Cutting You Out

Dear you,

I’m sorry for posting this on my blog. I know our personal relationship doesn’t concern anyone other than us. But any more I find that I cannot communicate with you, not the way we used to, you and I. And there are a couple of things I wanted to tell you before doing what I’m about to do.

Our time together has been singularly carved in my mind for the unrepeatable happiness it entailed. In my 26 years on this sad case of a planet I do not think I have ever met anyone that managed to inspire such unique emotions in me apart from you, and that includes my family. Do you understand? Somehow, you became more important than the people closest to me, my own family. Could I sacrifice the entire human population just to spend one more bright moment with you, I would. It shames me to admit this, I know it’s sick, but it’s true. You have been for me the very definition of life, and love, and I wanted you to know this.

But any more I cannot or will not take it, regardless how melodramatic and pathetic this statement reads. I am exhausted. I have to give up, because life is a bleak hole. A very dark place. This is what it has turned into, for me. I’m tired, years after ceasing communication with you, of seeing you in my sleep. Bet you didn’t know that. But I do, every second night or so. I’m sick of this. Of thinking about you every single moment of my day. Of writing about you. And reading you. You, you, you. Everywhere. In every sentence, every word spoken to me. My entire existence revolves around you. I keep wondering what you would think if you could see this or the other insignificant thing I’m watching. Catch myself thinking of you at random moments, with no reason at all. See someone that looks like you and instantly feel elated, such bliss with no boundary in it. Or in its cruelty, when I realize it’s not you.

I console myself with the thought I did everything I could. You know I always trusted books. I read everything there was on the matter. Explored all sorts of possibilities. Attachment theory, limerence, Stockholm syndrome, you name it. I’ve read about it. Talked with everyone about it, about you. Family, friends, strangers on the internet. No one could provide me with the one answer I most desperately needed. The answer to why I could never get over you. Why there was nothing else that mattered other than you. Turns out what you and I had, for me, was nothing simpler than love.

I’ll keep this short. Everyone has problems. And I’ve been hiding mine well, until now. All the humour that went into my stories was just that: a rugged defence, determination to pull through, some unbelievable temerity I had in me. Had. Because after what you and I used to have stopped existing, it seems I couldn’t last. I turned into what you would only graciously call an alcoholic. Went into the darkest deep depression. Neglected my work, my studies, my family. Lost all my friends, each and every one of them. I was always obsessive. But after you and I ceased to communicate? I spent my time ruining myself and writing. About you, of course. All my poems were for you.

I always believed it’s a writer’s ethical duty of sorts to provide hope and optimism through his work. Not necessarily reflected in everything he writes, but that he has to have some sort of excuse for continuing to exist on this fucked up planet. And I don’t. This is what I’ve come to realize. Why would I keep on writing, when myself I couldn’t see light, couldn’t find purpose? The only purpose there ever existed was you.

I’m cutting this short. Whatever I say doesn’t make proper sense anyway. So much for goodbye letters. This was my last night of loneliness and disappointment. The only thing that remains now is for me to let you know of my decision.

It is this.

I’m cutting you out.

I’m not sorry.


⁽ᴶᵘˢᵗ ᶦᶰ ᶜᵃˢᵉ ᴵ ˢᵗᵃʳᵗ ᵍᵉᵗᵗᶦᶰᵍ ʷᵒʳʳᶦᵉᵈ ʳᵉᵖᶫᶦᵉˢ, ᵗʰᶦˢ ᵖᵒˢᵗ ᶦˢ ᵃ ʲᵒᵏᵉ⋅ ᴵᵗ’ˢ ᵃᶫᶫ ᶠᵒʳ ᵗʰᵉ ˢᵃᵏᵉ ᵒᶠ ᵗʰᵃᵗ ʰᵒʳʳᶦᵇᶫᵉ ᵖᵘᶰ, ʸᵉˢ⋅ ᴵ’ᵐ ᶰᵒᵗ ˢᵒʳʳʸ⋅ ᴵ ʳᵉᵍʳᵉᵗ ᶰᵒᵗʰᶦᶰᵍ⋅ ᴺᵒᵗʰᶦᶰᵍ﹗ ᴵᶠ ʸᵒᵘ ᶠᵉᶫᶫ ᶠᵒʳ ᶦᵗ, ʸᵒᵘ ᵈᵉˢᵉʳᵛᵉᵈ ᶦᵗ⋅⁾


Long Short Story or Short Long Story

No More Bets

Guess you could call this one either a long short story or a short long story based on word count. Not that the nomenclature matters. This beast numbers almost nine thousand words and features a rather cocky narrator. Brave it with a coffee if you feel like it, just saying.

(Clicky clicky on the picture to open the pdf.)

Quotes of the day:

‘You always think maybe this is the one when everyone’s going to realise maybe he’s not that good after all. And you just don’t know yourself, because I would imagine that even really bad novelists (…) probably think that what they’ve written is one of the best books in the world.’

And:

‘Well, I don’t think it’s good enough. I want closure. I don’t want any of this existentialist post-modern shite, pal. I want a story, with an ending.

Both by Iain Banks, from this interview (1999) and this other interview (2002).

Slàinte!


Hour of the Wolf

HotW2

Well, for this post I was thinking of writing something designed so as to be read when one is sort of severely pissed and in a state they really want to get dizzy with words.

Curious statement, yes, and I explain:

I woke up troubled by the concept of the reader’s purpose for reading (if that thing even exists and as complexly many-faceted as it can be every time). Purpose as in, John Braine seems to define reading a novel as reading a story for pleasure. And yes, you read for pleasure or to think or to pass time or to feel or to relate or to learn or to travel or to understand or to, to, to.

Bed

Proof of my distress. Filtered because that’s cooler.

But (I woke up thinking hazily) what if you read something solely for the purpose of tripping on words?! What if someone wrote a novel, short story, poem, whatever, but researched so as to be great only when one reads it while drunk?

(I’m not sure why the inclusion of alcohol in that thought, perhaps I’m influenced by Imgur where I often see people in the comments section mentioning they’re drunk and browsing around laughing at most of the stuff there. Is this a habit? Getting pissed and looking at pictures? I guess so. Sure enough it’s a habit getting pissed and reading, or better yet reading poems.)

BorgesL

Now there are certain writers you just can’t read while inebriated, take Borges for example. You can’t read Borges if you’re drunk or on a bus (or the worst case scenario: drunk on a bus). Why? Because his words are so dizzying on their own that if you’re further affected by substances or the lunatic’s ride certain double-deckers offer (I’m looking at you, super busy service to Trafalgar Square competing with Formula One champions) you’re in for an overdose of speeding thoughts, a quite strangely unsettling experience.

I mean, you end up missing the literature and can’t enjoy the craft in the work because everything’s moving too fast and you’re all over the place. Does this make sense?

SFT

There are books you can read when you’ve been drinking. Starter for Ten for example; now, I haven’t done it but I assume it’d be pure ecstatic bliss to get lost in the world of SfT after a couple of glasses of something nice on a Saturday night when the whole world is out and you’re in keeping company to the cat who doesn’t need you anyway and you find yourself nodding at the words while reading, oh yes, yes, so gauche, Brian, she totally finds you gauche dude, you are gauche come to it but you’re also honest and genuine and so likeable, Brian, why the hell can’t you see you’re heading to destruction with this girl?! What the hell Brian okay I get it you’ve the very bad hots for her but wow she’s going to wreck you pretty badly wait oh shit yeah this totally makes sense Brian I’m with you in this mate oh shit oh shit no, dammit. This sort of thing.

(No quality prejudices or highbrow/lowbrow distinctions meant in this statement, after all I enjoy reading Nicholls more than Borges, feel free to proceed and crucify me.)

So, some stories can be read with alcohol and others can’t, or this is entirely subjective and anyway there are quite enough posts online about reading when drunk and this doesn’t even concern me here. I just happened to wake up examining the idea of writing a story to be read specifically only when one is drunk. As an experiment or something.

But I didn’t.

Untitled

 Or, more accurately:

me fail

So, huge intro to say I changed my mind in the end. (Well done, Dimitris.)

But I was distracted by something else. Probably one of these occasions when you’re about to write a story that’s really shit (no, really) and no amount of common sense is going to stop you from doing that or maybe this is because you’ve just come back from Greece and you’re still affected by the general flippancy observed in the country so what does one stray text you write matter anyway, but which thankfully you’re saved from penning by chance. (Or Fate, if you’re deterministic.)

WWW

Oh yes, what distracted me: let me set the scene. Other people wake up with a hard-on. (Men mostly.) I on the other hand wake up to the radio playing Two Princes by Spin Doctors (where the hell did they unearth that?!), the neighbour practising his/her already exceptional drilling skills on every wall of their apartment which is unfortunately situated next to my den (luminously dressed by the sun, I’ve a huge window, yes) and my fucked up brain worrying whether I’m still in touch with the latest updates on steampunk fiction.

Statement

I felt this was too glorious a quote not to be independently featured.

(This was simultaneously as thinking about writing the drunk piece, lately I exhibit a brilliant tendency to not be able to stop thinking, undeniably a side-effect of finishing a PhD and freaking over a post-doc proposal in the unsure realm of science fiction.)

So, my mental erection was really concerned about the fact I haven’t in ages checked what’s going on with steampunk novels (and yes, a first world problem I can hear you shouting, yet as Jack White says yo trabajo duro to claim the luxury of waking up to worrying about steampunk fiction, problem?).

Also, by the way: when I say steampunk let me clarify I mean fiction set in a steampunk world, such as The Court of the Air (brilliant, brilliant) by Stephen Hunt, not the weird light porn one has to wade through to discover such books on certain online ebook outlets (*cough* kobobooks *cough*).

So after Two Princes stopped playing or maybe a bit before it did I switched the music to Awon – Strictly Underground (Melodiverse Remix) and picked up the iPad. (To this day, the only advantage of the iPad I’m grateful for apart from it being light to carry about is that it has, and I would like to stress this, the best eReader environment around (Hssss! non-believers and Philistines), while you can also combine Kindle, Kobo, iBooks and a handful of other reading software on one machine without need for all their respective devices.)

I started scanning the steampunk categories in a couple of eReaders and guess what, there were quite many new titles apparently being discussed that I hadn’t even heard of and I was naturally freaking out (I feel the compulsion to be up to date with what is published, sells, is talked about, gets good reviews or appalling reviews). And then, while I was sort of losing it over how behind I am in my steampunk reading list, it happened.

I needed to take a piss.

So I got up and went to the bathroom.

[Material edited for the adorable Reader’s eyes’ sake.]

Joking, joking, I’m just taking the piss out of you.

When I came back, the next result on my list was Hour of the Wolf.

HotW

(This has got to be one of the weirdest book reviews of all time.)

By the way. This isn’t in any way an advertisement, not a conscious one at least, I need to clarify. Some of you may know what happens when you hit a couple thousand or so subs on WordPress: you start getting email proposals to feature paid articles on your site. These come from companies who provide the service of advertising their clients’ products on third-party blogs, acting as the middleman in a way. Usually they pay about $100 per article (or that’s what I’ve been offered) (yes, in bucks, not sterling) and you get to do nothing but choose the topic and edit (if you want). I’ve replied to a couple of them to see where this was going and they claim they’ve got writers that can imitate your style, tone and themes. (Really, dude? You think you can ape up this extraglorious travesty of locution I call my noise? For realz? I combine Kenneth Koch and modern hip hop, och, in a ”, you beckoned? It’s for you I’ve made this chanson, son. For you and that big dark blue. Glue.)

For proofs (click to zoom):

proofs

Rest assured I haven’t in the past, I’m not currently, and won’t in the future be hosting anything like this here, my words being my own and all that. Plus, if you’ve happened to work a reasonable amount of time as a ghostwriter, you might end up sick of hiding behind words and certainly sick of others standing on your words.

(I seem to remember Kazuo Ishiguro at the LBF last year (was it last year or the one before that?) mentioning he was offered a ridiculous many-zeroed sum by a company that asked him to write a piece essentially advertising their watches or something. He turned them down. Fuck yeah.) It’s almost beautiful how some people may completely ignore the fact they’re being offensive. Anyways, the world, what’d you expect. Moving on.

(Hold on. By that time I’d switched back to the radio and Ain’t no Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant was on.)

(This is turning into an enormous book review that in the end won’t be a book review at all it seems. What the hell, Dimitris, concentrate.)

So, I’d returned from the bathroom. And the next result on my steampunk suggestions was Hour of the Wolf. (Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Zephyr Song was playing.) Good title, so I clicked to see details. I couldn’t immediately figure out what it was, a book or a game? Cool screenshots, true. Hipster filters, steampunk atmo and all that. Description reads, behold:

Winner ‘’Book of the Year 2013’’ in Lithuania.

Now, coming from a tiny country I know enough not to snob how this sounds. But I know nothing about this Book of the Year in Lithuania. Is it an award where readers vote for the books they like or is it a literary Establishment thing? No idea and I didn’t explore further. The next array of lines explained more:

Hour of the Wolf is a powerful steampunk novel and the biggest Science Fiction / Fantasy bestseller in Lithuania of all times.

Me thinking: ho ho, that’s a statement. Reading this, will I start judging Lithuanian readers this way or the other? (Ho ho.)

This interactive book brings forward the interpretation of this bestseller by LitRecords team.

(Notice minimal mention of the author’s name, who incidentally had the guts to self-publish this.)

Unique features include 

  • More than 40 interactive media artifacts scattered around the book in order to improve your reading experience
  • 3D models you can explore, touch and play with
  • Seven editions of fictional digital newspaper
  • Music and sound effects
  • Mini game where you can take reigns of the flying ornithopter and glide over the city roofs
  • Interactive glossary with one-touch explanations
  • Specially commissioned maps tracking main points of interest in the book 

Reader, I bought it. I’m a cheap human being. I’m fascinated easily by fireworks. And the inclusion of the word ornithopter in a 300-word text designed to sell you the book, it finished me, Reader. It finished me. It sealed the deal. I was like: ooh woohoo, ORNITHOPTER!

