Morse (1791–1872) Dying Hercules
The Prayer Rug
(based on an novel by Sergiu Farcasan)
Iran. Riot police, soldiers and Revolutionary Guards are brutally dispersing a manifestation. SCENES OF VIOLENCE. A passerby, LAFCADIO, a Frenchman, is caught in the fighting. He clasps a cardboard parcel. One cop, taking it for an explosive device, aims a gun at him and orders him to drop it. Lafcadio drops it and the policemen search him. The box contains a child’s shirt, neatly folded. Lafcadio speaks Iranian and has a French passport. He tells the cops he’s an engineer, working for the Hirqa textile plant. He’s not taking part in the demonstrations. He doesn’t care about politics. On the contrary, he’s been in his laboratory, the whole day, and he’s going home now. After a warning, the policemen release him.
Lafcadio walks clumsily home through the turmoil of the disintegrating city. He is a bespectacled scientist-like type in his forties. Bearded and suntanned, he looks very much Iranian. He clutches the cardboard box as if it were a baby, or something extremely precious.
Home. Lafcadio’s wife, HELEN, and their TWO CHILDREN, a BOY and a GIRL, wait for him anxiously. Lafcadio gives the shirt to the BOY, a birthday present. The Boy is clearly disappointed but, after a moment of hesitation, he decides not to show it. He puts on the shirt, and Lafcadio claps his hands in delight. The Girl mocks the Boy for that shirt. She finds it ridiculous, and she shows it. The Boy tries to hit her.
Lafcadio’s wife, Helen, is much younger than he is and slightly taller. Through their conversation, they make it plain that the country’s stability is in danger. The regime has not only to suppress the democracy protests, but also to combat two different ethnic guerillas. Meanwhile, the religious far right, with the backing of the Revolutionary Guards, is imposing its total control on the country. Lafcadio tells Helen that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between drug traffickers and some of those liberation movement guerillas, and that some of them finance their fight with drugs.
Helen scoffs: the government is so corrupt that all those gangsters and revolutionaries have become heroes for the people.
Lafcadio shrugs. He is not a person to be involved in politics. Helen taunts him: yes, right, he’s a scientist. But, why on earth didn’t they stay in France? Lafcadio angrily tells her she might be happy to know that he has taken the decision to go to the French Embassy and present a written demand for all to be repatriated. Helen begs him not to go out again now. It’s too dangerous. They argue and fight in front of the Children. She calls him stubborn and selfish. Lafcadio shouts that she knows damn well he had to come to this country to find what he needed for his invention. Helen has doubts about the utility of that invention. Suddenly, her expression is one of disgust. She tells him he’s done something monstrous.
The TV set is on, and the news program shows images of manifestations and violence in the streets. GENERAL HAZARIAN, chief of the secret services, is giving an interview. In his opinion, outside forces are trying to destabilize the country.
The building Lafcadio is contemplating has a flag and a plaque on the facade: FRENCH EMBASSY. A leaflet stuck on the front gate says that “the French Embassy closed temporarily because of special concerns. We are transferring consular services to the Swiss embassy”. For a while, Lafcadio hoofs back and forth in front of the building. His movements are observed by TWO MEN playing cards in an apartment across the street. Their conversation identifies them as belonging to the secret services. They relax, taking Lafcadio for a plain-clothes policeman. They make jokes about his lack of professionalism in keeping watch over the building of the Embassy.
Two floors above, an OLD MAN, coddling a cat, is also watching the Embassy. The TV in his room is showing an interview with JAMSHEED, the Police Chief. The old man rings the Police Chief and tells him that, yes, he’s watching that interview, which is very good, but, then, there’s a strange man strolling around the French Embassy. Why don’t they send a car to pick him up?
Two floors under him, the two secret services agents are still playing cards. A TV set is on near them too, and they watch their boss, General Hazarian again, giving yet another interview. One of the two men, ALI, remarks that it’s the third interview the General, their chief, is giving that day. The other one replies that this is perfectly normal, since the General’s buddy, BABAJAN, owns this TV station. BABAJAN is then shown, introduced by the anchorman as the Director of one of the biggest textile cartel in the country. Babajan explains that the strikes are hurting the national interests, and that they damage directly the interests of the workers themselves. Then, another textile magnate, BIBI FATIMA (apparently a woman), director of the Hirqa trust, is shown urging the people not to listen to the agitators paid from abroad, or by the drug traffickers, who have a proven interest in keeping the country in a state of anarchy.
The two men lose interest. Ali says something about Babajan being their real chief, since he controls Hazarian and the Secret Services. The other one says that the strike at the Babajan plants might very well have been provoked by Bibi Fatima, the owner of Hirqa and his rival in the textile production. Ali says this is highly unlikely. Bibi Fatima is nothing but a transsexual. She’d have no brains for such a move. Yes, but she’s the Ayatollah’s daughter… Well… Transsexual… the Ayatollah’s “thing”… They look outside again, where Lafcadio is still pacing back and forth in front of the Embassy gates, undecided, an envelope in his hand.
Suddenly, a car swings round the corner. Three athletic men jump out of it and fall on Lafcadio. He is hit on the head and pulled into the car. He tries to throw the letter he had in his hand over the high gate of the Embassy compound. The letter bounces onto the fence and falls back on the street. Before driving off, one of the two assailants opens the door of the car and picks it up.
At that point, another car comes at high speed after it, but suddenly gun shots are heard – and the chasing car loses its direction, hitting a wall. As for the car carrying Lafcadio, it disappears around the corner.
The two secret agents at bay in the apartment have identified the shots as coming from above. They rush to the elevator, which is coming down. They open the door, guns in hand, and find inside the old man with his little dogs. Keeping his hands up, his cat aloft, the old man shouts that he’s from the police. The agents throw him to the floor and ask him why he fired on a car belonging to the secret services. He blares that he didn’t know whose car that was. He saw it following the car of the police and thought it might very well belong to a gang trying to rescue that very suspiciously looking man who lurked around the Embassy.
