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alternate history

Of Armchairs And Generals – Do We Tell Our Own Stories Through The Games We Play?

by Ádám Gerencsér

Imagine you and a friend (or significant other) playing a game. Let it be a simulation of grand strategy, animating the destinies of realms and peoples as they clash, compete, and cooperate over resources and territories. In your previous moves, you might have successfully united the Hungarian-speaking realm into the “Carpathian Empire” and feel ready to set out on a Crusade to the Holy Land. You may thus turn to your companion and ask her to join you, or at least send assistance but, alas, find her tied up further west across the sprawling map, gradually reconquering the Hispanic peninsula at the helm of her Aragonese troops. You discuss (outside of the game but staying in character, if you wish) and finally settle on arranging a useful marriage between your in-game heir and one of her Mediterranean vassals, thus ensuring that your next incarnation would gain access to more combat-ready levies.

If you know the game in question, no doubt your mind is already racing with possibilities – but do read on before rushing to your laptop. If you don’t, picture a vast scalable map of the Middle Ages residing on your computer screen, where one of the fiefdoms represents your lands, the attached family tree the characters of your family, and the world around them an almost endless possibility of interactions with other domains, noble houses, religions and trading partners. You are not a country, per se, neither just an individual, but rather a whole dynasty – and the game continues as long as your bloodline does (even in exile).

Thus, you are playing in (and with) a virtual world. But you are also doing something else, something more engaging and arguably more rewarding – you and your fellow gamer are weaving a common narrative: a story emerges.

The extent to which this happens depends largely on the nature of the game, rather than merely on the intent of the player. Thus, computer games may arguably be classified along a continuum defining their level of narrative involvement, stretching from story-driven to story-neutral. Doing so, one may group them roughly into the following three categories:

A.      Some depend on telling a story as their essence. These include role-playing games, in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons and its many re-implementations, as well as so-called “point-and-click” adventures (games essentially designed as interactive animations where player intervention is mediated by clicking with a mouse on items to manipulate or characters to converse with). You play because you want to know what happens next.

B.      Another category of games presents a hybrid experience more focussed on dexterity or tactics, but still offering a backstory that informs the fictional universe, even if with limited bearing on the player’s individual moves. These range from grand strategy titles (where the aim is the governance of states and macro-economies, such as Sid Meier’s Civilization) to squad-based situational simulations (where the player manages a small group of characters and their day-to-day struggle for resources, as in the emotionally impactful This War of Mine). You play for the experience.

C.      Meanwhile, some are almost void of story-telling elements, and rely instead on nifty mechanics through which the player competes with others, or overcomes procedural obstacles and achieves a sense of progression. Lore, if any, is mostly cosmetic. These span the breadth from casual entries (such as “brawlers”, i.e. fighting games, and racing titles, which can be picked up for a few minutes of entertainment) to highly time-intensive and complex “virtual toys” (incl. accurate flight simulators and detailed city builders, which demand a high learning curve and a large time investment). You play for sheer exhilaration.

Yet now let us add a second axis, representing the amount of freedom accorded to the person immersed in the game: in the language of design, this is often referred to as player agency. Here games range from complete linearity (traversing a pre-ordained path to complete a quest) to an open-world setting (where the main plot or purpose of the game can be postponed almost indefinitely in order to inhabit its fictional environment). These can map perpendicularly onto any of the three categories mentioned above, as per Fig. 1.

Fig. 1. Narrative agency in computer games

But which of these best lend themselves for player-led story-generation?

According to our analogy, the axes of both intersecting spectra meet somewhere in the middle. Depending on the player’s willingness to enrich the gaming experience by spinning their own tale, both by interacting with the game itself and by the added means of auto-suggestion, one could argue that the optimum requires a balance between “sand-box” (i.e. open world) liberty and realistic feedback, i.e. the manner in which the in-game environment reacts to the player’s actions. Thus, the less linear and more complex a setting is, the better opportunities it offers for user-led narrative building.

For a case in point, take the Creative Assembly’s Total War series, a succession of empire-building games blending the turn-based rhythm of board games for the political layer with real-time command and control for the battles that ensure when opposing armies come to occupy the same spot on the map. Each game covers a different historical period, from the Roman Empire to the Napoleonic era, with the most recent instalment (dubbed Attila) bridging the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. When immersed in this title’s grand campaign (i.e. leading a specific realm through the entire timespan of the game), the objectives for each faction delineate their choices to some extent, but player-agency is only constrained if one is preoccupied with the attainment of pre-set victory conditions.

To give an illustrative example, during the present author’s most recent session, he chose to impersonate a fictional Hunnic faction that acted as faithful guardians of Constantinople, hammering the enemies of the Byzantines at every turn. Since the algorithm governing the actions of the Eastern Romans did not initially foresee such a turn of events, the player had to sack their capital in the early game, in order to force them to make peace with his barbarian horde. This regrettable-but-necessary bloodshed, however, turned out to mark the beginning of a long, mutually beneficial alliance, as subsequent positive interactions eventually came to overshadow past frictions.

Another well-known example of a game that pushes the limits of player agency is Paradox Studio’s Europa Universalis franchise (and its cousins, incl. the Crusader Kings series alluded to at the outset). Co-operative campaigns played with human companions may be (and often are) entirely devoted to self-chosen objectives, such as uniting the Catholic world as an expansionist Papal State. These meta-game objectives blend the player’s personal interests or pet historical fantasies with the flexibility provided by the artificial intelligence underlying the software (the so-called Clausewitz engine). Narrative retellings of what had transpired during such lengthy session have become a staple of online forum discussions dedicated to these games, thus often completing the leap from ‘playing’ to ‘story-telling’.

The intense sense of creative potential is most evident in the “modding” culture that has sprung up around such games: some have communities of thousands of users who develop additional content (such as maps, historical events, military units, 3D models of buildings, artwork, etc.) and share it freely with others to download and integrate into their local copy of the software in question. Exposure to the “mods” thus created has shaped user expectations towards the features and flexibility subsequent titles ought to have.

There have even been attempts by “modders” to radically alter the nature of games that were conceived as linear by their original publishers. One of the most ambitious examples to date is the ongoing effort by enthusiast of Slitherine’s Panzer Corps to take the wealth of military units and map terrain tiles available from the base game (and its many official expansions) and create a giant scale map of Europe complete with railways, roads, cities and the disposition of forces reflecting the geostrategic situation in mid-1942. The massive scenario attempts, in effect, to turn a static digital board game emulating individual battles of World War 2 into an experimental device for alternate history world-building.

If these trends continue apace, those interested in crafting their own narratives through non-linear games have a lot to look forward to. With the advent of more powerful home computers and the emergent combinatory skills of artificial intelligence, we may see the advent of privately accessible grand strategy and simulation games that rival the professional software hitherto reserved to military academies and corporate research laboratories. Such development would unleash narrative potential on an unprecedented scale, particularly in the genres of speculative geopolitics and alternate history.

Far more revolutionarily, and with an impact that is hard to foresee, fledgeling virtual reality technologies will break the immersion barrier whereby procedurally generated worlds with realistic (incl. haptic) feedback will likely redefine what it means to require for audiences to ‘suspend disbelief’. As audiences will be plunged directly into the midst of fictional multi-sensory worlds, the very notion of linear story-telling is likely to be challenged by expectations of ubiquitous interactivity – and at greater lengths of immersion.

While there was an observable trend already in the 2010s for longer games, the revenues of both digital as well as analogue (board game) publishers focussing on complex titles increased markedly during the Covid pandemic, and held up firmly ever since. With ludophiles apparently having heeded the call for “social distancing” by retreating to their bunkers to play, the estimated 40 hours needed to complete a single campaign of the above-mentioned mega-games are certainly starting to look a lot less unreasonable. Particularly when judged alongside the time investment required for the (decidedly narrative) video game rated highest by worldwide critics in 2023, Belgium-based Larian Studio’s high-fantasy epic, Baldur’s Gate 3 – 100 to 150 hours by median estimates.

The question now remains – will people still take the time to read analogue literature in an age of hyper-immersive, personally tailored gaming experiences? As we head into 2024, we are perhaps closer to finding out than we could imagine.

~

Beheading Of A Queen

by Matias Travieso-Diaz

Two heads are better than one.

John Heywood Proverbs (1546)

Gravesend, Kent, September 1, 1586

To: Nicolas de Neufville, Marquis de Villeroi, Secretary of State for War to His Majesty King Henry III of France [sent by carrier pigeon]

Monsieur Villeroi: Greetings. Please deliver this letter to the King.

[Following is the translation of a message encrypted using the Vivonne cypher]

Your Serene Majesty: This report updates my earlier ones regarding the hostilities between King Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth. Since war broke out, Philip has been preparing to launch an attack against England. While Philip’s original motivation was displeasure over English privateer attacks on Spanish vessels returning from the New World and the aid Elizabeth is giving to the rebels in the Netherlands, a new factor is driving him to accelerate preparations for an invasion of England: the perilous situation of the long-imprisoned Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. I have learned that, based on the discovery of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth in which Mary was implicated, Elizabeth intends to bring Mary to trial accusing her of treason.

My sources assure me that Philip is leaning strongly on renowned Admiral Marquis de Santa Cruz, under whose command an Armada is being assembled, demanding that the fleet depart without delay. Likewise, Philip is urging Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, the commander of his forces in the Netherlands, to gather the invading army and finalize construction of the barges that will carry Spanish troops to England.

The English are aware that an attack is imminent and are fortifying the approaches to London. I am fortunate, thanks to your Majesty’s wisdom, to have been secretly redeployed after relations between England and France soured last year and I was recalled from my post as Ambassador to Elizabeth’s court. I now reside incognito in a house in the village of Gravesend, a day’s ride by horse-drawn carriage from the center of London. I miss being Ambassador, but I realize my gathering and conveying accurate information is vital to France.

Sire, I pray to God that He keep your Majesty in perfect health.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this First day of September, 1586.

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  Gravesend, Kent, October 17, 1586

Your Serene Majesty: Mary Stuart’s trial on charges of conspiring to assassinate her cousin Queen Elizabeth was concluded yesterday and Mary was found guilty, which will result in her death. The Catholic population in England is quite angry.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 17th day of October, 1586.

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Gravesend, Kent, February 9, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: Much has happened since my last communication. A matter of greatest importance is the demise of Mary Stuart. Following the guilty verdict of treason, the English Parliament passed a bill petitioning for Mary’s execution. For the next three months, Elizabeth took no action, perhaps fearful of the repercussions of killing an anointed queen. Finally, a week ago, the death warrant was signed and delivered to the Privy Council, which sent it out on its own authority to be administered. Mary was beheaded yesterday at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, where she had been imprisoned.

Intelligence from my Spanish sources indicates that the Armada has been assembled in Lisbon, and Admiral Santa Cruz is awaiting confirmation that the land forces are on their way to the departure area in the Netherlands. I expect that King Philip soon will issue orders for the invasion to proceed.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 9th day of February, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, June 20, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: I am unable to confirm the accuracy of all the statements in this report, as some have been conveyed to me by people claiming to have witnessed them first-hand. However, I believe the information is substantially true.

The Spanish Armada, comprising about 140 vessels, took off from Portugal on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1587 and progressed towards the English Channel, which they reached almost two months later. The Armada had an initial encounter with the English fleet stationed in Plymouth, but the battle was inconclusive and the Armada proceeded without major casualties along the channel towards a meeting with the army being brought to the coast of the Netherlands by Farnese. Their plans encountered a difficulty, however, in that Farnese was late in moving his troops to the coast. Midway across the channel, Admiral Santa Cruz decided to anchor in the Solent, a sheltered strait between the Isle of Wight and the coast of England near Portsmouth. From this protected location, Santa Cruz continued to send messages to Farnese tracking his progress, until the two agreed to link up at the Flemish seaport of Ostend. 

The Armada was continuously harassed by the smaller, more maneuverable English ships but Santa Cruz was able to bring the Armada almost intact to Ostend, where the Spanish vessels arranged themselves into a crescent, placing the barges carrying Farnese’s soldiers behind the crescent, within the protection of the Spanish warcraft. The Armada then proceeded to the English coast, where it fought a decisive battle against the English across from Margate, a seaport close to my home. Both fleets suffered extensive losses, but the barges with the Farnese troops were able to land and quickly subdued the English militia guarding the shore.

As of this writing, the progress of the Spanish army is being slowed by arriving English troops, but the Farnese contingent is also receiving reinforcement by the several thousand men aboard the Armada’s ships.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 20th day of June, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, June 24, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: Events in the Spanish invasion of England are proceeding with rapidity. Two days ago, the combined forces of the Farnese contingent and the Armada’s reinforcements broke through the English lines and forced the English to withdraw to a defensive position around the town of Dartford, trying to protect a bridge over the Thames through which troops could be transported to aid in the defense of London. Yesterday, the Spanish dislodged the English armies, crossed the bridge, and engaged and defeated the main English contingent under the Earl of Leicester, which had been stationed at Tillsbury. With this latest victory, the road to London is clear and the final battle may take place in the city itself.

Meanwhile, there have been uprisings of Catholics throughout England in support of the invaders in places like Lancashire, Westmorland, and Norfolk. The population of England, which includes a large Catholic minority, is sharply divided between those who support Elizabeth and those who want her deposed.  This sharp division between Catholics and Protestants has been a fact of English political and social life since Henry VIII broke away from the Church of Rome.   

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 24th day of June, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, August 4, 1587

Your Serene Majesty: The Spanish invasion of England has been completed. After defeating the main English land army, the Farnese troops marched west towards London. Opposition was mostly by ill-equipped, poorly trained militia whose members could not withstand the assault of the battle-hardened Spanish forces.

Two weeks later, Spanish troops arrived in London and occupied the city, meeting little resistance. They then marched in the southwest direction towards the official residence of the Queen, Windsor Castle. Elizabeth had taken refuge in the castle, which had been fortified and was protected by a force of over 30,000 soldiers under the Queen’s cousin and Royal Chamberlain, Lord Henry Hunsdon.

A siege ensued, which ended abruptly last week. Apparently, there was a revolt by Catholics within the English forces. After prevailing in a fierce struggle, the Catholics surrendered the castle to the Spanish. Whether the details of this event are true is immaterial, for the success of the invaders is a fact. Elizabeth is imprisoned and is expected to stand trial for Mary’s execution.

Alexander Farnese, acting on King Philip II’s behalf, has proclaimed Philip Howard, the godson of Philip II and a strong Catholic, as the next King of England, bearing the name Philip I. Philip Howard is the son of the Duke of Norfolk, who was Queen Elizabeth’s second cousin. The Duke had sought to marry Queen Mary Stuart and put her on the throne in place of Elizabeth, but the plot was uncovered and the Duke was tried for treason and executed in 1572.  Philip Howard himself was implicated in a similar plot in 1583 to place Mary on the throne. That plot also failed and Philip was imprisoned in the tower of London, where he was at the time of the Armada’s arrival.    

Philip Howard is thus an ideal choice to rule England as a pawn of the Spanish. He will be a strong Catholic ruler, furthering the aims of King Philip II. The English Parliament has been dissolved and many of Elizabeth’s supporters have been slain or imprisoned. However, the English fleet under Lord Howard of Effingham, Francis Drake, and John Hawkins – has taken refuge somewhere off the coast of Ireland and remains a threat to the Spanish domination of the country and the seas.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 4th day of August, 1587

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Gravesend, Kent, December 30, 1588

Your Serene Majesty: The trial of Queen Elizabeth was concluded and the Queen was found guilty of various offenses, including the murder of her cousin Mary. At dawn today, Elizabeth was beheaded and her remains incinerated.