(That’s why I’m single. Imagine waking up to someone whooping Ooh woohoo, ORNITHOPTER! next to you first thing in the morning.)

awkward

Awkward.

But the rest of the description seemed promising too.

It is the year 1905 and Europe is not as we know it. Alchemists pilot steampunk airships over great cities, hardworking mechanics create automatons and deep in the dungeons secret societies of macabre wizards strive to create artificial intellect.

HOTW1

Former US Marine Antanas Sidabras is exceptional at his job – enforcing public order in the ancient Free City of Vilnius. But a gruesome murder at an abandoned cemetery leaves him at a loss. No clues, no motive, no suspect.

HOTW2

With the biggest social event of the year – The Summit – looming just a few days ahead frantic investigation turns out to be a complex web of political intrigue and Sidabras has everybody against him – mad doctors, corrupt officials, Russian agents and monsters from his nightmares. And then, the bells will toll the Hour of the Wolf.

I orgasmed.

(Metaphorically, Reader, metaphorically.)

But yes, what the hell, wow. A sense of the historical (1905 in Europe, great cities), a foreign world (not as we know it), characters in the margin of human existence and metaphysical allusion (alchemists, hardworking mechanics, macabre wizards), elements of magic and wowing science (steampunk airships, automatons, artificial intellect), lots of mystery and the Gothic (deep in the dungeons, secret societies, gruesome murder, abandoned cemetery, no clues, no motive, no suspect), amazing weird names (Antanas Sidabras), political intrigue (political intrigue), a marine (there’s always a marine, why?! Former US Marine), what more do you need?! Mad doctors, corrupt officials, Russian agents (of course). Oh and: monsters from his nightmares.

HOTW3

Not only did I buy it, Reader, I dived in it. I held my stylus like… like… like a male porn star holds his shaft (for use of a better term) as if the entire world depends on his maintaining that horizontality of penile character (imitate this, ghostwriter) (and, note be, for him, the porn star that is, it does). Okay, this was disgusting. But I held the stylus with so much excitement and plunged it straight onto the iPad’s screen, confirming that I, Dimitris Melicertes the First, am indeed paying the puny sum of £3.99 for this glorious interactive novel because yeah, I need to acquire it.

(People that have published the Hour of the Wolf, please don’t sue me, I’m just in a funny mood, not sarcastic, I swear.)

Guess what.

(You’ve arrived at the serious part of this post. Congratulations.)

It’s decent. No joking. It’s a very respectable interactive book. Even though it took aaages to download, it delivered.

Sure, it features a boasting quote: History has been changed. Blood has been spilled.

But. It delivered.

(At that moment, Starbucks lovers came up on the radio. What the fuck, I said, and switched back to my playlist.)

The graphics inside the novel are amazing. The fonts, the illustrations, the page design, the lighting, the hipster filters, the old feel to it, everything. They’re cool. Even the loading icons are freaking awesome (they’re these little mechanic wheels that turn, but they’re cool.)

Mist effects jump at you from between the pages. There are maps that are cute. And by cute I mean FRIGGING AWESOME. If you’ve grown up in the age where graphics in gaming matter, you’ll like it. Forget Tolkien and those sad maps. (Don’t kill me elf nerds). These guys really do have beautiful mapping software. And yes, it does feel steampunk. It’s quite awesome. And there’s other effects too, like streams of stars traversing the pages while you change them and mini games or animations or whatever you wanna call them that interrupt your reading with ASTOUNDING graphics, yes. And music, and sounds. Items described in the book, you can see them. You just click open on the panel under the paragraph – and some gorgeous illustrator (yes, I know I don’t mean the illustrator but their work) has brought your imagination to life.

And this is where I stop drooling.

Because I’m fifty or so pages into the book and have no opinion on the writing. Meaning, I’ve very little idea what’s going on in the story even though I’m supposed to be reading it. I’m not sure why this happens.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s the writing. From the little I could concentrate, I believe it’s decent prose and an adequate translation. So what’s going on?

One scenario is that I’m a monkey that’s been handed a new shiny too-complex toy. Am I too infatuated with the special effects to pay attention to the story? Am I too eagerly waiting for the next pop up thingy to focus on the words? Maybe that’s because I generally don’t have much experience with interactive books. Do all these fancy elements drive me away from the story instead of immersing me in it as the publicists of the book promise they will? Is it my age? My immaturity? My non-familiarity with the interactive environment? My aesthetics? My period? My Sharona? My instinct telling me a story should be told only via words and that’s that?

But that’s not necessary now, right? There’s hybrid genres and the written word always keeps evolving.

And don’t get me wrong, all this stuff is pretty amazing. And maybe, just maybe, this will become the major book form in years to come. Interactive books where the words themselves come second or just serve a different purpose if not a complimentary one. And that will be okay. Anything that will come, the evolution of written word, will be okay. Because that’s what’s it going to be and eventually future generations will be used to it, end of story.

You might have been hoping for a non-melodramatic ending. You’re unfortunately unlucky.

For here we’re hardcore proponents of the written word. We believe imagination is the core of existence (what grandiloquence my god), and that visual elements actually hinder the process of literature. Sure, we can slowly structure up a world where nothing needs to be imagined. Where everything can be illustrated, drawn, popping out of the page without effort on the reader’s part. And that will be what it will be.

Or not. I’m messing with you again. I don’t really believe this, I think. As it actually turns out, a story is a story no matter how it’s told. Maybe I’m too old to appreciate an interactive book environment, maybe you aren’t. Or vice-versa. What if a nuclear accident eliminated life as we know it and survivors of this impromptu apocalypse only knew fiction via interactive apps/pictures-effects-sounds-games-featuring books that survived? Would they discover genres backwards like the Romans did? Who knows. The thing is, look at the things humans do and where they go. So I guess I’m not taking a clear stance on this. Maybe I’ll come back to this post and update when I’ve finished reading.

In the end this wasn’t so much a book review as an attempt to think about what distracts and what doesn’t, what accentuates the impact of a narrative and what weakens it. Most likely it’s just personal preference involved.

But if you can follow through a blog post (1) starting with the concept of writing a story designed to be read by a drunk reader, (2) mentioning next an old creative writing manual, (3) then featuring random pictures of the writer’s bed and face, (4) passingly touching at Borges and Nicholls, (5) bombarding you with YouTube song suggestions, (6) including ridiculous links in every second sentence, (7) self-linking to the writer’s poems, (8) to Kenneth Koch’s poems, (9) being humorous about the crisis in Greece (or was I), (10) throwing in a really good interview by Jack White to comment on the subject of what things you can or can’t get away with saying, (12) skipping numbers, (13) making a distinction between steampunk fiction and that-other-steampunk fiction, (14) joking around constantly with (likely not amusing) sexual references aiming to disorientate you, (15) arguing against paid ghostwritten articles on personal websites, (16) interspersing the text with a gazillion pictures, and lastly (17) reviewing an interactive book without practically reviewing it, then, maybe, you’re not the type of person that gets easily distracted. I am though, so I have to start with HotW from the beginning and pay more attention to the story despite the beautiful effects telling me what to imagine.

But in any case my problem isn’t the things I can imagine. It’s the things I can’t imagine that trouble me.

Food for thought.

Oh, and:

…   

…   

…   

…   

…  

  

ornithopter


If you’re one of the awesome, majestic, sublime human beings that have shared my work on social media or by word of mouth, making my stories travel further, I want you to know I love y- I am deeply thankful that you think my words worthy enough. Regardless how wordy this message is, it can’t express how much that means to me. Ta!


Imaret, In the Shadow of the Clock

A year ago I translated from Greek into English a historical novel. Its title is Imaret, In the Shadow of the Clock and its author is Yannis Kalpouzos.

Since the book was published in Turkey a few days ago on April 13, and since the Turkish translation is based on my English translation (which is also used alongside the Greek original for the book’s translation in Arabic), I thought I’d publish here a few things about the book and what is essentially the first chapter of the novel.

Imaret

Imaret has so far sold more than 100,000 copies in Greece, where it won the National Readers Award in 2009 and became what you’d call a modern historical classic after featuring in the bestsellers list for five consecutive years. It’s published in both Greece and Cyprus by Psichogios Publications. In Poland, Imaret, W Cieniu Zegara is published by Książkowe Klimaty Publications. And in Turkey, İmaret, Saat kulesinin gölgesinde is published by Pena Yayinlari.

Imaret, In the Shadow of the Clock, Yannis Kalpouzos, Dimitris Melicertes

Imaret, In the Shadow of the Clock, Turkish Cover

The title of the book, Imaret, is the name of certain charity institutions that used to exist in the Ottoman Empire and which provided food and shelter to travellers, orphans, and the poor. The wealthiest of them also fed animals and beasts of burden. In the book the imaret is used as a symbol, communicating the humanitarian message of one of its characters, the thinker grandfather Ismail:

The Earth is an imaret. The imaret of God. And we are the poor, the orphans, and the travellers of life, that it takes us in. It feeds us, it opens its arms to us, accepts us and allows us to savour and enjoy life. And we think that we rule over it. We divided it between us, we said ‘this place is ours, that place is yours’, and then we lunged to take each other’s place, without understanding that it doesn’t belong to anyone. God gave us this imaret to manage and we scrounge, steal, wrong, exploit, demand more and more, until the time we return our hide where it belongs, to the ground. And then it will be worth as much as that of an ox or a sheep, nothing more.

Set between 1854 and 1882 in a Greek city in the Ottoman Empire, the novel follows the lives of two boys, a Greek and a Turk, who are born on the same night and become milk-siblings. The Greek boy’s father is murdered; as the Greek mother’s milk dries up, her neighbour and mother of the Turkish boy breastfeeds both newborns who grow up like brothers. The book observes the turbulent years between three races co-inhabiting the same city despite their differences, featuring daily life in that era: hamams, coffee houses, dances and balls, stone throwing battles, the Ramazan, the shadow theatre, fanatical and anti-fanatical characters, excommunications, smuggling, crofters and land owners, a murder and the mystery surrounding it, Greeks, Turks and Jews, their religions and respective traditions, love, hatred, compassion for ‘the other’, rich and poor, sweet and bitter life. Everything has a place in the imaret of God.

About the author:Yannis Kalpouzos

Yannis Kalpouzos was born in 1960. As a songwriter he has penned the lyrics to over 70 songs. His work includes five poetry collections, six novels and a collection of short stories. Imaret, In the Shadow of the Clock is one of his three historical novels, which won the National Readers Award in 2009. The other two titles, published in 2011 and 2013 respectively, are Saints & Demons, Istanbul* and Skystone, The Twelfth Generation*. His latest novel published in 2014 has the title Everything I Love is Yours*.He lives and writes in Athens. (*not yet translated in English)


In case you find reading from a PDF more comfortable, please head over here: Imaret, In the Shadow of the Clock – Yannis Kalpouzos.

Copyright remains with the author. Translation copyright for the English version remains with me.


Imaret

In the Shadow of the Clock

Owing to the most intimate social relations that developed
between Greeks and Ottomans, the latter had discarded the air of
the conqueror, which frequently characterizes the ruling race.

— Spyridon Paganelis
WAYFARER’S NOTES
The Military Occupation of Arta (1882)

On the night of April 11, 1854

The castle’s clock – the oldest mechanical clock with a drive throughout the vast Ottoman Empire – was striking the second hour of the night. The sound of its bell reached the ears of Liontos Thersites as a nightingale’s tune. He had already left behind him the successive ridges, dismounted at the sloping mule track near the ruins of the old watermill and, riding his mare again, he was crossing the flat area at a light trot.

All his senses on alert, he turned his gaze to the direction of Arta, but the towering olive trees hid the few lights of the city. Only the moon scattered its light lavishly, as if to support him or to soothe the wounds of this tortured land.

The clock’s sound and at the same time the moonlight appeared to calm his spirit. Peace, however, proved short lived. Suddenly something creaked, his mare jerked her head and cold sweat washed over him. Alarmed, he turned left and right, while the shadows of trees assumed uncanny shapes before his frightened eyes. They acquired movement, reached out hands to grab him, they raised cutlasses.

Fear transforms tombstones into men, he remembered the Turkish proverb as the noise wasn’t repeated and only the steady clatter of horseshoes broke the night’s silence.

Liontos Thersites was greatly disquieted. Partly due to the turbulent situation in the region following the revolution’s outbreak, partly because of the incident that had taken place earlier, one hour after he had departed the monastery. He had been climbing a wooded area when a herd of wild dogs surrounded him barking like demons and he had to struggle hard to escape. His mare Artemi was bitten a couple of times and he had been forced to scatter around all the treats the abbot had given him; cheese, bread, eggs, smoked meat, sausages. The dogs had fallen on the food and he had got away galloping uphill. Still, he didn’t rule out the dogs reappearing on his way, even though he had been riding for almost three hours now.

To the east, higher up on the hill, the Virgin’s monastery came into view. Behind it and to the right the village of Peta was barely visible, its houses perched upon the rocky mountainside where officers of the Greek army had set up camp with fighters and rebels from other areas. As for the local leaders of the revolution, they were holding positions all around the city and across the river.

Many had believed, when the revolution was declared early in the year, that finally the time had come for the city of Arta and the whole of Epirus to be liberated. And their hopes had flared up on the 31st of January, when lieutenant Karaiskakis and his men had captured the city and laid siege against the Ottomans in the fort. Soon afterwards, however, the snow and the harsh cold had forced them to return to Peta, with the result that over the next days the Greek residents of the city had suffered many cruelties and a great number of houses had been plundered. The rebels had carried on battling and everyone expected to see the Greek flag waving over the fort any day, since the Turks had been counting at least five hundred dead and their morale had been tattered to the point that their commander, kaymakam Sadık Effendi, had suggested they surrendered and that the Ottoman families left for the city of Yannena.

