“Bahar asked R7: ‘Can you show your location on the map? We don’t have you on the radar.’
“R7 messaged: ‘I don’t have its map in my programs.’ Bahar asked it to go to the highest point of the palace and send some photos from there, so that we could see the surroundings better. R7 took flight and landed on a platform. We could see a very small country suspended in the air.
“I asked Bahar: ‘Where do you think it is?’ You know, she usually has an answer for everything. She said: ‘Maybe R7 has gone into a time tunnel and traveled back to the past.’
“This made me laugh. I said: ‘I was always jealous of you, because you have such a great imagination! But what you say is really funny!’
“She said: ‘Hey, instead of ridiculing me, offer a better explanation for what we’re seeing.’
“I couldn’t help laughing. She was angry. I said: ‘I think I got it! We’ve entered the realm of the Thousand and One Nights!’ We were arguing as usual when suddenly the terrible noise of a beast attracted R7’s attention. It was coming from a hole. Before Bahar could warn R7, it moved toward the hole. She called R7 repeatedly and asked it: ‘What’s the matter? Where are you? Send a message.’
“After a while R7 started to send some pictures. Nothing was visible. It took film from different angles, but it was completely dark. R7 noticed something moving in the darkness. We heard some sounds but couldn’t see anything yet. Bahar ordered R7 to stop moving and remain neutral against that creature.”
“Do you remember,” he asked Wolfgang, “when they stopped the project? I took a week off and Bahar made up a story and got a week’s leave from the doctor.”
“Yes, I remember,” Wolfgang answered. “I didn’t expect you and Bahar would leave me in that situation.”
“I’m sorry,” said José. “We were upset about it too. But it was when Bahar and I were in front of the monitor day and night and followed R7 in fear and excitement.”
The waiter came and took away the empty dishes in front of José. He chatted with José for a bit, and when the waiter was gone, Wolfgang asked impatiently: “What happened after that?”
“We just looked at the monitor until we fell asleep. I don’t know how long we slept, but when we woke up we saw a picture on the monitor that we couldn’t believe.”
José continued: “R7 was jailed in a room full of bones and skulls. There was a creature there that was covered with hair from head to toe. It had large hands and feet and its face was so ugly. Its eyes were huge and red and it had a wide mouth with a few teeth sticking out of it. Bahar was scared. She said: ‘Oh my God! What is it? It must be very dangerous.’ Then an iron door creaked open. Some guards threw a little food into the room and shouted: ‘Witch! Witch!’ and then slammed the door shut behind them.
“Sunlight shone into the cell from an opening and lit up a part of the room. The creature got up and stood on the bones to look out of the opening, but it fell down. It tried several more times, but each time it fell down and hit itself in the face and head angrily. Then, suddenly, it caught sight of R7. Our hearts stopped. Bahar whispered a prayer. The witch – as they called it – stood still when it saw R7, and stared at it for a while. It uttered some strange, unintelligible sounds, then it got closer to R7 and touched it. Again it made some sounds and retreated from it. After making sure that R7 was safe, it held it in its hands, smelled it, licked it, and talked with it quietly. Then it threw it away and lay on a large, black stone in the corner of the room.
“We drew a deep breath and hoped R7 wasn’t damaged. We waited a while before the witch fell asleep. Bahar asked R7 to check its systems and send a report. Its systems were all active. Bahar said to it: ‘Fly away as soon as possible.’ It tried so hard to fly, but it was no use. Because of the blow it had received it couldn’t fly anymore. That was the end of the line, we thought. R7 was trapped in that room with the witch and we couldn’t do anything about it.
“During the day, R7 followed the witch with its cameras, analyzed every sound and movement and sent it to us: ‘The creature is female, isn’t a bird, and is a mammal.’ We examined the maps of R7, hoping to find a way for it to take flight.
“Now we were bored with the repetitive pictures R7 sent. It was getting dark. The witch woke up and started to squirm. She was restless and breathed heavily – she was either too excited or afraid of something. As the moonlight shone into the room, we could see the witch better and follow her.
“Bahar said: ‘Look, José. It seems she likes sunlight and moonlight.’ The witch sat under the moonlight and kept uttering some sounds. Bahar was exhausted. She lay on the sofa and went to sleep. The witch was still sitting in the moonlight, saying an incantation under her breath as if she never got tired of it. It sounded like a constant rhythm to me and I could whisper with it.