At the police HQ: JAMSHEED, the Police Chief, talks over the phone with a humble voice. He denies detaining a foreigner. Yes, right, his boys abducted – that is, arrested – a man in front of the French embassy, because his behavior seemed to them highly suspicious. He is sorry that one of his agents fired at the secret services’ car. He is unhappy to hear that someone has died in the accident. Unfortunately, the captured suspect escaped shortly thereafter, when the police agents’ car was surrounded by demonstrators at a crossroad. His men were badly beaten. Yes, he will write a detailed report about all that. When he hangs up, Jamsheed, the Police Chief, utters something derogatory about the secret services. His ASSISTANT laughs. He is one of the men who have abducted Lafcadio. He hands his Chief the letter that Lafcadio wanted to throw into the Embassy compound.
The Secret services’ HQ: General Hazarian is the Chief of the secret services. He is tall, bald and very elegant. An intelligent man with a wry smile. He slams down the phone and looks threateningly at the two secret agents who had been posted in the apartment in front of the French Embassy. He asks them why, in their view, the police have seized that man. He adds: there could be something interesting there. Who is that man, anyway? He orders one of the two agents, Ali, to keep spying on the police, and, meanwhile, to check all the files of French citizens living in the country, trying to find out who the man was.
Jamsheed, the Police Chief opens the letter that Lafcadio wanted to throw into the Embassy compound. Jamsheed is fat and good-humored, with a thin gangster’s moustache. But, under this mask of bonhomie, he is deeply frustrated. Before reading Lafcadio’s message, he gets a very annoying phone call from his wife, who wants to know why he doesn’t come home for dinner. In a mixture of shouts and lewd tongue clicks directed at the handset, he explains that he has work to do. What work? Top secret. Then, his elbows solidly put on the Formica-topped table, he reads the letter in which Lafcadio asks the French ambassador for help. Lafcadio exposes his situation, mentioning that he is French; he has lived in this country for a couple of years to do his scientific research; and he has made a MAJOR DISCOVERY, maybe the most important scientific discovery of our times. Jamsheed, the Police Chief and his Assistant decide to keep Lafcadio in detention, without telling anybody. They determine to force him to give away the details of this invention. Maybe they could make money out of this.
Later, Lafcadio is brought in front of Jamsheed, the Police Chief. Lafcadio asks to have his spectacles back and to be released immediately. Although, after having read the letter, he knows very well Lafcadio’s identity, the Police Chief asks for his name and address. Tense and stiff, Lafcadio declares that he will not tell them anything. He again asks to be released. The Police Chief tries to be friendly. He tells Lafcadio, half-jokingly, that he could, truly, promise him anything and still not keep his promise afterwards. So, being an honest man, he will refrain from making promises. He asks again for Lafcadio’s name and address. Lafcadio does not wince. The Police Chief hits him. He calls him an Israeli spy and a drug trafficker. He tells him drugs have been found in his pockets. Then he threatens him with torture: “We’ll give you the works.”
Lafcadio’s house. Helen is very worried, while doing the cooking for the children and looking continually at her watch. The Boy is playing with some sea shells. He asks her what is keratin. Helen says: “One of your father’s substances. It’s present in hair, nails, horns.” She remarks that the Boy should clip his nails. The Boy asks whether he too has keratin in his body. And whether he has glands. Reluctantly, she answers yes, you have. Then the Boy wants to know what kind of glue does the spider produce to make the flies stick so well to his web. Helen gets angry and tells the Boy that he has been listening too much to his father’s lunacies.
They hear heavy footsteps. The door is flung open. A group of police officers in civilian clothes rush inside and start searching the house. They quiz Helen about Lafcadio’s papers. They ask her what is the nature of her husband’s discovery. Helen says she is a total ignorant in things of science, and she could be of no help. But, why don’t they ask her husband directly? Where is he? The policemen tell her not to worry. Also, she and the Children are told they cannot go out anymore. They are shut inside the main room, and some policemen take position around the house. Helen tells the Children that all this is their Daddy’s fault. The Boy starts crying. The Girl taunts him, then they fight.
Lafcadio is beaten by the police. He does not talk, still refusing even to tell his name. The Police Chief informs his Assistant that he now has the conviction that Lafcadio is a Jew, seeing how he resists under torture. He still does not ask Lafcadio directly about the invention mentioned in the captured letter. He tries to make Lafcadio think that his letter has really landed in the garden of the Embassy, and that the police ignore his identity.
Lafcadio is awaken by cold water poured over him. The Police Chief addresses him now by his real name. Lafcadio is told that he has given away his identity, and even much more, under torture, while he was unconscious. Jamsheed offers him a cigarette, tells him that his family is under surveillance and asks about the invention. Lafcadio is appalled. He doesn’t know how much he has given away while he was unconscious.
Jamsheed sees a glimmer of hatred in Lafcadio’s eyes. He asks Lafcadio why he hates him. After all, he says, I’m only doing my job. I didn’t beat you for free. I’m paid for it; I have a family to take care of. Same as you.
At the secret services’ HQ, Ali and the other agent with whom he had been spying the French Embassy from across the street have found Lafcadio’s file. The two agents recognize him on the photographs. On one picture, Lafcadio holds in his arms a prayer rug with a brightly colored pattern. He is laughing, pushing aside his Boy who is pulling at the rug. The agents rush with the news to General Hazarian.
Lafcadio and Jamsheed are staring at each other, smoking. Jamsheed asks him why he came to this country and what he has been doing there for so long. Lafcadio says he worked in a local textile plant of Hirqa, after having studied biology in France. Biology? asks Jamsheed. Lafcadio hesitates. Biology and… chemistry, he adds. Is there no use for you in France? asks Jamsheed. The military must be paying well for people like you. I’m a pacifist, says Lafcadio. A pacifist Jew! shouts Jamsheed, but his laughter shows that he doesn’t take that seriously.