Despite all this, for nearly a moth now it had become obvious that the passion of the rebels was lost, as they remained idle and stationary at Peta. Rumours were heard of betrayals, of secret arrangements that the Greek camp commander Tzavelas made with the English and the Turks, of disputes among the officers, and also of interruption of the financial aid from committees and associations in Greece, while an English and a French ship anchored in the Gulf of Arta hampered the passage of vessels carrying supplies for the rebels.

Whatever the truth was and the general circumstances, crisis was evident in their lines. A fact self-proven, given that only a week ago the trapped and under strain due to shortage of food Ottomans had attempted a sally and undisturbed had plundered and razed three villages to the ground. For the residents of Arta and the wider region this marked the end of the revolution. Easter, which would arrive in two weeks, would find them enslaved, as they had been for four hundred and five years.

On March 24, 1449 the Ottomans had first raised the Crescent and Star over the fort and it still waved over the buried ancient city of Ambracia, numbering twenty-five thousand inhabitants during the splendid era of king Pyrrhus, and now over Arta, capital of the Despotate of Epirus, and over the unredeemed souls of its Greek citizens, who retained the suture of their race until they could unite once more with the liberated state of Greece.

Past, present and future were woven together in the thoughts of Liontos Thersites, but most of all weighed the present, which called him to return the soonest possible to his manor house and his heavily pregnant wife. He had counted on arriving much earlier, before the night even caught up with him, but he had been late to leave the monastery of Melates where his faith and the two unfortunate former pregnancies of his wife had led him. His purpose had been to pray to the Virgin, as he had indeed done. To beg of her that the child they were expecting would be born healthy and live.

‘The child will live!’ he said to himself and held tight in his hands the small wooden image, a gift of the abbot Yennadios. ‘It comes from the Holy Mountain. Carved by hand. Hang it over the baby’s cot; this child shall be under its auspice and protection. Have faith and all will go as wished for.’ So the abbot had told him and his faith kept growing, but along with it his anxiety too, as he approached the city.

Before him, the landscape opened up. Olive trees alternated with vineyards and to the west, in the distance, the lights of Arta came now and then timidly into view. The city seemed like one of the books he so loved. A little longer and he would be opening its cover to find himself among the labyrinthine lines of its streets, that to him resembled anything but scribbles. Instead, he encountered the most beautiful calligraphy, a unique harmony in those narrow, ever-turning streets. He imagined, even, walking them in a few years holding his son by the hand – for he hoped, deep down, that the child about to be born would be a son – and revealing to him the secrets lying in every corner, building, church or mosque. Showing him the remains of ancient Ambracia too, from the distant era of which he had discovered while digging up the foundations of his house coins, amphoras, and an entire statue of the goddess Artemis. Goddess to whom, he claimed, the new city owed its name.

On his left he could discern the Jewish cemetery and further away at Petrovouni Mountain the solitary dark mass that was the monastery of Holy Mary Revealed, which the Ottomans had occupied since the revolution’s outset and turned into a military camp. All of a sudden, his mare started snorting nervously.

‘Easy, Artemi. It’s nothing, my girl…’ he muttered and leaned forward to stroke her neck. ‘There’s our city. Just a little longer and…’

His sentence remained half. The gunshot violently interrupted his words and at the same time he felt the shot and hard burning on his right shoulder. The mare, startled, rose neighing on her hind legs, sending his body flying into the air, for Liontos Thersites to find himself the next moment lying face down on the road’s thick coat of dust.

Stunned by the fall and moaning with pain, he attempted to get up. The mare, despite her startle, was standing next to him beating the ground with her hooves. He caught the harness, lifted himself up, stepped with difficulty on the stirrup and with tremendous effort climbed again on her back. The money! the thought crossed his mind like lightning, sensing the saddlebag’s absence from his shoulder. But without hesitation he plunged his spurs into the mare’s belly and she sprang forward in a gallop.

He saw the dark figure on the rock to his left, while overtaking it less than ten metres away, raising the gun once more.

‘Curse you! Bastard!’ he screamed.

The second bullet found him on the back. Powerful pain shook him and his body wavered dangerously. He swayed once to the right, once left, but he managed to remain on the saddle and continued galloping towards the city.

͠

The castle’s clock was striking the third Ottoman hour of the night when Agni Thersites, clenching her teeth, made her last efforts to give birth.

‘One more time! One more time! There you go! See, it’s coming!’ the nasal voice of Bolena the midwife was heard.

In the same room, with anxiety intense upon their faces and prepared to help, were Fotini Fasganos and Agni’s friend Anastasia Megis.

In the manor house’s courtyard, at the centre of which Liontos Thersites had placed on a pedestal the statue of the goddess Artemis, Damianos Megis was pacing nervously back and forth. With his pipe permanently stuck between his lips, he was listening to Agni’s moans and Bolena’s orders, while from time to time he crossed the long corridor and with quick steps reached up to the heavy wooden gate. He carefully opened one door, peered out into the narrow cobbled street, and closed it again, taking care each time to secure the bolt. He stood there still for a while, raising his eyes to observe the tall stone wall encircling the manor house, and then he returned to the courtyard at the back.

Damianos Megis was worried about his friend and at the same time about Agni, who was forced to give birth without a doctor’s help when indeed she had a history of two miscarriages already. Her personal doctor, as well as the rest in Arta, had left the city along with many wealthy residents at the revolution’s outbreak. Damianos was also worried because the general situation presaged nothing good. At noon, a thousand Turkish soldiers had arrived at the fort via the port of Arta, reinforcing the existing five thousand, and it was whispered everywhere that an attack was pending against the rebels at Peta. Besides, for three months now, when dark fell the city got deserted. Coffee houses, wine stores, taverns, all closed down, and not a soul passed on the streets. Most of the Muslim and Jewish residents spent their nights at the fort or locked themselves up in their homes. As for the Greeks, many sought refuge in the buildings of the metropolis, which were guarded by a band of the Ottoman army. Several others had taken to the mountains or to villages in the plain, before the Turkish authorities had forbidden exit without a special permit. But even flight guaranteed only the safety of their persons, since the homes of those who left became prey for the soldiers and for fanatical Turkish residents of the city.

‘One more time!’ Bolena’s voice was heard again, and immediately she added: ‘Wait, the cord is wound around his neck!’

Upset, Damianos Megis ran up the steps. But realizing his inability to offer help he stopped at the krevata, as they called the roofed yet entirely open to the courtyard space. Around the krevata, the manor house’s rooms were arranged in U-shape. On the left and right were the guests quarters and the living room, further at the back lay the family’s rooms and the kitchen, while on the right side, facing the street, was the winter room with the fireplace.

‘Let me! I with my own hands will do it, don’t you push,’ Bolena was guiding Agni, taking care to add: ‘Help us, Lady Mother of our God!’

Damianos stepped down again into the paved courtyard. Lemon trees, orange trees, rosebushes and a crowd of flowers from the parterres were releasing their intoxicating perfumes in the night. Out of impulse he remembered the verse that Liontos and he used to sing outside either Agni’s or Anastasia’s houses, back when lovestruck they besieged the two friends:

As April comes and visits
So I’ll be coming too
The kisses on your lips
Drop by drop to drink from you

A faint smile formed on his face before he started again towards the gate. The street was deserted once more. Liontos Thersites was nowhere to be seen and now Damianos feared for the worse. He took another look. Nothing. From the house across the street, next to the ruins of the small church of St. Loukas, conversations were heard and rich lights glowed out.

‘Filthy Turks… Breeding like rabbits,’ he muttered under his breath.

Further west there was another Muslim house, smaller and dark at that hour. The manor house of the Thersites stood exactly at the border between the district of St. Theodora, where Greeks resided, and that of Sultan Beyazıt or Turkish Market, where mostly Turks lived and had their stores. On the contrary, the manor house of wholesaler and landowner Damianos Megis was located at the rich Greek neighbourhood of St. Minas, near the Greek Vice consulate.

‘Damianos!’ his wife called him and he hurried to return to the courtyard.

‘A boy!’ she announced to him overjoyed from the level of the krevata. ‘A blonde, handsome little boy!’

͠

At the double storeyed house across the street and at the men’s quarters, which the Turks called selamlık, seated upon comfortable low sofas, Yaşar and his brother Mehmet smoked their pipes, while their father İsmail sucked on his narghile.

Nilgün, Yaşar’s four-year-old daughter, and Behzat, his three-year-old son, ran here and there or lay down upon the heavy oriental rugs. Instead, his seven-year-old son, Doğan, sat with a serious expression next to his uncle Mehmet.

If, however, one removed the low sofas, the rugs and İsmail Bey’s narghile, the room in nothing resembled the East. Stools, tables, armchairs, vases and everything else that existed in the room hinted at products from Paris, London and Venice. As for the selamlık, it remained only in name and as a word rather than in essence, since many stereotypes from older times had long been lost.

The selamlık, which featured at the centre of the ground floor, was linked to independent rooms without corridors in between. At the haremlık, the women’s quarters, Yaşar’s wife Safiye was giving birth. The women’s talk and the midwife’s instructions carried all the way to the selamlık, until the crying of a baby betrayed the happy outcome.

‘Oğul! A son!’ the elderly Selma brought them the good news.

Yaşar stood up, kissed his mother’s hand and entered the room where Safiye was, along with her sister, the midwife, the servant girl Fatme and the newborn boy. Soon he returned to the selamlık.

‘Necip,’ grandfather İsmail said. ‘You should call him Necip, my brother’s name.’

‘So that he inherits the same fate?’ Yaşar countered.

‘He was a hero!’ grandfather İsmail protested, as his younger brother had been killed defending the fort against the Greek attacks to occupy it during the battle of Arta in 1821. ‘A hero!’ he said again and added, as if foreseeing the future: ‘His fate will be good.’

‘Allah versin! May God provide!’ Yaşar wished, without offering any further objection regarding the child’s name.

‘Neither music nor songs for us tonight,’ Mehmet nagged. ‘But I’m telling you, the days of the kafirun are over. Give it a day or two, and their infidel blood will paint the soil. And then, then we’ll hold a double feast.’

‘Jahweh, Necip! To his health!’ Yaşar proposed and raised his glass of raki toward the room from which the crying of his third son sounded faintly.

‘Jahweh!’ grandfather İsmail repeated and Mehmet imitated him.

‘Jahweh! Jahweh!’ shouted the small ones too, Nilgün and Behzat, while Doğan remained silent and frowning on his seat.

͠

Artemi’s hooves rattled on the cobbled street of the Greek market. Dragging steps, as in a litany. Liontos Thersites, the upper part of his body leaning over the mare’s neck, just about managed to hold on to her back. He was moaning, breathing with difficulty and raving: ‘The child… the image… Agni… the money.’

‘I was shot,’ he had stammered earlier to the soldiers of the Turkish outpost a short distance before the city. ‘Papers!’ the çavuş in charge had insisted expressionless, demanding to see his permission of exit. With trembling hands and ready to collapse, Liontos Thersites had searched his pocket for the military commander’s permit, which he had secured thanks to the intervention of Yaşar Effendi. The sergeant had glanced at the paper shedding light from his lantern and returned it. ‘Move along!’ he had said coldly and returned to the fire, where four or five soldiers were drinking raki, teasing each other and laughing loudly.

He had considered it pointless and dangerous to insist they should help him. Awash in blood and with his strength abandoning him, he continued on his way. His mare was now walking slowly along the central street they called Romiopazaro, the Greek market, because on it were mainly the stores of the Greeks.

Passing by the mosque of Kılıç Bey, a black cloud covered the moon and thick darkness spread everywhere. Only occasionally, when approaching one of the very few street lamps, light illuminated their way for five or ten metres and then horse and rider vanished as though the night had swallowed them whole.

The mare walked slowly in the middle of the cobbled street, aware of her master’s condition. However, at the end of Monoplio Square she stumbled on one of the small wooden bridges that interrupted the Greek market here and there, and only by miracle Liontos Thersites didn’t collapse to the ground.

‘Home… I must reach home…’ he kept repeating with effort, as if his own words lent him courage.

The city was empty, deserted. At the church of St. Dimitrios he turned north, toward the district of St. Minas where the manor houses of the Greeks were located. There, too, everything was dark and bolted. Not a soul around, neither lights nor talks. Café Aman, too, stood in complete darkness further down the road, as his mare turned west. At this hour in other times, music and songs would be heard, people would be coming and going.

His breath came out drowned. His raving ceased too. The manor house was a hundred metres away at most. The lemon and orange trees behind the ornate railings of Café Aman’s garden were sending April’s message to the wrong man. And how strange, he never remembered to have felt the scents of their first blossoms so sweet and so intense!

͠

‘Sleep here tonight,’ Yaşar suggested to his brother and his wife.

‘The gâvurs have shat their pants, there’s no danger. We’ll go home,’ Mehmet announced.

His wife would have preferred to stay, but she dared not object.

‘I will go with amca Mehmet,’ Doğan interrupted and running to the back of the room he fetched his wooden sword, a gift of his uncle. ‘And if any infidel has the nerve to approach, I’ll take his head off!’ he threatened and was fencing off in the air.

Yaşar was about to forbid him from going, but Mehmet intervened.

‘Let him come! I will look after him.’

Childless himself, Mehmet had in a way adopted Doğan, whose mother and Yaşar’s first wife had died a year after giving birth.

‘I’ll see you out,’ was all Yaşar said, while from his sofa grandfather İsmail prophesied:

‘The wolf will bring up a wolf cub.’

At the end of the double staircase they separated. Mehmet, his wife and Doğan headed for the gate and Yaşar towards the far end of the great garden, where stood the stables with a dozen or so horses. As he approached, his servant Fuat jumped up from the adjacent chamber.

‘Effendi!’ he cried out, still hazy of sleep.

