Friday, February 26, 2010

Greek Steam Punk Story

The start of story with a simple premise: what if Alexander the Great had not died?

It is madness I tell you, madness. There are riots on the streets, and the shop stalls are looted for bread or whatever other small valuables could be carried away. People stood on balconies, children grabbing their parents legs, wives grabbing husbands. The news broke suddenly, and panic, that all fear, has grabbed the city.

It is 494 since the first Olympiad, the 74th year of the reign of Alexandros of Macedon, God-Emperor of the world, and he has died in Persopolis. It was 10 days, and the news has reached this, the most civilized city in the world.

The library is burning, I can see the heaps of smoke from it even at this distance, and the mayor has set himself as a ruler. He lacks for everything except spears, and that is why I am here, stripped from my master's bed, his fluids still dripping down the inside of my thighs, and his blood spattered across the throw of linen that I had just thrown on when the armed soldiers cut his head off. It was an old score, he had many of them. I tremble to survive to see another dawn.

Now trembling I write this note and hide it in the table leg, so that you will know whatever was said, what ever was written, the reality is that the city is in chaos, erupting like a huge volcano. I am called Euterpe, the giver of pleasure, but I was born Hekate, and so I sign myself. Now I must scribe the orders of the new order, the words of the new word.

Such scrapes of the past were hard to find, and from that moment, when the arms of the First Empire convulsed after the death of Alexandros III, the Great-King, the God-King, almost impossible. It was too much to ask that this scrap was original, instead, it was a copy of a copy, but that it was made at all, and that he, alone, had found it, would make his reputation. Provided of course, it was genuine.

Which is why, in this the 720th year since the Olympiad, he had settled himself to comparing the cloth on which this scrap was written, to others of the same time, and looked closely at how the ink seeped. Old inks had dried, new inks still spread. He knew the figure, Hekate would survive that night, and indeed flourish. She would pen histories, and be celebrated. The library did not burn utterly, and while some few works were lost, most would live. Hekate's now had a shelf of their own, as she described in precise detail the coming of the Pinnacle of the First Empire, under the children of the Great King.

A whistling sound blew, it was the steam of hot water, whistling through the small hole of a kettle. He stopped, and poured it into a cup of herbs mixed, as was his habit, with honey. After the infusion wafted up through his nostrils, he dolloped a touch of yogurt into it, and mixed it thoroughly. He wished he could afford more of the fragrant leaves called "cha" but that was beyond the five coins of silver that he was paid weekly. The he set the cup on the only clear section of his desk, otherwise covered with scraps, pages, scrolls. He turned the lamp down, the dawn was coming.

He heard a loud whistle in the distance, and he looked out on the street. The first street car of the day was passing, it's rails of made by the new process, and driven by the touch of steam.

What interesting modern times we live in, he thought, and turned back to the scrap, which still might or might not be by Hekate Historia, as she was known.

He held the strip to the lamp, and looked through the woven fabric, stroking it with his fingers. He stared, and finally admitted that he needed to use an object which had become fashionable, but which he was uncomfortable with: a round lens of glass, shaped in a bulge, that greatly increased the size of objects seen through it. He disliked the distorting effect it had, and the shifting illumination of objects. Frankly it made him dizzy to stare through it, but so he did. He saw the fraying of the ink stained edges. This convinced him that, at least, if it was a forgery, it was an old one.

He turned and looked out the window again, the chair creaking under him. There was some commotion below as bread was going for sale. He stared at the awning as it dropped, and wondered if, of course assuming the fragment was genuine, Hekate had seen those same stalls, little changed by 300 years, actually looted, or was she imagining it. He tried to call to mind torch lit streets, and crowds. He tried to think of whether she smelled the burning of human flesh and hair. He tried, but could not. Hekate wrote much of her private life, but only after she had almost mysteriously appeared as the author and scribe for the revolting mayor. The armies of the new king swept all resistance before them, and examples were made. But when he reached Alexandria, the raging son of the Great stopped, and was met by a few people, wearing white. One, we know, was Hekate, because she was one of the few literate people left. The scribes had been among those targeted by the raging mob. They begged for peace, and submitted. The new king graciously allowed it, or seemed to. His army entered, but that night, the cult like followers he had acquired in his time in Indya came out, and assassinated the key leaders. Hekate was brought before him, deemed to be useful, since she alone had seen all of the documents, and could name all of the names he needed. For 10 days, a slab of stone soaked up the blood of one after another of the leaders. Then, it stopped.