General Hazarian receives the agents at home, in pajamas. He is sleepy. He and the agents check Lafcadio’s background and try to figure out why the police have taken such an interest in this French scientist, who used to hold a small job at the Hirqa textile plant. Hazarian pronounces Hirqa with distaste, which makes the agents smile. Ali proposes that they search Lafcadio’s home, but the General decides this is useless. The police must have been there already, so nothing of interest should be left. But, he is certain something big is at stake.
Jamsheed asks Lafcadio what is this epochal discovery he claims to have made. He tries to be sympathetic; he looks him in the eyes. Lafcadio freezes. He asks again what discovery Jamsheed is talking about. Smiling, Jamsheed shows him the letter that Lafcadio had tried to throw over the Embassy’s fence. Lafcadio repeats that he will not tell him anything. He adds, trying to be menacing, that he has powerful friends and that they will get him quickly out of there. Anyway, his family knows by now that he has disappeared and they will surely contact the French government. Jamsheed roars with delight. He tells Lafcadio that his family is under arrest too. Lafcadio insults him. Jamsheed hits him hard over the nose. Lafcadio is bleeding, takes out a handkerchief, wipes his face. Jamsheed becomes mean. He orders him to take off all his clothes. While Lafcadio is undressing in front of everybody, Jamsheed keeps shouting questions at him. Is it a substance? A biological weapon?
Naked, Lafcadio looks suddenly worried. The policemen study Lafcadio’s clothes attentively. They even take his blood-stained handkerchief from him and tear the hem, looking for something, a substance, bits of paper with a formula, anything. Finding nothing, they put the whole bunch of clothes in a metal cupboard. The policemen give Lafcadio prison overalls; take him to his cell; and, it being late, they go home.
The following day, Jamsheed discovers that someone has broken into his office. A fetid smell hangs in the air. The door of the metal cupboard inside the office is ajar and the lock hangs twisted. The cupboard itself contains now just a big roll of blue smelly cloth, which at first looks like a huge stinking carpet wrapped on itself, but then, when pulled out, becomes a giant, foul and heavy textile knot. Everything inside the cupboard has disappeared, including Lafcadio’s clothes, but also the Chief’s notebooks and all the paperwork.
The policemen check the roll of cloth to see whether it contains any weapons or explosive devices. They open the windows to let the bad air out. Jamsheed discusses the strange event with his Assistant. Jamsheed is shaken. It is the first time that a burglary is committed inside the building of the police. Maybe the Frenchman does really have powerful friends. The bundle of tissue is also something very strange, possibly a message of sorts. Or a warning; some gangs leave such signs at the site of their felony. But, how did the thieves take this enormous rug inside the police HQ? Jamsheed starts checking the other policemen’s alibis. He tells his Assistant that this might very well be the hand of the secret services. Jamsheed contacts a gang of thugs, asking them for clues about what exactly could mean when someone leaves a huge rug at the site of a burglary.
Then, Jamsheed asks that same gang to simulate an attack on Lafcadio’s house. He bargains with the chief of the gang, and finally promises him to release one of his henchmen, under arrest for drug offenses. In exchange, the gangsters should shoot at Jamsheed’s own men, penetrate Lafcadio’s house, and leave inside, under the bed, some laboratory paraphernalia: retorts, stills, whatever. Chemical stuff. Jamsheed wants to make sure his own men find all this. They would take the whole chemical gear to him at the police HQ. He will thus give the impression of having something important in his possession. He would then keep a close watch on the police building to see whether the thieves can break in again. Surely, they would like to steal those things too.
Helen and the Children have dinner. The Boy asks who invented the shells. Nobody, says his mother, they grow by themselves. Actually, she adds, small teeny tiny beings called spirulae depose them on the beach. The Girl tells the Boy that he should ask Daddy. Helen starts crying. Gunshots are heard outside. The house is attacked. The policemen guarding the house shoot back, then they decamp hurriedly. The thugs break inside and order Helen and the Children to go to another room. The thugs hide the chemical accessories under the bed, then slip away, still shooting at the police outside.
When the attack on Lafcadio’s house is reported to him, Jamsheed placidly sends some more men there for yet another thorough search.
Helen and the Children again try to have dinner. The policemen come running inside the house and begin searching. Helen asks why they came back, since they have searched already everything. They retort that those who came earlier were another bunch.
The policemen return to Jamsheed, triumphantly carrying what the thugs have deposited. They are disappointed when Jamsheed, without looking at their booty, orders that everything be put in the cupboard, together with the roll of cloth. This chemical stuff, says Jamsheed to his Assistant, is the bait.
General Hazarian is watching images of the demonstrations on his TV screen. He is enraged and tells his agent that if these demonstrations last, they will all go broke. Why are the strikes carrying through only at the Babajan factories, and not at Bibi Fatima’s plant as well?
His subordinate, Ali, bursts into the room. He explains that a gang has penetrated into Lafcadio’s house, after having chased the policemen, and that they seem to have carried away something. Anyway, they had big bags and trunks. But, the main thing is that Ali’s boys have captured one of the wounded policemen. They have taken him to their HQ and, in exchange for water and medication, they forced him to tell what’s going on at the police. Well, this guy Jamsheed still holds the Frenchman, with his supposed great invention. Yet, all traces of the invention seem to have disappeared, because there’s been a burglary in Jamsheed’s office, and everything has been carried away. The thieves have left behind only a big rug. Gen. Hazarian looks worried. He repeats: “A big rug.” He asks to see again that old picture where Lafcadio was grasping the brightly colored rug.
Later, the same agent, Ali, penetrates into a building whose facade glows with the huge neon letters: HIRQA.
