THE SPACE CONQUEST
© 1987 Slawek Wojtowicz.



It was a lovely evening... Even the women washing linen in the waters of the bay looked somehow different, more festive... The sun, declining towards the west, colored their white frocks and kerchiefs purple... They were beginning to collect their things and set out for home, when a horseman appeared on the road. He galloped across the village in clouds of dust and hurried up the hill towards the fortified monastery. The hoofs clattered on the wooden bridge leading to the western gate - then the yard resounded with the hollow echo of the heavy brass knocker. The door opened slowly, the echo repeated the grate of hoofs on the pavement and the crash of the closing gate.

At the same time one of the canons impatiently threw away a sheet of parchment stained with ink and started dictating the letter anew. "Write, then. As before - Frauenburg, the fifteenth day of September. Anno Domini one thousand five hundred and fourteen... Ready? Now: My Dear Uncle... I send my regards and hope... However the letter was never to reach bishop Watzenrode... A knock on the door... " Brother Nicolaus, Brother Nicolaus! You have a guest from Rome! He is here! You will see him, won't you?" " Yes, Brother Andrew! Well, you're lucky, boy - off you go! We shall finish writing tomorrow".




Granny Agatha has suffered from insomnia for many years. What can a lonely, old woman do, when bothersome thoughts whirl around her head and sleep won't come? Agatha can always find something to do - she would darn old clothes or go to the forest to gather some herbs which are most potent when the moon is full... That's why she was the only one to see something really peculiar.. Just before dawn, before even the village cocks started to crow, two horsemen in gray left the monastery and headed west. But no one in the village believed her story. She must be crazy, they said, everyone knows how dangerous the roads are nowadays... Who would dare to set off in the dark?




Papal Secretary, Domenico Capucci, one of the most powerful people in the Holy City, was not speaking. He was spitting his words at these provincial creatures that dared to waste his and his bosses' time. "His Excellency Duke Medici, brother of His Holiness Pope Leo X, will grant you an audience. Go that way" "May I ask you a question?" "No."

"God bless your Excellency!" "Welcome, doctor Nicolaus. Welcome to the Eternal City! I hope you have forgiven me for calling you here so suddenly and with no explanation. I'm very pleased that you reported so fast. It was imperative, as you will soon see yourself... Tomorrow you will meet Master Leonardo - you must have heard about him - one of our best architects, painters and constructors - simply a genius. He will tell you everything. I'm sure he'll do it much better than I possibly could. And finally I ask - and order you! - to keep everything you see or hear strictly secret... It is a matter of life and death."




Two weeks passed. Only a few days remained before the beginning of the great experiment. They were checking all the calculations and measurements hundreds and thousands of times. Success depended on precision. There still remained one problem to solve: the time itself. "I'm positive", Leonardo was saying the previous day, "that hour-glass is useless THERE. Other devices I've made, have not worked either... If we don't devise something, the whole project is doomed..." There must be some solution, thought Nicolaus. He rose from the bed, went up to the door opening onto the terrace and walked out. "Nights here are also starting to get cold" he said aloud. Nobody answered - only the cicadas seemed to sing louder. The air was crisp and fragrant. "What smells so sweetly?". He came to the carved balustrade and leaned out towards the garden. Water hidden in the shadow of cypresses murmured softly and the leaves of shrubs whispered under the touch of a delicate breeze. In the middle of the garden, just in front of the terrace were the flower - beds drowned in silver light. That was the source of the intoxicating fragrance... Night flowers were opening - attracting moths and flies...

And then Nicolaus remembered another flower-bed. Far, far away, on the cold seashore, in a small garden by the monastery. How could he forget! This flower-bed was the pride of Brother Michal. Michal has been taking all the guests there - to admire his achievement. For many years he has been collecting and sorting various flowers. And then he planted them in a circle - so that when some were closing, others were just opening their petals. He even called it his flower clock! In the middle he placed a sun-dial. It was an amazing sight when the flowers were opening to keep pace with the shadow of the sundial... And even later, when the sun-dial was hardly visible in the pale light of the Moon, the flowers continued their march to meet again the sun-dial shadow at dawn... That was the solution!