‘Nothing to worry about, Fuat. I’m just taking a look around,’ Yaşar said, but in reality he was waiting for Mehmet to depart before knocking on the door of Liontos Thersites across the street. His intention was to ask how Agni’s birth giving was turning out, as their families kept close relations with each other. And the reason for doing so in secret was that he didn’t have the courage or the mood to start a new conversation with Mehmet, who didn’t at all see with a favourable eye such friendships with the kafirun, the infidels, as fanatical Turks used to call Christians.

‘Did Hanım Safiye…?’ Fuat asked, and as the moon reappeared among the clouds his sizable hunch showed.

‘She did. A boy!’ Yaşar replied.

‘Life to him! Allah versin!’ Fuat wished, and at the same time Doğan’s voice came strident from the street.

‘A dead man!’

Simultaneously, Mehmet was opening the front gate hastily and entering the courtyard.

‘Your neighbour!’ he shouted to Yaşar, who arrived running.

On the narrow cobbled street, Liontos Thersites lay a few metres away from his manor house. His mare stood by his side, prodding him with her head.

Mehmet shed his lantern’s light on the unmoving body while Doğan paraded his up and down, staring at the fallen man from head to foot.

Yaşar bent over him.

‘He’s not breathing,’ he said alarmed and started knocking with force on the manor house’s gate.

‘Leave him be!’ Mehmet urged him. But seeing as his words didn’t have any effect, he gave up. He pulled his wife, who had stood aside and was shaking all over, patted Doğan encouragingly on the back, as the boy seemed unable to tear his eyes away from the dead man, and with quick steps they vanished towards the district of İlyasbey.

͠

The funeral of Liontos Thersites was held on the afternoon of the following day in the grounds of St. Dimitrios’ church, since Christians buried their dead in the courtyards of churches and to those of them which had the necessary space.

The bell of St. Dimitrios remained silent upon the wooden planks of its rudimentary bell tower. In accordance with their prejudices, the Ottomans forbade church bells to strike in mourning; this of course where they allowed churches to exist. However, other sounds, the clatter of battle coming from the direction of Peta, accompanied Liontos Thersites to his last abode. In the morning hours, the Peloponnesian division of the rebels, giving unilaterally an end to their idleness, had approached the entrance of the city and attacked the Turkish outposts. Afterwards, however, and following the Greek camp commander’s refusal to assist them, they had been forced to retreat. The Turks had counterattacked with two thousand soldiers, and now the battle was raging on the foothills of Peta.

In the wake of these developments, only scarce few acquaintances followed the funeral procession, while nervous movements, quick steps and widespread concern prevailed throughout its entire course.

Agni Thersites insisted on attending her husband’s funeral. Supported by Anastasia and Damianos Megis, she arrived at the church and collapsed during the priest’s ‘Approach and receive the last kiss’, for the Megis couple to transport her hurriedly back to her manor house. Yaşar and İsmail departed with them, having followed the procession even though, arriving at the churchyard, they had stood at a distance.

The rest remained until the coffin was lowered into the grave, they cast, according to the custom, a handful of soil over the dead man and hurried to leave. Only a few were brave enough to wait until the grave was covered. Mainly close friends and colleagues of the deceased, since the family of Liontos Thersites, with the exception of two cousins of his, had no other living relatives. Siblings, parents, uncles, aunts were all removed by the cholera in 1848, along with hundreds of other residents of Arta and the wider region.

Among the few assembled was Sotiris Fasganos, a neighbour of the family and brother of Fotini, who had stayed behind at the manor house to tend to the infant.

‘Pity! He perished at the time his child was born!’ he commented.

‘Those two, who were they?’ asked Tampakis, newly arrived in the city and importer of all kinds of products.

‘The İltizam tax collector Yaşar Effendi and his father, İsmail Bey,’ Vasilakopoulos answered.

‘The Turks killed him,’ Fasganos stated.

‘If it was the Turks, then why did they let him pass the outposts,’ argued Malenis, a draper and colleague of Liontos Thersites.

‘It was bandits, most likely, and they must have shot him far from here,’ concluded the teacher Demopoulos and added: ‘The military doctor was of the opinion he died due to excessive bleeding.’

‘But would the bandits let him go?’ Fasganos insisted.

‘They took whatever they wanted. Nothing was found on him,’ said Derdenis.

‘Has anybody seen Krokalos?’ entered the conversation one Lemas, a man who was to be met everywhere, knew everything about everyone, occupied himself with the lives of others and spread around all sorts of rumours.

Nobody answered, as if they hadn’t heard him.

‘He had disputes with the deceased…’ he went on. ‘They were neighbours, their houses side by side. And Krokalos didn’t even come to the funeral!’

Again nobody answered him. The rifle shots from Peta could still be heard now and then. The two gravediggers finished their work and left. On the street of the Greek market only rarely someone went by in quick step, even though all the stores were open. By the Turkish Administration’s orders, anyone who shut down their store before nightfall would be considered an accomplice of the rebels and imprisoned.

‘Life to us,’ Tampakis said first and, as if they had all been waiting for the signal, they scattered one after the other.

͠

On April 13 at dawn, six thousand Ottoman soldiers, under the Albanian commander Tselios Pitsaris and with the guidance of the English Consul Saunters in Preveza, attacked the six hundred rebels of Peta. The latter, weakened after the nightly departure of Kitsos Tzavelas and his segments to the liberated parts of Greece, put up desperate resistance. The machine gun of the Ottomans reaped the Greek fighters and its rattle broke the hearts of the Christian residents of Arta.

The battle lasted half an hour. The continuous rain, which rendered the antiquated weapons of the Greeks useless, and the excessive superiority of the Turks in numbers determined its outcome. With it died the hopes of those who dreamed to see their city liberated, while Peta was razed to the ground, its citizens were driven away and for the next two years it would remain uninhabited.

Rain was still falling when Safiye struck with force the gate’s knocker at the manor house of the Thersites. The castle’s clock was striking the second Ottoman hour of the day, and only moments ago the gunshots at Peta had fallen silent.

Damianos Megis opened and informed her that the infant had spent the night crying. Furthermore, that since they had no other choice they were preparing to transport him to the Ottoman military hospital at St. Theodora, where they didn’t know how they might be received, given that treatment of civilians was not prescribed for.

‘The hospital is filled with wounded soldiers,’ was all Safiye said and quickly went up the steps.

Entering the room she felt a pang of pity for Agni, who looked like a living dead woman. A shadow of who she had been. As if her heavy mourning wasn’t enough, the problem of the infant’s health had come on top of it, driving her into complete despair.

The infant was crying in anguish while his panic-stricken mother paraded the room holding him in her arms without managing to soothe him. However, it didn’t escape Safiye’s attention that amid his tears the infant was licking his fingers or pushing them inside his mouth.

‘Did you feed him?’ she asked.

‘I haven’t been doing anything else! But he won’t eat because of some pain,’ Agni replied.

‘Would she have left him unfed, you think?’ Anastasia reacted sharply.

Safiye didn’t take her into account, since Anastasia didn’t yet have children of her own and lacked experience.

‘Let me see your tit,’ she said to Agni and shot a meaningful look at Damianos Megis, who departed the room immediately.

Agni looked at her hesitantly until Safiye left her no other options. She took the infant from her arms, handed it over to Anastasia, made Agni sit down and started on her own to unbutton her dress. Then she began squeezing first one then her other breast.

‘Silly woman, you have no milk! You’ve dried up!’

Terror seized Agni and she was desperately trying to force her nipples to drip milk, pressing them with her fingers.

‘Careful, you will injure them!’ Anastasia shouted.

‘What use are they! What do I need them any more!’ Agni exclaimed and started to cry.

Safiye grabbed the baby from Anastasia’s arms, sat in the armchair and took out her all white plump tit. The infant glued itself on it, quit crying and started suckling greedily.

‘Bre küçük! You little one!’ said Safiye gently, caressing the back of his head.

It was obvious that Anastasia Megis didn’t approve of her action. Let alone her husband, Damianos, when he would find out. The child they would baptize breastfeeding on Turkish milk! Unthinkable! However, seeing the relief on Agni’s face, she restrained her usually impulsive character.

‘What are you going to call him?’ Safiye asked and Agni looked at Anastasia.

‘It’s early still,’ she answered morosely. ‘We have time.’

Agni looked at the armchair where her husband used to sit at night, next to the raised fireplace, and then she sent her gaze travelling around the room. Over the handsome Venetian niched closets, the couches with the woollen sheets, the keel desk, the burnished seats, and back to the armchair.

‘Liontos,’ she whispered and kept staring at the empty armchair, as if the two syllables could fill its void.

‘Liontos!’ she said again. ‘My husband’s name!’


I’ll leave you with a song from the book. Aman Memo used to be a hit in the 19th century, played all over the Café Aman – music halls spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. It is a love song, one of unrequited love, sung by a woman for a man. Aman is an exclamation of sorrow, similar to oh but not quite, and Memo is a diminutive of the name Mehmet. The song had been lost for a century and a half until the publication of Imaret. It was revived when the author discovered the lyrics and notes and traditional band Lalitades (Λαλητάδες) resurrected the melody. This one is my favourite recording, live from the book’s launch in Athens back when it was first published. The vocals are by Kaiti Makri, who owns the voice of all the angels combined. The lyrics are half in Turkish and half in Greek.

Aman Memo would be played in semi-dark music halls lit by oil lamps, where the patrons (men only) would be already drunk on raki or wine. The Greeks would be loud and dancing. The Ottomans wouldn’t dance but stand out by their languid movements and fewer expressions. The atmosphere would be heavy with the smoke of cigarettes, narghile (sheesha) and opium or hashish. Imagery on the walls of the Café Aman would feature exotic lakes, rivers, and Huri – women of the Islamic heaven. Waiters would be coming and going between tables and low sofas, refilling drinks and renewing coals or the tobacco in the narghiles. The musicians would be breathing their art into their instruments, saz, ney, toubeleki, santur and violin, while an Egyptian beauty would be dancing around the hall, striking the zills in her hands to the music’s rhythm. Excited, the Greeks would be calling out Aidoni mou! and Moro mou!, while the Turks would be exclaiming Bülbül! and Yavrum! to the hanende (female singer), calling her their nightingale and baby, all of them well on their way to the gök dunyā, the heavenly world, as the Ottomans called paradise…


Imaret, Greek Cover

Imaret, Greek Cover


 

For the Sake of Eustace Jones

For the sake of Eustace Jones

For the Sake of Eustace Jones

The first time he really got me. I unlocked the door, unexpecting. And there he was, waiting, with the eyes of the devil. Next thing I knew a barrage of tiny fists flying at my face. He had small hands like that, but furious. I was taken aback. Retreated into the corridor. One of his fists connected with my jaw, I lost my balance and fell backwards. The world blacked out.

I guess I must have passed out because I woke up with my head on the third step of the stairs. It hurt like the dickens and the corridor was empty. No sign of Eustace Jones. What in the name of madness was that for?

When I got up and entered the apartment in search of ice for my head Eustace Jones wasn’t in his room. Nor did I see him for a couple of days afterwards. But following that first incident and for the next three months my life turned into a special kind of hell because of him.

Most afternoons after work I was prepared for battle even before reaching home. Sometimes he waited for me in the corridor of our shared apartment, other times he attacked the moment I stepped out of my room or when we were both in the kitchen. I always knew beforehand. He had that stare, that sick mad look which invariably precipitated a fight.

I admit I never understood his motive. It couldn’t have been because I’m black. I’d seen Eustace Jones hanging out with another black guy at the IT store where they both worked. Plus he didn’t strike me as the racist kind of guy at any rate. Nor had it anything to do with us renting in the same apartment. I kept to my room, used my own kitchen and bathroom utensils, cleaned regularly, didn’t make noise, never borrowed or messed with his stuff. So what had I done to deserve this frantic hatred that drove him to physically assault me every other day?

He was a funny little man. Quite fat and round, and he had these small blinking eyes. I suspected he might be mentally challenged or otherwise suffering from some psychological condition seeing as I had never provoked his inexhaustible wrath. He had some strange aura about him. I don’t know how else to describe it. He wasn’t mute and yet he almost never talked. Apart from work he rarely went out, didn’t socialize often, didn’t even own a TV. I had no idea what he did all the hours he spent alone in his room when he wasn’t fighting me.

Of course after that first ambush he wasn’t a real threat to me in any way. You see, Eustace Jones was about five foot six and relatively slow compared to me, even during his rages. I on the other hand stand at six foot nine. And honestly, without wanting to show off, the first things that anyone looking at me observes are my biceps and my six pack. I’ve been hitting the gym since high school. My physical appearance is important to me.

And yet Eustace Jones and his paranoia transformed my daily routine into a struggle. True, he never caught me unaware again. But not one day during those three months went by when my mind was at peace. I was wary of him every single moment I spent in the apartment, and my comings and goings were without exception accompanied by the constant worry whether Eustace Jones would attack me the instant he saw me. Why?

The devil never said. Several times I resorted to calling the police or the neighbours did, though these interventions didn’t effect any visible change on Eustace Jones. Many times the officers sat him down and pressed him to answer what he held against me. They, too, were baffled at the absurdity of his persistence. Why would you consistently and with such fierce passion keep attacking someone that much bigger than you and get beaten up every time? Someone who furthermore had not given you any reason to do so, because as I said I never had anything against Eustace Jones. Of course when cornered he resorted to mumbling that I started these fights, avoiding my eyes when he lied. And then he typically failed to explain to the officers or to our landlord why it was I that always called for help and not him, or why he never accused me. The whole thing was irrational.

Police intervention was futile, apart from inconvenient for continuing to rent at the apartment. But this was the least of my troubles. Every afternoon I returned home I was forced to put Eustace Jones down. I didn’t have any other option. How would you deal with an insane person that’s determined to attack you? Stand there and take it? I tried not to hit him hard or cause him damage but it was impossible. He fought like a demon every time, scratching, clawing, biting, kicking, tearing up my shirts and headbutting me while I struggled to get on top of him. I roughed him up a couple of times, shouting at him all the while. My desperate pleas to make him stop mixed with his freaked-out screams in a delirium of madness. Inevitably the fight ended with me holding him by the neck until he was subdued enough to give up. And infallibly it was resumed the next day.