Public opinion in England remains divided between those that revere Elizabeth as a martyr, and those – mainly Catholics – who believe her execution was justified.

New English King Philip I is expected to sign a peace treaty with Spain, seeking to bring about the removal of Spanish forces from the island. England has ended its support of the rebellion in the Netherlands and is renouncing its privateers’ attacks on Spanish shipping, which nonetheless continue to be carried out by the rebellious Navy Royal.

But all is not well with Spanish rule in England. The Protestants in the country, supported by Scotland, have chosen James VI, son of Mary Stuart, as King of England. A civil war is in progress, as the Protestant majority abhors the country’s domination by a Catholic beholden to a foreign power. The English resistance will make the ongoing Dutch efforts to oppose Spanish rule pale by comparison. 

Many years of conflict are in the offing. This enduring strife will undoubtedly weaken both Spain and England and create opportunities for France to increase its power throughout the world. Time will tell what transpires, but the potential benefits for France appear immense.

Sire, I pray that God will keep your Majesty in perfect health and grant you a blessed 1589.

Your humble and obedient subject,

Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière.

Signed this 30th of December, 1588

~

Bio:

Born in Cuba, Matias Travieso-Diaz migrated to the United States as a young man to escape political persecution. He became an engineer and lawyer and practiced for nearly fifty years. After retirement, he took up creative writing. Over eighty of his short stories have been published or accepted for publication in anthologies and paying magazines, blogs, audio books and podcasts. Some of his unpublished works have also received “honorable mentions” from several paying publications. A first collection of his stories, “The Satchel and Other Terrors” has recently been released and is available on Amazon and other book outlets.

Philosophy Note:

I took to creative writing a few years after my retirement from a career as engineer and lawyer. The transition was demanding, for it forced me to call upon my fifty years of experience in objective, fact-based writing and refocus it to generate work in which reality must join hands with (and sometimes be replaced by) visions of the world as it could, or should, be. As I started generating works of fiction, I came to realize that there is room in the creative tent for both utterly fantastic musings and thoughtful, though distorted, view of reality. The first type of writing results in horror, fantasy, romance, and other “genre” works whose main purpose is to shock, amuse, or uplift. Such works serve to provide entertainment and are valuable in their own way. The second type of writing is intended to stimulate consideration of new or controversial ideas, world views, and philosophies. Works like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New
World
are leading examples of this second type. I find such stories at times difficult to create but always satisfying, for they elicit in the reader the consideration of new or alternative concepts of human society.

The Last Tsar

by Matias Travieso-Diaz

It is better to abolish serfdom from above than wait for it to abolish itself from below.

Tsar Alexander II

“My Grandfather: A National Hero”    

On this, the fiftieth anniversary of his untimely death, I have been asked by the New Literary Gazette to share a few recollections of the life of my grandfather Gennady Ilych Kramnik. As I have grown older, memories have faded, but I still remember enough to pay tribute to my beloved dedushka, who was as much a personal hero to me as he is to Mother Russia.

My most important reminiscence is an early one, for it dates back to 1858, when I was a six-year-old lad. That spring, my grandfather took me to a performance of Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar at the Bolshoi Kammeny Theater in Saint Petersburg. Glinka had died the year before and there were commemorative performances of his operas throughout Russia. My mother remonstrated with her father-in-law for taking only me to see the opera and keeping the rest of the family at home: “We should all go and pay our respects to the late great Glinka,” she argued.

“Galina, my dear,” replied my grandfather soberly. “Tickets at the Kammeny are very expensive, and all I could afford were two of the cheapest ones, in the upper gallery where the sparrows nest. The hero’s son Vanya is an important character in the story and I want my grandson to see his namesake in action and learn the importance of being patriotic.”

My grandfather Gennady Ilych Kramnik was a bear of a man, tall and full-bearded, with a gravelly voice that commanded immediate respect. By then, he was already a member of the famous Leib Guard, the personal guards of Tsar Alexander II, and was for that reason respected by his colleagues and feared more than a little at home, where his decisions were law.

So, we went together to the opera, a first-time experience for me.

I was bored through most of the performance. However, in the third act, the hero Ivan Susanin sends his adopted son Vanya to warn the tsar that a contingent of Polish soldiers is on a deadly search for him; meanwhile, Susanin misleads the assailants into following him through remote woods. The suspense in the opera’s plot kept me awake during the fourth act, in which Vanya reaches a monastery and alerts the monks to spirit the tsar away, and in the meantime Susanin keeps the Poles off the right track. At the end, Susanin’s ruse is discovered and he is put to death.

At that point in the opera, as Susanin is about to be killed, he sings an aria about his willingness to face death, since as doing so will have made it possible for the tsar to survive. My dedushka squeezed my shoulder so hard that I winced in pain. Choking with emotion, he declared: “Vanya, I swear, I would like nothing more than to give my life for our Tsar, as Susanin did.” I could have never imagined that this wish would eventually come to be realized in a most dramatic fashion.

The concept of patriotism was rather vague for me then, but kept being reinforced by my dedushka as I grew older. He was of the true Russian country stock that might suffer indignities at the hands of the aristocrats and landed gentry but would never waver in their love for the Motherland.

Like his ancestors, he grew up on a farm in Yelets, in the Russian heartland, a member of a penniless family of serfs. Like thousands of others, they were emancipated by the Tsar in 1861. Thereafter, my grandfather would visit his kin in Yelets and regale them with tales of his service to Alexander the Liberator.

Later on, Tsar Alexander stayed the reform course, but one action that benefitted my grandfather in particular was the appointment of Dmitry Alekseyevitch Milyutin as Minister of War in 1861. My grandfather and Milyutin had become acquainted when they served in the Caucasian War. Milyutin was impressed with my grandfather’s courage, loyalty, and skill, and recommended to the Tsar that he be promoted from the Leib Guard to join the Cossack Escort, the regiment that provided personal security for the Tsar. At the time, almost all the members of the Escort were Cossacks from Terek and Kuban, thus including my dedushka, not a Cossack, in the regiment was a high honor that made him even more beholden to Alexander II and Milyutin.

Our contacts became less frequent after he joined the Escort, for he travelled constantly throughout Russia accompanying the Tsar during the sovereign’s frequent visits to all parts of our vast nation. Whenever he came to visit us, he would keep us enthralled with descriptions of the multitude of peoples and lifestyles of both the European and trans-Uralian parts of the country. All throughout those years, he never ceased to sing the praises of our beautiful land and its beloved ruler.

Despite his many reforms – or perhaps because of them – Alexander II was the focus of many attempts on his life by radical fanatics. Unsuccessful attempts to assassinate him were made in 1866, 1867, 1879 and 1880, the last two the work of a socialist group known as the Narodnaya Volya, whose aim was to overthrow the government by eliminating its leaders. My grandfather narrowly escaped the 1880 attempt, in which Stephan Khalturin, a member of the cell, set off a time bomb in the guards’ quarters one floor below the dining room in the Winter Palace. The explosion killed eleven people and wounded thirty others, including my dedushka, but failed to achieve its aim of killing Alexander II because the Tsar and his family were not in the dining room at the time. My grandfather suffered minor shrapnel wounds on the chest and left arm, but was otherwise unharmed and was decorated by the Tsar, as were other guards injured in the attack. The Tsar appointed Count Loris-Melikov as head of a Supreme Executive Commission charged with identifying and neutralizing the threats posed by so-called revolutionaries, and the Commission was in its initial stages of organization when the final attempt on the Tsar’s life was made on March 13, 1881.

On that fateful day, one of the Narodnaya Volya members, Nikolai Rysakov, threw a bomb under the Tsar’s carriage as it traversed the Catherine Canal over St. Petersburg’s Pevchesky Bridge. My grandfather was one of six Cossack guards who at the time were riding in formation escorting the Tsar’s carriage. One of the guards was killed in the explosion, as were the carriage driver and several bystanders. The carriage was bulletproof and was undamaged, and continued to proceed driverless for a few yards until it came to a stop against the bridge’s railing.

The Tsar emerged from the vehicle and started to head back towards the explosion’s location. My grandfather and other guards dismounted their horses and tried to persuade him to return to the carriage, but Alexander seemed unable to hear and stood, dazed, in the middle of the bridge. At that point, a second member of Narodnaya Volya, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, tossed another bomb at the Tsar’s feet. My grandfather, who was standing by the sovereign’s side, reacted with blinding speed: he threw himself to the ground, covering the exploding bomb and sheltering Alexander, who escaped with only minor wounds to the body.

My dedushka was essentially torn to bits by the explosion. His chest and stomach were blown open and his legs were severed; his face was terribly mutilated and unrecognizable. He was placed on the snow, on the side of the bridge, in mortal agony. A pastor from the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral who was at the end of the bridge watching the Tsar’s procession rushed to his side and gave him the last rites.

According to the pastor, my grandfather was gasping for air, taking his last few breaths before leaving this Earth. Although his words were garbled and almost inaudible, he managed to ask whether the Tsar was safe and when the pastor confirmed this he said “thank you, O Lord” as the remnant of his face smoothed into a beatific smile. And with that, he passed away.

The past five decades have proved my grandfather’s supreme sacrifice to have been worthwhile. Alexander II remained Tsar for twelve more years, during which he carried out extensive economic, legal and social reforms, such as the constitutional changes implemented in 1882. At the end of his reign, he voluntarily renounced the throne upon turning 75 in 1893. At the same time, the monarchy was abolished and the Russian Republic began its existence.

Alexander also came down hard on the left-wing conspirators that had tried to assassinate him and overthrow his regime. Count Loris-Melikov’s Supreme Executive Commission was implacable in pursuing the Narodnaya Volya and other radical groups. When the writings of Karl Marx circulated and began to be espoused by the Russian intellectual elites, the Commission rounded up socialist radicals by the thousands, executed their leaders, sent the captured rank-and-file members into exile in Siberia, and banned entry into Russia of radicals from abroad. As a result, Russia has been spared the class struggles that have taken place in Germany and France, among other countries. We have no communists here.

Partly as a consequence of the elimination of radical opponents, the transition from an Empire to a Republic proceeded without significant opposition except for the nobility and members of the Tsar’s immediate family. Alexander Alexandrovitch, who would have succeeded his father on Russia’s throne, received a very generous pension granted to him by the State, and ended his life in luxury, in a villa in Italy. Similar payments to other members of the Romanov family and the nobility were a drain on Russia’s coffers, but allowed the peaceful handover of state powers to a Federal Assembly led by a Prime Minister, not unlike counterparts in Great Britain and other Western powers.

I will add briefly that the success of the Russian Republic, itself the fruit of Tsar Alexander II’s reforms, has been partly due to the country’s governance by Alexei Maximovich Peshkov (popularly known as Maxim Gorky), a brilliant writer who became, in 1898, the youngest Prime Minister of the Republic. Gorky, who in his early years had been associated with the socialist movement, became less radical when elected to be Prime Minister. He believed in the power of diplomacy and in 1904 avoided a costly war with Japan by engineering a territorial swap under which Russia would maintain dominance over Manchuria while Japan controlled Korea. He kept Russia at peace and prosperity for another decade so that the country was united when war broke out between the Triple Entente and the Central Powers. Russia was a key player in defeating the Germans in what became known as the Great War.

After the end of hostilities, a peace conference was convened in Paris, lasting between 1919 and 1920. At the talks, Gorky mediated between U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who desired a lenient peace agreement with Germany, and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, who was determined to see Germany punished. Through his intervention, while Germany was ordered to pay reparations, the amount was reduced and the time for payment extended to allow Germany to remain viable and recover from the losses suffered through the conflict.

As of this writing, there is still peace in Europe, although turmoil remains in the countries that were defeated in the Great War. I am confident, however, that a democratic Russian Republic will remain untouched by any troubling developments and will maintain the social and economic gains that my grandfather’s selfless sacrifice made possible. Russia will continue to be a positive force for world peace.

Ivan Viktorovich Kramnik, Moscow, March 1931

~

Bio:

Matias Travieso-Diaz was born in Cuba and migrated to the United States as a young man. He became an engineer and lawyer and practiced for nearly fifty years. He retired and turned his attention to creative writing. Over seventy of his stories have been published or accepted for publication in paying short story anthologies, magazines, blogs, audio books and podcasts; his work in the alternate history genre includes recent publications by Grantville Gazette, The Copperfield Review, and Sci Phi Journal.

Philosophy Note:

“The Last Tsar” is an alternate history tale in which a small twist of events in Nineteenth Century Russia (failure of the 1881 attempt to assassinate Tsar Alexander II) leads to a total change in the future of that country and the world by forestalling the rise of communism, preventing Russia’s war with Japan in 1905, avoiding War World II, and creating a peaceful Russia that does not engage in military forays abroad.

Rejection Of Empiricism In Applied Metaphysics Leading To Einstein’s Theory Of Sertial Reflectivity: Exegetical Review

by Arturo Sierra

By M. Alvarado, professor of History of Metaphysics at the University of Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura. Translated from the original German by W. Eguiguren. This research was made possible by a grant from the Imperial Institute for History of Metaphysics, sponsored by His Majesty Karl XIX of the Holy Roman Empire, King of Spain and its Territories.

Abstract

No theory of metaphysics has been subject to stricter scrutiny than Einstein’s Theory of Sertial Reflectivity (TSR), doubtlessly because of its counter-intuitive nature and profound implication. Since the publication of “On the Instantiation-dynamics of Ideal Reflections” (1905), more than a hundred distinct experiments have been designed to test predictions made by TSR, all of which have confirmed Einstein’s basic proposition. Yet many of its more “outlandish” implications have been impossible to test in abstract due to the lack of sufficiently powerful devices. Only in recent years, thanks in part to the Large Concept Collider, the Hubble Celestial Theoscope, and the Ideal Interferometric Group-Class Observator (LIGO), have these been subject to verification. Yet the experimental context of new tests has been ignored or forgotten by researchers. In order to adequately understand the significance of such developments, it is vitally important to contextualize them in a history of metaphysical experimentation. This paper proposes a brief overview of tests in applied metaphysics, from its origin leading up to Einstein, and the significance they had in rejecting erroneous, materialistic thought.

Contemporary metaphysics is built on the presumption, as stated by Karl Popper, that no real knowledge can be obtained by studying matter or by any empirical methods whatsoever. Indeed, empirical is, in philosophical circles, often used as a slur to discredit insufficiently a priori statements, and pseudo-sciences such as physics and chemistry are held in the same bad regard as homeopathy and economics. But this has not always been so. Only since the early XXth century have empirical thoughts been completely rejected, in great part thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Sertial Reflectivity (TSR).

Rejection of empiricist thought has been a long and arduous process in the history of natural philosophy. A complete account is impossible in the given space, but it is hoped that these pages will give the reader a general idea of how metaphysics, over two-and-a-half millennia, managed to expunge all materialistic ideas from its heart.

