Works of Vasilis Afxentiou
Men in My Life *
In Arms We Trust, a Fragment of a novel *
Chip off the Ol' Block *
Test of Time *
The Social Irony of Vasilis Afxentiou, a review by James Robert Strope *
A short story from my anthology 'Potpourria'
Available at: http://www.m-pro.demon.co.uk/bookstore.html
Ilianna didn't wake Dino up, but brought with her a mug of Nescafe' and
settled in the chair. The pungency of the black brew briefly dispersed the
sleepiness in her head.
She had heard the melody one day in the past. But today her fingers felt
thick, clumsy, undisciplined. The tips were blistered on her left hand and
her thumb cramped from fatigue.
"How are your exercises proceeding?" Anastasi had asked her at the music
conservatory the other day, giving her a pat as she stretched the knotted
muscles of her back.
He had looked at her with those knowing eyes, weighing and regarding, as he
stood in front of her, twice attempting to say something that he did not.
She enjoyed watching his curiously delicate manner. He used his large hazel
eyes to tell more than his tongue--but that morning she pretended to busy
herself preparing, not looking at him for long, for she knew he was probing
her. She had even evaded their usual patter.
"You're not well?" He had finally acquiesced.
"Not very. It'll pass."
He put the stool and foot rest in place, shifted ebulliently with brisk,
spirited movement. And he paused a little. He did not sit immediately, but
delayed this moment of focus. He relinquished himself to it as thoroughly as
to his playing. He was never hurried at this particular stage; he never
rushed at this point. It was, she thought, a kind of liturgy in him, just as
when he was performing, he was undividedly surrendering.
Yet Anastasi could be as utterly grave or severe. His reproaches were the
bleakest she had ever seen. He taught as an evangelist preached. It was for
this thoroughness, she imagined, that she felt esteem for him.
Ilianna now raised the instrument off her lap and laid it upright next to a
desk scattered with music sheets, a copy of Chosen Country by J. dos Passos,
and Mary Magdalene portrayed weeping.
She heard Dino get up and she shut her eyes. The tiny garret closed in on
her and a sudden vortex made her slump to one side. She caught herself from
falling and sprung her slight, lean torso up straight on the uncomfortable
chair. Two years, Anastasi had said. Two hard years for the fingers to break
"Don't give up," was his favourite infamous statement. "You come to me
perfect right hand."
She whiffed the heavy blue smoke meandering into her cubbyhole study from
the Gauloises Dino was smoking in the kitchen. Her throat tightened and her
nostrils pinched. He was making Greek coffee. Its rich fragrance mingled,
somewhere along the way, with the silty wafts from his cigarette. The smells
made her head whirl. Oblivious to her discomfort she could hear him singing,
" Take my hand/Take my whole life too..." To him--the King was The King.
She sat there listening and stared at the only two paintings in the
apartment. One was an Andrew Wyeth and the other a Norton Simon. They
represented her wealth and were a gift from her mother, who had brought them
from Astoria, Long Island, six months after Ilianna had departed from her
She had been raised in the ancient neighbourhood of Plaka, in a house of
post-classical architecture that vaunted better days right after the war.
Her family was moderately wealthy, an old Athenian family, endorsing the old
ways, trying hard not to be assimilated by the onrush of world changes
fostered by satellite television and her media-nurtured generation. From
childhood she had known that her future was already planned out. She would
be sent to college, earn her degree, and marry a man with a solid profession,
perhaps even a shipowner. But all that had changed when one morning she left
her home with rucksack bearing down on her thin shoulders and trust in a
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry:
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
came the Burns' hyperbole in the form of a TV commercial for scotch whisky
from the kitchen where Dino sat.
They had been together for almost a year, since she was nineteen and he
twenty-three. He was like nobody she had ever met before. He didn't worry
any more about the years ahead than did cattle in green pastures. There was
a primal manner in his air and a puerile spontaneity that uninhibited her.
He had a careering way about him, like a twentieth century gladiator: all was
intense sport, lovemaking, drinking, prancing his shiny secondhand Harley as
if he were Marlon Brando and she the counter waitress.
His family had been killed in a train disaster when he was four. He had
been on his own since he was twelve, when he had done away with the source of
his obstacles by hurtling himself over a glass-strewn wall. The opportunity
had come, just before Christmas dawn. Another inmate and he had scaled the
shard-sowed barrier to freedom, bloodied and frostbitten. Nightmares of the
orphanage persisted to this day.
A garage owner had offered him a job and Dino had taken his courage in both
hands. Though he was still a boy then, he grew up fast to become a man. Yet
the strong arms transformed to comforting wings at night. She could have let
her life surrender into his and part with all that tortured her, walk away
from her own honeyed trial, into the tangy freedom his world promised....
The guitar stood waiting. Elegant, skillfully crafted, painful, it ignored
her musings and the fever in her hands. Two years had passed four months
ago, and still her appendages moved slowly, sluggishly, producing a
cacophony. There were days when she played adeptly, but few. She could not
account for it.
Dino's deep, black eyes were upon her from where he sat, this minute. She
could feel their moot, fixed look. It had been a bad night, last night. A
bad night for love. There had been depression in the dark of the room, a
tiredness she felt more often than not. He had finally left her and gone to
the other end of the bed, and she had lain alone and silent. Sirocco-warm
tears ebbed out of her scouring the hours by.
The night faded once more whence it came. She massaged the thumb muscle to
lessen the stiffness. Veins stood out like winding blue worms on her forearm
and the back of her hand. Dipping her fingers into the dish of alcohol
temporarily numbed them.
Her index finger puffed out at the bottom, tapering like an obelisk of flesh
to a firm phalanx. A straight dark line of clotted blood scarred the once
soft tissue behind the finger nail. Friction from the repeated barre
exercises maintained the wound, fresh and visible. All were the credits of
the craft. All the visible signs of hard, diligent work were there. Texture
Dino brushed by her on his way out. She smelled the tobacco on his clothes.
He stood by the door not speaking, then closed it behind him.
"The classical guitar is like a man," had been Anastasi's first words that
decisive March noon. Ilianna's first lesson had begun.
"He will want and want some more. You will hate and love him. Give yourself
to him and he will give everything to you. As someone once said, 'Love is,
above all, the gift of oneself'."
Anastasi had then embraced the guitar and began to play the `etude.
Ilianna's last minute doubts dissolved with certainty. Each undulating
stroke charged a longing that had so long been left yearning for its mate.
The cords mingled and blended, entwined and braided, melded and plexed and
fused, weaving a dulcet onomatopoeia of counterpoint plenishing her every
pore, progressing so ever-softly turning, spinning sheer summer air into a
gossamer completion that longingly never came. The tinkling of the strings
echoed, ignoring, conquering time.
"The moan of doves in immemorial elms/And murmuring of innumerable bees--do
you hear him, do you hear Maestro Tennyson's sigh in the pluckings? You are
in love, no?" Anastasi had remarked, putting the guitar down.