“I went to the kitchen and made a sandwich for myself. Then I went back to the study and started to eat. The pictures R7 sent had become so boring that I didn’t pay much attention to the monitor anymore. And then a new picture appeared on the monitor. My jaw dropped in astonishment. I couldn’t get up and call Bahar. At last, I collected myself and called her from where I was sitting. She opened her eyes calmly and, muttering something to herself, came toward me. I just pointed to the monitor.
“She rubbed her sleepy eyes and asked: ‘Is that the witch?’
“I said: ‘Yes.’
“She shouted: ‘But where’s the witch? What’s this woman doing here?’
“I didn’t know the answer either. A beautiful woman was there in the room. She was like one of those women we had seen in the previous pictures sent by R7. She kept repeating some words under her breath. We were just looking at her when suddenly we both said: ‘She must be the victim.’
“Bahar ordered R7 to show us around the room. We wondered where the witch was. It was so hard for us to witness someone’s disappearance while we couldn’t do anything. Moonlight disappeared from the room and it became completely dark. Before long, we heard horrible noises. Bahar covered her ears and cried, asking me again and again: ‘You look, José, did the witch eat her?’”
Wolfgang interrupted him: “José, what you say is like a fairy tale. Are you sure R7 wasn’t somewhere around here? Maybe they were just drama students and it was just a show?”
“No,” said José. “At first we thought so, too. We searched for it on the radars. We could’ve found it if it had been anywhere on this globe. We had sound and images from R7; however, we didn’t see anything on the radars. And even when R7 checked its maps, it messaged that place wasn’t on any of them.”
“You’re right,” Wolfgang agreed. “I myself programmed it and input data on it in a way that we could’ve found it on our radars even if it had been under the earth. But I’m a scientist and can’t believe such things.”
“You know,” said José, “I used to think like you, but after this incident, I realized that there are a lot of things happening around us while we’re unable to see and understand them.
“We passed the night nervously and waited until the witch’s room started to get light. We were so curious to see her and find out what had happened to her. It was still kind of dark when R7 sent some pictures to us. Bahar had covered her eyes. She sometimes peeped at the monitor through her fingers and then covered her eyes again.
“The witch was sound asleep and the woman had vanished into thin air. Bahar was upset and kept asking: ‘How come she didn’t defend herself against the witch?’ We were awake throughout the night. If she had defended herself, we would certainly have noticed.”
José looked at Wolfgang. “God, we were run-down, not just physically – we were also mentally tired. We took turns sleeping during the day and at night we had our eyes glued on the monitor.
“The night came, and the witch’s room got dark again. This time, we were determined not to take our eyes off the monitor. Moonlight began to fill a corner of the room. Like the previous night, the witch sat under the moonlight and repeated the same words as she had before. She was restless again and squirmed and struggled. We were praying that she would stay there. ‘I think she is transforming,’ I said to Bahar.
“Bahar took a look at me and said: ‘Stupid! I don’t see anything.’ An hour passed. Now Bahar was looking at the witch more carefully. Suddenly she screamed: ‘Oh my God! José! You were right. She’s transforming! We’re witnessing a miracle.’
“The witch was struggling and repeating that incantation under her breath. She was transforming very quickly. It was like a film going so speedily that we couldn’t follow its details. Finally the witch calmed down and the beautiful woman appeared – the one we had seen the previous night. This time I cried: ‘Oh, God, oh, God! It’s impossible!’
“Bahar was thunderstruck, too. She said excitedly: ‘She really is the witch! It’s just like old tales … So the Iranian tales that my mother told me were true! That woman has fallen under a spell and she’s locked up in the body of a witch.’ We would never have believed it if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes. However, we had no scientific explanation for those things.
“Bahar connected to R7 eagerly and asked it to activate its speakers. R7 did as he was told. Bahar, as usual, sent up a prayer at first and then said to R7: ‘Are you ready? Can I speak to her?’ R7 transmitted a message: ‘Everything is ready.’
“I asked her in surprise: ‘You know what language she speaks?’
“She said: ‘From the way she’s dressed it’s obvious she speaks Arabic.’
“I asked her if she could speak Arabic, and she answered confidently: ‘Of course I can.’ I had no hope that the witch would want to talk to us. But we didn’t have any other option. I hoped Bahar would be able to communicate with her and get her help for repairing R7.
“Bahar cleared her throat and said: ‘Salaam alaikum.’