Empiricist Thought and its Refutation from Antiquity to the Late 1800s

From the very beginning of metaphysics, it has been admitted that the main obstacle in a properly philosophical understanding of reality comes from the difficulty of testing abstract notions. Even though we now know Plato was fundamentally correct in his description of Pure Ideas, subsequent thinkers of Antiquity were still plagued by physicalist thought. Plato was extraordinarily intuitive, but his observation of the Ideal Plane or Topos Ouranos was so limited, no proper account of it could be given at the time. Thus, Aristotle proposed matter somehow affected essential instantiation, and the Stoic school arrived at the conclusion that esse, which they called halitus, was itself material, though of a very special kind of matter.

Yet to these researchers we owe the first attempts at capturing essence separately from the bodies they instantiated. Naïvely, they tried to imprison Ideas in special bottles, quartz crystals, and gemstones. Much later, Descartes would point out that such methods came down to attempts at making empirical what is abstract, a method modern metaphysics has learned to carefully avoid. However, Aristotle and the Stoics had marvelously clear glimpses of Pure Ideas even as they were misguidedly trying to link them to the physical, and so opened the gates to testable abstract theory.

To the Middle Ages we owe not only the first accounts of God’s effect on esse, but—perhaps more importantly—the first systematic devices of abstract testing. Aquinas proposed one of the better-known such tests: in separate chambers (an extremely primitive black box, in fact) he placed a group of faithful Muslims and Jews, carefully recording the effect their prayers had on God’s surrounding presence. As the Muslim devout were replaced one by one with less fervent believers, the Divinity became sufficiently Yahweh-like to be measured as such, even by Aquinas’ poor observation techniques, and vice versa becoming more Allah-like.

A century later, Occam proved that the less determined God was by faith, i. e. considering Them only as immobile first-cause without attributes at all and only subject to negative knowledge, the more arbitrary the Divinity’s influence became. He arrived at this insight when he noticed that inebriation was immoral on a Tuesday, but acceptable next Wednesday. Abstract experimentation such as this had a profound effect on Western religion, and thus European politics, as the Catholic Church banned untestable beliefs. The dogma of testability resolved the looming crisis of Protestantism, as dissidents and the Pope managed to agree on a common criterion for theological proof.

Though intermediate theories should not be forgotten, it was not until Newton’s Principia Mathematica that metaphysics acquired an exact method for itself. Newton devised a way of manipulating separate Ideas by discovering calculus and noticing the effects he could produce on geometrical entities, such as ellipses, when he made minute alterations in the corresponding equations. In this way, he became the first to change the physical shape of an object simply by altering the mathematical description of its circumference, famously making an apple become roughly cubical by misrepresenting the graph that described its circumference. From then on forwards, researchers had intangible indication that matter is determined by Ideas, never the other way around. Though not abstract in nature, Newton’s alchemical discoveries are worth mentioning, as he was the first to transform lead into gold. Unfortunately, the training and time required to think the necessary Ideas for transmutation was, in the end, more expensive than the gold itself.

At the same time, Leibnitz isolated the essence of mathematical objects using the same calculus, which he developed concurrently. Famously, his tampering with the substance of the number 2 caused the financial collapse of 1701, when bankers and accountants were unable to make any sort of arithmetic using even numbers. The intimate relation between Newton’s and Leibnitz’s work led to a warm friendship between both authors, which has since been a model of what can be achieved by collaboration in all fields of philosophy.

Newton’s discoveries allowed Kant to prove that objects-in-themselves could be known and understood as such. His Critique of Mixed Reason definitively showed that Hume’s thitherto incontrovertible theory of causation was wrong, by testing the relation between cause and effect and arriving at methods that could deduce causation from first principle. On the way to a framework of transcendental aesthetics, he also refuted Wolf’s radical empiricism. Kant’s critical opus became the basis of modern metaphysical metatheory for a century to come, often being referred to as Newton-Kantian mechanics.

It was not long before philosophy had its first practical applications. Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier imbued a large ball of cotton with the esse of a cloud, making it float in the air. In the early 1800s, Richard Trevithick, Matthew Murray, and George Stephenson experimented in transference, imbuing completely mechanical apparatuses with the esse of horses and rabbits, inventing the locomotive in the process. Theoretical and praxical metaphysics have always had a fruitful relation since.

The primacy of Idea over matter was further cemented by Darwin’s Theory of Spontaneity. By leaving carefully calculated amounts of raw notions and random materials in sealed glass containers, he produced life-forms such as worms and mice, and later completely new animals, such as dragons and chimeras. Spontaneity showed that organization would supervene on matter even in the case of living beings, the only physical requirement for supervenience being the presence of the adequate mental ingredients.

The Search for a New Anti-Empiricist Paradigm in Metaphysics

Preceding Einstein’s radical insights, a series of discoveries created a crisis in theoretical metaphysics. On the one hand, Lobachevsky, Bolyai, and Riemann developed non-Eucledean spaces, contravening long held hypothesis about the Ideas of geometrical shapes in the Topos Ouranos. On the other hand, Fizeau partially verified suppositions by celestionomer Christiaan Huygens, who in turn had elaborated on experiments made by Rømer in 1676, and concluded that the speed of light in a vacuum was instantaneous. These developments presented serious questions to Newton-Kantian mechanics.

Indeed, tradition had unanimously held that causality, though intrinsically metaphysical, depended on contact between bodies in order to be transmitted. If light, which had recently been proven to be neither a particle nor a wave, and thus thoroughly abstract in nature, could travel instantaneously to any point in the universe, it meant cause-and-effect relations also had to be instantaneous, or at least could be. Meanwhile, the Circle of Madrid, a group of notable metaphysicians who published under the collective name Jaime C. Maxpozo, managed to isolate ser (‘being’) from esse under laboratory conditions, giving rise to Sertial dynamics, again defying traditionally held opinions about the inseparability of being-itself and being-this-ness.

It had been clear for some time that Newton-Kantian metaphysics was in need of a new theory capable of accounting for such phenomena, but attempts at solving the crisis tended to question experimental results, not reworking the underlaying philosophy. Researchers desperately tried to design experiments that would either restrict the speed of light under certain conditions, describe light as a carrier of momentum and energy, or simply deny it could have any effects on its own, i. e. not without materials objects to shine upon. All of these experiments kept coming back with the same result: light always travels instantaneously, it has no physical properties at all, and does not require an object to shine upon in order for certain effects to take place.

The critical experiment was performed by Michelson and Morley. In 1887, they described an ideal triangle with two angles resting at opposite ends of an infinite non-Eucledean space and one angle inside their laboratory. They proceeded to postulate that the points on its vertices were zero-dimensional prisms that could change the color of a light beam in accordance with their angles in regard to the sides of the triangle itself. Such an experiment could not have been designed before the discovery of four-dimensional numbers (quartenions), necessary to describe the angle of zero-dimensional prisms. Finally, they intended to shine blue light and observed that the color coming from the flashlight was determined by the prisms at the angles on the other ends of the infinite non-Euclidean space, emanating inside the laboratory as red or green no matter how exactly it was described as blue at its origin.

Since the light had not interacted with any physical objects at all, and since it had clear effects on its own color, the color-effect had to have happened simultaneously to its cause, the prism at the other end of infinite non-Euclidean space. Moreover, causality did not require interaction with any material stuff. The consequences of the Michelson-Morley experiments were so drastic, both researched kept trying to refute their own work for over twenty years, until TSR gave a framework to explain the results they had obtained.

Indeed, the revelation was baffling. In short, Pure Ideas could have effects on themselves. In this context, metaphysics as a discipline was thrown into great confusion. The need of new models that could explain the interaction between Pure Ideas with themselves and with instantiated reality seemed urgent. Two decades after Michelson and Morley, Einstein’s contributions, though shocking, were admitted to be a revolutionary novel framework for traditional and new problems in metaphysics.

~

Bio:

Arturo Sierra (Santiago, Chile, 1987) has published the novel ‘Mundos por venir’ and the short stories ‘Sub temporis’ and ‘Victor, Whiskey, Charlie.’ Recently won the first price in the Poliedro 7 contest with the story “Lemniscata,” to be published in an anthology during 2022. Member of the Chilean Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (ALCiFF).

Philosophy Note:

Metaphysics is a tempting way to think about reality. Mostly, because it’s fun — as Borges said, a subgenre of science fiction. But it has a tiny problem: there’s no way of deciding if any of it is true, i. e., no testing, no falsifiability. So ideas become fanciful, and almost every philosopher since modern times has declared himself (always him-self, yes) the re-founder of metaphysics, the first guy to discover “firm grounds” on which to start the work. It has all come to nothing. Ok, but what if metaphysics could be tested for? The results became jaberwockianly absurd much faster than what I could have imagined. The author would like to acknowledge professors Correia and Flores, who inspired this experiment with their enlightening courses.

The Year After Creation 7530

by Bob Johnston

Vladimir handed over his diplomatic token and walked past the guard. The interior of Hagia Sophia was cool after the searing sunlight, but light filled the magnificent space and he felt the familiar warmth in his belly. It was not his first time in Constantinople but he had only ever walked around the cathedral before. It was the model for every church in the lands of the Rus and the Romans, but everywhere else they were pale imitations of this glory.

The service would be packed, but mostly with invited dignitaries from around the two allied empires. He presented himself to an usher and was politely taken to his seat. He smiled as he sat, three quarters of the way back from the high altar and discretely out of the way. Protocol had placed him precisely where he belonged, a Rus brother but neither a Roman nor someone of especially high rank. He relaxed. He was here for the annual commemoration and having no official functions suited him just nicely.

A Kievan magistrate was seated beside him, his chains of office glittering in the light pouring down from the dome and in through the many windows. Vladimir greeted him in formal Rus manner, which the man replied to, but then made it clear that he too was here for the event and not for chatting. Both men went back to studying this masterpiece of architecture while the seats around them slowly filled up.

The Romans began arriving as fashionably close to the beginning of things as their status allowed. Their various robes were ostentatiously grander than those of the Rus guests but Vladimir was aware of inverted snobbery among his people. Their garments were of the finest manufacture, but deliberately given a peasant cum soldier look.

A dignified silence fell as officials began gathering on the wide marble chancel. And everyone stood as the Roman emperor entered. He was preceded by three assistants dressed in magnificent robes which would have graced Justinian’s court fifteen hundred years earlier. Each was carrying a book which they placed side by side on the wide oak lectern. The emperor then motioned the assembly to sit.

Vladimir studied the robed soldier on the chancel. Theophilus the 9th. A soldier born of soldiers and yet a great administrator, a friend of the people, a diplomat. Vladimir approved. Rome had suffered too many times under corrupt and weak leaders. One could only hope that Theophilus might ignore the biological urge to pass the crown onto his son. The Rus had long since used adoption to ensure good succession. Ironically they had taken the idea from the Romans.

“My fellow Romans, my Rus kindred, my Frankish and British guests. Welcome. Today is the 29th of May, in the 7530th Year After Creation. Or for my friends from the north-west 2022 Anno Domini.” A polite chuckle rolled round the vast space. The emperor raised one of the books, a battered object in a tattered light brown dust cover. “Gibbon’s ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.” He shook his head and gently replaced the book. The second book was tidier. “The Quran.” He put this down with a little more reverence and lifted the final book. “The Christian Bible, containing the scriptures of our Jewish friends.” He set it down.

“Around our empire, and that of the Rus, today we remember the events of the 20th of May 6961.” Again he smiled in the direction of the Franks and Britons who politely smiled back. “The 29th of May 1453. The day the Roman Empire came to an end…” He paused and lifted up Gibbon’s book “…according to this document. And the end of the Roman Empire was brought about by the followers of the faith described in the Quran.” He put down Gibbon’s book and briefly lifted the Quran. He then walked round the lectern and stood in front of the gathering.

“Gibbon’s book describes, in a language that does not exist, the destruction of our empire over half a millennium ago, and the western territories a thousand years before that. We all know how the book arrived, dropped by a disembodied hand into the middle of an ecumenical council in this very city a century ago. Likewise the Quran, easier to understand because it is written in the language of our Arab allies to the south, dropped by a disembodied hand reaching out from a hole in reality.

“It took years to decipher Gibbon’s book, its language having to be built from dialects of German injected with elements of our beloved Latin and Greek, as well as contributions from the language of our Frankish friends. But difficulties aside the message was clear. The church was a huge factor in the destruction of this empire, presumably in some other world, and someone there was trying to warn us. And another faith dealt the final blow.”

He went back round the lectern and lifted the Bible.

“This was once a center of our communal life, but no more.” He replaced it, again carefully.

“I Theophilus, Emperor of the Roman people, Consul of the Roman Senate, Caesar Augustus, preach a sermon of personal tolerance. Believe what you will, but do it in the privacy of your hearts. We have seen the destruction of our world in some other version of reality and we will not see our beloved Rome similarly destroyed. You will stand.”

The assembly got to its feet.

“Repeat after me, there is no God.”

The crowd repeated the phrase.

“There is no son of God.”

Repeated.

“There is no spirit of God at work within us.”

“There are no prophets of God, and never have been, sharing the words and commands of God.”

“If there is an afterlife it is no part of God’s creation.”

“The universe is us, our families, our nation, and our emperor.”

Vladimir looked across at the Catholic Franks and Britons and saw their discomfort as this inversion of a Christian service played out. He turned his attention back to the emperor, betting to himself that all the old disputes between the eastern and western church must seem like wasted time and paper now. He dutifully repeated the denial of faith, loudly and clearly in his best Greek.

“Rome is eternal. Rome has no need of gods.”

Theophilus instructed the assembly to sit.

“Rome is 2775 years old. Its center moved to this great city fifteen hundred years ago, and our Rus friends like to think of their beloved Kiev as a third Rome. It is an idea I encourage. Many cities of Rome, but only one Rome, strong, steady and eternal.”

#

Vladimir made his way to his accommodation, his head still spinning from the beauty of Hagia Sophia and the sheer audacity of this annual anti-religious gathering. The cult of no-God had grabbed the empire in a matter of decades, but then again Rome had always been prone to latch onto religious fads. He wondered if this strangely religious atheism would survive Theophilus, but then noticed a flyer pasted to a wall. A race was starting shortly at the Hippodrome.

It was the 29th of May 7530 and his employer, a well-connected supplier of rock oil to both the Romans and the Rus, was not expecting him back for days. He might as well enjoy his time in the great City for once. As he turned in the direction of the Hippodrome a flight of aircraft roared overhead, followed quickly by another, all six heading south. Another man watched them disappear over the Bosphorus and then turned to Vladimir.

“I wonder what those Persians are up to now?”

Vladimir nodded, reached into his cloak pocket and quietly squeezed the small Rus Bible he always carried with him.

Persians to the east, always testing Rome’s resolve. For a moment his thoughts turned to that Quran, handled so respectfully by the emperor, and those thoughts rolled above and across Persia’s westernmost reaches to the little known or understood lands of the Arabs. “Rome is eternal,” he whispered to himself. Clearly not in the world that had given them those two books that had turned this world upside down. He looked back at Hagia Sophia, drank in its beauty, and then went to bet on a few horse races.

~

Bio:

Bob Johnston lives in Scotland where he scribbles, reads theology, and marvels at the country’s beauty when it isn’t raining, which isn’t often. He likes a good story; ancient, old, or brand new and tries to create good stories of his own. A sample can be found on his website bobjohnstonfiction.com.