But the instrument before her seemed unconcerned, aloof, like Dino. Both
promised ecstasy, both wanted her soul. But she had not the strength to
serve two masters.
When she had awakened it was a comfort to know that the entire day would
belong to her alone. But by the time she got through the Segovia scales,
even the light burden of the instrument was too much for her to hold. She
had not slept much during the night, she realized, for her eyelids drooped
more often than not. She had a drifty feeling that made her dreamlike and
"Rest if you must, but don't you quit," came Cushing's words from the poem
Anastasi had drilled into her memory two years before.
Finally, she put the guitar down. The noon sun rays dabbed the wall next
to her with a craggy segment of column from the Parthenon beyond. She found
herself gliding into oblivion on the chair. She dozed. She was overwhelmed
by her dreaming of her mother and felt happiness.
She was seldom like this, not ever since they had met. But now, like a
torrent, the cumulated snags in their relationship suddenly all deluged upon
her, and she was surprised that she did nothing to stop the onset. She
recollected afresh their quarrel the night before, recalled the options
remaining, put to her. About the music -- she could not remember what had
been said to be wrong with it. Possibly it was not the music; she did not
know. She retained only the oppressive, mostly mute, suffocation of Dino's
At the recollection she began to tremble for an instant, uncontrollably, and
gasp for more air to enter her lungs. It had been a turbulent episode, the
worst; like an Aegean August gale, with only a hint of warning, that drowns
one unsuspectingly. She was sinking, she told herself. She was feeble
against his wants -- whatever these were. And perhaps the giving on her part
would never quench the needing on his....
Her fingers felt better. She dipped them once more and waited for them to
dry. The melody came again, this time urging and stronger than before. She
picked up the guitar and gave, yielding herself to it. There was a knock on
the door that she did not hear.
She was solely aware that the mellifluous pluckings did not come from the
instrument but from her. Like heartbeats, they were as much hers as her
heart's. A presence was there, completing her metamorphosis. Unlike before,
she knew, the threshold now was scaled, the union of her self and her dream
realized. She played, all of her, and did not stop her care because now she
could not. Like the pulsing in her chest, her will no longer participated in
its existence. A being had been freed, and free, it reigned over a kingdom
of two. The knocking stopped. The footsteps died softly away behind the
closed door, and the room glowed in the summer afternoon with Ilianna and a
(A short story from my anthology 'Potpourria')
( Available at: http://www.m-pro.demon.co.uk/bookstore.html )
Vexed, Satan came up once again to meddle and pry.
He found mid-August a scorcher. Crickets popped from the heat, burst like pop-corn in near-by thistle and pines and toppled to the ground shattered. Lizards scurried for cover at His approach. A summer ruby dragonfly flittered and dipped almost vertical in His path, then vaulted out of view. Clouds of metallic blue butterflies dispersed off their gold and waxen perches and rippled over his head.
He emerged close-by to the gates of Hell, a sandy stretch nudists patronised on the Aegean called Esperanza Island. To each side the beach spanned as level and regular as could be conceived for a kilometer or so. Then with a dull, lethargic bounce commenced to worm inward, finally rising in a smooth curve to meet the foot of the single distant mountain on the isle, behind a precipice, like some broad highway from the sea.
He pulled his horns in. Sucked his tail. Shucked off His scales. And metamorphosed into the Angel He once was.
He pouted out his lips, "God it's hot," He said, His new alto voice husky and almost as raspy as a man's.
"Did You call Me?" a tumult boomed from the sky.
The Old Man stood like an ancient Atlas on billowed white clouds, majestic and towering.
"O Lord!" Satan fidgeted with his nakedness. "A figure of speech."
"Didn't we agree for You to rule from below and I from above?"
Got to humour Him--got a hell of a temper, Satan thought, and became disconcerted.
"Are You trying to make this Your domain as well?" the Old Mighty asked and a sirocco ruffled Satan's red curls.
The breeze got stronger and the clouds tumbled like bowling balls.
God looked at the sprawled bodies, Mites on a Titan's gold scimitar, He thought, examining the crescent shore that dipped and became lost in a sea of azure blood.
He reminisced, How immaculate the blood of Gaia had been. How all shores once resembled this one.
He saddened, Vilified are the same seas now. Oil spills. Dumped radio-active canisters, swaying like cobra heads beneath crushing water depths. Eager to ejaculate their poison into life.
Life He had created.
In the begining Earth had been a fresh crunchy apple, beads of dew clinging to it. Mankind had been tucked deep away, safe in His heart of hearts. The touch of musk on His toes had consoled Him then, had made Him sigh with pleasure, compassion and grace.
Sensations of never before.
He remembered how the animals, the trees, the shrubs, the birds and the butterflies of every color, the kelp and the starfish had rushed out of Him exactly as He had imagined them. The tiny and the huge. Lastly, man, the crown jewel. He would enter their lairs and grottos and dreams and see Himself in them.
Had ever present entropy overpowered Him?
Cosmology, He thought, pitted against the Overseer of Good.
He was ensued by a great void. He wondered if it all had not been a Divine mistake.
"Might I have not passed boredom on to them?"
"Say something, Lord?"
The hideous ripping noise on all sides startled Satan. He gave a small scream, froze, thawed down to a jellyfish and oozed back up into his angel shape and reached for Charlie. Why, oh why did I ever take this job? Satan consternated.
A mistake, a moment of weakness, frivolity, God continued to ponder to Himself, the mortals inherited. The forbidden fruit of knowledge only to become their robe of wisdom.
The snare of God, God thought on reflection, was His utter lack of a wholesome awareness of Evil.
He feared that in His ignorance goodness's child had been a child of His loneliness and not of His Love and of His Law, but a yield to experimentation, curiosity and the restlessness of His youth.
Seven billion years, not seven days--how mortals simplified His grandeur to their measures--of maelstroming, taming and smithing a universe for the coming of life: strange, nebulous, breathtaking. All to prepare it for His new companions. Another five to hone the Earth to the exact of mankind's germaneness.
He had begun as if with a game, instead Creation had welled, overspilled beneath Him, dislodging from Him, like argent elvers splashing forth from a broken water bag. Cunning eyes, wily grins, pesky faces had beamed tenacity and aptness and survival. It was less a course of plan than happenstance.
He had been overwhelmed back then.
"Oh, so long ago."
"Toad turds to the three-hundred-and-fifty-days-of-sunshine. It's not September even."
"Who said that!" thunder boomed.
"Don't, Lord," Satan hurried and said, thinking that modesty can be overdone.
Satan turned to the other, "Charlie, button up."
There was an odd light in God's eyes, a sign that made Satan sorry He'd spoken at all.
"That's what the sign said. Over the airport terminal six years ago when I set foot here -- 'Three-hundred-and-fifty days of sunshine'. It's just their lousy luck," Charlie looked meaningfully at the Other and gestured to the sprawled tourists, "to be here the fifteen days it's going to douse."
"Six years ago, Charlie?"
