it is not considered an "element", like air or water, because humans can not grasp or manipulate it in any way.
it can not be stopped, slowed down, speeded up or reversed.
you raise your eyebrows, dear reader, at such trite observations.
but consider, that all of the philosophies and religions, the most successful and the most humble, all that have so exercised the passions and violent impulses of humans through the millennia, those that have commanded armies of tens of millions and those that consisted of a lone prophet being jeered and pelted on a street corner, have as their common thread that they do indeed aspire to stop, slow, speed or reverse time.
the myriad movements and multitudinous prophets who filled the streets and squares of europe after "the great war" had their fair share of those who aspired to "reverse" time - to return to a golden age, usually one that the potential convert had living memory of. but by far the greater number appealed to the desire to speed up time, and bring the happy fruits of the perfected future to a swift, rather than a slowly gestated glory.
how many would would be messiahs, standing in the soup and bread lines in their tattered overcoats and castoff military uniforms, seated on rain-slicked sidewalks or slouched across the bars and tables of unlit cafes, had to make a hard decision - the present or the past? how many knew the difference? how many made their choice based on what we may fairly call the "market" for one or the other? reader, it is no intention of ours to mock these poor fellows (and occasional fellowettes). who is to say that the positions taken in the highest chairs of philosophy and jurisprudence, may, in the parliaments and cabinets and privy councils of the world, are not dictated by similar considerations?
ah, you grow restless again. civilized as you are, the signs are unmistakable. stop. i beg you! - well, i don't beg you, but i politely request that you bear with me...
let us return to our tale. a tale, so far, of two men. one who has been somewhat perfunctorily introduced, the titular hero, professor zender. and one who has so far only been hinted at - the worthy professor's quarry, the moderately (very moderately) famous frommer.
zender had spent the years of conflict in an advisory capacity to the minister of propaganda. in the early days he had visited the offices of the minister only when summoned, which was not often, and the visits hardly inconvenienced him or interfered with his schedule at the university.
as the conflict wore on, his attendance was demanded more frequently. by the end of the hostilities zender was, for all practical purposes, the minister and ministry of propaganda. fortunately for himself, such decrees and pronouncements as he issued were not acted upon as there was no one left to act upon them. all the clerks and functionaries in the department had been theoretically sent to "the front". actually many of them had just walked away and gone - where? some back to their native villages in the former empire, others to the streets and coffee houses where they would, in the coming days, become the objects of the professor's curiosity.
zender stayed at his post until the end, spending much of his time at his desk reading fichte and schopenhauer and looking out the window at a solitary tree, not much frequented by birds.
on the day that "peace" was proclaimed, zender left the empty office of the ministry of propaganda in the old imperial building (the one behind the palace), locked it, pocketed the key, walked down the corridor (none of the other offices on the floor, the seventh, seemed occupied), down the sadly unpolished broad staircases to the sound of an occasional typewriter still clacking birdlike somewhere in the labyrinth, and returned to his office at the university.
he had not held military office or worn a uniform the whole time. nor had he, during the conflict or at any other time in his life belonged to a political party. nor expressed any adherence to a church or religion.
his colleague morgenstern was at his desk in the modern history department. he barely glanced up from the two page newspaper he was reading. like zender, he had been absent for long stretches during the conflict. they had never discussed with each othertheir occupations during these absences .
"good morning, zender."
"good morning." zender placed his walking stick in a rack beside the door. he hesitated. "been back long?"
morgenstern seemed mildly amused by the question. "a couple of days."
"the place seems quiet. any staff on hand?"
"can a man still get a raspberry torte around here? is frau grimm still here?"
"my, you have been gone a while, haven't you? when was the last time you popped round?"
zender shrugged. "four or five months ago."
"i see. no, frau grimm disappeared a few months ago. but we have a replacement who can whip something up for you. who won't poison you at any rate."
"oh, coffee has never been a problem, the count has seen to that."
"ah. and how is the count?"
"not been discomforted by events, has he?"
"oh no. it would take more than a world war to discomfit the count."
"quite. the bells still in order, then?"
"yes. just ring and fraulein mommsen will be with you." morgenstern turned his gaze back to his paper. "perhaps not as quickly as frau grimm used to be."
zender entered his private office. as head of the department only he had one. he did not ring for fraulein mommsen right away but stood looking out the window. he ran his finger along the windowsill. it appeared to have been dusted. the desk also looked dusted. he had not left anything in the office that might be stolen.
he sighed. would everything be as before? he hoped not.