“The woman was frightened. She looked around and caught sight of R7. She moved toward it cautiously, picked it up and sat in the moonlight again. She responded to R7’s greeting quietly.
“Bahar was silent. I couldn’t believe the woman had responded to Bahar who was sitting there stock-still. I couldn’t wait any longer. I said: ‘What’s the matter, Bahar? Hurry up! Ask your questions before she becomes a witch again.’
“She said: ‘To be frank with you, I don’t know Arabic. I just thought she wouldn’t answer.’”
José put his head in his hands.
“Wolfgang,” he said, “I still get angry with Bahar when I remember that day. I am lucky I didn’t go insane because of her unpredictable behavior.
Wolfgang had become excited too.
“What happened next?”
“I was too tired to argue with her anymore. She wanted to call a friend of hers who knew Arabic, but then she changed her mind and said: ‘I’ll record whatever she says. Then I’ll translate it myself because I can’t trust anyone now.’ We started to argue again, but we didn’t take our eyes off the monitor. The woman was examining R7 carefully when she began to speak. Bahar lost her self-control and nearly fell off her chair. I went to help her, but she collected herself quickly and gestured at me to keep quiet. She listened to the woman attentively. I noticed the way she talked was very similar to Bahar and her mother’s language. I was about to say something when I saw Bahar was wiping her tears. She said: ‘José, I think God has chosen me for this mission. She speaks Persian.’”
Wolfgang held out his hand to stop José. “Hold on, please! It’s getting really complicated now. You’re scaring me. Actually, maybe Bahar was right. Because when you put all the pieces together, they start to take on a certain form.”
José smiled approvingly. “Absolutely! You always told us nothing happens without a reason.
“Anyway, whatever the woman said was accurately translated by Bahar for me. The woman checked R7 out and then said: ‘Who are you? Where are you from?’
“Bahar tried to stay cool. She gulped down a glass of water and said: ‘What you’re holding in your hands is an iron bird that takes pictures and film of you and then sends them to us. I’m Bahar.’
“The woman, without knowing who Bahar was, kissed R7 happily and said: ‘Thank God! My prayers were answered. Are you here to free me from this prison?’
“Bahar didn’t know what to say. She looked at me. I said: ‘Ask her for her name.’
“Bahar said: ‘What’s your name? Can you tell me where you are?’
“The woman, staring at R7, answered in a beautiful voice: ‘I’m Shahrazad. The people in this country and I were befallen with this fate because we didn’t obey God. As far as I know, we’re still living on earth, but no one can see us. A magic force has held us suspended in the air for many years!’
“Bahar asked: ‘How did you get there?’
I can still remember it very well. I lived in a small village in the wide country of Persia. Times were happy for us. Then our village was attacked. They killed our men and took us captive and sold us as slaves. The other girls and I were sold to a sultan’s harem. Just like the rest of the women in his harem, we, fearing for our lives, had to entertain him, because if he felt bored, he would give us to the executioner. I told him about my homeland and entertained him with my tales. At first it was so difficult for me to live with the sultan and his harem. But in time, he became interested in me and my life got better. I didn’t have to tell stories anymore to stay alive. However, telling stories had become an essential part of me. And then, the sultan’s fortune-tellers and sorcerers told him that my stories would bring bad luck to his territory. I was afraid. And so I stopped telling stories.
After a while the fortune-tellers warned the sultan again that an enormous danger was threatening his kingdom, and if he didn’t remove me from his life, all of us would be punished. The sultan laughed at them and didn’t care about what they said. Then one day, the sky darkened suddenly. Horses neighed and ran out of their stables. Birds made such noise in the sky that people were frightened, and in the twinkle of an eye a whirlwind came and destroyed everything. The sultan’s palace was dug out and I fell unconscious.
“Shahrazad dropped her head. She didn’t want to look at R7. ‘I wish I had died then,’ she said in a trembling voice.
When I regained consciousness, I faced a scene that has become the nightmare of my life. The sultan’s magnificent palace had been reduced to little more than a ruin. I ran in horror to save those who were stuck under the debris. I cried and called for help. I could see corpses everywhere — no one ever even imagined a fate like this before the storm. I clambered up the hills of ruins, so that I could survey the surroundings better. The scene I saw took my breath away. I looked around and closed my eyes, thinking it was just a dream, but unfortunately it wasn’t. It was the bitter reality. A part of the sultan’s palace and his land were dug out and suspended in the air. The elders and fortune-tellers who knew about the event beforehand had saved the sultan and some other people.