"Yeah. Weather was different, a paradise." The youth's face suddenly became well-defined. A shaft of sun passed through a rift in the clouds and shone on it. He had regular features, brown round eyes, brown light hair and a slight growth of beard. He might have been a Kentucky farmer's boy. "Who were You talking to up there anyway?"
"Hear that, Lord? Things were different." Then to Charlie, "God, Charlie. To God. I may have saved your--you from eternity just now."
"Strong shit, ain't it?" Charlie dragged in a waft and Satan saw only the white of his eyes.
"Ouch!" All of Satan's defences went on alert.
"Is that mortal smoking hashish, Lucifer?" Amazement, dread and execration churned in the words.
The heavens boiled with white-grey fury. Clouds effused, irradiated red flashes against the silver and blue of the sky. The thick plumes puckered squarely over Charlie's stoned head.
Satan almost peed.
He could taste the hot, moist air of a killer storm brewing. No backing out now, He thought. He wasn't up here to save souls.
But new blood was what he wanted and it was pooled in Charlie's fate--and genom.
Humanity Mine, He lavished. Revive remorse of 'the slumming life', arouse compunction about ol' avarice, coveting, and civil strife; contrition for good ol' false pride, bipartisan morass; and just sit back and make room for the guilt-beset, shame-ridden hoards....If Charlie only keeps his flappers fused.
He rummaged to get His act together. For Hell's sake.
He had come to realize on His sojourns that it wasn't that mortals didn't take Him under account, no.
People merely dread more the evil in themselves, and what it can do to them while still in this life, than what I dish out in the next.
People simply feared more for the here and now than afterlife.
Today they wanted association, the New Order, brotherhood, prophylactics, life for Rwanda; and it all had started when those hippy heads sprouted, and more recently, when that Tipler fellah was being tipped with the inside dope--straight from up there.
He needed old fashion, unequivocal Gospel Sinning. Sin-anxious mortals. None of this doubt-eradicating, Cosmos-probing, high-tech-for-high-peace stuff.
"Our mysteries are Ours," He grunted.
No yuppie yo-yos shouting, Make business not war, or, Greenpeace greenbutts yodelling, Be true to blue.
He wanted the greenback to read In Arms We Trust and, by gosh, the Wall put back up.
"He's been getting all the kudos," Satan griped under His breath, "and I all the barbs."
There was much to justify in His own accomplishments.
His tanned tawny cheeks and alluring almond eyes, half-hidden by magnificent lashes, faced up at God, "Lord, You know mortals smoke hashish. Shoot up horse--beg Your pardon--heroin. Sniff coke and crak, swallow uppers and downers--and all those pretty colors in between.
"Omniscient that You are, You are aware that they drink or dope themselves to death, or smoke to waste, or eat themselves to the grave."
He took a deep breath. "Men mortals whore and women mortals adulterate. Men fornicate with men and women with each other--and You must know--that today sex before wedlock is free and as common as promiscuous sex in the institution of marriage."
The clouds hovered, undecided, above Charlie's blown skull. Satan saw that this time Charlie hardly noticed the gloom ingest him, and Satan felt a stronger squeamishness, and a burst of anger at His endless unease. He shut His eyes stiffly, then opened them briskly.
"Lord, jails are so full they're spilling over trash back into the streets. Policemen, lawyers, politicians, doctors," he hesitated some, "people of the cloth, are turning their views elsewhere--"
"What are You getting at?" God roared, above comatose Charlie with the smouldering joint still locked in his fingers.
"Your churches are half-filled on Sundays. My churches--the bars and casinos and dives--are packed every day and are worse than the jails at night. To one of Your temples there is a thousand of Mine, Lord.
"What I'm getting at?" Satan glanced at a careening Charlie, and behind His back He crossed His long, manicured fingers. "I should be getting more than I bargained for, Lord. I mean there's no distinction between down there and up here any more. It should of been like too much for one of Me to handle. But, Lord, it ain't!
"Something, somewhere along the line is going wrong. People aren't trespassing, aren't violating the Law, out of simple spite or ignorance or disregard for guilt. Remorse they suffer, but they're rationalizing it out these days. Transgression is just one more abstract concept added to the long list of paradoxes We've been ladling out to them through the millennia. Irrelevant to the educated, is what I'm getting at. And the world is more exposed to sophistication today than ever before.
Or maybe," He tossed the bate, "just maybe now, Somebody is not doing Their share of the work."
"Are You accusing Me of abstention?"
A lethal violet fringe sprayed static electricity into the air around. Sand devils hopped and danced, whirling over the stuporous naked bodies. Then wind gushed by, the wake of the crossing of something vast. Out at the distant horizon ascended a monstrous tidal swell amassing into an alp.
Spikes drove into Satan's back, smashing the breath out of Him. Not too far off, clouds and water assimilated in grim platinum oneness, a drab press of sea and sky.
Charlie, head flung back, jaw agape, whined like a struck dog, a sound Satan had never heard before.
He's had it, Satan thought. Poor Charlie.
There's no stopping Him now. His ego is the biggest, and He's gonna blow it, along with stoned Charlie. Got to buy time, or I'll forfeit'im: The one and only soul in true conflict between Good and Evil, traditionally legitimate, not yet lost to titular and perfunctory worship or indifference. A last chance to revamp afresh My realm--blown.
"Lord," Satan said, His voice a sibilant whisper, "this mortal is a prize unlike any other."
"What are You talking about?" The skies resounded. "He's getting high, like all the others, isn't he? What's so special about Charlie Emanuel Woodsmith? I am going to strike them all down."
"I don't care about the rest. They aren't coming down below."
"They are certainly not destined for Paradise."
"But Charlie, Lord, may be."
Satan scooped sand and dumped it on His nakedness. "I've been trying
to tell You all along. There're more people dying today yet the souls I get get
fewer and fewer. And I'd wager same thing's happening in Paradise."
"Well, the last century has been lean. I thought they strayed Your way. There must be millions unaccounted..."
"Billions! Earthquakes and floods in Asia and the Americas, famines and epidemics in Africa, skirmishes and sub-wars everywhere--"
"Nope. I checked."
"Then where?" God asked, and the southerly wind blew.
"Since the end of the Second Great War, hitting peak in the sixties and levelling off in the early seventies, some matured force tampered with clear-cut Good and Evil, Lord."
"With Creation? The Rules had been set down long before that."
"You know that and I know it. But could those black holes--that 'horizon of events'--they discovered recently, and that babel about flower power, could they be sucking'em up?"
Satan glanced at wavering Charlie. "What happens if they stop crediting Us, deify Jung, the media, Sagan, The Physics of Immortality? How can faith and fear abide in the face of this avalanche of enlightenment, this flash-flood of knowledge and exposure to everything that once had been only Our secrets? Why don't they burn scientists, and journalists, Lord, any more?"
"I AM THAT I AM."
The sea rose and rushed in great heaves and the earth wavered and shimmied like so much flab at the utterance of this Truth. The clouds convoluted in gigantic flashing orbs. They eclipsed the sun and filled the sky to the azimuth.
"It's awful!" Charlie screamed.