But Hekate lived, and from this was made a historian. Two years later, she finished the only history of the revolt. She admitted in it to being a former slave, but of anything else, before, she was mute. She said that the city had passed through the underworld, and was reborn.

Those days, now called by various names, had been a wide ranging revolt, as long pent up anger finally erupted, To history Alexander was a God King, the Great King, but he was not beloved near his death. The taxes were high, the traditions he imposed strange, the reorganization of the governing of the empire, which he threw himself into, calling it "the second conquest of the world," was foreign to people who remembered, or thought they remembered, or longed to remember, a simpler age of greater autonomy. Alexander was born great, but he thrust greatness upon his age.

And this scrap was at least 200 hundred years old. At a bound, it jumped almost all of the distance between himself, and the tormented moment which was recognized to be the vital moment in his civilization. Alexander had made the empire, but the quashing of revolt had made it last. Without it, everyone felt, it would have sunk back into the mire, as the other Greek attempts at Empire had.

He looked through the glass again, and found that more strands of ink stand cloth had frayed, and that they had not yellowed before being stained. If it was fake, he had to admire the craft of it. He toyed with one of his five pieces of silver, and thought only one thought: he would go to the boy who sold it to him and find the rest. For there had to be a rest.

He scrounged among the clothes on the floor, and found his money pouch, there were coins of bronze. He knew one would take him on the rails to the outside of the city, where there was a pier, and at that pier into the river, he would hire a boat, and with him would be the young boy, dark face shining in the sun, who would take him to the trove from which this thread had been pulled.

Areteteles gathered himself, taking his new pen, which he had only lately discarded his quills for, and a pad of paper. It's sleek sheen was different from the papyrus he grew up with. He combed his beard, 50 years in this world had left lines on his face, and a balding patch that ran back half way to his crown. The curls of youth were still there, but white and gray with only flecks of brown and black. He threw a cloak over his shoulders, and put boots on, their soft leather worn by a good deal of age, even though he walked little. The soles were sound. He thought that a good metaphor for himself, as he spiraled down the stairs encased by the plaster covered walls, beige with age and dust. Worn, but with a soul still sound.

In his satchel, the commentaries on Aristotle, and notes for his history of the New Science, that thing which was sweeping the Second Empire. He wrote the first pages as a tirade against it, against its discomforting noise, and unearthly sheen, and polish, everything polished. But now, he admitted, the new science fascinated him.

Perhaps because one of its results, was a white extract from distant flowers, that soothed the gnawing pain in his back, and let him find sleep. His legs still worked, and he trod firmly step by step down, and then out into the open, arid, air. He brushed past people wearing costumes from a dozen lands, and stopped to wait in line to buy some bread and cheese. He sipped from his cup as he waited, and then placed it in his satchel after carefully drying it. He bought a loaf, and then wandered down looking for a crowd of people which would indicate where the steam chariot would stop.

Once there he saw strong armed work men lining up for a day of labor, and a few students waiting to be hauled across the city to the Library for classes. It was a long ride, but the rents here, in what was called the Painted Quarter, were very cheap. It was a jumble of low buildings, which were, in fact, unpainted. It was the women who came out at night who wore the blues and indigos, garish jewelry, and revealing clothes that plunged down almost to their navels.

He saw none of that now, but instead, the busy gathering of a day, the orange of first light giving way to a pure yellow that seemed to wash in buckets across everything, and splash on every fold, creating a sharp relief against long shadows that were quickly growing shorter.

The chariot stopped, he grabbed and pulled himself up, and pushed his way to the front. He watched out as it slowly crept along faster and faster, until it was the speed of a trotting horse. At first he though to stand the whole way, but when a seat opened, as they passed a large boxy building where fish were brought in to dry, and wheat ready to be sent to a mill, he sat, and took out his note pad, beginning to scribble with a nub of graphite.

Hekate, he breathed, who were you?

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