‘I will fuck your life! D’you get me? Do you?! You. Crazy. Fucking. Piece. Of. Shit? I will annihilate you if you don’t quit!’ I screamed in his ear, desperate one night.

It was the only time I lost control. I’d returned to a peaceful apartment after a late going out that involved too much alcohol with friends. Eustace Jones attacked me when I left my room for the bathroom. I’m not sure what happened exactly because of the haze in my mind. For sure I was tired of our living arrangement. Sick of having to physically fight someone I didn’t want to harm for half an hour or even longer every day. And in the madness of the moment I decided to beat it out of him. I gave him a thrashing that left him bloody on the kitchen floor.

‘Are you listening to me, you sick fuck?! I will take you to court or I will fucking kill you!’ I intoned the words striking his head on the floor at every pause. He passed out.

Three days later, the same story all over again. Eustace Jones waiting for me in the corridor, his bruises not yet fully healed and his eye gleaming for a fight. Jumping at me the moment I entered the apartment. I would flee and return hours later, silent in the dead of the night. I was known in the building as the crazy guy that ran back down the stairs a minute after he’d climbed them up to the fifth floor.

Eventually I moved out. I had asked my landlord on numerous occasions to send Eustace Jones away but she said he couldn’t afford to and that he had paid her six months in advance when he moved in. She wanted the money. So in the end I left even though I could barely afford it.

My life returned to normality once more. I avoided passing by the IT store where Eustace Jones worked and if I happened to spot him on the street, because my job at the time was still quite close to his, I turned around and ran or crossed the street in a frenzy, cars or not. I was afraid he might seek me out again, even though I was renting elsewhere. Shivers ran down my spine at the thought he could have waited for me with a knife any evening all these months. He was likely too thick to consider using a weapon or maybe his madness didn’t work like that. But what assured me when such an idea might occur to him? I had grown paranoid that now I was gone he might not hesitate to track me down and attack me even in a public place, in front of my friends, colleagues, my girlfriend.

A few months later I found a different job and moved away from that area altogether. The panic of having Eustace Jones around vanished. I got promoted at my new job, met the love of my life, moved in with her. Zyana and I travelled a bit, expanded our circle of friends, started saving up to buy a place of our own. I hadn’t heard of Eustace Jones for five years.

Until a week ago I drove by after work to the apartment in Bucks that Zyana had asked me to see. As I waited for the estate agent to buzz me in I read the names on the doorbells for the third floor. At one of them a wave like static sped through me. Eustace W. Jones. Surely, it couldn’t be him? Here, after all this time? The name was quite unique. At the buzz I opened the door like a butterfly.

Eustace Jones wasn’t anywhere to be seen when the lift let me out. The estate agent welcomed me in and showed me around the apartment and the terrace. From it, I looked over the decorative rattan fence at the windows of the adjacent apartment. I couldn’t see anyone. When the estate agent was done, I inquired vaguely about the neighbours living on the same floor. He didn’t know anything except that they were respectful, quiet professionals. He was responsible for selling only that one apartment.

The estate agent locked behind us and offered to see me out. I kept expecting to see Eustace Jones on any doorstep we went by, but he didn’t appear. Not when the lift opened for us, not when its doors smoothed us out into the ground floor, not at the main entrance to the building.

But fate’s doors aren’t always doors and I met with Eustace Jones outside, on the street. He had in fact just parked his car behind mine, and as the estate agent had followed me there he stopped in his tracks and regarded us with a curious expression. He recognized me, there was no doubt. Struck, his gaze travelled suspiciously from me to the estate agent, paperwork tucked under his arm, to the building he was holding keys to. And back to me again.

Noticing him the estate agent said ‘Hello’ but other than that the two of us just stood there looking at each other. He had changed, I thought, and he hadn’t. He was heavier and rounder but also the same as always with his small hands and blinking eyes. Still a funny little man. I saw his tiny fists clench and I wondered, was he going to attack me right then and there?

Then I saw him exchanging that look with the estate agent. And I don’t know how to explain this, but he had done something. When I looked at Kevin, the estate agent wasn’t himself any more. He eyed me in a way that was… It sounds ridiculous. But I swear to you, it felt as if Eustace Jones had inhabited the estate agent’s body and was looking at me through him. I had no time to think or comprehend what happened. Kevin the estate agent was on top of me, directing blow after blow to my head, shouting incomprehensibly.

I have God to thank that I’m a big guy and all the years I’ve spent caring for my body. I don’t know what would have happened had I lost consciousness. I managed to throw Kevin off me and crawl away enough to stand up. By that point I must have moved through the space between the two cars because when Kevin attacked me again we were exchanging blows in the middle of the street.

Everything is blurry after that. There were shouts and I heard a car braking. I clearly remember shoving the estate agent away from me and turning around, though I could not tell where he landed or if he got up to pursue me. I got into my car and drove away like a madman.

When Zyana got back from work the same day I was in our kitchen. Still in shock I guess, but I’d had a couple of vodkas to steady me. She came in bringing the air of the city with her, tiptoed to kiss me, smelled what I was cooking and went to open the balcony door to let the cat out.

She lit a cigarette next to the rack of laundry I’d hung to dry.

‘So did you go by the apartment?’ her voice came back in. ‘Did you like it?’

I guess I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t reply. She thought I hadn’t heard her. After a while she came to the door and asked again. I sort of broke down and told her everything. About Eustace Jones and my living with him, about the viewing, the estate agent and the fight. I was mortified she was going to laugh at me.

The most brilliant and intelligent woman that she is, Zyana quickly dispersed my metaphysical as she called them anxieties and suggested a rather more logical explanation over lunch.

‘What remains,’ she said, ‘is to find out how this guy, Eustace Jones, tracked you down and how he knew you were viewing the property.’

‘You don’t think they had a plan? And that he was late so Kevin was stalling me?’ I tried to keep my voice even not to scare her.

‘Let’s not jump to conclusions. Maybe he’s the owner of the apartment. Didn’t you say he lives next door? He could have seen your name on the visitors list and decided to get a friend of his to play the estate agent’s role. Pay you back for beating him up all these years ago. Don’t you know where he works?’

‘No,’ I said helplessly. ‘He used to work in IT but it’s been years. He might own the estate agency. Or maybe the apartment. Or Kevin is his friend that works at the-’

And then the phone rang from the living room. Zyana and I looked at each other and she got up to answer it. I didn’t dare move from the table and tried hard not to listen for any words. I felt sick and wanted to be far, far away.

The phone call lasted a long time. When Zyana returned to the kitchen she looked very worried.

‘Baby,’ she said and her eyes were big. ‘They say you attacked a man and pushed him into the street. Where a car hit him.’

‘I didn’t attack anyone!’

And then I noticed Zyana’s stare. It wasn’t the same as before and I don’t know how I made the connection but it was the phone, I knew it. Eustace Jones, somehow he had managed to take control of my fiancés mind. I jumped to my feet.

I wasn’t crazy. She clearly approached me with her hands raised in fists. Fists, fists, fists. My own fiancé, my love.

I was crying over her body when they finally broke the door and came in shouting. I didn’t care. I went quietly. All the fight in me was gone.

Ever since, I’ve been here.

͠

‘And that’s how my life went down the drain. For the sake of Eustace Jones. Now, doctor, can you please sign me out?’

‘Mr. Solomon, I would that you listened to me very attentively indeed. I require your understanding and cooperation in this matter. You have been, as of today, diagnosed with a variant of what is normally referred to in medical terms as Fregoli syndrome, an extremely rare misidentification disorder which manifests in various ways but most importantly in our case is responsible for influencing the way in which your perception works. It is a type of schizophrenia of a chronic and paranoid type, culpable of making an individual believe that a person can alter their physical appearance at will while their psychological identity remains the same or even that they are capable of transferring their psychological identity into another person’s body. Now, in your particular case the person you believe you are threatened by is perceived as someone who can assume a different physical appearance; specifically, the appearance of any person in the world other than you, including even me as I’m talking to you right this moment. This is under no circumstance a reality but the result of cerebral dysfunction in your brain. Brain lesions or injuries in the lobes of the brain have been associated with delusion-inciting disorders such as yours. This leads me to ask: have you ever experienced a serious…’

‘Hold on, wait. You’re telling me that I have this syndrome and it alters my perception! How are you so sure everyone doesn’t have it to one degree or another? How do you know you’re not the one whose perception is faulty?’


Eli Novemer – Tangency

youdontwritespaceoperainavacuum

~ a note ~

Hi again.

I haven’t written here in some time. I’ve been travelling, in more than one sense. But I thought I might share someone else’s work before updating on mine, soon.

So. Eli Novemer is the pseudonym of a friend. It’s necessary because under no circumstance am I allowed to publish the story bearing their real name, seeing as they labour under a condition similar to Kafka’s one might say. And to clarify: this is not a facet of mine or heteronym but a real person. Copyright, of course, remains with the author.

Oh, also. It’s sci-fi.

D.M.


For a PDF, in case you find it easier to read, open or download here: Eli Novemer – Tangency.


 

 

Dedicated to the memory of Iain (M.) Banks.


 Eli Novemer

Tangency

‘Raid on Qåwalzak’

Your visor’s screen the smoke won’t penetrate
Through, of razed polis Qåwalzak’s demise,
Its palaces of chalcedony, chalcocite and agate
Reflections mere afore your shielded eyes.

But, look – here rose once the Master Clockmaker’s Fort
That planets seven busied to restructure Time,
And thereabout lay Şevern’s lingo-businesses’ famed port
Where the cunning Immaterials in secret profit thrived.

You tread among machine crushed and ash of flesh and burnt down pine,
Your step adjacent to the politics of chaos past and diamond rain falling
Upon the preserved figures of Alives and AIs, raided, recorded Gone, and now supine
Lying forevermore, renegades devoted of the Lost Cause’s reign.

But as you pass by
(if you don’t mind)

O traveller, tell
Subsequent ones
How the Story never yielded
Because of us.

— Zenius Dainom TechBard III
Poéte-prophet of Âdcheron 20’s ArtiMoon Agåpe +385 SG -242 JN
Draft poem #74,113

 

Others stored their ancestors in scents, optical vases, echo containers. It wasn’t uncommon these days to preserve their essence even in food. Why not? You could access what this or the other forefather of yours thought –or rather would think, given that a Preservance was certainly a highly accurate estimate of the retained individual’s thought patterns, yet a calculation nevertheless– via taste. In a sense, you communicated with the dead by eating them or sprinkling their flavour on consumptibles. Savouring the past, if you like. The latest galactic trend was to retain them in water. You took a bath; their thoughts flowed into you through the pores of your skin. Of course, they didn’t get exhausted, you never ran out of family. The Bank remained unaltered. The Bank of Ancestors or Quälia, that is the sentience-capacitating sphere hosting their collected consciences and life backups, was ever the same – only the outward material through which their assumed reactions manifested changed. Hence Ancestral perfumes, spices, holograms; conversing flowers, opinioned light bulbs, interactive windows and so on.

Cpesh’ia Limr Always Prinld&, however, was unconventional in that respect. She possessed a Bank of Ancestors like everybody else. But she rarely turned to it for advice or idle chat, despite knowing how faithful representations those Preservances were of her once-alive predecessors. Preservation could be paralleled to living on post-mortem, what with having the sum of your memories, future expectations/predictions, and general thought motifs cached, quantified and hyper-extended (without the need to resort to a Time Undoing), but Cpesh’ia didn’t fancy the concept. She barely spoke to her living relatives, save those of a non-Alive status. Plus, her own Bank was stranger than most, seeing as she had chosen to preserve her family in thin air.

If Cpesh’ia had thought hers a gesture of subtle irony, it had been at least tricky to implement. The difficulty lay specifically in that the Quälia needed to come into contact with material substantial enough to withhold and transfer yottabyte-sized clusters of information. Ancestor perfumes operated based on a liquid fusion in which the Bank was baptized. Air, on the other hand, was harder to impregnate with systemic, complex mind processes; besides, it necessitated the intended recipient having at her disposal powerfully tuned sensors able to perceive, cipher and interact with the ever-scattering data-laden oxygen particles. Cpesh’ia did. Moreover, the Ancestors Room had to be sealed airtight, unless you didn’t mind discovering great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Filisk’ia hovering in your bedroom and inhaling her (damnatory) opinion on your electro-bondage activities with the MultiFormer. (This had indeed happened, once, to the awkward effect that the MultiFormer lost its mechanical erection and shamefully refused to reveal itself in holo-nakedness for two weeks afterwards. An inconvenience which could have been avoided had Cpesh’ia not so insensitively passed on her great8-grandma’s intervention to the MultiFormer, since itself it didn’t breathe.)

Today though might be one of those unusual occasions, occurring more or less once or twice per semicentennial, when Cpesh’ia seriously entertained the prospect of visiting her Ancestral Bank. The subject troubling –precisely and impressively– 55% of her mind (the rest of it consistently consci-connected to and occupied monitoring the situation over at the Historeum) considered none other than D’oneiron Fstrenr WhatAreYouThinking JqahXx, better known among Immaterials as Zerias Astrophletes, and her would-you-even-call-it-a-relationship with said anti-galactic bastard. Having pondered the question at hand for the best part of a year, Cpesh’ia increasingly sensed she wasn’t getting anywhere closer to reaching a decision. Not that her Ancestors would offhandedly provide any solutions for her –the past, admittedly, never did– but maybe whatever they had to contend would put things into perspective. Maybe.

Then it occurred to Cpesh’ia she could consult Zenius on whether there was any point consulting her Ancestral bunch. That insecure, the realization didn’t escape her. But the over-glorified poetic machine had been hibernating for a couple of years now, evidently hard at work on his newest poem, and waking him would at least provide Cpesh’ia with some distraction if not prove of any use to lifting her iffy mood.