Satan felt him gasp, wince and shake uncontrollably. Hold on, babe, He egged on silently, a little longer, don't turn into a pillar of salt on me now.
Then He turned to God, "Ok, ok. But what if?"
"You know the answer."
"No!" Satan's face caricatured, aghast.
God nodded and the ground under Charlie throbbed.
"Oh, poor Kid. Not the Wood again."
"Would you prefer Nemesis, the Great Deluge or Sodom and Gomorrah all over again? Religion is sanctioned as a proviso of faith. No faith, no religion. No religion...man is next. Are You ready for man on the loose?"
"Are We?" Lucifer let out a dragging moan.
"So, Charlie is the only and last vacillating believer."
"The only honest of the faith left, my sources say. But he's trying to get bad. You witnessed it."
Satan's grits braced, "Let him battle it out alone, Lord, not like the other One. See whose gonna win the tug-o-war inside this final one fellah, clean and straight like. I'll take back what I said, about Whose not doin' Their share."
"Teacher, isn't he, a language teacher? Has a way with children? Unpretentious chap, a bit idiosyncratic. Doesn't quite fit in with his peers?"
"That's him. A deal?"
"Shake on it?"
God eyeballed Satan.
The havens smiled. The clouds scattered. The summer afternoon sun
reigned once more over a beach sprinkled with bronze bodies. Charlie stopped boring
his hands into the sand to buttress against another quake. He squinted up at the sun
and realized that it must have all been a hallucination.
He looked around. The fiery-haired, violet-eyed angel waived to him from an alcove beneath the precipice, blew a kiss, and made the sign for Victory.
Charlie chagrined at the bounce of the angel's haunches, rubbed his stinging eyes and saw that he was waving back at an empty space of shore.
"Never again," he said and collapsed.
He lay curled up, napping. He dreamed that he was playing five card stud with two sleazy-looking dudes, one wore a robe of silk the other vaunted the Spock look, and that his hand was as rotten as a hand can be.
There came a disturbed expression on Charlie's face, an impression of having been cheated from his joy and of having had his peace left naked to the world.
And in the middle of them, with filthy body,
matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for
end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart,
and the fall through the air of the true,
wise friend called Piggy.
-- William Golding, 'Lord of the Flies'
24 March 1999: the invasion of the Balkans by The NATO Axis. In memory to the human beings slaughtered in the seventy-eight-day holocaust. I, one Hellene among the majority of 90% of the Hellenic populace, contest and indict this illegal assault. I lodge unreservedly a formal protest and complaint opposing this unprovoked rash act of indiscretion, reprisal and thoughtlessness against humanity and against our friend and neighbor Yugoslavia. This petition is directed to The Tribunal of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, The War Crime Court at The Hague and The Swedish Commission Inquest on The Kosovo War. This uncalled for, shameful and savage attack of carnage and butchery, one with an all-encompassing and especially barbarous and grotesque turn after the first few days will be the cause, in the author's opinion, for the spawning of such asymmetrical alliances as the Western world cannot even begin to imagine. Praises and compliments for ushering in the new millennium with this first exemplary step for our children to follow, one surely deserving the Nobel Prize. Congratulations for setting up the stage of the onset of what may probably well be the most xenophobic century in human history: The Twenty First Century AD. May God and mortal forgive you, nineteen.
--A citizen of the world
It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to human command than to accept suffering as free, responsible men.
Time seemed to stand still. For eternity Marcus stood motionless and silent, not daring to chance another breath lest he discover all this to be a dream. His breath finally came, labored in anticipation.
"Make computer components out of people?"
Hauge sipped the last drops of his tea. "Not out of them, dear man. For them. Like a heart valve, a skin graft from artificially cultured cells, plastic arteries, and the like. Things that enhance and save lives such as pacemakers or artificial kidneys." All is ready, Hauge thought. Like a locomotive freeing surplus pressure. The swan's song is at its most sublime at the swan's very last peak of agony.
"Go on." Staring hard now, Reginald Marcus, President of International Medical Supply and Software Development, bit his lip. He felt light-headed. Forty-three different directors of the board waited for the word to go ahead on this. Never had he been offered anything to compare with what this young man was offering. In his mind flashed a menagerie of cyberpunk images and endless queues of eager, nail-biting clientele. Meanwhile, dim circumspection tainted him with doubt. Visions of shrapnel-hacked, flak-gouged, patched-up heads and war-defiled torsos paraded in front of him.
But in the end Marcus nudged aside the stink of fear and reveled at the euphoria his released capital fantasies induced. Looking out his penthouse window he gazed upon the azaleas flooding the terrace, the pointed and cubed tops of looming skyscrapers with their mirrored black windows, the steel and glass blocks of his empire where the thousands of men and women worked for him like anxious ants. And this man, this obscure Scottish scientist, would he be his newest and perhaps most lucrative triumph?
"To put it simply," Hauge continued, "a sample of the subject's DNA is blown up holographically. The double helix is much easier to deal with that way..."
...Something akin to hunger in that stare? Hauge thought as he lectured the billionaire. You've never felt the bite of frost through torn shoes in deep Pristina winter, Marcus. Never had to eat stale bread and a half-portion of leftover mutton days on end in squalid, pest-infested, bombed ghettos to save up for coming worse days...
"...then the work begins. All genes not supportive to the preset parameters are extracted and replaced by modified ones: genes that heal the crippled, the blind, can make the deaf hear again; genes for mathematical acumen, for musical talent, for body stamina, business sagacity--you name it. The helix is then shrunk back down to its nominal size, superimposed on the original, and with the help of a broad-band laser beam is imprinted..."
...Blood, Marcus? Is that what you and your kind are after?
Hauge remembered his own skeletal, pinched face crimping in concentration over voluminous texts. The explosive awakenings in the midst of night, sometimes by the relentless air-raids, sometimes by the unmerciful dreams in which the dead children pursued him, threatening to flay him into so many lean strips for not being able to save them from the pain, the final anguish.
And that one child.
That little girl with the empty hole where her eye once had been. Expiring in his arms.
The blood pool had been empty. Her parents had the money to pay Marcus's worldwide franchise of blood for the rare vital fluid, but there were the sanctions. Restrictions on everything, plasma and blood were no different--what new deal were you striking up at the time, Marcus?
"...Pardon my limited knowledge of genetics," at last Marcus stretched in the luxurious easy-chair, his hulking ex-boxer's body coercing a tormented squeal from its frame, "but won't that just change the original chromosome's physical shape and not its quality?"
"Ah, but it will. 'Chromosome' is the name of the strange fellow: body of colour. Very sensitive to color frequency modulations. The modified facsimile will be color stained--coded with transparent dye where effective changes are desired, and by a mirror dye where not."
"Still, that leaves you with just one little, altered chromosome." Reginald Marcus stood up and grinned. His silvering hair streamed wildly in the blowing air from the vent above. His pearly teeth teased with their perfect dental work. He patted his lips with an index finger.
"That can, and will, reproduce its exact duplicate," Hauge came back. "The regenerative mechanism will not have been touched."