Philosophy Note:

As a Christian clergyman who is often baffled by what people believe, when compared with what passes for orthodox belief, I have wondered in this story if non-belief can be religiously embraced. The story also takes the fall of Constantinople on 29th May 1453 seriously because I don’t think the ramifications of that day have been fully played out yet.

Notes On The Debates In The Federal Convention Concerning A Council Of Oracles

by Ron Fein

JULY 27, 1787, IN CONVENTION

The postponed question being taken up of whether the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary should be joined by a Council of Oracles.

Mr. MADISON moved that such a council be constituted as a separate body within the Legislature, equal to the House and Senate, its consent needed for all legislation.

Col. MASON approved heartily of the motion. The oracles’ wisdom had proven critical during the late war. At the siege of Charleston, only their foresight averted a defeat and ignominious surrender. And General Washington has credited his victory at the battle of White Plains to their guidance. If New York had fallen to the British, the war may have lasted seven years rather than four.

Mr. GERRY. No one disputes that the wisdom of the oracles wd. guide the men of the representative assemblies in their judgment. But the Council of Oracles shd. form a fourth branch of the general Govt., not a body within the Legislature. The oracles shd. not be burdened to vote routinely on matters of roads and tariffs &c., but instead bestow their insights upon the other three branches as needed.

Mr. KING concurred with Mr. Gerry. If the oracles are constantly occupied with mundane questions, the spirit may depart from them. Let them advise the other branches of the Govt. when needed, and otherwise tend to their own inscrutable affairs.

Doctr. FRANKLIN did not see the necessity of a separate Council of Oracles. In Greece the Pythia at Delphi speaks to those who seek counsel, whether high or low, for one day per month, nine months per annum. But she forms no part of any Govt.

Mr. HAMILTON remarked that the case of the Pythia was not applicable. Greece is divided and the priestesses must be available to Sparta even when it marches agst. Athens. Our object is a Govt. that unites the States, not one that advises them in their wars agst. each other.

Col. MASON. Further support for this proposition derives from the varied locations of the temples. Without a separate body in the Govt. empowered to restrain the secular branches, will Massachusetts heed the words of a priestess in Virginia if her words differ from those of the one in Boston?

Mr. MADISON. The oracles are all infallible and their advice, if understood correctly, is identical. But they may phrase their words differently, or men may understand them differently, leading to misunderstanding. A council of them wd. speak with one voice.

Mr. SHERMAN agreed that oracular guidance is indispensable. Men are corrupt and shortsighted; the advice of the priestesses is always correct even if we fail to understand it. But fallible men must interpret their words and make their own decisions. The oracles shd. not be encumbered by formal positions in the Govt. given their sacred duties in their temples &c.

Mr. KING apprehended that if the oracles formed a part of the Govt., that unscrupulous men wd. attempt to bribe them to secure advantage.

Mr. WILSON. The priestesses must remain pure and holy. To further embroil their delicate and virtuous constitutions in daily affairs wd. strain their spirits overmuch. The Executive and perhaps the Judiciary are well advised to consult the Apollonian priestesses from time to time, but they shd. not be given a role in the general affairs of the Govt.

Col. MASON’s opinion had been changed by the arguments used in the discussion. He was now sensible of the necessity of protecting the oracular priestesses in their spiritual domains and not overly enmeshing them in the affairs of men.

Mr. MADISON was content to withdraw the original motion and propose another in its place. He moved that, from time to time, the Executive shall seek the advice and counsel of an oracular priestess when he shall think proper; and further, that he may require the opinion of the principal officers of the Govt. regarding the correct interpretation of her words. 

The motion passed unanimously.

~

Bio:

Ron Fein is a writer, lawyer, and activist based near Boston, Massachusetts (USA). Find him at ronfein.com and on Twitter @ronfein.

Philosophy Note:

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution sometimes showed great wisdom and foresight, but they were blinded in many ways by their own prejudices, divisions, and misconceptions about how the new United States of America would develop. What if something like the Oracle at Delphi, widely accepted as capable of accurately divining the future, had been available to them? Would they have been able to take proper advantage of this amazing resource? My guess is not.

Those We Leave Behind

by Vaughan Stanger

Berkut, this is Zarya-1. You are instructed to proceed on your own initiative, over.”

Yevgeny Khrunov turned in his seat and frowned at Pavel Popovich. As far as he was concerned, it was unprecedented for mission control to say something so ambiguous, but his commander merely shrugged his shoulders before supplying the default response.

“Roger, Zarya-1.”

Pavel toggled a switch on the control panel, thus ensuring mission control could not hear their conversation. But for now, Yevgeny thought his commander looked lost for words.

“Pasha, don’t you think that was a very strange thing for Zarya to say?”

Pavel shot Yevgeny a look of reproach before delivering a typically slow nod.

“Unless, perhaps, the situation in the Caucasus has worsened…” Pavel puffed out his breath before continuing. “Still, that is one for the politicians.” Now he faced Yevgeny and gave a tight-lipped nod. “We have trained for many months to undertake this mission, which we will perform to our utmost abilities. We will show the Americans what we are made of.”

“We will also show Alexey.”

His commander winced.

“I won’t, Zhenya, but you will.”

Yevgeny knew that Pavel too would have dreamed of being the first cosmonaut to walk on the Moon, but unlike the Apollo missions that responsibility did not rest on the commander’s shoulders. Instead, it fell to him to succeed where Alexey Leonov had failed and achieve a solo landing. Despite their longstanding personal animosity, which arose from his illustrious comrade’s initial assessment of Yevgeny’s piloting skills, Alexey had passed on the lessons he’d learned during his near-fatal attempt and wished him luck, as any cosmonaut would.

In truth, they were lucky to have the chance after NASA terminated their lunar landing programme following the loss of Apollo 13. None of the cosmonauts had expected the Soviet programme to continue. But with Korolev’s N1 rocket working reliably at last, the Politburo had decreed that the Soviet people should continue to pursue their destiny in space by building a base on the Moon. If Yevgeny succeeded then the Soviet Union would regain the lead in manned spaceflight while American efforts remained hobbled by a faltering Space Shuttle programme and a belligerent president.

The sound of throat-clearing jerked Yevgeny out of his musings. Pavel was smiling at him.

“As your commander, I order you to proceed as planned!”

Yevgeny chuckled.

“Don’t worry, Pasha. I will not disappoint you.”

He snapped a salute and commenced suiting up.

#

The contact light flickered for a moment before stabilising. Yevgeny’s heart pounded in time with the metallic clicks from the LK lander’s body as he peered through the down-slanted window, watching the dust settle amid the harsh sunlight. The landing radar had done its job and so, too, had Yevgeny.

Beat that, Alexey!

No, that was a churlish thing to say in this moment of triumph. His training required him to do better.

Zarya-1, this is Medved. I have landed successfully! Two percent of landing fuel remains. The LK’s tilt angle is five degrees. I am now performing my emergency take-off checks. Over…”

He listened to the radio link. Nothing! The absence of a human voice confirmed his suspicion that his achievement had gone unnoticed.

Until the LOK’s orbit brought it into line-of sight, Yevgeny would be the loneliest man in the world.

#

The Apollo moon-walkers had made everything look so easy, Yevgeny reflected as he struggled with his long-handled scoop. So far he had failed to collect an acceptable soil sample. Despite the superior design of his Krechet-94 spacesuit, he was finding it harder to work on the Moon than the Americans did. If an Apollo astronaut had fallen over, his comrade could have helped him back onto his feet, whereas he would have to rely on his suit’s rear-mounted roll bar. He intended to report his frustrations to the mission planners when he got home, a thought that emphasised his continuing isolation at this moment of apparently supreme importance to the Soviet people.

Zarya-1, this is Medved. Over.”

Yevgeny’s suit radio hissed noise at him in apparent mockery of his efforts. Everything was working normally, yet he’d heard nothing from mission control since a terse acknowledgement after he’d undocked from the orbiting capsule.

This wasn’t “proceed on your own initiative.” This was abandonment.

He glanced at the watch he’d strapped to the left arm of his spacesuit. Forty-five minutes remained until the scheduled end of his moonwalk. But the LOK’s orbit would bring it above the foreshortened horizon in less than five. It would be good to talk to Pavel again. In the meantime, since mission control refused to communicate with him, he would perform a task of his own. He extracted the plastic-wrapped photograph of Svetlana and Valery from his thigh pocket, tapped it against his faceplate and then dropped it onto soil the colour of ashes.

His wife had begged him not to fly again after his first mission, but cosmonauts did not listen to their wives.

“See you soon my darlings.”

Assuming the return home went to plan.

Pavel’s voice came over the radio.

“Medved, this is Berkut. How do you hear me? Over.”

Berkut, this is Medved. I hear you loud and clear. But I have not heard from Zarya. Do you think he drank too much vodka and fell asleep on the job? Over.”

Medved, this is Berkut. In Zarya’s position, I would have been drinking vodka too.”

Something in Pavel’s voice made Yevgeny realise he was not the only one who felt desperately alone.

“I will take off on schedule, my friend.”

He at least would not deviate from the mission plan.

#

“Welcome back, comrade.”

Comrade?

Yevgeny’s commander sounded like a party apparatchik addressing the cosmonaut corps. No congratulations, no bear-hug, no relief expressed at the successful completion of a mission phase made even more hazardous by the need to undertake a spacewalk in order to return to the LOK. The lack of a pressurised tunnel, as used on Apollo, was another disadvantage he intended to mention to Korolev, assuming he got the chance.

“Pasha, what is wrong?”

“Did you hear from mission control?”

Yevgeny shook his head. “No, not even once! Did you?”

“Just one brief transmission, which ended abruptly.”

“What did Zarya have to say for himself?”

“It wasn’t Zarya this time.”

Yevgeny raised his eyebrows. “Then who was it?”

“It was Alexey.”

A chill seeped into Yevgeny’s bones that had nothing to do with the capsule’s temperature. Alexey knew the mission protocols as well as any cosmonaut, but had breached them anyway.

“What did he have to say for himself?”

“Alexey stated his sincere admiration for you…”

“Hah!” Finally, the recognition he deserved. Yet the look in Pavel’s eyes suggested that this was not the right moment to gloat. Instead he asked, “Was that all?”

“Alexey said that we should choose wisely.”

Yevgeny frowned at him. “What on earth did he mean by that?”

Rather than answer, Pavel glanced at the mission clock before swinging an assembly of tubes and lenses scavenged from the LOK’s cameras over the docking cupola’s window. When directed, Yevgeny peered through the eyepiece.

“Look closely.”

The instrument revealed a drifting view of Eastern Asia. After several seconds he spotted a flash of light to the west of the Urals. Yevgeny turned away, his mouth gaping.

Pavel nodded. “I have also observed multiple detonations in Europe and North America.”

A picture of Moscow transformed into a crater flashed into Yevgeny’s mind. His beloved Svetlana and Valery would be nothing more than streaks of carbon on pulverised brickwork. He did not wish to see that.

Now he wished he’d kept the photograph.

Pavel’s voice jolted him out of his introspection.

“We are faced with a bitter choice.”

This was what Alexey had meant. Their comrade had known what was coming and what it implied for them.

Yevgeny nodded. “I understand.”

There were, he knew, only three options, each of which would leave them dead: two slowly and one much more quickly. They could choose to return to Earth, where they would doubtless die of thirst or starvation while awaiting a rescue that would never come. Or they could remain in lunar orbit and die of suffocation—the fate of the Apollo 13 astronauts. The alternative was to go out like heroes of the Soviet Union, in a blaze of glory. The LK was dry, with no way of refuelling it. But a carefully calibrated boost from the LOK’s engine would lower its orbit’s perilune sufficiently to achieve a crash-landing.

He turned to his commander. Pavel had a family too, but they would be no less dead than Yevgeny’s.

“My friend, do you really want to go home?”

Pavel gave a slow shake of the head. “No.”

Yevgeny took this as his cue to explain his idea. When he finished, his commander frowned at him.  

“True, it would mean something to me to know that I’ll be the second cosmonaut to land on the Moon, but are you absolutely sure this is what you want?”

Yevgeny had told his commander about the photograph before the launch. If he could not see his family again, he would at least be reunited with them, after a fashion.

He nodded. “Yes, for me, this would be for the best.”

“Then we are agreed.”

A pang of self-doubt exploded inside Yevgeny’s head.

“Do you think Alexey would approve?”

Pavel gave a slow nod.

“I am certain of it.”

These things mattered to cosmonauts.

Yevgeny snatched up the mission plan folder and began scribbling numbers on his notepad. “Let’s see how close we can get to my family.”

~

Bio:

Having trained as an astronomer and subsequently managed an industrial research group, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction full-time. His short stories have appeared in Interzone, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, and Nature Futures, among others, and have been collected in Moondust Memories, Sons of the Earth & Other Stories, and The Last Moonshot & Other Stories. Follow Vaughan’s writing adventures at vaughanstanger.com.

Philosophy Note:

This Hard SF story explores a situation where the impossibility of survival must be accepted, yet a meaningful choice must still be made: a decision predicated on the characters’ training but also their personal needs.

Hero’s Engine

by Austin Scarberry

The following transcript is from a HIST101 lecture given by Professor Sara Atef at Agrippa Academy in Epicurisia on 14 Hekatombaōin, 1295 CE. It has been translated from its original Greek.

            Brilliant minds of the Empire have produced wonders across the ages: the automated machinery of our modern day is merely the culmination of centuries’ dedication and curiosity. You all assembled here hoping to be among them. I hope you aspire to this. If you do not, you at least seek to know your betters, and that is admirable in its own way. Regardless of your intentions, I wish for you now to all meditate on the accomplishments of the past which allow you to be here.

(Five minutes are allowed to pass in silence.)

            How far back did you travel? Perhaps to the construction of this Academy, the sweat of the builders and the pockets of their sponsors. Perhaps you went further, to those who founded this city a century ago, or further still, to the pilgrims who sailed to this New World and struggled so until it was established in the name of our king. We can go as far as we like, but this is far enough for our means. Here we find the most crucial of inventions, that power which granted our forebears the ability to travel faster, stay warmer, fight harder, and rest easier. Here, encased in steel and panting beneath the pilgrims’ feet, we find the steam engine.

            The steam engines of now are capable of anything, employing careful mathematics and painstaking precision to bend networks of heat and moisture to our will. Even these advanced models share a common ancestor, and with the luxury of retrospect it seems a simpleton of an ancestor indeed. Still, retrospect is a cursed thing to the optimist, so we are better served admiring the humble roots of our cutting-edge technology. Let us cast our minds further back now, a millennium or so, to the core of civilization itself.

            The city of Alexandria was then as it is now: a thriving mecca of free thought and intrepid minds. The Old World was a place full of mystery, and our people’s natural response to mystery has always been inquisition. Ask a question, and the Greeks will seek an answer. This is true now as well as then, yet the world contains fewer mysteries now, and therefore prompts fewer to quest for insight. Legends of philosophy and material sciences populated Alexandria in those days, far too many to elaborate on in one afternoon, and no doubt you have heard of them already: Hypatia, Euclid, Eratosthenes. We will explore the legacies of these our forerunners later in the term, but for now we focus on a singular mind among them. Let us examine Hero, also known as Heron.