A dark office. When Ali enters, Bibi Fatima raises from the brightly colored rug on which she had been praying. We see that it is similar to the one in Lafcadio’s picture. There are spider cases on the walls. Glass boxes contain live spiders, silk worms, scorpions, etc… Bibi Fatima is forty something, tall and dark haired. She/He asks Ali whether Hazarian really looked afraid when he heard about the roll of cloth. She then goes on to explain why this was a natural reaction. Hazarian has allied himself with Babajan, whose textile trust is being brought down by the strikes. What’s more, Hazarian knows that the French inventor has worked for her, for Bibi Fatima and that he has an invention that might revolutionize the textile world. Or even the world in short. All that Bibi Fatima has to do is get hold of the Frenchman, who has used her laboratories for his invention. Then, she says, we’ll crush Babajan and Hazarian like this, and she breaks a pencil with her/his long, bony fingers.
A meeting at the BABAJAN CORP. building. BABAJAN and his associates are quizzing Gen. Hazarian. The magnate, Babajan, a bearded, sinister-looking old man, wants to know how it was possible for that ignoble and vulgar Police Chief to get hold of the Frenchman. Hazarian tells him not to worry. It was an accident. He has moles in the police, and this Jamsheed could as well be called a dead man. It’s only that the police are in Bibi Fatima’s hands, and he didn’t want to push the things too far, since Bibi Fatima is the Ayatollah’s daughter. Babajan assures him that the Ayatollah knows nothing about the kidnapping of the French inventor. He orders Hazarian to get that man from the police by any means. “I’ll back you,” he says. “I’ll talk to the Ayatollah.”
After that, they both kneel down and pray on brightly colored rugs similar to the ones we already know.
The following day, Jamsheed can smell something wrong even before opening the door of his office. A huge mound of thick tissue is piled in the middle of the room, touching the ceiling, and even partly blocking the door from the inside. The metallic cupboard is empty. The walls of the room are blackened and slimy. There’s nothing left in the office. Even the table and the chairs have disappeared, and the wooden floor is gnawed. What’s more, the building has been very well guarded. Nobody could have come in or out unnoticed. Jamsheed shivers.
A couple of policemen are busy tearing the fabric and carrying out the pieces of cloth. Jamsheed’s Assistant talks to him about the strange event. Suddenly, Jamsheed sees a stain on a shred of cloth. He orders everybody to stop. He carefully cuts the stained piece of fabric himself. He says it looks like blood and sends it to the lab.
Jamsheed is absorbed in thinking. His Assistant tells him it is now clear that a very powerful group is out to get Lafcadio, or to keep them from finding out something from him. Someone comes running from the lab and whispers something into Jamsheed’s ear. He freezes.
Jamsheed confronts Lafcadio with the rug. He watches his reactions. He suddenly tells Lafcadio that he now understands everything. Lafcadio has created a living tissue, with a textile-like look that devours everything, spreading itself in messy and voracious ripples. It is a living substance, like a sponge, made of microorganisms. It eats everything, except metal
Slowly, the lower part of the mound on cloth creeps towards them. Jamsheed pushes a chair in front of the waiving fabric. It begins wrapping itself around the chair. Jamsheed laughs. Textiles are a pretty exciting thing.
Well, says Jamsheed, everything is clear now. When he was arrested, Lafcadio had a piece of that tissue in his pocket, sewn on itself as a handkerchief. When the policemen tore the hem of the handkerchief, the thing broke loose, slowly eating everything in the room during the night, except the metal cupboard. Jamsheed understood that when he heard that the blood on the cloth is Lafcadio’s. He then remembered that Lafcadio had wiped his bloody face with a blue handkerchief. It’s strange that the thing didn’t swallow the blood on itself. But, maybe it eats only by the fringes, whereas the middle is made of dead cells. “Anyway, this textile warehouse represents the descendants of your handkerchief.”
Although shaken, Lafcadio refuses to reveal his formula. He tells Jamsheed that usually he is a coward, but that all this sudden violence has revealed an unexpected strength in him. Or maybe that strength has always been there, unknown. Jamsheed sighs deeply and takes Lafcadio into the basement of the police building. Jamsheed goes on talking about the substance, the rug, as he calls it. If it eats everything, it can eat people. “If you don’t give us the secret, we’ll have to study its eating habits by ourselves.”
Lafcadio is forced to watch as Helen and the Children are locked in a room with transparent walls, like a vivarium. The room’s floor is covered with the undulating and living rugs, the pieces of that horrific and hungry tissue… which crawl onto them. The things have already eaten parts of the furniture and have, visibly, burned most of the oxygen in the cubicle. Lafcadio is trembling. The Children waive to him and shout something. The Boy looks confident, sure that his father would save them. Lafcadio screams in horror and collapses.
He is rudely awakened and forced to watch again. He then shouts that he will disclose everything.
Suddenly, gunshots crack everywhere. A group of secret services agents break inside the room. General Hazarian in person heads them. He tells Jamsheed that he has the approval of the Ayatollah for this operation. Jamsheed sneers. Yeah, he knew very well who finances the Ayatollah. Hazarian nods. He adds, with a sad expression that Jamsheed has made a great mistake by keeping this man for himself. Jamsheed whispers, sheepishly, that he has gambled. Gen. Hazarian tells him that, well, he had lost. He then inquires politely about his last wish. Jamsheed wants to know whether his family will receive a pension. Upon Hazarian’s affirmative answer, Jamsheed mentions the name of Ali, from the secret services, adding that Ali works for him and for Bibi Fatima. “If I die, then let him die too,” he says. General Hazarian thanks him, pulls out his gun and shoots him in the head. He tells Jamsheed’s horrified subordinates to remember that their boss has opposed resistance to his arrest. Jamsheed’s Assistant smiles. He and General Hazarian seem to get along well.