Marcus grinned. "Didn't know such fidelity, especially in the case of artificial encroachment, existed. But the building of a complete helix from half of one--a split helix--is done, if I'm not mistaken, with the aid of an enzyme," Marcus said.
"I didn't either--a decade back. But at the university we managed, piecemeal, to weed out that protein strain. The amino acids, too. And anything else that could interfere." Hauge next reached into his pocket. He produced a slick, black cube. It was the size of a die. A thin pigtail of tiny electrodes ran down from it.
Marcus craned forward for a better look. "Well, won't something else still rectify the mutated helix?"
"No. Now, the enzyme only reconstructs the mirror image of that which is in front of it. It does not compare chromosomes in doing so."
Marcus shook his head. "Hauge, it'll still give you a chromosome different from the subject's intrinsic physiology. Won't the body's defenses fight it off?"
"Does the immune system fight off radioactively mutated chromosomes? Tissue for that matter? If it did, we'd have the cure for AIDS. For most cancers. The same principle holds true here. Furthermore, this is controlled and meticulously guided mutation. Not to mention that it comes from the same contingency as its host's inherent genes..."
...Two million years of conditioning, Hauge thought.
The piquancy of light and the seductiveness of color. And what they incite. All packed into an irresistible live blend of rays. Symbols of a revered, supremacy/servility evolutionary path the West had at some point of its history misinterpreted. Had taken for Liberty and Democracy. Had resolvedly conformed to. No questions asked. No checks. No balances.
Ritualistic molds of castes.
Adherents to--and leftovers of--a wily and wild West.
A philosophy of gangsterism and bullyism. Adherents to narco-armed youths. To mobster and pistol worshipping as surrogates to healthy libidos and sexual maturity... surrogates to wholesome interaction. Adherents to a syndicated mob that had the power of attorney to kill Presidents. Catechumens and disciples of combat-based values and racketeer coterie. Advocates of implements of war being passed around to little tykes, like pretzels at Howdy Doody Time:
"H-e-e-e-re come LittleTom--the TommyGun himself--and his Ratt-tat-tatt TinyTots".
Another new singing group, Hauge brought to mind. An icy ripple ran down his spine.
Another fatal fad. A slick slogan in this good ol' bonhomie West.
Land of the 'circumspect', the 'free' and the 'brave', but don't rock the boat. The 'non-fear refuge' and the 'civil-liberties haven', but don't buck the big boys. The West: the exemplary land of equality, the nation of immigrants and of equal opportunity, but take nothing at face value. The brag-and-boast of all that is best in the world for the whole world to follow, but don't make waves. The land of good ol' 'human-rights' and 'peace-loving', 'upright' and 'upstanding' citizenry, but question nothing. Hallelujah! brother, but praise be! to the Carbine and the Bombin'!
How extraordinary can sanctimoniousness be!
How awesome can hypocrisy and double standards get!
How exceptionally arrogant, blind and deaf to global contempt and scorn, dishonor and indignation can a system of administration be:
"Snuff out dem Yugo-dudes--on de double, troops. Quick-like, I say! And beat feet back heah! Got trouble back home, troops. Gotta whole rabble of gun-blazing rebel-rousers and whimperin'-snipers right at our own public-schools, troops! Dem Yugos ain't killed a single one God-fearin' 'merican man. But back home, our own piddly toddlers are mowin ' us down Mai-Lai-fashion! Our own kind--would you believe?-- gunnin' us down right in our own fuckin' back-yaads!"
But hypocrisy and double standards had a limit, Hauge now thought.
And it had been reached.
He was nervous, but confident.
Pay-back time, Hauge now thought, augmenting momentarily his dramatizing faculty, his fantasy of mimicking Stallone and Swartzeneger.
It would not be easy to burn through Marcus's defenses.
But, all at once was exposed both pretense of virtue and pretense of piety.
All was unguarded, before the raptures of subliminal intensities and hues, bolting through the optic nerve. The words light had to say. The light words had to show. Audible, visible phenomena that silently cuffed and castrated willpower, as the undiscriminating and haphazard Cruises and Tomahawks had mangled and mutilated the id, the superego--the brain's very identity, the very community, of his helpless country; violated all international statutes--but most of all, had dishonored the very resting grounds of valiant and innocent kin and ancestors. What brand of civil, freethinking and brave people, Hauge now considered, would attack the innocent and helpless, the inhumed dead? Would show such indiscretion, be blinded by the thrill of war? Would let fly uranium-depleted munitions, radioactive bombs and missiles, recklessly to eliminate and displace, mangle and slaughter the blameless along with the guilty? So coldly, so impersonally?
YES! Hauge shouted inside, feeling sour within himself, punish the guilty!
But why kill ten thousand to get at that one guilty man? Does the End justify this much Blood! Does any end call for so much wasted life! What dialect in the rostrum of propriety, the spectrum of decency, where in any man's Holy Book or dictionary, encyclopedia or war regulations manual is there found the unique locution, that singularly rare and odd wording, that particular idiom of sanity, or insanity--not to say as much as of human common sense--that says and justifies that the buried dead must be exhumed, must die a second time!!
"NATO, NATO uber alles!! NATO, NATO, Novus Ordo Seclorum, Il Novus Duce, Grandiosi Mafiosi..."
"...As a matter of fact its encapsulation is entirely too exaggerated. The active device inside is much, much smaller. It will be designed to interface directly with synapses. But the filament connections make it presently impossible to reduce any further. Working on it."
"And its quota?"
"Varied solely by the subject's needs and by the subject alone." Hauge pinched two of the exposed fine wires on the end of the die's pigtail. Marcus saw the inside of the cube begin to whirl and soon turn to murky gray, dull cream, and, finally, to diamond brilliance.
Marcus, moseyed up and came close to look at the sparkling jewel the other held between his fingers. Coruscating sprays of rainbows caught, filled and dominated his eye. Its pristine radiance bathed his retinas making him blink. His eyes watered in the multi-chromatic glow.
"It's sin, itself!" he drooled. He knelt before the Scot to have a better look. "Where is the agent?"
"A tiny shimmer--the star, if you look hard, in its geometric centre. Cloned from yours truly," Hauge pinched more wires. The liquid swirled, sparkling, spewing needles of rainbow light throughout Marcus's posh office and into the amazed president's eyes.
Show time's over.
Now Marcus, and his empire, belonged to him.
He needn't think about it much.
For Marcus's was an insulated empire.
A great new and unprecedented world order, without a world. The supremacy of greed and bullying that fed on its own hide. Of violence-venting. Of barbarous subjugation. Harboring inborn Visigoth- and Viking-like, Hannibal- and Attila-vintage ambitions and instincts.
But isolated, nevertheless.
These neoteric 'Tartar-Mongols' did not descend from North-Central Asia and Central East Asia this time, but swarmed from across the Ocean from the Far West. And these newly-sprung Huns, these most recent Ottoman hordes needed to humiliate Europe, once more. Break Europe's spirit and confidence, and drag her into another/their image-making war.
Europe, their Continental gopher.