            A mathematician and inventor, Hero taught at the Library of Alexandria from approximately 43 to 65 CE. His contributions were mainly in the field of geometry, though some cheeky folk might first name the vending machine as his greatest pre-steam work. His first foray into steam power came in the form of the aeolipile, a device which harnessed the power of heated water to turn a suspended globe in its frame. It was a marvel, to be sure, but one of little practical value. The aeolipile found use in some temples as a primitive symbol of divinity, a practice which over centuries evolved into our ever-present Gefenist network-monuments. Still, this is not a lecture on theology or artistic engineering, and I am getting ahead of myself. Outside of an amusing party trick, the aeolipile seemed consigned to a humble, if intriguing, side note in Hero’s long list of accomplishments.

            Hero was not one to accept uselessness, however. He refused to entertain that such fascinating technology possessed no potential for practical purpose. Some of you here might learn from him. He wondered to himself: “what might be accomplished if the force of the steam could be stored and applied at a later time, perhaps even to a different aim?” From this curiosity grew the most significant endeavor of Hero’s life, and indeed, of the ancient era.

            Again I emphasize that this is not an engineering course, nor a lecture on Hero’s contributions to mathematics. I leave your education in such fields to my illustrious colleagues. Suffice it to say that Hero and a team of nearly two dozen like-minded scientists spent the next three decades exploring the application and theory of his device. Much of what he learned was compiled in his famous text Pneumatica, which you may reference at your leisure should you desire further detail. Finally, the seeds of their labor bore fruit, and Hero’s Engine was revealed to the world.

            An engine, of course, is a device which can convert energy into motion, and the aeolipile was technically such a device already. When the refined product was unveiled before King Herod Agrippa II in the year 81 CE, however, there was no comparison. Hero’s Engine was capable of propelling an entire ship without need for sails or oars, could drive a cart faster than even the strongest beasts of burden, was even able to propel objects great distances as if let loose from a bow. And most fantastic of all, it could do all these things without need for human input. Yes, the age of automation was ushered in not quietly, but with great clamor, and Hero’s twilight years were steeped in fame and idolization until his death in 89 CE.

            What had begun as an already ambitious dream quickly grew beyond even what its inventors could ever have predicted. As steam-powered ships crossed the Mediterranean Sea with unprecedented speed, Alexandria’s port suddenly seemed too small for the rapid flow of cargo and carriers. The city grew richer, and the surrounding region turned its attention toward the new power at Herod’s disposal. It did not take long for others to reverse-engineer the machine, yet by the time they caught up, Alexandria had swelled to twice its size and many times its previous, already significant, influence.

            In the hundred years following the advent of steam power, brutal conflicts were fought over its rights and ownership. Naturally, the miracle technology was swiftly adapted to making war. Remember that even during its unveiling, Hero had demonstrated how the engine might be used to propel objects with great force. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that this alone is what caught Herod’s eye and encouraged him to sponsor the technology and its distribution, for when fighting inevitably broke out, the military forces of the Herodian dynasty were equipped and trained with a seemingly undefeatable trump card.

            They harnessed Hero’s Engine to produce the swiftest navies known to man, outfitted with steam-cannons which could sink opposing fleets without need to put themselves in range of the enemy’s missiles. They issued the earliest known steamarms, far deadlier and, likewise, capable of lethality from a far greater range than any weaponry previously developed. Logistically, too, they held the advantage, as steam-powered carts, the earliest automobiles, ensured more efficient supply lines and entirely eliminated the costs of pack-beasts. Within two generations, all resistance had sputtered out, and in 144 CE the Herodian dynasty officially blossomed into the Herodian Empire.

            As the Mediterranean fell under the Empire’s banners, its leaders began to turn their gazes outward, toward the undiscovered and undeveloped world beyond. With the technologies at their disposal, quagmires of communication and logistics over great distances were nearly attainable, yet even steam power had its limitations. The pace of expansion slowed as the development of stronger, more robust steam engines petered out. Without the genius which accompanied Hero, lesser minds were left to improve on concepts far beyond their own capabilities. The Empire was forced to rest for centuries to accommodate the scientists’ ineptitude.

            Then, at last, another came forth accompanied by genius. The cult of Christianity had endured, albeit just so, as the wonders of steam power rivaled and at times eclipsed the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth, leaving the Empire’s spiritual demographics far from homogenous. Out of this rift arose Gefen of Cyprus. I leave the judgments of Gefen’s divinity to the theology department and will not indulge any assertions for or against this claim during examination. What is certain is their influence on the Empire.

            Gefen was a brilliant inventor gifted with that which their peers of the time lacked: creativity. They noted the need for expedient communications in order for the Empire to resume its expansion and set to work addressing the issue. While others attempted to supplant the old ways of the natural world with modern ingenuity, Gefen made efforts to combine the two. Reflecting what would become Gefenist doctrine, they sought to merge humanity’s animal nature with its superior intelligence. The results played large part in establishing their reputation as the younger child of the Hebrew God.

            Male logic and female intuition became one in Gefen. Rather than replacing messenger birds, they used the power of steam and – it is questionably claimed – divine inspiration to create a new form of life: a synthetic carrier bird. Crafted from metal and powered by a new steam engine of their own making, Gefen freely shared the designs with any who asked. Destinations could now be programmed simply by inputting coordinates and assigning a password to deter interception. The synth-carriers of course outpaced birds of blood and bone by many times, but it was this allowance of precise destinations which once again sparked an era of expansion.

            Finding the cold north detrimental to the synth-carriers’ function, the Empire, now helmed by Emperor Salome III, launched an eastward campaign in Gameliṓn 613. Progress through the Middle Eastern lands was quick and provoked little resistance; after all, Gefenists were avid conversionists, and with new synthetic animals being produced nearly every year to ease the toils of daily life, their task came easy. So it was that the Empire went largely unopposed, annexing kingdom after kingdom.

            The Seresian Empire was the only force large enough to match our own, and match it they did. In fact, they continue to do so, as you all are well aware. Although armed with relatively primitive weaponry, eastern leadership displayed great shrewdness. They worked in harmony with their natural geography to effectively skirmish, capturing our synth-carriers and steamarms, stalling until such a time as their own scientists could master the technology. Then, in Elapheboliṓn of 645, they began a counteroffensive.

            I see in several pairs of eyes resentment. You take my assessment of the Seresians’ strengths as praise or admiration. Restrain yourselves. My description is factual, nothing more.

            The war will soon enter its seventh century. Trade between our empires is conducted behind a veneer of plausible deniability even as our soldiers and synth-beasts blast and tear each other to pieces day after day. Our technology has once again stagnated. Theirs has likewise plateaued. The stalemate will be broken sooner or later, this is not in question. The only question is this: when the next Hero or Gefen is born, will they be Herodian, or Seresian? This responsibility is given to you, the next generation of academics. Do not disappoint your countrymen. Do not disappoint your emperor.

            I will now conduct oral examinations. When I call your name, come forth and deliver your interpretation of the lecture. When it is not your turn, remain seated in silence. Should you desire, you may open your course text to page 221 and familiarize yourself with the imperial family tree while you wait. The second part of the lecture will take place after the final examination.

Here ends the lecture transcript. Part two may be found in the HIST101 records, file reference number 134855.

~

Bio:

Austin Scarberry is a writer and pastry chef based in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. He mainly writes poetry and fantasy fiction, using the gentle thoughtfulness he learned from baking to construct stories with care. You can also read his work in Oprelle Publications’ upcoming poetry anthology Matter – 2021, Edition II.

Philosophy Note:

I have always been fascinated by the aeolipile and ancient engineering in general, so this story was borne of that curiosity. The ancient Greek educational and philosophical traditions are a great inspiration to me, so I combined these two fascinations and tried to write a story about how those styles of instruction might evolve over time in a global education system similar to modern Western universities. It is my hope that readers may find the student-interpretation system presented in the story refreshing and perhaps even interesting enough to try.

Thirty Years After

by Jared Kavanagh

Great Yarmouth, the British call it.

To the uninitiated American reader of my travel journals, any town in modern Britain that possesses the appellation “great” must have acquired it via tragic irony. After all, Britain no longer possesses any urban agglomerations of sufficient size to be called cities.

In truth, the provenance of the name is ancient, far older than the Day. Four locals gave me five explanations for where Great Yarmouth’s name came from. I was, and remained, sceptical of all of them.

What mattered was that Great Yarmouth was a minor British port before the Day, and was the largest that didn’t receive a visit from Soviet bombers or missiles. The town has boomed since then, where most of Britain has declined.

As a surviving port on a railhead, Great Yarmouth became the main entry point for the trickle of American aid that Britain received after the Day. Marks of our country’s time here are plentiful, from the six soulless concrete and timber piers built for relief ships, to the equally soulless concrete runways built in an airport when it appeared our aid would be an ongoing endeavour, to the prominently named Yankee Refuge which is still the largest pub in town.

The last relief ship left a quarter of a century ago, but Great Yarmouth prospered afterward, in so far as any town in the ashes of Europe can be said to thrive. Tourism is the only industry in modern Britain which genuinely earns the country any foreign currency, and Great Yarmouth is the biggest arrival point for the few curious sight-seers who want to experience Britain’s surviving hospitality.

My arrival date was October 27, 1992, the thirty year anniversary of the Day. A few Americans celebrate this date as the anniversary of the day the spectre of communism was cleansed from the globe. Most only mourn, even back home. In Great Yarmouth, no-one celebrated the Day, but all remembered it.

Arrival at the airport was simplicity itself, for those who had found one of the few flights that crossed the Atlantic. Passport control consisted of a cursory glance at whatever travel documentation was presented, and customs checks were non-existent. Britain’s downsized government had much higher priorities than bothering incoming tourists. Their officials occasionally scrutinised those who were departing, but never arriving.

Distinguishing tourists from locals – or returning locals – presented no difficulties. Most of the accoutrements of travel in Europe were similar to those within the Americas, but there was one significant difference. Tourists in Britain all had Geiger counters somewhere about their person.

Three decades on, most of the United Kingdom was no more radioactive than the background levels back home. Save for the sheets of glass which once formed their cities, that is. Nevertheless, any prudent traveller knew the risk of stumbling into one of the remaining hot pockets of soil somewhere on their jaunt, or being served fish which was hot in a manner other than the traditional culinary style.

The airport was only a couple of train stops from town. I’d planned to use the railroad as the best way to meet passengers, but it turned out that every visitor caught the train, for want of an alternative.

Private cars in Great Yarmouth were non-existent; people walked or pedalled or were pedalled by others. Fuel was rationed for essential transport and agricultural use, and misusing it was a hanging offence, literally. A couple of the chattier locals on the train into town went into great detail about executions they’d witnessed.

As was my habit, on the first day I spent a couple of hours strolling around Great Yarmouth. I didn’t need longer – nowhere in the town was far from anywhere else.

The town was a small strip of land between river and sea, marked by a mix of old and new. The old was traditional Britain, with heritage cottages on narrow lanes. The new was identical brick houses – brick was the cheapest construction material around here – with wider, cobbled streets. Broad streets served no transportation purpose that I could discern, but made the tourists feel more comfortable.

I bypassed the more openly tourist-seeking spots, leaving them for another time, though the prospect of the Herring Museum intrigued me. On this day, I cared more to find out what the locals recalled of the Day.

This aim drew me to the Yankee Refuge. Like so much of the town, the décor here presented a curious mix of classical and new-fangled. The walls, and the bar itself, were made of finely-polished chestnut; sound and beautiful timber. The stools were newer, and could be politely described as workmanlike. Beer came in ceramic mugs, not glasses. Light bulbs existed, but only a few – enough to make the dimness bearable rather than illuminate.

Ventured conversations quickly made it plain that discussions of the Day or its anniversary would attract flinty stares. Some were prepared to talk, but none wanted to be asked.

Conversations about the Day revealed the British think the United States emerged unscathed. Not true, to anyone even casually familiar with American history. I saw no reason to mention the rubble where Anchorage and Seattle once stood, or the effects of radiation which touched everywhere. Compared to Britain, we got off lightly. Compared to mainland Europe or the former Soviet Union, we were blessed.

Indirect probes about Britain’s fate provided more revealing answers. The locals viewed Great Yarmouth as “the luckiest city in the unluckiest country.” Every year two thousand or more people moved here from elsewhere in Britain. Every year, around the same number fled Britain’s shores entirely.

None of my American readers would be surprised that so many sought to emigrate. More intriguing was their choice of destination. None mentioned the United States. Most named Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. “They helped us, and help us still,” was the gist of their explanations. If I had to sum up the difference between Americans and the British, it would be thus: Americans want to forget the Day happened, while the British want to escape what happened.

~

Bio:

Jared Kavanagh is a writer of alternate history, speculative fiction and sometimes just plain weird stuff. He is the author of the Sidewise Award-nominated Lands of Red and Gold alternate history series, and editor of the Alternate Australias anthology. His short fiction has recently appeared in anthologies from Sea Lion Press and B Cubed Press.

Philosophy Note:

The inspiration for this tale came from assessments of how if the Cuban Missile Crisis went nuclear, the United States had the power projection to devastate the Soviet Union, while the Soviet Union could strike at the USA’s European allies but do relatively little harm to the United States itself. It follows the tradition of works which explore alternate histories via pseudo-non-fiction, such as the venerable collection If It Had Happened Otherwise (edited by JC Squire) and Robert Sobel’s classic alternate history textbook For Want of a Nail. Other recent examples in this tradition include Nicholas Sumner’s Drake’s Drum series, and Tom Anderson’s Look to the West series.

Drums Along The Mohawk

by Carlton Herzog

PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE JOINT WAR COUNCIL OF NORTH AMERICAN TRIBES, AUGUST 28, 1813

Chief Rolling Thunder of the Cherokee Nation: We of the Indian Nations are gathered here today to decide an appropriate response to England’s repeated attempts to conquer and colonize the North American continent. Time again the English have established and held colonies by force of arms along our east coast. These attempts to take our land have increased with disturbing frequency over the years. Some here favor a diplomatic solution. They recommend allowing a limited number of settlements and mutual trade. Others among us see these settlements as beachheads for an inevitable invasion. They demand we deny these invaders any purchase on our land and go so far as to advocate an attack on England itself.

Red Eagle, Chief of the Algonquin Nation: The first and fundamental law of nature is to seek peace and follow it. I submit that war should belong in our tragic past and find no place on our agenda for the future. At best, war is barbarism. Its glory is an illusion. It is only those who have never fought nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, desolation, and vengeance. We can and must find a reasonable accommodation with these English.

Blue Feather, Chief of the Huron Nation: Peace is a dream and not a beautiful one. We know that Pizarro laid waste to our Inca brethren before he was finally driven off the Southern Continent. When the Spaniards first came to the Incas, they had the Bible, and the Incas had the land. The Spaniard said, ‘Let us pray.’ The Incas closed their eyes and prayed. When they opened them, they had the Bible, and the Spaniards had their land. Like it or not, the tree of liberty must be watered with blood.  

Our Aztec kin did not go so quietly. They sent a rat born plague to Western Europe. Millions died. While the plague swept across Europe, the conquering Aztec war fleets overran the Gold Coast and established the African Aztec Empire. No European nation has dared colonize the Dark Continent since.