Moving to the centre of her living quarters, she extended a thin pale finger and traced the singular line decorating the table’s surface. He didn’t like that, Cpesh’ia knew and suspended the grin forming on her face as she stepped away from the table. She recalled Zenius likening the touch to dragging a blade’s edge along the nape of a sleeping human’s neck.

A guttural, metallic groan. Then,

‘Sqredi grapshka-freknin pop rl’asisko, valen tal ij threshke,’ the machine cried out before starting to shape-change.

This roughly translated to ‘Fuck you, slut of a slot, gimme my money,’ in Orŏmirian slang, Cpesh’ia’s autoglot chip grudgingly informed her after her pressing nudge. She laughed. The TechBard was an old model, not considered ancient among AIs but reverently aged still, and parts of him had once belonged among else to gambling machines from some obscure, obscured planet in Supercluster Erŷſon. Zenius enjoyed elaborating on how the individual constituents comprising his figure retained their own memories since before being assembled to collage him to life, though Cpesh’ia suspected this was more of an exaggeration for show rather than true.

Before her, the table was unfolding. It transformed, extending limb-like protrusions, wheezing steam and huffing, balancing itself and partially re-folding, until the eleven-foot-tall poet AI stood finally immobile in the middle of Cpesh’ia’s living quarters, towering over her nimble figure not unlike an enormous MetaTree extending its branches over a human child or a baby AI. His lavatronic, gleefully-coloured suit was shiny as ever, the smooth fluid transfusion that ran through it glowing topically here and there like a thermal undermap of his streamlined surfaces. He’d chosen to assume a fairly humanoid shape now, as he often did with Cpesh’ia, and behind his face (the sole bit of his physical repertoire that didn’t change when he form-shifted), behind the Athånat-wood, metal-veined warrior’s mask designed in the fashion of a human Earth’s Samurai somen bearing wild hog tusks, his gaze gleamed scarlet.

Red gave way to a kinder, light green light, and in a (forced, Cpesh’ia thought) barely audible but tender tone, Zenius ventured:

‘Very sorry for that, my dear, my Cpesh. Old memories, you see. Not even mine, come to it.’ Then, abruptly, he stopped. Zenius looked at her.

He hadn’t seen her in quite a long time. Patently, this creature’s appearance demanded not to be ignored.

In her 325th year, the golden age of her physical and mental faculties, Cpesh’ia was brimming with youth like a mug of cask strength rosewicky generously topped up teeming with flavour and fragrance. She was like narrative hitting its stride and becoming the undeniable tour-de-force. Unknowingly, the sort of female nature that once her holo-Projection inhabited a room it changed with her. Transformational. Whether you were an Alive or AI, situations turned interesting, exquisite, lively around her. Her gait carried that forceful, vivid, soul-lifting sensation you get when listening to a song you’re obsessed with really loud and your favourite part kicks in. Like the high you ride on certain days you’re luminous, own a superb clarity of mind and grace of movement, when the planet around you brightens up and breathes at your very passing and your luck works uncannily on every small thing.

Summoning a quick trick from his old days, Zenius overplayed his internal procedures and pushed his personal Time current to a slow, minute-overriding extension, to better absorb the moment.

Perfectly balanced and shapely though she was, it was her face that did it, he decided. What would those of her species have to relate about her figure, in ages previous, religious, unStored and unknown to her, had they ever had the opportunity to witness the offspring of their special line? Hers was a face not just crafted by a favoritist god drunk on genius artistry, but a work of wonder in every detail refined and corrected by one after the other all the angels… to be then passed on to the devil himself, for him to add upon it his own traits of calamity-bearing, disaster-promising allure that make a woman extraordinary to behold. Even modern, HighSpecLustre AIs might not compete with her. Not strangely, Zenius registered a sense of pride for his human companion.

Cpesh’ia’s eyes were liquid blue like Paŧfheld coffee, and bright as the days one gains after beating years-long depression. There sparked in them with such vitality that sublime flare a poet’s eyes possess during those rare, mad moments when inspiration strikes like a cataclysm. (Zenius thought primarily in poetic and narrative terms.) Hers shone like that all the time, regardless what she did. Her naturally bicoloured hair framed her physiognomy in streaks of gold and black, lending her constellation-freckled face a curious intermittent luminosity. Her eyebrows were scimitars, whose rise and fall could slash through your heart or PrincipalROM, her nose – okay, her nose was just fine, Zenius had to admit, reining himself in, unsure what would constitute the paragon of beauty for a female human’s nose. And her mouth, how would he describe her mouth to those unlucky enough not to have seen it? For the colour of her lips he’d claim a poemgrenade[1] shade. But the shape of her mouth, its intrepid symmetry – that was another thing altogether. Perhaps the thing about Cpesh’ia. For upon her lips played an expression mysterious, some strange quiet innocence and fierce enchantment. A smile danced hidden in their human flesh like that of someone who has stolen and claimed for herself a piece of the infinity of the universe. Looking at them, one started to fear the moment they might open and never again fall into the same perfect of positions. 

It was that mouth Zerias Astrophletes wanted–

The unwanted and unforeseen notion forced the poetic machine back to relative current Time, where Cpesh’ia was staring at him with her head slightly tilted, entirely oblivious to the effect she had created upon him.

‘My dear. You’re beautiful,’ was the only thing Zenius trusted himself to say.

Cpesh’ia blossomed a grin in his direction. The TechBard, though belonging to a different existential category from her, had for several long decades dedicated his efforts to studying the elements of beauty (culturally considered, comparatively objective, and limerence-based) on a pan-galactic level across species and subspecies of Alives. His main conclusions by the end of his thesis (composed in Trivrîllian note-alphabet, in 35 unPændtrÿonic stanzas, and conducted before the Universal Academy by a TechChoir which he himself skilfully maestred) had been relevant to symmetry and hinted at the fact that even in the absence of it beauty could be encountered anywhere.

‘How have you been, Zen?’ Cpesh’ia said moving by the window, to take in the picture of the enormous AI gently humming in her living quarters. Behind her, Qåwalzak stretched out like an Edenic canvas, its artificial atmosphere and nature gardenful with Metaflora and micro-faunal species, up to the point the bright horizon ended, allowing a view of the dark vast globe that was the Historeum.

‘Just writing, my dear.’ Zenius’ pretended (or was it, after all these aeons of emulation) humbleness could be tiring if encountered everyday, but Cpesh’ia had been separated from her poetic companion long enough and knew what an honour it was to co-inhabit a planet with likely the most famous and celebrated Intellectual AI of her time, so she forgave the brevity and affectedness. Not that he ever seriously discussed his p(r)o(ph)etic endeavours.

‘You’re so useless,’ Cpesh’ia smiled at him again.

Zenius accepted the compliment graciously, imitating a human blush though taking care to keep the effect brief, aware that a prolonged red flash underlining his mask might appear sinister to human perception.

‘I’m sure I’m too much more use than I should,’ the poetic AI reflected meekly and Cpesh’ia wondered if this was just a phrase or whether the TechBard really regretted their making profits from malting his work. His liquefied poem collections sold steadily throughout the galaxy (mainly due to the paramount status of his name and the drinks’ palateful disposition rather than their comprehensibility) but this was in no way a profession. He still had quite a strong claim on existing as art, or at least more so than Cpesh’ia.

‘And how have you been, pet?’ Zenius sounded genuinely curious.

Pushing aside the notion she’d forgotten how much Zenius conversed like a pre-ancient aunt, Cpesh’ia tried to offer an honest reply.

‘I’ve been fine,’ she ended up saying. ‘Busy at the Historeum, but nothing unusual.’

‘Mhmm.’ Zenius could do that, let out a low hum that somehow echoed reassuring. It was curious, given that many machines couldn’t recreate the effect unless by record and replay.

Alive and AI remained silent for a moment; they had laxly, within 60 comfortable words spoken between them, traded all the necessary information each ignored about the other during the two years and three months they had been out of communication, exchanged niceties, and reassured one another in their amiable alliance.

‘So, I’ve neglected my poor human. She isn’t feeling well, apparently,’ Zenius mused.

‘I’m not feeling bad,’ Cpesh’ia countered, meanwhile realizing she had left her mind channels unguarded. Gotten too used these years to being on her own. Zenius had been bio-scanning her, obviously perceived her distress and in his system it translated as a malfunction. Cpesh’ia reinstated her emotion walls.

‘Now, my dear, my Cpesh. Don’t you take offense at this. But I’ve known you for more than two centuries and a half,’ Zenius said. ‘You’re troubled. And I know why.’

There was a disguised note of unease in his observation.

Cpesh’ia lowered herself comfortably into the soft platform by the window and raised her eyebrows at him. ‘Us humans and our inherent psychological turmoil, right?’

He made no reply. Both were aware of their disagreement in the matter. Zenius followed the typical AI dogma secernating purity of thought from every other actional factor and hierarchying it above all else as the sole cogent evidence of character. Machines that could unwillingly experience direct feelings (as opposed to mentally perceived or imagined), such as MultiFormers, were classified with lower status and didn’t count among AIs, in legal terms at least, possessing no unaffected personality of their own.

With humans, things were slightly more complex.

‘The particular emotion we’re discussing happens to be the only one recognized by Universal Law as a valid, non- or liminally-understood Logical Process that may be taken into account on occasion as a driving personal trait,’ Cpesh’ia pushed. She had granted the word ‘valid’ a certain gravity.

‘And by that you mean you’re unhappy for love,’ Zenius retorted.

But seeing her expression he made his face mask emit green light, the equivalent of beaming warmly. ‘I’m reminded of that story, Love in the Time of Intergalactic Warfare,’ he said. ‘Where the male human remains in feeling with the female human for fifty one centuries.’ He sounded quite amused at the idea.

‘But fictions aside, science has proven it, my dear,’ Zenius carried on. ‘Feelings do not survive time. They technically don’t exist. Elusions, delusions,’ he concluded.

Cpesh’ia nodded casually.

‘A masterpiece of course, nevertheless, that story,’ he added in ameliorating tone. Her Sentonym, after all, was ‘Always’. Cpesh’ia Limr Always Prinld&. Zenius wasn’t sure what it referred to; she’d never divulged. One didn’t ask such questions. It could be a personal life bet or an observed latent tendency it described. Was she perhaps incapable of conceiving the finality of certain temporalities as, paradoxically, was characteristic of so many of her species? Or just young and romanticizing nonexistences? He decided to tread more carefully.

‘Cpesh, you well know I do not understand the use for an emotion of such potentially and observably catastrophic consequences.’

‘I wouldn’t ask you to,’ she said in low voice.

‘And yet. Here we are. Facing another philosophical discussion bound to no end. About that Immaterial again.’

‘I’d rather you didn’t call him that.’ Cpesh’ia kept her voice low, avoiding eye-to-mask contact.

Zenius affected a sigh. He nursed no sympathy for criminals. Apart from the danger that human transported with him like a second nature, he dared assume a Z-initialled name. Only TechBards of his own class were allowed this honour, apart from government officials of the highest order.

‘What did he do this time? Hack into our planetary systems? Infiltrated the Historeum? Turned your MuF completely into a renegade lunatic?’ he said, voice of sarcasm.

The MultiFormer, upon hearing Cpesh’ia’s pet name for it, looked at him innocently from the other side of the room where it was sitting. It was wearing Zerias’ figure.

‘You’re young. It is almost your responsibility to be enjoying life. Instead of souring over an… involvement not only destined to be discontinued but which even yourself won’t remember after–‘

‘Zenius. He asked me to Contact him,’ Cpesh’ia cut in.

The poet AI’s expression would have changed to serious, offended, terrified and angered, or perhaps a blend of all four, had he possessed the necessary facial features. As it was, his warrior’s mask remained unchanged but he let out a perceptible jet of cool air, tinged deep red, from the oblong horizontal slits circumscribing the base of his neck.

‘Zerias asked me to Contact him,’ Cpesh’ia repeated.

Unbelievable, unacceptable. Atrocious. When had this happened? And, it was clear now, his friendly human had indeed been hiding something that he had –incredibly– failed to suspect. How…? Of course, a Contact. She must have kept that part of her mind processes entirely shut and locked, in completely private compartments of hers, likely (and hopefully, for all their fates) immediately as soon as this proposal had taken place.

This hadn’t been, as he had assumed, once more about her fascination and (illegal, highly perilous) communication with the Immaterial or the conflict it typically generated in her. His human companion hadn’t woken him to discuss her emotional instability or argue whether it was wise to pursue continuation of this menacing charade. There was very real reason to worry.

‘Allow me access to the communication,’ he asked, though it sounded more like a command. Not a superior’s command; closer to an order instinctively originating in an upset guardian but which is still an order. He needed access to the conveyed notion that Immaterial had passed on to his human, to analyze every possible aspect of tone and intent. Were there threats in it? Was it sanely intended?! What did it feel like? So he needed to scare his human, perhaps, a bit.

‘It’s private,’ Cpesh’ia said.

Zenius anticipated this. His entire suit flashed red underneath.

‘Can it be, since that very proposal threatens my existence, too?’ he said. Cpesh’ia noticed he didn’t mention the MultiFormer or SuP, the other two ~sentient beings on Qåwalzak.

‘Cpesh. My systems can quantify intents in the Immaterial’s message you likely don’t even know exist. The communication, please?’

‘No.’

She hadn’t apologized for her refusal.

‘Sqredrz,’ Zenius observed. He didn’t blame it on any of his constituents this time.