Europe, now, their overseas pack-runner; another Germany, another Italy, another Japan, another Korea...another water boy.
Unite with Europe to conquer the Balkans first, then Europe all over, with only a starting skirmish-of-a-war. A showcase of WASP temerity. Reckless rodeo cowboyism, Hauge thought while studying Marcus.
Progressively start more bombings--but go low on the tone. Bomb all!--low tones, now. Bomb and rule--but always, low on tone.
Vietnam yesterday. Iraq and Yugoslavia today. Skopjia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Caucasus...Russia and China tomorrow. The world the day after.
"Geeve eet to them, Weelee!'
The Bold Nova Axis.
The Valorous New Roman Legions...or is it Black Shirts...or yuppies nowadays?
Only, his country and nation did not succumb to division. Dissension was a stillborn word to his, to Hauges people. For they held up. Almost limitless in patience. Their cause growing stronger with each bomb dropped, with each enemy troop trespassing their borders. And it was this the West could not understand. Missed entirely, due to ignorance of Balkan psychology. But, most important, it was this that strayed by the Western attitude of thought: his people no further avoided to lure the enemy onto their own native land and soil. Their own turf. Modern Yanks were butterballs when it came to guerrilla warfare and close quarters combat on foreign soil. In addition, their very own bombs would kill a lot of them. Like Vietnam.
Yugoslavs were no Tom Clancy fairytale. Slavs were no four-foot-Vietnamese pushovers. Or five-foot-Colombian short work. Slavs had Empires for breakfast. The Ottoman, Napoleon, the Aryan...bones and all. "This morning's menu..? Ah, yes, the Yank & Co Empire."
No, he was not being smart or witty, here.
He knew it was chic to be smooth and casual nowadays.
He knew it was bright and keen to think the world was not coming to an end. He was aware that to be fashionable was to be positive and to vindicate everyone, including the naughty nineteen, including this businessman's way of life and government. A run-away--dilettante--government whose public couldn't care less about, a sub-existence in a violence-ridden manner of a life with an infrastructure that was already crumbling day-by-day. In a nutshell: a way of day-to-day fear-saturated survival, in fear-saturated schools and neighborhoods, fear-saturated communities, public buildings, malls, kindergartens, offices and institutions.
He was cognizant, too, that to be in vogue was to be quick and sharp, and hush-hush the use of DU-238, the residue of dioxin and other polytoxin and radiotoxin environmental carcinogenic poisons the bombings left behind so as to permanently contaminate his, Hauges, ancient homeland. Hauges once undefiled, native breathing air, soil and water. His land's enemies, this New Yank Reich, wanted to lame and destabilize this most recent and new threat to the West: a country and people that had dared--like the Vietnamese--had the gonads, to put their foot down and say "NO", and spit at the eye of any bird of pray that violated the sanctity of their native earth.
No, it was not this great experiment of theirs, of the Marcuses of the world, and their revival of lebensraum-blend institutions. Of 'fresh' new Hiroshimas and 'crisp' 'refreshing' Nagasakis. It was not this most recent rabid panic that assaulted NATO, and thus drove NATO to kill as mechanically and as officiously as the Dachau showers. It was not this Korea and Vietnam, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cyprus kind of national partitioning and apportioning, dividing and conquering, bulldozing sovereign countries out of existence so as to make the West's presence felt...and then step in. Step in and bomb away any part of the world they chose and so desired, like Sudan and Afghanistan and Pakistan, regardless of legality or illegality. No, it wasn't the West's newest and most subtle experiment on radiation effects upon living human flesh and blood and on the ambiance, so as to further study their own secluded catastrophe, their own eighty thousand suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.
No, the obvious is for the gullible folk, the chum, the pushover, the sucker to swallow. The pigeon or paid 'pigeon' whose response would sound something like, "We're obviously doing something right in this great experimentation of ours; or the slaughter and the bombings we most recently implemented would never have occurred, but stopped right-away".
Sure thing, partner, Hauge thought.
Obviously you were doing something right in that great experiment of yours back there in Vietnam. So as to save face back then, too. And the ubiquitous Vietnam napalm bombings and 'agent orange'--regardless upon whom they fell whether it had been friend or foe--had obviously 'never' occurred. Obviously had been 'stopped right-away.'
No, it was none of these things.
It was the naiveté.
The naiveté of false pride, false moral courage and false honor.
The naiveté of world-audience and of authority-ratings. The naiveté of compromising ecumenical, time-tested classic ethics and time-harnessed world morality, for the convenience of the net worth of influence and supremacy upon a global audience on a global scale. And this, by means of use of raw force and intensity of injury. Without a hint of horse sense. Without a speck of remorse owing to human compassion. Poor pitiful bastards, Hauge thought. Hate to be in your shoes when the realization of what you've done slams on your face. Your conscience.
And you do have one.
No, it was not the obvious.
It was the naiveté of accommodating a public show at the expense of an independent and legitimate nation that had never provoked. A show, a paradigm of a production put on with spokesmen some obscure-till-then aimcriers/puppetmasters. Yes. Put on for a country of bored, restless people. A modern, country-size, a huge Roman arena. Put on for, perhaps, a world full of wearied, daunted and restless peoples. Of modern Romans who in place of lions and panthers watched missiles and smart bombs rip, not only Christians this time, but Moslems, Jews, Gypsies, Albanians, Chinese and other ethnic groups--rip people open. Of another CNN macabre-spectacle that brought in millions. Of one more runaway media morbid-hit after the Iraq fiasco that hauled in bucks by the shovel full. A Pulitzer Prize accommodation. Perhaps even a Nobel for a modish pedigree, a smart new hybrid definition of 'peace'. A spectacle pageant, not of Miss America or Miss World, but of killing ilk in its most popular and colorful, diverse and a la mode ceremony.
Ponder on it, Marcus: "NO" is the word for us. "NO" is an honest word. "Yes" is for lackeys. "Yes" is for hustlers. It's for Coca-Cola and hamburger alliances.
At any other time--Hauge ruminated as he watched the man before him regress and shrink further-and-further into himself--in human history, these bombings might have been acceptable. Even a little sleazy work, a dab and dabble here and there, by that 'great country's' sanctified CIA, permissible.
As recently as 30 years ago it was legal and encouraged, indeed. Yes legal, to meddle in, interfere with and intrude upon its southern neighbors, Europe and Asia. Yet, 30 years later, it is still snooping and prying, unchecked and off-the-record, illegally and covertly--with overt and obvious intent to destabilize--in everything all over the world even today in spite of (to that 'great country's' great shame 30 years before) young college kids being shot up, dying disapproving it. Despite that 'great country's' very own Tiananmen Square: The Kent State Massacre. A bunch of young college kids--unarmed kids--who had the guts to publicly disapprove any and all illegal belligerence, any rude intrusion and rule, and any invasion upon another sovereign country's affairs; invasion of and forced entrance into another's freedom.
"KGB is dead! Long live CIA!"
Yet, this land of 'indelible jurisprudence' had learned nothing!