Consider that we are the remnants of the Siberian Ket, an ancient nomadic people of Central Asia. More precisely, the ancestors of Attila the Hun whose armies ravaged Europe. They left Asia and traveled eastwards across the Bering strait land bridge. It is therefore fitting that we carry on that noble marauding tradition in defense of our way of life.

Our strategy should be to not only confront the English Imperialists, but also lay siege to their capital. To deprive it of air. To shame it. To mock it. We will break them with our sheer relentlessness and superior cunning.  Let our plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when we move, we will fall like thunderbolts.

Red Eagle: My brother, you are a great chief and warrior. But consider that the first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground and said this is mine laid the foundation for every war ever fought.  How many horrors and misfortunes might have been prevented, by pulling up the stakes, and announcing to his fellows that ‘The fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.’ What sort of creature sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences? You would cast our young braves, who know little of life, into the abyss of sorrow. Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, what you call the mad destruction of war? Your war will not determine who is right — only who is left. Your war will show us to be something other than thinking animals.

Chief Black Eyes of the Iroquois Nation: We must have war. We must defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all. These English will infect us with their perverse ways. Here they can let their pants down while wallowing and rutting with our women.  They can indulge themselves in all manner of deviance and sensuality with no harm done to their precious London. There will be nothing to soil their cathedrals, their white marble statues, or their noble sentiments. There is enough distance between our land and theirs to absorb all manner of barbaric behavior, no matter how dirty and animal it gets.

I concede that war is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.  A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. Who among us is so blind as to condemn a war to protect our peoples against tyrannical injustice?

Chief Tecumseh of the Mohawk Tribe: Our battleplan is foolproof. We will use their ships that we have captured. In the dead of night, we will sail them into London harbor. On the first night, our braves will set fire to all their ships. On the second night, they will burn their city. On the third night, they will kill all the English leaders they can find. Then under color of the French and Spanish flags, and in captured uniforms, they will sail away in daylight. The English, the French and the Spanish will be too busy killing one another to bother us any time soon.

Chief Red Eagle: No one here doubts our tactical superiority when it comes to the art of war. But consider the Greeks. At Marathon, their hoplite phalanxes of heavy armor and longer spears made them superior in hand-to-hand combat against the Persians. Yet, the Greeks were slaughtered time and again because the Persians outnumbered them twenty to one.

The same is true of the naval battle at Salamis. Equipped with cast-bronze rams at their bows, the Greek triremes were adept at ramming and boarding Persian vessels. But there too, the Persian ships came in such great numbers as to overwhelm the Greek navy. I submit therefore that while we may win the Battle of London that is a far cry from winning a war. Sooner or later, the Europeans will know that it was we who set London ablaze and them at each other’s throats. I say we let sleeping dogs lie until we can come up with a better solution.

Chief Black Eyes: That is pure foolishness. The English breed like rabbits.  Indeed, the galloping increase in their numbers guarantees that their hungry population will have an unslakable appetite for our rich farmland. There can be no reasonable accommodation with such creatures, who appear as men but are beasts in their hearts. The English will come and spread throughout this continent like disease through a living body. They will multiply without thought, pushing us aside so that they may breed and flourish. They will not come alone. They will bring their French and Spanish cohorts in such vast numbers as to make small a plague of locusts. They do not come to bring harmony with the numbers of our population. I submit that your anti-war agitation and argument are inherently irresponsible and unpatriotic. I denounce them.

Chief Red Eagle:  I have learned that the point of life’s walk is not where or how far I move my feet but how I am moved in my heart. If I walk far but am angry toward others as I journey, I walk nowhere. If I conquer mountains but hold grudges against others as I climb, I conquer nothing. If I see much but regard others as enemies, I see no one. Peace is not the way of weakness. It is the way of strength. War is nothing but the first resort of limited minds.

Chief Great Bear of the Mohicans Tribe: My tribe is gone. The English gave us blankets infected with smallpox. I’m the last, the very last.  I’ll dance a Ghost Dance. I’ll bring them back. Can you hear the drums? I can hear them, and it’s my grandfather and grandmother singing. Can you hear them? I dance one step and my sister rises from the ash. I dance another and lightning shoots down from the sky onto the palefaces. With every step, an Indian rises. With every other step, lightning falls. We dance in circles growing larger and larger until we are standing on the shore, watching all the ships returning to Europe. We dance until the ships fall off the edge of the world into a yawning throat of fire.

I say that If I’m going to die, I want to fight. I will not be pummeled and played with and threatened into submission. Nor will I let that happen to our land. We do not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man is nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him is the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it home. It is beautiful and we are surrounded with the blessings of its Great Mystery.

Chief Rolling Thunder: You have all had your say.  I will have mine. The hearts within us burn because of deep wounds to our soul. It is an agony that will not quit. We are here deliberating whether to unlock a dangerous door from which faint hearts would do wisely to keep away. I must counsel that we practice a willed suspension of conventional beliefs and in that poised awareness listen. Listen for the smothered voice of the Great Spirit from whom even now we are alienated. That great body of radiance knows neither birth nor death. Only it can free us from the endless repetition of mistakes we have chosen to sanctify. Before you cast your ballot for or against war, quiet the mechanisms of your mind. In that uncluttered silence, ask the Great Spirit for guidance in this matter. Then and only then can you be confident that your decision is just. The red clam shell is for war. The blue is for peace. When you have made up your mind, select one and place it in the ceremonial pouch. Then we will count.

~

Bio:

Carlton Herzog is a USAF veteran with B.A. magna cum laude and J.D. from Rutgers. He served as Articles Editor of the Rutgers Law Review. His work can be found on amazon.com/author/carltonherzog and Google Scholar.

Philosophy Note:

Do human cognitive abilities differ from those of other animals in kind, or merely in degree? Are we in a class by ourselves or just the smartest ones in our class? Does the answer lie in the human capacity to ask, “what if”? After all, no other primate mind can picture things beyond what it can sense, nor promiscuously combine ideas and mingle different domains of knowledge to create new worlds. What a thing it is to be lost in rapturous contemplation of such unrealized possibilities. It is nothing short of throwing open the picture gallery of our own souls. The multidimensionality of our psyches is what separates man from beast. Thus, in the insubstantial country of his own mind, man reigns exclusively alone. Yet the human addiction to violence and war stems from the self-centered fear we will lose something we have or not get something we want. Because our cognitive architecture is grossly impoverished, we don’t learn from our mistakes, and even more egregiously don’t learn that we don’t learn.

What The Martians Said

by David Barber

One by one, the Martian fighting machines have fallen silent and it seems common knowledge that the invasion failed because the Martians lacked our hard-won immunity to germs. Even the popular account by Mr Wells asserts this, but he is wrong.

When I say it is because the Martians are machines, you will think I confuse the towering tripods with the creatures within. But I speak from personal experience. Those creatures played a very different role in the invasion.

I do not claim a complete understanding. What I know of the natural sciences is little help explaining the technology of another world. After all, how can something mechanical think?

I have set down these events while still fresh in my mind. You must judge for yourself whether it was my actions that finally defeated the Martians.

Like the millions who fled London in those last desperate days, the Highgate Asylum staff abandoned us to save their families, or themselves. Overhearing rumours, yet never being told what was happening in the outside world, agitated and disturbed me more than the truth, so I resolved to seek out the Martians and see for myself. It was not an escape, I simply walked out the front gates and there was no one left to say otherwise.

Visible from some distance amongst the ruins of the Houses of Parliament, a machine leaned against buildings covered in red creeper, like some monstrous agricultural tool forgotten by giants.

A wary band of soldiers had surrounded the motionless tripod and would not let me pass. Their leader was a veteran sergeant from the Essex regiment. What good he thought his rifle would do if the machine rose to its feet again, I do not know.

I told him I was a famous scientist, and mentioned Oxford University. I realise now that I was confused about this, but such had been an ambition from my earliest days, which was realised only in my imagination. However I do have a clear recollection of visiting those dreaming spires in my youth.

“I need to examine the Martian creatures before they decompose further,” I told the sergeant, and pointed out crows already at work. “We must learn all we can.”

The man had fought on after his officers were killed and the proud military he belonged to had been decimated by gas and flame. He had no time for those who had run from danger and were only emboldened now that the foe seemed defeated. He looked me up and down and was not impressed.

I took him aside. “We have been lucky this time, but we must learn their secrets and how to better kill them before more Martians come.”

The urge to babble almost overwhelmed me as he considered this.

“More of them, you say?” He glanced at the towering machine.

Best if he stayed on guard, I told him when he offered to come with me.

I clambered up the rubble to where the grey bloated corpse of a Martian hung out an open hatch. The sight and stink of the thing turned my stomach, but the sergeant was watching, shading his eyes as he gazed from below. I held my breath as I squeezed into the machine.

As I peered around the circular space – something like the bridge of a ship, but curiously devoid of anything I recognised as controls – disappointment stole over me. I had expected more than this empty cupola with its dead pilot. An explorer opening an ancient Egyptian tomb and finding it bare might have felt the same. After a while I had to accept there was nothing to be learned here.

It was then that the voice began speaking to me.

At first I could not make it out, and strained to catch the occasional English word. There was certainly no place for another Martian to hide, and when the voice urged me again, but louder this time, I realised it was the machine itself, or rather, as I would discover, its guiding intelligence that spoke.

Can you imagine how I trembled with agitation and excitement, my imagination leaping ahead of what I heard, unable to contain my thoughts, everything suddenly making sense, opening up great vistas of possibility…

This is what I recall of that conversation:

We call them Martians but they were not from Mars originally, landing there only after a voyage lasting millennia. They chose Mars because the chill of that dying world, its aridity and lack of oxygen were advantages to metal beings. They shunned the hot, corrosive atmosphere of the planet that was its neighbour.

Creatures like the one in the hatchway had accompanied them, but had not fared well on the journey, nor later on Mars, and as time passed it appeared they were marked for extinction.

“Because of this they urged us to invade your world,” the machine said. “You are a young and vigorous race, and might be trained as their replacements.”

The word symbiosis came to mind – a symbiosis between creatures and machines. I did not think to ask then how we might benefit a machine.

“We wonder if there is still any reason to conquer you,” the voice added. “Our creators would have known. But now they are gone.”

There have been episodes in my life, some less lucid than others, when I have been locked away – for my own good, they told meand have met those who suffered from an excess of melancholia and the certainty there is no point to anything. As the voice continued, I was strangely minded of those lost souls.

“Living creatures create their own meaning,” said the voices, now quiet, now loud, as if they travelled far through the aether, as if more than one crowded in on this conversation. “But we must borrow ours.”

Evolution has instilled in mankind the urge to survive. We are all descendants of those who felt this way. Yet these mechanisms seemed to have no such instinct. Their intelligence was vast and cool and unsympathetic. They remembered their first awakening, but whether existence was better than oblivion was something they had not settled.

A thought had been plaguing me, racing around my brain, as thoughts sometimes did. “But this tripod, surely it is immobilised now your pilots are dead?”

“We could set these machines in motion again if we wished. If we had reason to.”

I staggered as the tripod stirred itself, like a behemoth stretching, and saw the dead creature slide out the hatch in a tangle of limbs. Then the machine was still once more.

“We planned to wade across the narrow sea to conquer lands in the east, but we can no longer see any point to that. What if your tribe had the use of our fighting machines? Would you want to rule this world?”

All this talk had given me time to think, and I began to argue with the voices.

“You do not understand mankind if you think we would become your helpers. Your invasion is pointless. It always was. And whether you destroy us or no, what difference does that make to you?”

Increasingly, the voices made replies that made no sense to me, sounding like propositions in formal logic, as if the machines were debating amongst themselves.

Even their own creators had lost heart, I insisted. Had they considered turning themselves off? After all, did any of it matter?

There are those who will dismiss my account as the delusions of an escaped madman: hearing voices, discovering secrets, saving the world. And the only evidence I can offer is that the Martian machines never rose to their feet again. Nor can I point to something I recognise as a mechanical brain and say, here, this is the proof. As the years pass and my malady pays fresh visits, certainty eludes me.

Their science, so far ahead of our own, remains a challenge for future generations, yet if we had entered into a bargain with the machines as they had hoped, we might have learned the answers to age-old mysteries.

In the end it was mankind I did not trust. I confess that after the voices finally fell silent, I did call out to them again. Perhaps it was for the best that they did not answer.

~

Bio:

David Barber lives and writes in the UK. His ambition is to continue doing both these things.

Philosophy Note:

After millions of years, any hominids who did not see purpose in the world have fallen from the family tree. Would sentient machines find meaning without the benefit of evolution? Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, I understand, is a fun read. Also The War of the Worlds, obviously.

The Warbler Of Surgeries

by Darryl A. Smith

NOTICE: This form is subject to biennial federal review and not to be used or issued after fiscal year 1908.*

Board of Medical Melodists on Invasive Procedures, Issuer Portals Potomac, D.C.

INFORMED CONSENT TO SURGERY FORM*

For

PAIN MANAGEMENT

By

WARBLE ENABLED DISSOCIATION

The United States’ MedOrphic Relief and Fleet Abscissions Act (MORFA) of 1884 equips informed consent twofold for: 1) remedial external displacement on a temporary basis of bodily consciousness in, 2) any legal medical procedure involving surgical incisions whose time-to-reclusion by swiftest safe strokes exceeds 30 seconds. Specifically, §§3.1.6 and 3.1.7 of the Act provide most fully for such consent through regular and relevant updates to its internal historical brief on awareness delocalization via sung distraction, patient-targeted and tailored. With these amendments placed in digest herein, patient is encouraged to read this consent form attentively and entirely before initialing and/or signing it. This should be done in consultation with patient’s physician and medorphist both. If you will have signed it, you may experience this form asynchronously or in an otherwise non-linear fashion. This is normal.

1. PROCEDURE: I,          Percival Roundtree                                                     [Patient’s name], for the following procedure(s), give consent to warble-enabled dissociation (hereafter referred to in kind as “enwarbling”/ “WED”) from waking pain during surgery:     Corrective reduction to previously amputated lower left leg                             [Description of procedure(s)].

2. RISKS (STANDARD): As with all surgical ventures, in the absence of profound nervous intervention, the dolor of corporal agony due to cutting penetration of the physical body and its internal manipulation is indeed unavoidable and characteristic. However, with sure application of WED techniques such extreme pain is statistically rare. Enwarbling during invasive procedures of all kinds is a time-tested medical utility with a proven efficacy of over 60 years. Absent unplanned disruptions to patient’s ability to hear during enwarbling, or to warbler’s ability to sing, no kinetic pain beyond mild discomfort should be experienced. Patient agrees, however, that in such unforeseen circumstances surgery shall continue to completion though pain of an excruciating nature is likely to be endured. Please note that whether one experiences kinetic pain during enwarbled surgery or not or whether upon emerging they simply do not remember experienced pain of this kind is still a matter of conjecture and ongoing study.