On her part, Cpesh’ia understood her AI companion’s distress. Her dear Mr. Astrophletes was not only an Unrecorded and a confirmed member of the Immaterials, but one of the exceptionally few and untypically rare Untouchables. This, in essence –as Zenius, too, knew– meant three things:

  1. His point of origin in the universe was unknown and he had never been caught / previously Recorded.
  1. He was a devoted renegade of the Lost Cause. And therefore sought after by authorities in –literally– the entire universe. (Conspiracy theorists argued this was true only if one believed in the existence of a singular universe. Multiverses –and they attributed the preternatural talent of Immaterials to exist undetected to exactly that assumed actuality– could potentially provide haven to an Untouchable. Unless he was wanted there, too.)
  1. When discovered, he faced a fate worse than torture and death. (Namely, Nihilation: a post-protracted-torture-and-death physical expunction of his DNA from the space-time continuum, not only limited to the destruction of any Individuals preceding, current, and surviving him with whom he had direct or indirect contact, even minimal, but also extending to erasure from the memory faculties of everyone –Alive, non-Alive and AI– remotely associated with him to the liminal degree of having passingly glanced at his name. A fully no-trace-left extinction, which threatened others’ lives and constitutionally authorized unconscious invasion and modification to their memories. Note be, it was said a Nihilation had never taken place but that the tech for it existed. On the other hand, had one (or more) been administered, no one would know or remember, including even the Nihilation’s very instigators and enforcers. Oh well.)

This guy had asked her to Contact him.

Now that put things into a certain perspective, didn’t it. But even though Cpesh’ia experienced guilt at the knowledge she was potentially endangering the TechBard’s life too, she wasn’t prepared to go as far as to entertain his curiosity. Her communication with the renegade was a personal matter.

‘You haven’t decided to fall for this already, have you?!’ Zenius said suddenly, his mask colour and intonation conveying bewilderment at the obvious possibility he might have missed. ‘They’re not coming for us?!’

Cpesh’ia just shook her head.

‘I just thought you should know, at least.’

‘At least. Brilliant,’ the poetic AI commented, taking a step forward and then returning to his previous position, having made the space around them tremble ever so slightly. It was his own version of ‘nervously pacing up and down the room’. He knew all was said, and that there was no point trying to convince Cpesh’ia to grant him access to the communication.

‘And what have you to say about all this, Mr. Immaterial?’ Zenius turned and asked the MultiFormer. It was still wearing Zerias’ shape and overhearing the conversation with a snug expression that made it look quite idiotic. ‘Are you going to step in and protect us when half the galaxy’s Eliminators are upon us? Do Immaterials even have a sense of pride… Oh, wait, I forget. You’re an Untouchable as well. No need for apologies, am I right?!’

‘Calm your tits, WALL-E,’ Zerias let drop, bored, and then the innocent expression on the MultiFormer’s face changed to an unveiled, threatening smile.

‘What in the name of logic is he referring t-‘ Zenius started to say, the frown audible in his voice.

‘No idea,’ Cpesh’ia intervened. Zerias’ references were often weird and made no sense. ‘But let’s not argue, please.’

‘Was that related to some theory about how AIs should be enslaved? Did he just offend-‘

‘Zen, it’s only the MultiFormer. Zerias isn’t here,’ Cpesh’ia reminded him. She could almost see him looking up MuF’s reference against his vast quota of Alives knowledge.

‘It still transmits his special ideas,’ Zenius turned very serious to her. ‘I believe in your outdated lingobumbling,’ he switched back to Zerias, ‘it’s called racism. Or speciesism, more precisely.’

The MultiFormer let out a rumbling fart in response.

Zenius looked perplexed. ‘Is it okay?’ he asked, eyeing the small human-looking machine almost worriedly. Zerias/the MultiFormer was leaning back comfortably on the polygonal couch, scratching his thigh.

‘It’s fine,’ Cpesh’ia replied struggling to maintain a serious expression. Apparently even Zenius ignored certain pre-ancient, human-body-related connotations that hadn’t survived in time.

‘It’s emitting gases,’ Zenius said, mystified. ‘Surely you haven’t forgotten its decennary serv-‘

‘Zenius, you worry too much. We do that sometimes,’ Cpesh’ia said. Then, before the argument could resume, she nudged the ArtiPlanet’s Sense into life.

SuP, Historiviver Limr Prinld&, Qåwalzak’s Supreme Planetmaster system announced itself to her. 

‘SuP, do we have any clothing material?’ Cpesh’ia asked.

Yes, Historiviver Limr Prinld&. We do, the Sense’s reply came in a thoughtwave. Should I burn the lot? 

‘What the fu- no!’ Cpesh’ia shouted. ‘SuP, just fetch me some clothing material to put on. Please.’

Yes, Historiviver Limr Prinld&. Right away.

Zenius looked at her bemused while they felt the Sense abandoning the room in search of clothes.

‘So, you’re visiting your Bank,’ he commented.

(Was he offended, Cpesh’ia thought, that she preferred to discuss the matter with the dead rather than him?)

She was, hence the need to keep up appearances. Some of her Ancestors had grown used to the idea that humans didn’t need to cover their skin for several millennia now. Yet most of them, and especially those of pre-ancient times when prejudices and beliefs held tighter, found the concept of being undressed highly unsettling in a social context. Whenever she visited, Cpesh’ia humoured them. She considered it a sacrifice born out of respect on her part, that she applied certain constraints to her character and body in their presence. Not that they ever appreciated it fully, despite the fact the damned things were so uncomfortable to carry around on you. She had to tolerate a comms and safety helm when working at the Historeum, but a whole bunch of the stuff covering most of her body was weird, intolerable.

But she was adaptable to change, Cpesh’ia thought, looking at her legs next to the mirror. She secretly thought they were just about the sexiest thing on her (well, off her now), so she had kept them after removing them. Her ArtiSkin-engulfed machine prosthetics had exactly the same shape and feel to the point you couldn’t tell the difference by look or touch, but Cpesh’ia nursed a certain fondness for her original limbs. Almost as if they were proof she was by nature designed pretty, not by modification. Of course, she was pragmatic; her machine legs were far superior, in terms of being able to sustain severe pressure without breaking and in regards to achieving speeds her first set of legs wouldn’t have been able to. They were useful to her, at the Historeum. Come to it, she casually accessed the 45% of her mind consci-connected there; all good.

Cpesh’ia looked out the window, at Qåwalzak. Zerias/the MultiFormer yawned from the couch. Zenius was lost in his internal processes, perturbed by her news. While they waited for the Sense to return, Cpesh’ia’s gaze fell on the MultiFormer. Amazing, how closely it had come to resemble Zerias.

Of her last partner, Cpesh’ia had let MuF keep only a few external characteristics: his unusual but attractive eyebrows, lineaments of lips, his eye’s shape (he had just the one, by aesthetic modification, not accident). Otherwise, nothing of character to keep. He had been, to all intents and purposes, a whore; barely five years after ceasing communication with Cpesh’ia, she’d ‘overheard’ from her Bank that he was already in contact with other females, slave to the attractions of attention. So no, no aesthetics there she wished to commemorate.

A MultiFormer could assume the shape of virtually anyone, yet it was common practice to determine its features and personality using elements you found in your partners. You kept the good things; your personal companion then became over time the sifted best version of the best of your experiences. Before Zerias, Cpesh’ia’s MultiFormer had been a fairly androgynous creature, leaning perhaps a bit more towards the male figure, with characteristics inspired by 9 separate individuals, as many as Cpesh’ia’s romantic involvements. (An almost promiscuous past she had there for her young age and one comprised of entirely different between them partners, so that MuF had ended up an attractive but still eccentric amalgam of her personal life.)

All that had gone out the porthole with Zerias. He had proved a cornucopia of characteristics and mannerisms he had dictated to her MultiFormer to emulate, store and employ. It even picked up his habits by its own volition, and Cpesh’ia had a sense it liked wearing Zerias’ skin, if it was possible to say something like that about a lower status machine. Half a decade after being introduced to him and her MultiFormer already behaved more like Zerias than any other of the previous boyfriends and girlfriends she’d had over the span of two centuries.

In many ways, and subtle ones, this surprised Cpesh’ia since she was the one supposed to decide which features and behaviours the MultiFormer copied. Nowadays it imitated a breathing rhythm like Zerias’, a tad slower than normal, as if withholding oxygen for a few seconds longer gained him a dispassionate control over things, and it had taken to his broken, sharp laugh, too. ‘What are you thinking?’ had become one of its most used phrases, as was Zerias’, after which he’d got his Sentonym. Somehow, the chameleonic machine seemed more intimate, taking after him. Perhaps it was that it asked more often about her, or the endlessly inquisitive fashion in which it led conversation. It seemed like it needed to know everything about her, in a complimenting way. Other than thought structure, performance in bed, and weaponry of knowledge at its disposal, the MultiFormer had gained Zerias’ laziness of character as well. It was endearing; it walked in a distinct, controlled but light manner, and it also appeared to have lost weight. Before she’d realized it, Cpesh’ia had let the MultiFormer abandon the features of her past lovers and immerse itself in Zerias’ shape. It was strange, sometimes – as if they were living together.

The MultiFormer seemed more sensitive to her needs even. Before, she sometimes needed to stand in front of it and directly speak the command for it to assume a partner’s shape. With Zerias, it barely needed to hear his name to be summoned, and occasionally it turned up as him without any prompt, wandering into the room at random moments.

All that and their conversations were perfect. But a Contact? What happened if things simply went wrong? Relationships were unstable things on their own, and one’s time with someone else might end abruptly anytime, regardless whether they were your average Alive or happened to be hunted down by the entire universe. Even ignoring the life-threatening consequences the idea entailed, what happened after a Contact’s termination? Who would ever want you again; who would ever want a body you had once given to somebody else?

The proposal, Cpesh’ia presumed, was equivalent to the pre-ancient and nowaeons seldom practiced among Alives concept of ‘marriage’. A binding preposterous not just on the basis of it encouraging actual, real-time and real-space meeting with another representative of the same species, an undertaking which in itself imposed a plethora of granted impediments to manifesting one’s individuality, but on top of that it preconditioned the automatic and irreversible loss of basic galactic benefits available to all, ranging from taxation, work and property-related rights to the entitlement to reside in any given solar system. It was like asking if she wanted to become a pariah.

In an age when individuals had become so inherently complex and super-self-identified in regards to psychosynthesis, what did anyone need same-species friends or a partner for anymore? Incompatibility, dysfunctionality, simple mendacity or impossibility of union were unavoidable, surely, when one had fumbled up to the corners of her own nature and learned how to achieve harmony with herself. Like a solitary manifestation of poetry, where one was both the poet and the poem, without need for a reader. Basic functions could be satiated impersonally. Emotions, even when manifesting in unexpected gales and franticness, could be appealed to and appeased. Peace could be found. Self-completion was there.

She wouldn’t have even considered it, if not for that one strange occurrence.

There had been the one moment of tangency between them; they’d been in each other’s body, once.

Neither knew exactly what had happened. In the middle of a conversation that Cpesh’ia anymore didn’t remember what it was about. Zerias, of course via the MultiFormer he’d been currently inhabiting during one of his visits, had touched Cpesh’ia’s hand. The weight of that (unwilling?) gesture had severed their connection and left them both unconscious for several hours, Cpesh’ia at the terrace of her living quarters on Qåwalzak and Zerias back wherever he happened to be. During the seconds the touch had subsisted, they had… swapped.

And yet. When they had briefly exchanged bodies (or had it been souls, the difference lying in what had been surrendered, given over, and what had not), it had been… good, Cpesh’ia thought. During those seconds the touch had lasted, she had seen through Zerias’ eyes, she had been inside him, indeed had been him. Looked at herself from outside. But that… touch?, union?, connection of sorts, surely it wasn’t the same thing as a Contact? It had been profound, rapt and complexly intimate, almost arcane in its technological malfunctive demonstrations, but a Contact was a contract Cpesh’ia knew entailed none of these adjectives. Completely the opposite. Right? It wasn’t a sense of that which individuals sought by Contacting in exchange for effectively ostracizing themselves at will to little more than universal outcasts?

How her routine had been altered by that one communication. And all these invasive thoughts! They visited her daily, now. They’d be in bed, and she’d catch herself wondering about his hair. …when had she become that repulsively glacé?! Still, surely it felt and smelled and tasted the same in the original, but was it the same? A crazy question, because the machine essentially duplicated Zerias’ body in every aspect of the senses. But was it the same?!

And there was another query: given his status as an Unrecorded and an Immaterial, necessarily with all the info he had to withhold from lending the MultiFormer, was he much different in reality? And how?

But still upon still to the power of still. A Contact? It was a mad mind’s object. Dangerous. With the MultiFormer, it was different. It had progressively been her parent, guardian, friend, lover. Her life companion, as was natural. Safe; outside of her, there was nothing for it in the universe. Where could she ever hope to encounter such devotion other than a machine? Did Alives really make attempts at Contacts these days?!

‘Zerias,’ she had breathed in the MultiFormer’s ear, sometime, aware the individual wasn’t there. It lay spent on her, awake but imitating a languid breathing rhythm. ‘Are you different in reality?’ she had said.

Then she had seen the half grin stretching on his face. She’d wondered. Would that have been his genuine reply or did the MultiFormer only assume a wordless reaction due to lack of data? Anyhow, the MultiFormer worked more in the area of concupiscence rather than in what might be termed love. Her answers weren’t with it. Who even knew where its original was at the time. Suddenly she’d sensed a surge of tenderness for him and had tightened her limbs around the machine.

SuP, Historiviver Limr Prinld&, the ArtiPlanet’s Sense announced itself once more and Cpesh’ia jumped, to find herself blushing heavily, much to Zenius’ confusion and the MultiFormer’s amusement. They’d both been scrutinizing her; could the damn thing somehow read her thoughts now?!

Next, a tile slid sideways on the living quarters’ ceiling and a bundle of soft material fell through to the floor.

This is what I found, Historiviver Limr Prinld&. 

‘Thank you, SuP. They look very nice.’ At least she was trying.

There was a deep green, white-striped 18th century crinoline dress complete with panniers, a camo tactical vest, a wedding thong decorated with pearls, a black trench coat (slightly worn out), a pair of children’s blue jeans, a balaclava, a grey Russian ushanka and a pair of men’s loafers.