Learned nothing from its mistakes and deaths.
Learned nothing from all those deaths of its children.
And was starting anew.
Was attempting anew to commence meddling throughout the globe once again. But, meddle more thoroughly, stubbornly and brutally this time, more loudly, arrogantly and grimly. It had to have more backing today than it did during its Vietnam disaster. And it's where Europe and the naughty nineteen came in.
Such pesky-petite details, Hauge thought:
"It's only a bunch of backwoods Balkan Slavs and backward 'Wag The Dog' Albanians. Thousands and thousands of miles--at world's end. A place called the Balkans. What would any red-blooded, good and white, Anglo-Saxon-Protestant and clean-cut Yank boy know about a place called Balkans, for Christ sake? It's not the same as Philly or the Liberty Bell, or Yosemite National Park, the DOW-JONES AVERAGE or apple pie. What a fuss about a pack of goddamn Balkan hicks and hillbillies, rednecks out o' the sticks, being leveled to dust. Big frigging Jack-shit deal."
..."Get off your knees, old fellow," Hauge said finally, offering his chair. "Take this too."
Marcus pinched and gawked as the scientist laid the tiny, gleaming machine in his palm.
"The name is Hagevic--are you with me, man? It's Hagevic and I'm not from Scotland, but from what once used to be Yugoslavia, my home. What now is poisoned, no-man's-land, from your State Department's 'human-rights presents' and your DU-238-jacketed armor-piercing bombs from your Department of Offense."
Marcus watched the die in his own hand turn into a green emerald, a blue sapphire, yellow citrine, fire opal... "Eh, yes. Absorbing sort of...prettiness...so, pretty!" Marcus's parched voice was weak and reedy.
"Eh, yes. Absorbing," Hagevic repeated, "like your Yank dream: Suspended Disbelief."
Kosovo-born Hagevic rose, walked to Marcus' communicator, and punched the red button. "Ms. Chung," Hagevic remembered the little plaque on the slight, bespectacled secretary's desk, "would you come in," he said, now bending over the intercom and standing behind Marcus' elegant desk.
The secretary entered, seeming riddled over the sitting man playing with his empty hands. "So, so pretty..." Marcus raved on.
"Is anything wrong, Mr.--"
"Mr. Marcus will be leaving now. Oh, and, Ms. Chung, would you be kind enough to bring your pad when you come back. We have changes to make."
For a moment, Hagevic thought amused, she must have taken me for someone else. "Yes, sir," she said, lingering her dispersed, fishbowl stare a while.
The Yugoslavian observed the other's fascination as she watched intently the die in his hand turn cornelian pink, hyacinth red, amethyst violet, lazurite blue, peridot green...
"Have one," he said, reaching again into an empty pocket, knowing it would be the most important thing on her mind from here on. "Anything else, Ms. Chung?"
"No, oh not a thing, sir. So pretty!" she chirped and gawked at her empty hand, sighed deeply and escorted her charge out.
"Ah, one more thing. Change Mr. Marcus's flight for Marakesh instead, and accompany him personally till he boards." The climate should be more akin to Texas's, he considered, and put the real die back in his coat pocket.
He always wanted to see how it felt to be a megatherium of business, unfettered to make and supply freely as much blood as needed for poor, needy people and little girls like his late sister, Mara. But he wasn't sure if he had what it took. Clearly, though, all one needed was a dab of cheek and a spot of hypnotic power at his touch. Everything else then just couldn't help coming your way.
The board members will be the true challenge, Hagevic thought, after Ms. Chung had left.
"Into the maelstrom!" he hollered, and quailed at his own sound.
It was noon, the sun out of view, and the polarized showcase window clear. Marcus's empire was spread before Hagevic's eyes. He'd have to call upon more compelling reserves than the single die for the Board.
There was a knock at the door.
A meek Ms. Chung peeked in. She bowed, then lowered her bone-rimmed glasses with their thick, round silver lenses. The secretary's rare irises gave forth a brilliant show of light to rival that of the hypnotic cube.
Hagevic quickly looked away --
But not quick enough.
Ms. Chung was careful not to look directly into the bar's inlaid looking glass on her left as she refitted the eyeglasses. At times like these, she thought, a mirror could prove to be a woman's worse enemy.
"The saddest part of all this business, Mr. Hagevic," Ms. Chung said, leading the catatonic man slowly out from behind Marcus's massive desk, "is not recognizing your competition and not inquiring why one needs to wear thick, silvered glasses inside this glare-free building. The die, Mr. Hagevic, can often be perfect, but not miraculous or quicker than the naked eye, as Confucius might have put it."
Men in My Life
I was a scorned Maureen O'Hara. Dripping, with umbrella under arm, I sloshed out of the elevator. The flush on my cheeks must have palled my rusty mop. I doffed the plastic hood and marched across to my apartment door, fumbled at first, but managed to insert the key in the lock and turn it. Then I caught a glimpse of motion from farther down the hallway.
Drenched, with black hair pasted on forehead, he stood, looking at me. I saw indecision in the eyes so, before he scrammed, I jostled the door open.
I held my breath, and beckoned him inside.
He approached like a wet pup, entered, looked at the wet trailings behind, and up at me.
"Don't worry." I exhaled and helped him out of the dripping windbreaker. "Dry yourself, in there," I pointed to the toilet. I hustled to the bedroom for a robe. The tempest in me was giving way to anxiety.
The antiquated clock on the plastic coffee table began to chime when I returned. It was midnight. I hung the terry cloth robe on the handle of the bathroom door and I plopped on the sofa drained from this day.
His mother will be worried out of her mind, I fretted. I'd have to get Stavro home tonight. Somehow.
Phil, Michael, Niko, and now Stavro. The men in my life.
Others? A few.
John Hanshaw, a junior in the liberal arts college, both of us caught an a whirlpool of post-adolescent passion.
And Ed McCreddy, with thick wavy blond hair, came to replace John when Hanshaw turned to a crow-haired, buxom graduate--two years his senior.
Ed had been wrapping up pre-med and I my freshman year. He was the smartest person I had known. He had more stored in his brain about nineteenth century English prose, I swear, than Professor Litton, my cocky instructor on the subject.
Ed had borrowed my lit text and returned it a week later. He claimed that he had read it all, 1324 pages. His comments, "A dastardly abridged job, Loanne, and the footnotes stink."
I had shaken Ed off before burning out completely. He was an insomniac and an ardent disciple of the Kama Sutra.
Three others had followed before I met Michael. But they were of the every day, run-o-the-mill stock. After Ed, I did not mind.
Michael's debut into my life had been at a Columbia University Foreign Students' Union dance.
I commuted to school every day from Norwalk on the New Haven Railroad. An hour's comfortable ride to be dropped off in the heart of Harlem to catch the local subway which took me to my graduate classes. My field of concentration had been EFL/ESL, teaching English to foreign students.
The rococo '60s were nearing a jarring end. I, twenty-three then (how time flies). The King sang "Being in Love with You". The din of the crowded lounge favored a cross section of the UN.