Still very politely, Hazarian informs Lafcadio that he is taken over by the secret services, and that he will be led to a laboratory, where he will have all the conditions for revealing the formula. Speechless, Lafcadio points to the vivarium. General Hazarian shakes his head. He refuses to pull out Lafcadio’s Wife and Children, unless he promises to elucidate the formula. Lafcadio shouts that he will do it. General Hazarian tries to lead him away. Lafcadio is kicking at the secret police agents, screaming that he wants his family out first. General Hazarian declines. The formula first. Lafcadio hits him hard on the head with the desk telephone, knocking him down.
Jamsheed’s Assistant pulls out a pistol, but he is gunned down by someone who shoots from the doorway. A new group of armed men burst into the room. GUNFIGHT at short range. The secret services agents flee, carrying Hazarian’s unconscious body. The chief of the new group, FEIROOZ, tells Lafcadio that they represent the Revolutionary Committee of the leftist Mujahedeen fighting the government. Feirooz, a thin, balding intellectual, tells Lafcadio that he and his group have heard he was a foreign scientist with a most useful invention, and a democrat as well. So, they came to his rescue. Lafcadio’s family is pulled out of the glass cubicle. Lafcadio asks for a cigarette and matches and, after he lights the cigarette, he throws the burning match onto the tissue, which immediately bursts into flames.
Babajan announces, in a reunion with his ASSOCIATES, government officials, and other textile magnates, that the United Nations have extended their sanctions on the country. What will become of them now? Drug barons control the capital. The Baluch guerillas have seized a major city. But, Babajan announces that the crisis might be over soon. Bibi Fatima sneers with a facial contortion, showing contempt. Without looking at her, Babajan says that, what’s more, the rivalry between Babajan and Hirqa could end too. A new discovery, soon in Babajan’s possession, will change forever the face of the textile industry, and maybe the face of the world as well. Bibi Fatima sneers again. You want to change the face of the world, she says, when in fact you all pray on identical rugs produced by my Hirqa.
Dressed as policemen, the Mujahedeen guerillas take a handcuffed Lafcadio and his family out of the burning building of the police HQ. They push them into a van under the stares of other, real policemen, who are keeping away the crowd gathered in front of the police HQ. Maintaining the onlookers, there is the cop who had controlled Lafcadio’s papers in the street the previous day. He cries aloud that he knew from the beginning there was something suspicious about this foreigner.
Babajan is told by a frightened aide, during the reunion, that Lafcadio and his family couldn’t be captured, and have fled, helped by an unknown band of armed men. Babajan falls back on his chair, under Bibi Fatima’s strident laughter.
They find themselves in a villa in the mountains bordering the sea, not far from the frontier. Lafcadio and his family are resting. Armed guerillas guard the villa. Feirooz tells Lafcadio that this villa belongs to Bibi Fatima, but that it is abandoned. The rich lady doesn’t come here anymore. Actually, the place is under quarantine, having been infected by malaria mosquitoes a couple of months before. Well, not exactly. The expert who delivered the certificate was a Mujahedeen sympathizer, from Feirooz’s group. Anyway, too afraid of catching the disease, Bibi Fatima had abandoned the place altogether. This is the last place where the police and army would look for them. The keeper of the villa, a tall, handsome man called Mahmud, is also a member of their organization.
The villa is very well furnished and organized. There are even two helicopters there, which Bibi Fatima used when she visited the textile plant she possesses nearby. Lafcadio and his family will be kept in this villa, waiting for an opportunity to cross the border. Feirooz proves to be a charming person, always ready to help, very cultured and well-bred to boot. Helen is slightly in love with him, even as she and Lafcadio seem to rediscover each other. But they still fight, even over trivial matters. She reproaches him to have waited too long, when they were in that glass cubicle, before deciding to give up his secret in order to save them. He is inhumanly egocentric, she says.
Bibi Fatima’s office. Bibi Fatima raises from her prayer rug (we recognize it again). She never smiles, but, when she sees Gen. Hazarian entering her office, she displays a big smile. Hazarian is still recovering, with a big white bandage on his skull. Hazarian salutes her obsequiously, but he is visibly in a bad mood. He tells her that he is sorry for their past rivalry. He is also sorry for having left Hirqa earlier. He would like to liquidate his Babajan shares and come back to Hirqa. He offers to Bibi Fatima the help of the secret services for catching the Frenchman. Bibi Fatima has a superior smile. She tells Hazarian that it’s obvious he has no idea where the Frenchman is, otherwise he would have captured him himself and handed him over to Babajan. What she, Bibi Fatima, proposes is Babajan’s capitulation. Total capitulation. Otherwise, she will let those demonstrations go on forever. Bibi Fatima tells Hazarian that she knows everything about what happened at the police HQ. Incidentally, when he lied on the floor, after the Frenchman cracked his skull, one of Bibi Fatima’s moles in the secret services, who was with Hazarian at that time, called her and asked whether he should fix him for good. Magnanimously, she had said no.
Babajan’s office. Babajan tells the same Hazarian that Bibi Fatima is a scum. They have to find that Frenchman before her. Hazarian reckons that the Frenchman and his gang have surely left the country. The frontiers are very well guarded. Where could they hide, a bunch of armed men with a woman and two children under shock? Babajan suggests him to look into Bibi Fatima’s estates.
At the villa, Helen is flirting around with Feirooz, while they watch the Children playing with a dog that Bibi Fatima has left behind. Feirooz is telling Helen about his past adventurous life. Helen tells him how fascinated she is by intellectuals who are also men of action. He answers that action is boring. One doesn’t learn anything from fighting. Only fighting itself. Violence begets violence. There is nothing useful for a normal society to be gotten from knowing how to fight. Feirooz only hopes that his children will live in a better world. He smiles sadly. Alas, no, he has no children. It is but a dream. Helen looks at him for a long while, until the pitiful squealing of the dog makes her run down in the courtyard to see whether the Children have done something wrong.