The journey to one of the Duke's country palaces in the South was not the most pleasant one. The sun was baking hot as in the middle of the summer and the coach was full of dust - in spite of tightly closed doors. Getting out was a relief - Nicholas was definitely happy when they finally reached their destination. Leonardo didn't wait for his travel companion. In spite his age he ran up the palace steps holding on to a pile of papers he did not let go even for a moment. The guest from distant North stopped - to look at the blue Adriatic glittering through the branches of the trees in the palace park. How different from the gray waters of the Baltic Sea!..And how similar....

After dinner they sat on the terrace looking silently at the starry sky. Then Leonardo started speaking - softly, almost shyly... "Nicholas, I have to ask once again: are you ready to take the risk? Do you want to take it?" "Master, you know." "Thank you. Yet I must tell you that I'm having more and more doubts. Are we really ready? But we can't put it off any longer. Is there a better way to do it? I don't know... It's getting difficult to keep it secret. The Duke has powerful friends and powerful enemies as you are well aware. Even he shudders thinking about the dungeons of the Holy Inquisition... I guess there is no other way... Well... Tomorrow we shall review our plans for the very last time. THERE, unfortunately, you will have to rely only on yourself. You must come back - we will be waiting! Now, go to bed. I'll have a look at our flowers and select those you'll take with you. It is still two hours before they will open..."




About noon Duke Medici arrived at his country palace. Everything was ready. Dinner in honor of "doctor Nico" was royal, indeed. He didn't like it - it felt like they were trying to say farewell to him, without a hope of seeing him again. And in the evening... In the evening a small group of people looked from a safe distance at a humble, unknown Brother Nicolaus, disappearing inside a boat constructed according to Master Leonardo da Vinci's designs... The long silence followed. Everyone has heard branches moving in the mild breeze from the sea and birds of the night singing softly in the trees. And then - then they saw this boat rise on a pillar of fire to the sky and disappear amid stars with the noise louder than thousands of thunders...




What have you been feeling, Brother Nicolaus, when you woke up in a boat suspended high, high above the clouds? What have you been thinking about? No one will guess. We know that the first thing you looked at was the small, plain flower, which was your only clock there, high up. Your safe return depended on that weed. The flower was still closed. The belts holding you in place were not easy to unfasten and you were shocked to realize that you are flying through the air - not unlike biblical Angels... Was it really the Heaven??? You put your face close to the round window made of thick Venetian glass and there it is - Paradise itself! More beatiful than all cathedrals and palaces together, little blurry through the thick glass, but still perfect - the bright blue disc floating over the black Abyss...

Did you pray then, praising God for this miracle? Have you been able to think at all? Yes, we know you were. You realised pretty soon that the paradise you were looking at was your own beloved home - Earth... Wasn't it fascinating to see all these places where you will never be able to go? Like that huge Continent that everyone thought was West Indies?

Yet you remembered to fasten yourself back to the seat. Your hand didn't tremble when the petals of the flower opened and you had to pull the lever. You did not lose consciousness when the boat re-entered the atmosphere and with one pull at another lever you released an enormous parachute. And when the boat struck the waters of the Adriatic - you unfastened again the harness trammeling your body and began painstakingly to unscrew the bolts. One after another. To the last one. Then the metal shields dropped off and the boat, like a cork, soared to the surface... And then the three days of sailing without the compass, without any food. Your knowledge of astronomy came handy then! Dreaming about the Italian shore, where friends have been waiting...




It is night. Midnight is close. You are sitting in your small, bare room in Frauenburg. You can hear the uproar of the sea, throwing it's waves on the shore and the splatter of rain on the window. You snuff your smoking candle, take a freshly sharpened pen and start writing. First the title page - "De revolutionibus...*" Is it really - tell us the truth! - what you wanted to write, Brother Copernicus...?



*De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium... - Nicolaus Copernicus' most famous dissertation, presenting his concept of heliocentric solar system along with calculations supporting his theory.


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