The Ninth Arm of the Octopus

For a man of 105, Maximilian Gundlach is feeling remarkably fit and healthy this morning as he sets off to his meeting with six leading scientists.

Every year the group meets for presentations and discussions, and this year’s gathering will be held at Michelle’s apartment in Paris. They are going to talk about what happened seventy-five years ago, in the 2020s, when the fate of humanity hung in the balance. Gundlach will answer their questions, since he is the only one of them to have lived through those days. Although there are some things he could tell them which he feels would be better left unsaid.

In the early 2020s, climate change is threatening to destroy life on earth. But behind closed doors, the future US president makes a pact with Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The so-called ‘G3’ countries go public with their climate alliance in 2025, and impose compulsory measures worldwide in an attempt to save the planet. But these measures have a dramatic impact on people’s lives, and not everyone is willing to accept them.

An underground movement emerges, with rebellious forces making plans that risk plunging the world into chaos. Multiple narrative voices tell the story of a race against time, where what is at stake is nothing less than the future of the human race.

Some of these voices tell of the visible effects of global warming, which make life on earth as we know it impossible. Diseases that were thought to have been eradicated long ago end up wiping out nomadic tribes in Siberia. Expectant mother Akhila, the grandmother of one of the scientists at Gundlach’s meeting in 2100, only just manages to escape from the monsoon – which grows deadlier every year, claiming millions of lives in India. While nurse Lisha provides education to women in Nigeria as part of a drive to curb the uncontrolled growth of the global population, Francisco José de Brito Barreiro and his illegal company blithely continue chopping down trees in the rainforest.

But such behaviour will no longer be tolerated by the G3; after issuing a warning, which is ignored, they send in drones to blow up the logging machines – along with their operators.

At the same time, Bykov, commander-in-chief of the Russian army, meets Dr Zhiming, Vice-President of China, at an arms fair in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. They set a destructive plan in motion. With the help of arms dealer Bob Olufunmilayo, they start supplying lethal weapons to Brazil, the largest of the few countries to have mounted resistance to the G3’s new rules. If Brazil were to launch a military strike against the G3, the climate alliance would respond in kind and chaos would be unleashed all over the world. The fight against climate change would fall by the wayside.

As Bykov and Zhiming discuss their next move over the finest Chinese food in São Paulo, they are overheard by Brazilian chef Ricardo da Silva, who is fluent in Mandarin. He does not understand every detail, but hears enough to know that he has just become a witness to a pernicious plot. As he flees from Bykov’s men, he has to find a way to warn the global community and thwart this devastating plan. He seeks out the only person he knows with any kind of influence: the president of FC São Paulo.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates meets with Brazilian defence minister Telés on behalf of the G3, and advises him that Brazil should obey the rules if it wants to avoid war. At the same time, the other side is busy spreading disinformation. Bykov and Zhiming approach a middle-ranking intelligence official and get her to tell the Brazilian president that the G3’s warning is an empty threat. The president sees this as a chance to stand up to the G3 and paint himself as the defender of the Brazilian people’s honour, without having to face any consequences. But the intelligence official, Sofia Della Bettemcour, has her suspicions even during her conversation with the president that there is something amiss. She starts investigating, and comes across information about a secret meeting in Jeddah a few years earlier.

Through the president of the football club, da Silva the chef manages to speak to the brother of defence minister Telés, who passes on the warning directly. The intelligence official also warns the defence minister about the ruse. And she manages, in the nick of time, to save Ricardo da Silva from the arms dealer Bob Olufunmilayo, who has been sent by Bykov to kill da Silva. Telés takes over as president in order to avert a world war and comply with the G3’s rules.

Gundlach leaves the meeting in Paris. He has also spoken about his career post-2025, and about the large-scale reforestation programme he was in charge of. He has even (reluctantly) discussed the ‘dark side’ of the programme – its use of genetically modified seeds. But one of the scientists has something else he wants to achieve in Paris. He plans to attach a bionic ninth arm to Michelle’s octopus, designed to adapt to the octopus’s nature and improve it. But the octopus destroys the new arm. Sometimes nature doesn’t want human beings to interfere with it, whether they are trying to improve it or not.

>>Sample translation in English available!