At night, a man is parachuted in the forest behind the villa. The man seems to know the place. He creeps inside the house, in the dark, and installs a listening device in the attic.
The following morning, Helen finds Feirooz with a pair of radio headsets on. He smiles sheepishly. Takes them off, tells her that he actually works for the CIA. Yes, right, he infiltrated this Mujahedeen group, which sustains itself with drug trafficking. These drugs come from Afghanistan and go through Turkey to the West. His presence there is part of the fight the US is putting up against drugs. He couldn’t have told her, or them, that from the beginning. Knowing this, both of them would have risked their lives. Look at this Mahmud, the keeper of the villa, he’s a real fanatic, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. These revolutionaries hate their regime – but they hate the West even more. He asks Helen not to disclose anything of their discussion to Lafcadio. Helen seems enthralled by this. They approach each other, as if for kissing, but then the Children come into the room chasing the dog. Helen quickly moves away from Feirooz.
Feirooz tells Lafcadio that in a couple of days they will be off. Lafcadio asks him about the Mujahedeen organization. He also says he is impressed by the extent of Feirooz’s scientific knowledge. Feirooz tells him he studied chemistry too, in Pakistan, before coming to his country for pursuing his political activity. So, he would be perfectly able to understand the principle of the tissue, if only Lafcadio would explain it to him. It’s strange to think that the Chinese have worked for millennia to domesticate the silk worm, and now we got to have this… this living silk.
The man in the attic has installed his listening devices and is communicating with someone, asking how is the reception. At the other end, Gen. Hazarian answers that everything is fine. Babajan is near him, very satisfied. Yes, you were right, says Hazarian. They turn to listening.
Lafcadio explains to Feirooz that it’s not only the silk worms who spin rudimentary tissues. The spiders do it too. The basic idea he had first was: how to make them work faster and better? And with what food? So, he created this living tissue that eats ANY organic substance, be it living or dead. And, what’s more, there’s only one invisible agent who’s doing the eating, and this is…
Suddenly, Lafcadio is called outside by the children, who are playing with an increasingly hysterical dog. Lafcadio and Feirooz go outside. The agent in the attic, and Gen. Hazarian at his secret services HQ, hear only their footsteps and their voices fading out.
Frustration at the secret services. Gen. Hazarian proposes to Babajan that they send a whole armada to the villa, to pluck them immediately. Babajan exhorts him not to do that. I hope, he says, the Frenchman will not tell the secret to his Mujahedeen friend while they are in the garden with the dog.
Lafcadio and Feirooz return to the room and carry on their discussion. His discovery, says Lafcadio, is not new. It was surely known in the Antiquity. This is the explanation of the myth about the death of Hercules. Hercules was offered a strange tunic. As soon as he had put it on, the garment stuck to his skin and penetrated through his bones. Hercules tried to tear off the fatal dress, but it was too late, and he died in unbearable pains. The dress ate him. Feirooz says that he shudders when he thinks about the military implications his invention could have. That’s why they shouldn’t let it fall into anyone’s hands.
Again, when he starts revealing his secret, Lafcadio is interrupted, this time by the children who tell him the dog has found a man in the attic.
General Hazarian and Babajan hurry to their phones and start shouting orders and directives to their subordinates.
The spy tries to escape from the attic. He is shot and killed by Feirooz’s men. They check his pockets. The dead man has no papers, but Feirooz says he is from Hazarian-Babajan. Lafcadio asks how he knows he is not sent by Bibi Fatima. Feirooz explains that it would be silly to think Bibi Fatima would send a man to spy in her own home.
They prepare themselves for a quick flight. Feirooz tries to persuade Lafcadio to go and hide in a secret Mujahedeen base in the nearby textile plant belonging also to Bibi Fatima. Lafcadio refuses. Feirooz then takes Helen aside. They are all in mortal danger, he says. The best thing to do would be to pass the frontier, but the guerillas are still unprepared for that. He asks Helen again to convince her husband to go to this textile plant. It’s a sure place, temporarily, he says. It’s controlled by the Mujahedeen. This is the place where they make the heroin. Helen chokes. Heroin? Feirooz looks puzzled. Yes, he says. He told her already that the rebels financed themselves with drugs. That’s why he was there, to uncover the channels through which the drugs went to the West. Still, sometimes he couldn’t stop sympathizing with these rebels, stranded as they were in their hopeless fight. After a moment of silence, Helen says he’s right. Well, then, follows Feirooz, she should convince Lafcadio to come to that lab now. There, he could show Feirooz the secret of his invention. They don’t have much time. What if they are caught and Lafcadio gets killed? His secret will be lost forever. She agrees. They approach each other, as if for kissing.
The guerillas prepare the two helicopters. Feirooz asks Mahmud, the janitor of the villa, to take Lafcadio’s family in one of the helicopters, adding that he himself will pilot the one with Lafcadio. Lafcadio refuses, saying that he would not let his family alone anymore. Feirooz points to the heavy load that this would represent for the helicopter, if all were to fly with the same machine. Finally, he gives in, reluctantly. He tells Mahmud, who flies the other helicopter, that he should simulate an attempt to cross the border, in order to blur the traces of their flight. He even suggests to Mahmud that he should let himself be shut down… well, after all his crew have jumped from the helicopter into the sea, of course.
Everybody says good-bye. Before stepping into the helicopter piloted by Feirooz, Lafcadio is hugged by Mahmud, who calls him “brother in Revolution”, sobbing. Bibi Fatima’s dog also jumps in the same helicopter, following the children.