Cpesh’ia sighed. Armed with patience, she donned one after the other all the articles of clothing the Sense had chosen for her, requiring its help thankfully only twice. Once when she had trouble inserting her arms into the jeans (‘What weird outfit is this?!’ she had protested; But see what strong material it’s made of and how protective for your arms it is? SuP had countered), and once when she had almost put the loafers on her feet instead of hands (their shape had made her think they were intended for her lower limbs, but SuP had confidently asserted they were classified in its system as gloves, which meant they were designed specifically for upper limb protection, so she obeyed).

‘How do you feel?’ Zenius asked her, when the ordeal was over.

‘Hot. I can’t breathe well,’ Cpesh’ia muttered under the balaclava and the ushanka. ‘Very grateful for ArtiEnvirons, really.’

I also found this, SuP communicated, dropping a bagpipe from the same tile on the ceiling.

‘Absolutely not!’ Cpesh’ia objected. ‘What’s this thing now?! I don’t care if it offends them, this is already impossible!’

‘My dear, my Cpesh,’ Zenius said.

Historiviver Limr Prinld&, with all due respect, may I remind you how unhappy your Ancestors were re your appearance that time you visited featuring only two (2) articles of clothing? It seems ‘the more the better’ is the rule, SuP reflected. 

‘Unbelievable,’ Cpesh’ia muttered. ‘Un-fucking-believable. I’m one of the only 5,133 Historivivers in the entire universe. And look, look what I have to go through!’

Zenius tsked sympathetically, though Cpesh’ia could tell he was still considering the Contact issue.

I think you just have to throw it over your shoulder, SuP commented encouragingly. Cpesh’ia imagined the ArtiPlanet’s Sense poring over its records, trying to find accurate instructions on how to wear this yet another strange piece of clothing.

‘Fine, whatever,’ Cpesh’ia said in defeat. She picked up the bagpipe by the drone cord, passed it over her head and shoulder (some fine manoeuvring was required, as the huge camo vest highly restricted her movements), and turned towards the Room of Ancestors.

~∞~

In the poetry of the moment, she lost herself.

It always happened, when Cpesh’ia visited her Ancestral Bank. A homecoming of sorts, a return to where she didn’t yet belong but was always welcome. Here she was, at a corner of the galaxy, in a room the polished wooden surfaces of which made it resemble a sauna, barely occupying any space all on her own and yet, with a simple mental command and the help of a small technological masterpiece, she could traverse Time backwards, over millennia, in much an illusion but also in as real a lie as it could be, striving to grasp at a connection that was ever impossible to establish and yet somehow subsisted.

She was, after all, the genetic offspring of this bunch, despite having met none of them. It was weird, yet strangely comforting (in theory at least) that all of them were gathered there for her, always, in case she needed them, their thoughts, their words. The past was reliable, in a sense. Having grown up solo, like most Alives these days, Cpesh’ia never had any other family or experience of such other than her Bank of Ancestors.

The moment she entered the Quälia, she took a breath, her autoglot chip stiffened, then the voices surrounded her. Like a torrent, like a hurricane, the past entered her nostrils:

Yo, look ‘ere, it’s the weirdo again! ~ What in the name of Vitruvius is she wearing?! ~ Cpesh’ia Always, welcome back. ~ Good to see you again, kid, how you’ve been? ~ What in the seven suns is she pretending to be this time?! ~ Seventy three decades we haven’t seen you, beloved Cpesh’ia! How have you been? ~ Cpesh’ia, welcome! ~ I told you she hadn’t forgotten about us, heyCpeshbeewhatyaupto? ~ Welcome, Cpesh’ia Always. ~ Are these shoes on her hands or?! ~ Your cousin M’orkeid Lawful visits much more often, huh. ~ Is that my dress?! D’fidio, come see! It’s my… ~ Welcome, Cpesh’ia Always! ~ Cpesh’ia, welcome back, we’ve missed you. ~ You’ve lost weight, haven’t you, dear, how I wish I could make you something to eat… ~ Cpesh’ia Always, thank you for visiting. ~ Cpesh’ia Always, I hope we can be of help to you. ~ I preferred it when she came in that bikkuini and lace-ups! ~ Hullo, Cpesh’ia, how are you, love? ~ It’s ‘bikini’, you pre-ancient, sexist ape. And she’s your great-great-great-great… ~ Cpesh’ia Always, what news, lass? ~ How’s the Historeum faring, Cpesh’ia? ~ Cpesh’ia, have you reached mating age, finally? ~ Hi, Cpesh’ia. What a gorgeous lady you’ve turned into! ~ Cpesh’ia, what’s the matter? ~ Should we tell her that’s a thong, you reckon? ~ Hello, Cpesh’ia Always. ~ Hi, Cpesh’ia Always. ~ Cpesh’ia, hiya.

A cacophony of familial familiarity.

Before Cpesh’ia addressed any of them, she made sure to check her interBank channels were shut off from the rest of the Ancestral network, seeing as today’s subject was more than just subtle. The reason? Your Ancestors weren’t only yours, unless somehow they had all collectively bequeathed their memories only to you. (Rare.) You shared them with anyone else they belonged to, via their Ancestral Banks, and passing on current news this way was entirely possible though much slower a communication method. So today’s data and conversations wouldn’t be uploaded to any other Ancestral Banks, just Cpesh’ia’s own, she made sure. It was like swearing them to secrecy. Of course, it was the dedicated purpose of certain departments within multiple intergalactic universities to study the changes in Ancestors’ characters through time after death and Preservation, detailing how they differed from Bank to Bank, given the potential of their extended conscience being altered by different information ‘fed’ to them in different destinations. But Cpesh’ia hadn’t subscribed the personal part of her A-Bank to these studies; felt she herself and her family weren’t statistical data. Not if she could prevent it.

She let herself bask in that familiar kerfuffle for a while, drifting away in their voices. The voices carried through not just thoughts, but images, scents, tastes. Emotions. She was grateful for the existence of Banks, just then. All that human noise, so inimitable, conveniently attainable once more, that only the stellar carver of a moment could potentially recreate. For some time, Cpesh’ia lost herself in the Quälia.

Then she opened to them access to particular memories of hers relevant to the Contact. There were plenty of gasps, and a deluge of loudness following. She’d listen to all of them, but Cpesh’ia was mostly interested in one of her Gone relatives’ opinion.

She snorted, effectively evicting her great8-grandmother Filisk’ia’s hysterical thoughts from her nostril. Then silenced the rest of the voices, and waited for that one. Eldricz’ia Fimr Always Rrennial* began to talk.

They shared the same Sentonym. 6,472 years separated them.

~∞~

‘SuP, prepare the Caddy, please.’

Yes, Historiviver Limr Prinld&. 

The craft wasn’t technically a Cadillac, of course. A luxurious personal carrier half the size of an ArtiMoon’s core, it naturally couldn’t have been. It was Historiviver Limr’s designated vehicle, allotted to transport her from her living quarters to polis Qåwalzak. But because of Cpesh’ia’s weird obsession with many things outdated, it retained an Earth’s 1968 Cadillac De Ville’s appearance (+9,113 SG -7,656 JN in modern Chronomeasurements, to give you an idea).

Cpesh’ia was back in her living quarters, her visit at her Ancestral Bank unexpectedly disrupted. The MultiFormer had appeared (holo-naked, effecting a rather overly scandalized and remonstrative reaction from Cpesh’ia’s Ancestors) to announce there were signs of battle at the Historeum. Zenius had sent it from the other room to report the vast globe was lit up in a firestorm. MuF, wearing Zerias’ figure, had an ominous mood about him while transmitting the message.

She could witness it from here. The battle in the dark globe had recommenced. The miles-tall sphere that encompassed almost one third of the planet Qåwalzak was engulfed in flames. Cpesh’ia couldn’t discern whether the Eliminators’ crafts had risen yet, to deal the polis its final blow. And it didn’t matter. Cpesh’ia came from a family of Historivivers that went a handful of generations back. She had learned to detach her feelings at work. The battle was being re-enacted, for the trillionth time as always, as it had happened the first time, all those millennia ago. That was how Historeums worked. Froze a moment in Time; then, replayed it. Resurrecting all the components of the battle, from the Immaterials whose ArtiPlanet had been discovered and was currently raided, to the crafts that had been sent to raze the polis to the ground. A moment in Time, encased in glass, with the difference that its outcome was already known and determined, replayed at will for the sake of interplanetary tourism, and featuring the additional element of diamond rain enveloping the normal weather conditions of the scene, as this was the most subtle (and at the same time cool, they thought, perhaps) form the organizers had come up with to introduce their Time-controlling processes inside the globe. The battle would continue, the Immaterials would be extinguished to the very last, the Clockmaker’s Fort would collapse under 600 terajoules of pure atomic energy, the authorities’ crafts would revel in victory, the figures of the dead renegades, Alives and AIs, would be turned facing upwards, the scene would fade.

No, what troubled Cpesh’ia was that her consciousness hadn’t registered the malfunction on its own accord. When she accessed the 45% of her mind that was always consci-connected to the Historeum, sure, a scarlet alert showed up, 32 minutes ago, demanding her immediate attention/intervention. But no report of that had reached the rest of her faculties.

Historiviver Limr Prinld&, the craft is ready for you. 

‘Thank you, SuP. Zenius, may I borrow Fleer?’

Fleer was a professional Aesthetician. Hence she lay constantly in a state of personal crisis. Not an entirely conscious individual on her own, she constituted part of Zenius’ figure, one of the many. In specific, Fleer was Zenius’ second left (of 14) cerebral hemisphere, which could be detached from him and hover about in the form of a drone. She was more or less his aesthetics’ section, integral mainly to his poetry writing, though in other cases useful –because she was self-powered– for maintaining communication where no other ~sentient individual was allowed entrance apart from Cpesh’ia. The Historeum, that is.

It was highly illegal, yes, but meh… Cpesh’ia and Zenius had often disregarded the rules and allowed Fleer to board the craft that took Cpesh’ia to the Historeum. It was a way for Zenius to watch over Qåwalzak’s raid again and again without booking a holo-seat at the Historeum’s travelling deck and for Cpesh’ia to have some company during her breaks between shifts (which, admittedly, lasted several weeks on end sometimes).

‘Fleer is a bit distracted at this moment,’ Zenius replied, musing back and forth with her apparently. ‘She’s upset about the fact Eyaorlkiȅan poetry, though highly talented and promising, revolves too much around the politics of hypo-sexuality. But what do you expect, Eyaorlkiȅans are only a couple millennia old, technologically almost savages; they haven’t even gone through a Gender War of their own yet.’

Cpesh’ia looked at him patiently.

‘To answer your question, yes, I’ll send her after you as soon as I manage to calm her down,’ Zenius promised, and Cpesh’ia flashed him a last smile.

‘But, Cpesh’ia,’ he said as she had started moving to the other side of the base, the ArtiPlanet’s Sense switching off the systems behind her and entering the living quarters in Waiting mode until her return. ‘We’ll talk about this Contact, when you’re back and the situation at the Historeum has been resolved.’ There was anxiety in his voice. For which situation, Cpesh’ia wondered. ‘All right?’

She nodded without turning.

~∞~

Entering the craft, she put on No, No, No; You Won’t Fuck With My Life, Calypso loud on the speakers. An old zeta-grunge Überhipster antimelodic industrialist death metametametal band. Zenius would have scowled. Cpesh’ia took her seat at the control room, checking the systems and bobbing her head slightly in rhythm.

Picking her comms and safety helm, she put it on directing her hair to braid itself and climb out the aperture over the helmet’s rear vent. She was a natural at her job. A scarlet alert most likely meant the system had been switched on by accident and that the battle had recommenced earlier than expected. It happened. She had to get in there and find the core of the malfunction. The battle’s manifestation wasn’t always exactly the same; people ran in different directions, hid in different places, shot at different enemies. But that didn’t matter to her. Cpesh’ia simply had to check where the discrepancy between the current raid and older records showed, make a note of it, and reverse Time at the Historeum. Put history back in place, in short. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

She sensed the hacking too late. One moment she was extending her hand over the Piloting Pool, palm and fingers already communicating to the smooth liquid surface of the central disc directions for the craft’s space-sailing course. The next, like an aura or a ghost, Zerias Astrophletes had taken over her body.

TBC

(This story has a number of alternative endings/beginnings)


[1] Echoreferring to pomegranate. Intimates the similar colour of malted poetry, esp. when liquefied into a –minimum 50 years aged– spirit.


Creative Thresholds – Let’s Never Talk about Love

Some time ago and from across an ocean, the brilliant editor of arts and literary blog Creative Thresholds Melissa D. Johnston asked me to share a short story with their readers. CT’s purpose, as stated on their website, is to explore the creative potential of borders, boundaries, liminal spaces of limitation and difference. I was complimented and intrigued.

…and admittedly rather unsurprisingly late in submitting. But thanks to the editor’s overwhelming patience and my overcoming my editing-related paranoia –

EdParanoia

– here is my contribution to the latest issue of Creative Thresholds, a short story called Let’s Never Talk about Love, accompanied by the awesome Linke painting that Melissa kindly chose as a cover and a pic of my unphotogenic face that I made even worse by filtering. In the same October issue, you will find work by diverse and amazing German artist Peter Seelig – My Fotos and Paintings are Love Stories. I love how our titles subtly interact with each other.

Do check out more about Creative Thresholds, Melissa, and Peter Seelig.

Take care,
D.

P.S.  LNTaL might feature fruity vocabulary. You know, cantaloupes, apricots, peaches and the like.


Robert Linke - Aquarell

Robert Linke – Aquarell


 If you’re one of the awesome, majestic, sublime human beings that have shared my work on social media or by word of mouth, making my stories travel further, I want you to know I love y- I am deeply thankful that you think my words worthy enough. Regardless how wordy this message is, it can’t express how much that means to me. Ta!