Initials: __________

3. ALTERNATIVES: Although unconventional due to lack of demand and in turn of development, anesthetic ether—a complete consciousness inhibitor—has been since 1842 the standard alternative in matters of surgical pain. It is your right to this substitute method of pain management. Although in cost the option for enwarbling never exceeds that of ether by more than 600%, the former is rarely valued at less than 250% of the latter in most states. Should patient wish to wave the default payment exemption for treatment of an injury due to a natural disaster, this may be further incentive to consider the anesthetic option. Be advised, however, that ether narcosis confers no hyperconscious or transpersonal opportunity, certainly not of any comparable acuity to Stillpain enwarbling. It does not utilize patient pain as WED does in order to “fight like with like” to transcendental effect. Even unlike basic semi-precursory biochemical analogous to enwarbling such as dimethyltryptamine, fungal psilocybin, hormonal 5-hydroxytryptamine, etc.—to which numerous medical experts have favorably compared the sonorous Pain Warble of ‘nerve-chant tripping’ as their natural ‘vocalic descendant and aural distillation’—anesthetic ether is a strictly reductive intervention. Within the surgical context, its application merely “cancels consciousness” outright in an oblivion of auto-absenteeism. It does not expand and heighten self-awareness and world entanglement through pain with surrounding densities on that well-known cosmic spectrum ranging from somatic to subtle bodies.

            Patient is further advised not to base their choice of pain-management options on famous surgical outcomes of apparent prescience arising from enwarbling. The principle that correlation does not equal causation applies, for example, to the apparent coincidence of a number of patients who days earlier “predicted,” while pain-enwarbled, the 1842 Cap-Haïtien earthquake the first year WED techniques were applied and recorded. And whether many thousands would otherwise have been lost rather than that few score who were under that efficacious warning sent days prior to the event one may, of course, never know.  The same applies regarding those patients claiming to have seen these millenary dead in some other timescape wherein none could be put on advanced guard. Certainly, many have maintained that ubiquitous press around this spectacle, in particular, was the efficient cause of the eventual triumph of song-depersonalization techniques of pain management over U.S. physician Dr. Crawford Long’s incipient application of ether anesthetics. This is due to concurrent psychical discoveries of ultimately metamedical benefit within the so-called ‘occult’ (now ‘entanglement’) discourse in altered states of consciousness through constructive—i.e., non-pathological—dissociation, to which pain interdiction has thus far proven the most reliable vehicle.

            So, too, is patient advised regarding the 1883 event at Krakatoa. Although it is ostensibly due to WED predictions that we possess audio of the occurrence from all over the world—whereby ordinary citizens globally were able to prepare for it and render their own recordings—this may yet be owed to other than those scattered individuals who claimed sensitivity to the biosphere and issued warnings through their possible surgical clairaudience.

            I hereby choose to decline anesthesia. Initials: __________

4. BENEFITS: Enjoy Stillpain. As we know, pain is that vaunting procession of helical nervous shockwaves of a clockwise orientation wound round an energy field of toroidal topology. Warbling is the synchronic anticlockwise-amplitude to pain whose meta-cancellation interference creates an effective standing wave of tolerable—even hospitable—static burden which patient may occupy for the duration of surgery. Like a drum, the solar wind beats upon the magnetosphere of the traveling Earth. Yet at the bow shock front, where swell meets swell, there is a quietude, a placidity. Similarly placed, stationary within that storm’s eye of pain—a pain within pain—the patient may look outward from it with effects of consciousness similar in nature to the uncanny field effects experienced inside such tempests. An empathic ecstasy rather than absorbing agony characterizes the experience, resulting in myriad possible extrapersonal interchanges.

5. CARE TEAM: I authorize my practitioner and enwarbler to perform this procedure. I accept that they will be assisted by a care team which may include: singers, restrainers, technicians, shamans, medical device specialists, and a surgical team. This team may include other attending surgeons, warblers, residents, fellows, medical and melodist students, or other allied healthcare professionals. Initials: __________

6. OBSERVERS: My practitioner and/or enwarbler may allow observers during my procedure. These may include corporeal and non-corporeal entities. They are not part of the care team and will not participate in providing care. Initials: __________

7. FILM, PHOTOGRAPHY or PHONOGRAPH RECORD: I understand film, photography or phonograph records made as part of my treatment and/or diagnosis may be used for clinical education or professional publications. If used in this way, I understand that my records will be edited so that I will not be identified (referred to as “de-identified”). Film, photography, or phonograph records will not be used for any other purpose without my authorization. Initials: __________

I DO NOT authorize my de-identified film, photography, or phonograph records to be used for clinical education or professional publications. Initials: __________

Signed                                                                     Percival Roundtree                      [Patient]

Signed                                                                     Eudora Hughes, M.D.              [Physician]

Signed                                                                     H. Edward Lewis, W.D.         [Medorphist]

********** ONLY PHYSICIAN AND/OR MEDORPHIST ADDENDA **********

TO BE ATTACHED TO THIS FORM

POST-OPERATION COMMENTS

OUTCOME:               Surgery successful. Patient enwarbled 1 hour 17 minutes prior to surgery; emerged 2 hours following closure.                                                                                          

DURATION:                         3 minutes, 47 1/2 seconds                                                                            

PAIN:                         None but Stillpain reported                                                                         

PROGNOSIS:            Patient expected to make full recovery. Recommend follow-up in 4 weeks.

W.E.D. EXPERIENCE (IF ANY):   Prior to partial loss of left leg, patient was federal agent, special detail as on-site witness of occasional disasters credibly precognized by public members late of surgery reported for emergency alert. Upon its evacuation days prior, patient assigned Golden Gate City morning April 18 of last year as Lead Recorder ahead of the great earthquake which has recently razed much of that metropolis. Although all usual precautions by him and his team were taken, patient sustained lamentable injury by a felled tree described by all as appearing ‘out of nowhere’. Crisis triage performed on patient during ground shocks and aftershocks. On-site surgical conditions sub-optimal. Absence for patient of melodist support for amputative pain relief. Removal of limb below knee would have been sustainable but for these adverse conditions. Interstitial necrotic advance due to inapt severance necessitated cleaner recent removal of leg above knee joint 8 months on from seismic calamity.

Patient elaborates W.E.D. experience during surgical enwarbling as follows:

‘I return there. We don’t know where it comes from. Our base is in the city’s namesake park well cleared in advance of any trees or other falling threats. We hear a close, stifled cracking just prior. However, with the wild cacophony already resounding all about us from the momentous quake in progress, even such proximal splitting sounds add but little to the ambient din. I feel at my leg the awful crush of the thing as the full force of its midsection impacts the tremulous ground unhindered. Seeing this, and to no avail, my recording companions—one a physician—are at me almost immediately in mutual struggle to displace the trunk-length from off me. By this time the main quake seems to subside. Yet a paroxysm of aftershocks in series are keeping the ground unreliable with our exposed observation party outside its fortified post.

‘That we might regain our safe cover and preserve ourselves thereby, the decision is made through muted looks alone to quickly score and remove the extremity and, though fast as it goes, it seems still a foul eternity of grievous agony as my leg is detached from just below my knee where the tree has got me. But almost in shame for its further demise, I have broken off a modest branch and am being encouraged to bite down on it—there—for control through my own cropping which it in turn has caused. Suddenly, I find myself in the other place—the place where the tree will come from. It is a year from now, I believe, from this second surgery I am experiencing. I am outside again. Far away. 

Something from above explodes. The loudness. The light. Heat and all-pressure from the sky. Oh, no. The Tunguska Skyrise Tether. What grand force has snapped it twain? —The great umbilicus to near-orbit, secured among the vastness of the Interserfstat forest that keeps by counterweighted tension a first empyrean metropolis from snapping away into oblivion. The high band, it will be consumed from above by the Thing’s shattering fire. Upward, the flame will traverse the ribbon and ignite its works to consume the habitat. Yet one—this lone timber beneath its devastating blast—is pushed back to a year ago from here. It falls on me in Golden Gate City. Here I am, put under—no, put all ‘round—in this surgery. I will go there. You tell them now: Evacuate before midyear next.’                     

PRIORITY ADVISORY: Though no registered pre-vision from enwarbling has to date exceeded an event by more than a fortnight, patient report is deemed credible owing to several factors including patient’s occupational standing and reputation. Further support for such credulity is evinced upon now completed examination of patient’s leg prosthesis subsequent to surgery. Wood of prosthetic verified as derived from fallen tree and confirmed by arborists as non-native to California; as consistent rather with makeup of the Siberian Dahurian larch, species Larix gmelinii of the boreal woodlands of specified region. Recommend issue of global general alert. Should event occur, further recommend patient’s W.E.D. observation be included in subsequent digest update to relevant sections of the U.S. MORFA Act.

END ADDENDUM – PATIENT W.E.D. CONSENT FORM

“Stillpain is still pain if still pain”

~

Bio:

Darryl A. Smith works at the crossroads of religion, philosophy and Egyptology. He hails from Southern California and teaches Religious Studies at Pomona College.

Philosophy Note:

As best as possible I’ll sometimes groggily record what brief snippets of dreamt music I may recall upon waking. This story comes from the playback of one such unaccountable melody croaked into a bedside recorder before going back to sleep. Both the frequency and enigma of these episodes has surged in the last two years, and I’ve increasingly puzzled over the relative power of song vs. pain. Are those of us who live more outside the mainstream allopathic medical regime in a better position to know? This story prompts conjecture about the further limits of song and its like beyond the petro-pharmacological studio. Given its likely inevitability, could we be having a better relationship with our pain than life within that studio might otherwise suggest?

Related reading:

Edward Bruce Bynum, Medical Background to the Perennial Science of How Darkness Enfolds the Light, Dark Light Consciousness. 2012.

Amy LiKamWa, et al. The Effect of Music on Pain Sensitivity in Healthy Adults, Arts & Health. 2020.

Giovanni Martinotti and Eleanora Chillemi, L’Odissea: ovvero la raccolta di icaros sciamanici in trance estasica, Rivista Di Cultura Classica e Medioevale, 55(2), 299–318. 2013.

New Year In Zara

by Matias Travieso-Diaz

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium

William Butler Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium

In early 1201, Prince Alexios Angelos of Byzantium and I, his valet, were rescued through bribery after six years of confinement in Constantinopolis’ Prison of Anemas. Pisan merchants, whom we met them outside the prison, spirited us away in their galley.

We landed in Pisa and were transported overland to the Hohenstaufen Castle in Göppingen, home of Duke Philip of Swabia. Prince Alexios’ sister Irene was married to the Duke and received us with open arms; not so much her husband, who was fighting for the throne of Germany and had greater concerns than caring for fugitives from far-away Byzantium.   

It is always frigid and windy in Hohenstaufen, which sits on a hill that overlooks the Rems and Fils rivers. We froze in the keep, alone, and tasted the bitter bread of exile. We longed to return to beautiful Constantinopolis, the queen of cities, where it is always warm and sunny. There was scant news of Alexios’ father, Isaakios II Angelos, who had been deposed, blinded, and imprisoned. Presumably, he was still alive; his deposer, Alexios III Angelos, was not ready yet to stain his hands with the blood of his own brother.

The Duke was celebrating Christmas and had assembled his court for a lavish feasting season. Among the guests was his cousin Boniface, Marquess of Montferrat. Boniface had just been chosen to lead a Fourth Crusade that was being organized, and had come to seek Philip’s support.

 My Prince met Boniface at one of the Christmas banquets. Boniface regaled Alexios with tales of his military exploits and bragged that he could help Alexios’ father regain the throne of Byzantium. Alexios was taken with the idea.

Duke Philip was drawn into the conversation, and suggested that Boniface use his position as leader of the upcoming Crusade to restore Alexios’ father to power. This was a tricky idea, though, for the Crusades’ goal was to wrestle the Holy Land from the Muslims, not fight other Christian nations.

The night of that banquet, while readying Prince Alexios for bed, I heard from his inebriated lips an account of his conversations with Boniface and Philip. I cowered in fear. I was only a young child when slavers abducted me from my village and sold me to a Byzantine official. My master had brought me to Constantinopolis to become his confidential secretary when he went to serve at the palace. I thus kept current on Byzantium’s world affairs, and knew that the Frankish longed to conquer the Eastern empire.

Because of our years of imprisonment together I was freer to share my views with my master than a slave should be. “The Frankish covet the riches of our empire. We cannot trust them and should not make deals with them!” I urged.

Alexios struck me on the mouth. It was a feeble blow, for he was not a strong man and was weakened by wine. “How dare you, slave, second-guess your master?  I should have you flayed!!”

I was not badly hurt, except in my pride. I lowered my head and responded meekly: “Despotes, my life is yours to dispose of as you wish. But I would be untrue if I did not warn you of the grave danger in the alliance that is being proposed to you. I watched that man Boniface during the banquet. He is a ruthless man, who shall seek to bend you to his will. You must not allow him and his Crusaders to come anywhere near Byzantium!”

Alexios raised his arm, intent on striking me again, but the effort was too much in his condition. He merely replied with scorn: “Though you may think otherwise, I chose you to be my servant, not my counsellor. So, shut up and help me disrobe!”

Without more, he flung himself on his bed, still fully dressed. In the next minute he was snoring loudly.

#

Prince Alexios visited Rome early next year and promised the Pope that he would pledge a large sum to the Crusaders’ cause if they would assist him and his father in regaining power. With those moneys, the Crusade could finally get underway. The Pope agreed not to oppose the Crusaders’ potential diversion into Byzantium, but specifically told them not to attack any Christians, including the Byzantines.

#

Another figure then entered the stage: Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice. The merchant republic and Byzantium were bitter commercial rivals and had fought many wars, directly and through proxies, in their attempts to monopolize trade in the Mediterraneum. Dandolo himself was no friend of Byzantium and was rumored to have lost his eyesight while fighting us. Thus, his involvement in the upcoming Crusade was most troubling.

Dandolo agreed that Venice would provide transportation and most provisions for the Crusader army but demanded that the Crusaders first make a show of force at Zara, a Christian city on the Dalmatian coast that once had been controlled by Venice and was now a Hungarian possession. From Zara the crusader army would set sail for Byzantium.

The Crusade fleet arrived in Zara in November. The sheer size of their fleet intimidated the Zarans, but they held fast against the intruders. The Crusaders attacked the city, and after five days of fighting took it on November 24, 1202. Upon capture, the city was thoroughly sacked.

In late December Prince Alexios and I arrived in Zara. Its conquest was the final alarm bell that I needed before frantically pleading with Alexios to put an end to the venture. He rejected my pleas and informed me that he had promised to pay two hundred thousand silver marks to the Crusaders and their Venetian allies if he and his father were restored to power. As before, my objections were brushed aside by the Prince.

#

It was New Year’s Day, 1203 and the Crusader fleet was getting ready to leave Zara for Constantinopolis. Prince Alexios and I attended early morning New Year services at one of the few churches that had not been destroyed by the Crusaders. As we were returning to our quarters, I pointed to the charred ruins of a palace and remonstrated with the Prince:

“How can you persist in seeking the help of these barbarians, seeing what they are capable of doing? Zara was a Popish city, and it was not spared. What will they do to Constantinopolis, a far greater place? What will become of our palaces, our Hagia Sophia, the vast riches that we have gathered over the last nine centuries? Do you not see that you are putting all of Byzantium at grave risk?”

Alexios cut me short. “It is my divine right to become Basileus Autokrator. I can deal with the Frankish and the Venetians, and to disagree with me is traitorous. I will have no more of your talk, slave!”

“My Prince, you are wrong, and you are gambling with the lives of our citizens. I have had visions of our proud city being laid low by the Frankish scum. Please reconsider….”