They fly high above the sea. Feirooz contacts by radio the “Revolutionary Committee” of the textile plant and tells them to prepare the lab. They will be there any moment. Lafcadio is tense, but chats with Feirooz. He wants to learn how to drive a helicopter. The Wife explains to Feirooz, winking, that Lafcadio, being a scientist, can calm down only by learning some new technical tricks, or techniques. Feirooz teaches them how to fly the helicopter, while discussing with the Revolutionary Committee the latest developments and the best way to get to the lab. Then, when Feirooz finishes talking and switches off the radio, Lafcadio takes a pistol out of his pocket and hits him hard on the back of the head with it.
Lafcadio tries his hand at piloting. Helen and the Children tie Feirooz up with a rope, some scotch tape, and Lafcadio’s belt. They tie Feirooz’s neck to the back of his seat a round of wire. The straps are not long enough. Helen takes off the Child’s blue shirt and tears it up, using the strips to tie Feirooz.
Lafcadio pilots badly. The helicopter flies in a drunken manner, as they come closer to the mountains. Helen warns Lafcadio that he didn’t understand Feirooz’s instructions. She points to different buttons, telling him which ones to push. He yells back that she cannot stop contradicting him, even now. Feirooz wakes up and, painfully, wants to tell them what to do. They approach a high peak at great speed and Feirooz shouts to Lafcadio to push a certain button. Lafcadio looks him in the eyes and doesn’t do anything. He waits to see whether Feirooz is lying. He sees only terror in his eyes. He pushes the button at the last moment. They fly over the mountains.
Suddenly, Feirooz starts screaming in the direction of the radio. He shouts that he is a prisoner that Lafcadio has tied him up, and that they fly over the mountains now, and not over the sea, as they were supposed to do. Lafcadio lets him yell. He then points to the screen of the radio, where the indicator is switched to the frequency of the second helicopter and not to that of the lab. The second helicopter calls, and Mahmud’s voice tells them that there is a whole flying armada circling around the mountains and along the border, trying to get them, –and that crossing the border seems impossible now. Suddenly, they hear loud explosions from the radio. Mahmud’s voice tells them that some fighter planes are shooting at him.
Aerial battle. A plane is chasing Mahmud’s helicopter. Another plane, with different colors, comes behind that first aircraft and shoots it down. Mahmud shouts over the radio that these planes seem to shoot at each other. The sharks are fighting for us, he says.
Gen. Hazarian tears down his bandage and throws it on the floor. They shot down our planes, he growls. That’s Bibi Fatima’s hand. Why don’t they call the Ayatollah to tell him what happened? Babajan tells him to shut down. That was the army. It’s clear that Bibi Fatima has asked the Ministry of Defence to intervene. It’s better not to fight against the military. But, if Bibi Fatima resorts to that, it means only one thing: the Frenchman was in her hands, but he has escaped, and at this moment anybody can catch him. He’s out in the wild now.
While piloting, Lafcadio discloses to Feirooz how he started suspecting him. From the beginning actually, since they went out of the police HQ, everybody attired in uniform, he and Helen being handcuffed. Everything seemed too simple, too easy. Then there was this very elementary deduction: since Lafcadio knew, from the Police Chief, that his letter had been intercepted, then the Embassy couldn’t possibly have known that he was in the hands of the police – so, how could the CIA, or how could an underground Mujahedeen organization, for that matter, have found out about their fate, in such a short span of time? Feirooz grins and says: “Don’t play the detectives with me. I know I’ve been betrayed. That Mahmud told you everything when we got into the helicopter, when he gave you the gun.” Lafcadio slaps him on the face with the back of his hand. Then he grins, satisfied.
A woman’s voice, at the “Revolutionary Committee”, calls and asks when they think they will get there.
Bibi Fatima is acting that woman’s voice in the “Revolutionary Committee”. She sits in a radio studio, with headsets, surrounded by tough-looking counselors. She asks Feirooz what happened and why they didn’t answer the radio for such a long while. Feirooz’s voice explains that they have been attacked and that the antenna has been damaged.
Inside the helicopter. Feirooz is still tied up. He talks to Bibi Fatima while Lafcadio holds the gun to his head. Feirooz tells Bibi Fatima that they will soon be at the lab. When the conversation is over, Lafcadio grins and congratulates Feirooz for his good sense. “I wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot,” he says. He means it.
The second helicopter is behind them again. It flies over them. Lafcadio executes the commands shouted to him through the radio and manages to land.
The tall, handsome Mahmud helps them to jump out of the cabin. Lafcadio thanks him. It was when Mahmud embraced him, calling him “brother” when they left the villa, that he whispered in Lafcadio’s ear what the situation really was and slipped him the gun. Mahmud informs Lafcadio that he is really a Mujaheed guerilla, infiltrated among Bibi Fatima’s agents. Lafcadio asks how he could be sure that he is a Mujaheed and not one of Babajan’s men. Mahmud acknowledges that there is no guarantee. Right, if he had worked for Babajan, or for Hazarian, he would still have uncovered Feirooz, Bibi Fatima’s agent. But, what was there for Lafcadio to lose? After all, he, Mahmud, wasn’t asking for Lafcadio’s formulas and secret.
Mahmud is mocking Feirooz, asking him how he feels in his new suit, etc. Feirooz spits on the floor of the helicopter. Mahmud tells Lafcadio that they absolutely have to cross the border now.
Suddenly, the “Revolutionary Committee” calls again, asking what’s going on, why they are so late. Feirooz, with the barrel of Mahmud’s pistol on his forehead, answers that they have been caught in another air fight, that they are trapped and have landed. They will bring the comrade inventor to the lab by land, and they will send helicopter number two over the border, as a diversion. If only the “Committee” could tell their comrades infiltrated in the border forces not to shoot down that helicopter. Bibi Fatima says OK. Lafcadio and Mahmud give each other the thumbs up.
