him, at the airman’s cap which turned, neckless, into shoulders filled with a bull-like strength and a forceful calm.

The powerful engine of the aeroplane worked in perfect silence. But the air through which the aeroplane tore was filled with a mysterious thunder, as though the dome of heaven were catching up the roaring in the globe and throwing it angrily back again.

The aeroplane hovered homelessly above a strange Earth, like a bird not able to find its nest.

Suddenly, amid the thunder of the air, the pilot heard a voice at his left ear saying, almost softly, “Turn back…”

The head in the airman’s cap was about to bend backwards. But at the first attempt to do so it came in contact with an object of resistance, which rested exactly on the top of his skull. This object of resistance was small, apparently angular and extraordinarily hard.

“Don’t move!” said the voice at his left ear, which was so soft, yet making itself understood through the thunder of the air. “Don’t look round, either! I have no revolver with me. Had I had one handy I should probably not be here. What I have in my hand is an implement the name and purpose of which are unknown to me. But it is made of solid steel and quite sufficient to smash in your skull with should you not obey me immediately. Turn back!”

The bull-like shoulders under the airman’s cap raised themselves in a short, impatient shrug. The glowing ball of the sun touched the horizon with an inexpressibly light hovering movement. For a few seconds it seemed to dance along it in soft, blazing rhythm. The nose of the aeroplane was turned towards it and did not alter its course by a hand’s breadth.

“You do not seem to have understood me,” said the voice behind the pilot. “Turn back! I wish to return to Metropolis, do you hear? I must be there before nightfall… well?”

“Shut your mouth,” said the pilot.

“For the last time, will you obey or will you not–?”

“Sit down and keep quiet, back there… damn it all, what do you mean by it?”

“You won’t obey?”

“What the hell…?”

***

A young girl, turning the hay in a wide, undulating field by the last light of the setting sun, had sighted the rushing bird above her in the evening sky and was watching it with eyes heated by work and tired by the summer.

How strangely the aeroplane was rising and falling! It was making jumps like a horse that wants to shake off its rider.

Now it was racing towards the sun, now it was turning its back upon it. The young girl had never seen so wild and unruly a creature in the air before. Now it had swung westwards and was dashing in long, spurting bounds along the sky. Something freed itself from it: a broad, silver-gray cloth, which swelled itself out.

Drifted hither and thither by the wind, the silver-gray cloth fluttered down to earth — in the webs of which a gigantic, black spider seemed to be hanging.

Screaming, the young girl began to run. The great, black spider spun itself lower and lower on the thin cords. Now it was already like a human being. A white, death-like face bent earthwards. The earth curved itself gently towards the sinking creature. The man let go of the cord and leaped. And fell. Picked himself up again. And fell once more.

Like a snow-cloud, gentle and shimmering, the silver-gray cloth sank over him, quite covering him.

The young girl came running up.

She was still screaming, wordlessly, breathlessly, as though these primitive shrieks were her actual language. She bundled the silver silken cloth up before her young breast with both arms in order to bring the man who lay beneath it into the light again.

Yes, he lay there now, stretched out at his length on his back, and the silk which was so strong as to have borne him tore under the grip of his fingers. And where his fingers lost hold of the silk, to find another patch which they could tear, there remained moist, red marks upon the stuff, such as are left behind by an animal that had dipped its paws into the blood of its enemy.

The girl was silenced by the sight of these marks.

An expression of horror came into her face, but, at the same time, an expression such as mother-beasts have when they scent an enemy and do not want to betray themselves nor their offspring in any way.

She clenched her teeth together so forcibly that her young mouth became quite pale and thin. She knelt down beside the young man and lifted his head into her lap.

The eyes opened in the white face which she was holding. They stared into the eyes which were bending over them. They glanced sideways and searched across the sky.

A rushing black point in the scarlet of the westerly sky, from which the sun had sunk.

The aeroplane…

Now it had indeed carried out its will and was flying towards the sun, farther and farther westward. At its wheel sat the man who would not turn back, as dead as could be. The airman’s cap hung down in shreds from the gaping skull, onto the bull-like shoulders. But the fists had not lost hold of the wheel. They still held it fast.

Farewell, pilot…

The face which lay in the young girl’s lap began to smile, began to ask.

Where was the nearest town?

There was no town, far and wide.

Where was the nearest railway?

There was no railway, far and wide.

Josaphat pushed himself up. He looked about him.

Stretching out far and wide were fields and meadows, hemmed in by forests, standing there in their evening stillness. The scarlet of the sky had faded away. The crickets chirped. The mist about the distant, solitary willows brewed milky white. From the hallowed purity of the great sky the first star appeared with still glimmer.

“I must go,” said the man with the white, deathlike face.

“You must rest, first,” said the young girl.

The man’s eyes looked up at her in astonishment. Her clear face, with its low, unintelligent brow and its beautiful, foolish mouth stood out, as if under a dome of sapphire, against the sky which curved above her.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” asked the man.

“No,” said the young girl.

The head of the man fell into her lap. She bent forward and covered up the shivering body with the billowing, silver silk.

“Rest…” said the man with a sigh.

She made no reply. She sat quite motionless.

“Will you awaken me,” asked the man, and his voice quavered with weariness, “as soon as the sun comes?”

“Yes,” said the young girl. “Keep quiet…”

He sighed deeply. Then he lay still.

It grew darker and darker.

In the far distance, a voice was to be heard, calling a name, long drawn out, again and again.

The stars stood glorious above the world. The distant voice was silent. The young girl looked down upon the man whose head lay in her lap. In her eyes was the never-sleeping watchfulness which one sees in the eyes of animals and of mothers.

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