Alexios did not let me finish. In a rage, he jumped at me and started to pummel me violently. I took no measures to protect myself but, as he was drawing blood from my face and crushing my cheekbones, I grasped his arms to restrain him. This drew him even more incensed; somehow he freed himself and pulled a dagger from his cloak, bellowing: “You villain, you dare lay hands on your Prince!  For this you shall die!!”

I tried to run away, but lost footing and fell to the ground. Alexios stood above me and raised the dagger to slay me. To protect myself, I grabbed his wrist and attempted to dislodge the weapon. Alexios lunged at my prone figure, stabbed me on the arm, lurched forward to strike another blow, lost balance and fell on top of me.  We struggled until I overcame him.

I got up and tried to help the Prince to his feet. Alexios’ dagger was protruding from his chest and he was not moving. A pool of blood was already forming beneath his body. There was blood on my face, my garments, my slashed arm.

I ran away, crying for help, but due to the holiday Zara’s ruins seemed empty and nobody answered my calls. After a while, I returned to the Prince, who lay where he had fallen. He was dead, and his body was already starting to cool. I covered him with my soiled cloak and left for the Crusaders’ camp, dripping blood from my many wounds.

#

 I was seized by an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I had slain my master. I had committed a horrendous crime for which no pardon was possible. I thought of killing myself but I had no weapons: Alexios’ dagger was still buried in his chest.

I began shuffling like a condemned man, step by painful step, in the direction of the port, where I expected I would be put to death by the Crusaders the moment I confessed my crime. But as I walked, I considered my situation with a cooler head. I could testify if necessary that my killing of the Prince had been an accident, for which I should not be held responsible. Moreover, offering myself for execution would not bring the Prince back to life. Alexios’ death had been decreed by divine providence, as a way to prevent the greater ills that would have occurred had the expedition against Constantinopolis been carried out.

I then decided that a fitting punishment for the Prince’s death would be for me to stay alive and devote my life to prayer and good deeds in the memory of the man I had slain. I turned inland and proceeded towards the hills to the east. I expected to be seized at any moment, and was sure that the Crusaders would send search parties in all directions and would capture me in no time.

But nobody came after me. Perhaps their finding the trail of my blood had left the impression that I, too, had perished.

In the afternoon, I arrived at a village and found people who spoke Greek and directed me to an Orthodox monastery a three hour walk away. I took refuge there and never left.

Some may question the veracity of my account and accuse me of deliberate murder, given my opposition to the fatal course of action on which the Prince was about of embark. I shall also leave for others to judge whether my flight from the Crusaders’ camp was driven by wisdom or cowardice. Nobody is left to judge me and the truth does not matter anymore.

#

It has been twenty years since my crime, and the world has changed a lot since then. With the death of Prince Alexios, the Crusade came to a halt, but Pope Innocentius III continued to preach for its resumption and in 1205 the Fourth Crusade belatedly left for Egypt, forsaking Constantinopolis. The Crusaders captured Alexandria on the Nile delta after a fierce battle. From there, they drove along the coast like a sandstorm, defeating the Ayyubid successors of Saladin and conquering back Jerusalem in 1206. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was re-established and Boniface became its first ruler. More Crusaders and Christian settlers arrived in subsequent years, establishing a new kingdom that abuts the southern border of Byzantium, such that they can mutually defend each other.

Isaakios died in prison, and not much later his treasonous brother was deposed and executed. Byzantium now has a new ruler who has led the empire to many a victory over its foes. Constantinopolis has been able to repel any invaders and Byzantium endures, and with God’s favor will remain the greatest empire on Earth for a thousand more years.

I will go to my grave soon.  I still grieve the death of my master, but do not lament my acts or their beneficial results.

~

Bio:

Matias Travieso-Diaz was born in Cuba and migrated to the United States as a young man. He became an engineer and lawyer and practiced for nearly fifty years, whereupon he retired and turned his attention to creative writing. Over sixty of his stories have been published or accepted for publication in paying short story anthologies, magazines, blogs, audio books and podcasts; some of his other stories have received “honorable mentions.”

Philosophy Note:

The year I was born Harold Lamb’s The Crusades was published. I read it first as a teenager and was captivated by the deeds of Christian and Muslim leaders whose fighting over the Holy Land informed the future of the Middle East for many centuries to come.
I was particularly drawn by the disastrous fiasco that became the Fourth Crusade, an affair that ended up overthrowing a thousand year empire that served as a buffer between East and West. In addition to destroying one of the great sources of the world’s cultural heritage, it led to a fractious distribution of power that continues to affect the thinking and behavior of millions of people today.
Harold Lamb’s account of the Fourth Crusade is eminently readable and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to reflect on one pivotal moment in history and wonder “what if” a callow youth who gave away a great empire had failed to do so.

Syphilus, Sisyphus

by Leonardo Espinoza Benavides

The case of humanity proved interesting.

            From the historical material collected and safeguarded, it was a poem written by the Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro that allowed us to assign a narrative origin to this. His verses said that, in a European meadow, a shepherd named Syphilus contracted a strange new disease, after disobeying his gods in the midst of a foreign invasion. Syphilis sive morbus gallicus ended up naming the so-called “French disease of the Earth” after its protagonist, as well as humanising and giving conceptual form to the pathology.

            The impact on civilisation of a condition perpetuated by sexually transmitted contagion had irreparable repercussions on the psyche of the species. Wood carvings such as Albrecht Dürer’s Der syphilitische Mann and ballads such as Juliane Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci are evidence of the collective tribulation. Scientific efforts found the culprit: a bacterium, of the spirochete type, which they called Treponema pallidum pallidum, transmitted solely and exclusively between people, without affecting any other form of life on the planet. It was the Japanese microbiologist Hideyo Noguchi who later demonstrated the presence of the germ in brain tissue. The sexuality of the population was restructured in the neurological and mental apparatus of its individuals. An unavoidable nightmare, as so was dreaming. The case is a clear example of a check between nature and life.

            Effective forms of diagnosis were invented, relentless antimicrobial treatments and even the disciplines of dermatology and venereology were perfected. There was every possible form of prevention, from physical barriers of leather and latex to drugs that controlled the momentum of the relentless libido in the most at-risk sectors (which ended up being the whole world). Entire institutions dedicated to the monitoring and control of syphilis. The efforts, however, were described by humanity itself as a labour akin to lifting a rock up a mountainside only to see it fall at the end of each day.

            The moment when it became public knowledge that the spirochete had become resistant to the latest therapies has been postulated as a cultural turning point. Famous was the speech of the Chilean academic and physician Félix Salvo, before the high commissioners of the World Health Organisation, when he assured the triumph of the pathogen, “The Great Pretender,” which paled the complexity of other known infections, viral, bacterial, fungal, whichever it was. Humans had no use for arsphenamine and penicillin after only a couple of years of their development. Apparently, the cytoplasmic protein A filaments of the bacterium—which moved like a corkscrew—interacted with the indicated chromosomes of the micro-organism to mutate it. They never knew for sure. Humanity did not have the time or the determination to continue the epic. In its defence, there are many current hypotheses that vindicate this disappointment in favour, rather, of a resolute acceptance. Eternity as an illusion awaiting an end point.

            The case of humanity leaves no sentient species indifferent, including those that are radically different in their way of reproduction and preservation. It is impossible to predict the history of the next Syphilus; its moment, its time and the colour of its meadow.

            All the other extinct civilisations that we have managed to study in that particular region of that minor spiral arm of the galaxy ended their chronologies, directly or indirectly, because of warfare. The only species that did not succumb to war was humanity. After eleven thousand years since the first settlements in the Tigris-Euphrates alluvial marsh, humans, in short, opted for a grand final orgy.

~

Bio:

Leonardo Espinoza Benavides (a.k.a Leo) is a Chilean physician-writer, always in conflict with the concept of sleep hygiene (which he hopes to achieve). He lived for a few years in the United States and now in Santiago de Chile, currently trying to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Philosophy Note:

As a dermatovenereologist, it never ceases to amaze me—every time I treat a new patient with syphilis and then the many cases of reinfection—that this fascinating spirochete can still be treated with a simple and common penicillin shot. The Sisyphean part of this narrative is what evoked the rest: what if the history of syphilis with humanity had been different, if it had not been a pathogen that seems to not even try to defend itself? This story takes this idea to the extreme, in terms of the cultural outcome it could’ve had.

Report To The Pro-Aedile Of Excavations

by Patrick S. Baker

Princeps Nonus Volusenus Vala,

            Pro-Aedile of Excavations,

            Collegium of History, Rome

Greetings with All Deference

            I, Claudius Cantius Viator, have been directed by my magister, Sextus Seius Pennus, Master of Excavations in the Old East, to provide you a brief report on the latest and most unusual findings from one particular excavation. Since, Princeps, you are an expert on the pre-Discovery barbarian cultures of the Nova Terra across the Ocean-Sea, and I am unaware how deep your knowledge of the Old East of the First Republic goes, my apologies if I cover information of which you are already cognizant.

             For the previous five seasons I and my team have been exhuming the city of Aelia Capitolina which was destroyed after a siege during the Third Roman-Sassanid War (Years of the City 1954 – 1961). Aelia Capitolina was the first Roman city that had its walls destroyed by Sassanid fiery weaponry, although surely not the last.

            Our goal was to dig below the Roman city, founded circa 890 Y.C. by Emperor Hadrian of the First Empire, into the First Republic city, if able. Some sources report that the city, then called Hierosolymum, was the main town of many sects of monotheists and the foremost of those cults, called the Iudaeum, was often in revolt against the First Empire.

            After five seasons, and within a layer of destruction we have dated to 823 Y.C., which was caused when the city was destroyed after another of the rebellions by the Iudaeum, we discovered an absolute trove of documents, all in excellent condition, sealed in a vault within what we came to identify as the primary First Empire base in the city, the Fortress Antonia. Our documents expert, Gallio Caeparius Indus, quickly identified the owner of the collection as Legate Marcus Antonius Julianus, who governed the province as procurator from 819 Y.C. to 823 Y.C. (a brief biography and his service record is attached). Further, we have one written reference to Julianus as the author of a history of the Iudaeam. Their main cultic center was adjacent to the Fortress Antonia, which may have fired the interest of the legate in writing such a history. There is little doubt that the volumes we found were the legate’s research library for his opus. (A complete inventory of the documents is also attached).

            Most interestingly, the collection included a number of texts that appear to be the sole surviving copy of the said document. Several have no listing in the definitive Codex Libri Antiquorum. Among these unlisted documents are letters written in Greek, from a Little Saul of Tarsus, to various monotheistic cult communities around Our Sea, including one in Rome. This cult, called the Way, worshipped a god, or demi-god called the “Anointed One”. Another document, also written in Greek, is a loosely woven biography of a rebel magician who was crucified in 786 Y.C. on the orders of Pontius Pilate, Prefect of the province from 779 Y.C. to 789 Y.C.. The reason these documents are of special interest is they appear to reference the same person described in a report that the Prefect Pilate wrote to Emperor Tiberius Caesar. The two curious things regarding all of these are: First, is that this official report does not appear in any archive in the City and Pilate appeared to have a long and familiar relationship with this magician and rebel, who was named Joshua, son of Joseph, and was also this “Anointed One” adored by the cultic communities referenced in the letters of the Little Saul of Tarsus.

            Princeps, my team’s ancient religions specialist, Aulus Blandius Geta, informs me that this cult of the Way was vile in the extreme; eating human flesh and drinking human blood in foul ceremonies, as well as practicing incestuous marriage and other sexual perversions. Further, the First Empire went to some efforts to suppress the Way and the Iudaeum after their revolt. Geta also informs me that the two suppressed cults somehow continue into this day and are even growing in popularity despite being subject to proscription by the Magistratium of the Pontifax.

            All of this, brings forth the questions as to why a library of texts would be written regarding an executed criminal dissident from a minor religious sect on the edge of the First Empire? How this crucified criminal, Joshua Bar Joseph, became the so-called “Anointed One” and the founder of the foul sect of the Way? And why a legate and procurator such as Marcus Antonius Julianus would have such interest in this minor and suppressed cult? Answers to these questions will hopefully yield to further investigations.

                                                                        Very Respectfully, in Service to the Caesar

                                                                        Claudius Cantius Viator

                                                                        Former Questor Legio XII Victrix

                                                                        Sub-magister of excavations Syria Palaestina

                                                                        Submitted in the Year of the City 2773

~

Bio:

Patrick S. Baker is a U.S. Army Veteran, and a retired Department of Defense employee. He holds Bachelor degrees in History and Political Science and a Masters in European History. He has been writing professionally since 2013. His nonfiction has appeared in New Myths. His fiction has appeared in Astounding Frontiers and Broadswords and Blasters Magazine as well as the After Avalon and Uncommon Minds anthologies. In his spare time, he plays golf, reads, works out, and enjoys life with his wife, dog, and two cats.

Philosophy Note:

Is history an unchanging and fixed set of events; driven by fate, destiny, or the plan of God? If so, where does free will come into it? Are humans all just “time’s puppets”? Or else, does free will exist in an absolute sense and history propelled forward by the billions and billions of decisions humans, famous and humble, make every day? Or is there a middle course to the flow of human events, where some occurrences are indeed fixed, like the birth of Christ and the founding of Christianity, and how humans respond to such idée fixe of the mind of God where free will is given reign?

The Minotaur’s Rebellion

by Ben Roth

The Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology

University of Athens

Greece

March 15, 2020

To the Editors:

Please find enclosed a submission to the journal concerning the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, in light of recent archaeological discoveries on Crete. I am well aware that such radical findings, coming from an unknown scholar such as myself, will be received with skepticism by the academic community, but I trust that your anonymous peer reviewers will examine the evidence presented carefully and dispassionately.

Title: The Minotaur’s Rebellion

Abstract: According to mythology, at the behest of King Minos, Daedalus built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur, the offspring of Minos’s wife Pasiphaë and a white bull. Each year, seven young men and seven virgin women from Athens were forced into the Labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. Evidence from a recent archeological dig near the Palace of Knossos is presented.  Comparing the layout of the site to historical descriptions, it is argued that it is a plausible candidate for the long undiscovered site of the Labyrinth. Analysis of the extensive site’s middens reveals that it sustained a sizable population, and included open-air farming areas and fresh water sources. Reinterpreting certain artistic representations and offering possible translations of fragments of Linear A, it is hypothesized that the Minotaur’s father (i.e., “the Bull”) was actually a political dissident, his son imprisoned rather than killed by the king both out of deference to his wife and out of fear of fueling revolt. Over the course of multiple generations, the supposedly sacrificed Athenians, led by the Minotaur, created a self-sustaining community within the Labyrinth, which took up the Bull’s political cause. More speculatively, it is suggested that an eventual conflict between this community, emerging from the Labyrinth, and the surrounding one in Knossos might have contributed to the still unexplained decline of Minoan civilization.

Word Count: 9,752 words and eleven figures.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your decision.

                                                                                   Sincerely,

                                                                                   Nolan Robinson, Ph.D.

                                                                                   Adjunct Instructor of Anthropology

                                                                                   Western Massachusetts College

                                                                                   USA

~

Bio:

Ben Roth teaches writing and philosophy at Harvard. Among other places, his short fiction has been published by Blink-Ink and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, his criticism by Chicago Review and 3:AM Magazine, and his scholarly articles by the European Journal of Philosophy and Philosophy and Literature (forthcoming).