A moment of silence. Bibi Fatima is tense, suspecting something. She asks them why, then, they don’t fly over the border themselves, directly, this being the safest solution? Not knowing what to say, Mahmud and Feirooz keep quiet. Suddenly, Lafcadio breaks in and says that, of course, this is the most reasonable solution. He proposed that from the beginning. It’s only brother Feirooz who’s insisting in going to the lab. So, says Lafcadio, okay, we’ll fly the border directly ourselves. We’ll take that risk. Why risk someone else’s life?
Bibi Fatima eases off. “No,” she says. “Why risk your life, then? Come over here and we’ll see what’s best.” She insists in Lafcadio’s coming there and showing the method of the fabrication of the tissue before trying to fly over the border. Thus, even if most of them were killed, the formula will be saved. Meanwhile, the best thing would still be if the second helicopter could fly over the border right now, as a diversion. They, at the “Committee,” will try to prevent the border guards from shooting it down.
Lafcadio and Mahmud discuss this. They can’t keep on refusing. They say all right. They’ll come over there. The conversation is over. Mahmud proposes to set the automatic pilot in one helicopter, and to send it over the border with Feirooz in it. Lafcadio says NO. This is their last chance to escape. So, THEY will fly with the second helicopter. Feirooz will stay tied up aboard the other one, above the sea, till Bibi Fatima’s men find him. But, at that point, they will be gone already, saved.
Mahmud programs the helicopter with Feirooz to fly unmanned. It rises, and when it is three or four yards above the earth, Mahmud jumps down. Through the cockpit, they see Feirooz struggling to untie himself. Helen is worried. Won’t he die? Oh, no, they say. Bibi Fatima’s men will find him, and Bibi Fatima will still need his services.
Bibi Fatima talks to her men. She says she doesn’t like the idea of letting that second helicopter fly over the border. What if this Lafcadio is inside? We absolutely have to intercept it. She calls the Minister of defense, who dryly refuses to intervene again. After the air fight, there are rumors of a coup d’état. The Ayatollah is very angry on Bibi Fatima. He has specifically instructed the Minister of defense not to do anything without his approval. Bibi Fatima swears and slams the receiver. She then calls the first helicopter, but the helicopter’s radio is dead. She asks to talk to Ali, at the secret services, but she is told he’s been killed in an attack by a Mujaheed commando. She laughs mirthlessly and shouts that she knows very well that Hazarian must have gotten him, knowing he worked for her. Bibi Fatima looks at her watch, groans, and calls General Hazarian.
Bibi Fatima tells Hazarian she knows Lafcadio’s whereabouts. She tells Hazarian she’ll give him anything if he catches Lafcadio for her. Hazarian says he doesn’t believe her. Bibi Fatima answers that she is rich enough to be able to tell the truth. That Frenchman is in a helicopter flying over the border. They have to intercept it. And if it doesn’t respond to the warnings, the helicopter has to be gunned down. Okay, says Hazarian. We’ll gun them down. I’m fed up with this story.
The helicopter flies high above the sea. The sky is clear. Lafcadio asks to be let to pilot. Mahmud first refuses. With this clear weather, they can be spotted from afar, so he would prefer to stay at the commands. He, finally, switches seats with Lafcadio. The Boy, stripped to the waist, says he is cold. Lafcadio tells Helen to put that blue shirt on him. She sneers. He knows very well, she says, that she tore that shirt to pieces, when they tied up Feirooz. Suddenly, the helicopter jumps dangerously; Lafcadio leaves the commands and turns to her. Is she crazy? Didn’t she know that was the only remaining piece of tissue he had? The helicopter dangles and Mahmud throws himself onto the commands. Lafcadio shouts at Helen, wants to hit her. Didn’t she know that? Really? Or maybe she did that on purpose? Because she hated his work? Does she think he doesn’t know how she looked at that disgusting man, the false revolutionary, Feirooz? She holds her forehead in disbelief.
Mahmud tries to intervene. It can’t be so bad. Bibi Fatima’s men would never realize the nature of those strips of fabric they tied Feirooz with. When they find Feirooz, they will throw those strips into the sea, that’s all. Great, says Lafcadio, and from there they will eventually spread, eating the whole planet.
He is upset, speaking without looking at Helen. He says that by tearing up those shreds, she has opened the rim. The thing is let loose now. It might even be eating poor Feirooz alive already.
In the first helicopter, Feirooz is free now, but wrapped in snaking waves of blue fabric. He is in a shock, shaking, screaming with terror. The living folds envelop him from behind, as if embracing him, while he is piloting.
Two fighter planes frame Feirooz’s helicopter and order it to follow them. Feirooz cannot answer. Suffocated by the live cloth, he cannot control the helicopter anymore. It glides towards one of the planes, hits it and both the plane and the helicopter burst into flames. There is a big explosion. When the vision is cleared, we see shreds of cloth falling slowly towards the surface of the sea.
They hear on the radio the communiqué announcing their own death. They scream with joy. Lafcadio and Helen hold each other in the arms. Mahmud says that until the others realize their mistake, they are free. They are out of the airspace of the country by now. They fly above international waters and above a big ship. Upon asking by radio, they learn that it is an Israeli ship.
Totally lacking fuel, they land on the ship. The helicopter is surrounded by Israeli military. Mahmud turns to Lafcadio and tells him that he is arrested. Israel needs his invention!…
Bibi Fatima is praying on her brightly colored rug. Slowly, gently at first, the fringes of the rug start moving behind her. Suddenly, with the speed of a snake, the rug wraps itself around her, like a giant ravioli, making a muffled noise of crushed bones and obscene chewing…
Gen. Hazarian is praying on his rug, which slowly starts moving behind him…
Babajan is praying on his rug…
In the middle of the ocean, some pieces of the exploded aircraft are still floating. Among them, undulating shreds of cloth. Some of them float on the still mirror of the ocean. Others sink, heavy with water, pulsing, growing, spreading, aspirating fishes and dark swirls of water…
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