A tap on my shoulder, I turn--
"Where have you been all my life!"
Tall, light brown hair, hazel-green eyes, and a dimple on his right cheek below an oval dark birthmark. He smiles all the while and the dimple remains etched there.
"Take my hand, Take my whole life too..." he sings too in a velvety baritone voice extending his hand to me.
I take it. It's firm and warm around my own.
We dance, and dance...and dance.
People, sounds and things began to dissolve away, somewhere in the distance, a piece at a time. Till only Michael and I remained--floating, shimmying, gyrating.
An eternity later, he took me to his place, an apartment on 121st Street. He made love to me entirely and tenderly through the night, and before morning, I had discovered that Michael Karras from Athens and I were indisputably in love.
He had been attentive, conferring and romantic.
His English was irreproachable down to the accent. He used his Yale diction with confidence and demure. His undergraduate work at Yale had earned him that, plus a degree in engineering. He switched to Business Management and Columbia two years later, after realizing that technology and New England were stymieing him with their narrowness and rigid perspective. He believed himself a liberal and as such needed elbow room and deftly-applied egalitarianism to flex his stifling yuppie muscles. He ventured to search for both in New York City, where I had met him, two years later married him, and wended my life onto a different track, Michael's.
California in the '70s proffered new horizons, vanguarding where the City waded behind. High-tech and business was the dynamic combination, and Silicon Valley cleared brave new paths for corporate temperaments on their way to solid-state Valhalla, Inc.
Meanwhile, things in my life were nudged aside. Each year came, ripened, and passed. And I had let the spring of my life while away, resigned to the fact that what I loved most, and truly wanted, I could never have.
But irony made concessions.
It was a kind of magic.
When I entered the classroom the world outside shut off. The basement of my brain levitated and expanded. Things couldn't go wrong. Things didn't.
It was a tug-o-war: The students yanked to extract knowledge out of me, I in turn pulled and lugged to elicit from them its accurate use. They would test me, sometimes ruthlessly, on minute grammatical points.
"Why plain and not full infinitive, Ms. McClorry?"
"After what words can we use both gerund and infinitive, Ms. McClorry?"
I would explain, and quickly sortie challenging them for examples. They would respond with, quivering hands--all wanting to be favoured first--and I'd point, listen, point swiftly to one, and the other, then another, till both sides, overcome by exhilaration, would break out into booming laughter and enthusiastic commentary. The miracle by then had already taken place. They had learned.
There were times though when the experience was unnerving and no way to explain certain words or expressions. The class would get restless; I'd lose them and become disappointed in myself and I'd wish that they had spent some of their taffy-chewing, liquorice-sucking years in Norwalk, Conn. of the U.S.A. They'd know then what squirrel was and how acorns felt to the touch, whiff the pungent fragrance of dried and wet leaves burning in autumn below towering oaks with rainbows for foliage. They'd savour the crisp, pristine scent of coming spring, listen to the robbin call and the chirrup of the bluejay, and almost hear the rich grass growing. Audiovisual aids simply could not do as much.
The bell signalled the end of the school day. I shrugged. Squirrel and acorn can wait their turn to be discovered, after infinitive and gerund, I had decided earlier that evening, and looked at more shards in my life.
When we had moved to California Michael and I had a logical discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of an abortion. He had drawn up a sheet with the pros and cons listed separately on it. The pros won. He died eighteen years later with cancer of the lymphoid glands, and I could not conceive any more babies.
To my surprise, there hadn't been much pain then on either side. He got weaker by the week, and I stronger.
I was by him that night three years ago when he asked for yogurt. I passed two shallow spoonfuls into his mouth. He swallowed, rested his head on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. He didn't rave or moan or whimper. He just never stopped staring at the off-white ceiling.
I couldn't imagine death so simple. There was no ceremony or melodrama, only a person that had just then died.
Since Michael's passing away I drilled in keeping busy. I found old friends, stopped smoking, and started reading again. There was an amalgam of thoughts and emotions bottle-necking inside.
Things like notions about getting helplessly caught in the gears of propriety, and being unable to control any longer your choices. Was that the reason Michael had died? Had he lost track, somewhere along the way, of his priorities? Atrophied his alternatives? Was he sucked up by a depleted ego, empty because the preoccupations of parenthood were not there?
And where was I to buttress him all the while it was transpiring? Had he wanted a divorce all along and didn't say so? Was my inaction what ate him up?
I'll never know.
More of me listened to Alison, Trudy and Beth than contributed. I wanted to end my mourning, rejoin the crowd and belong. I sought acceptance for what I was, a woman who had recently lost her husband and could not have children.
I'm sore, I admitted to myself, and stick out like a sore thumb. I can't live down my attitude, live up to my role, and make best with a past that's gone.
Yet, with each day that passed, I wished a sort of confrontation. Someone to go in there, unmask the throbbing gash and lay the grief open. But all, Beth even, widowed two years, fell back with the others. "Loanne," she had said, "it'll drive you up the wall if you let it. Now's the time to do the hardest thing: what you always wanted to, but couldn't."
So, I severed my ties, did not touch a cigarette, and developed a good size library. The books had told me that Clearmont, California was only a tiny piece of the world.
Athens had just about the climate of Clearemont, but not so desert-like. The quakes were fewer, and the seas less restless. Aegean shores, sky and water fringed my Attica enclave.
I realized as I attempted to sift my emotions into a semblance of ordered thoughts, and prepared to leave school that evening that my silent onlooker standing by the door had no intention of leaving.
I brightened, "Stavro."
The boy came up to my shoulders. Skinny but no push-over. Some of the others in his class towered a good foot, and more, over him. When provoked he'd start swinging first and then look, usually up, at his contender.
But overriding the I'm-no-soft-touch demeanor was a quality, nesting where it was well protected: a sensitivity which, finding no response, was mutating into discontent and aggression. The chestnut pools of his eyes were perpetually ruffled by a look of distress and chagrin. When I had approached him for the first time he sensed, as children can do, my own malaise and taken to me.
Between sessions he would often come early to class, as he came today, approach while I put the assignment on the board, and coyly stand near by. I'd smile and show pleased at his company. He'd grin a little, pretend to wait for me to finish, and when the other kids started coming, stroll to his desk and sit.
"Today we'll read a poem. This poem speaks about courage and hope. It is about people who, through struggle and faith, achieve their very own, seemingly impossible, dreams. Dreams that appear to us, at first sight, difficult to hold on to as soap-bubbles and quicksilver..."
"What can I do for you, Stavro?" my attention returned to the waiting boy.
He faltered, "I lost it."
I got up, walked to him, and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "What did you lose?"
Minding around for others, "The paper with the poem."
"Have you now?"
He delivered a single nod. Stavro was not one for speaking much, his eyes told all.
"Next session I'll have a copy for you," I managed to put in before he made a little bow with his head, about faced, and scooted out of the office.
`My kids' were graduating in June. It was already the end of March. Soon, I would have to relinquish my flock from the auspices of my wing. Kids I taught and parented for three years, I would not look upon again, never to chide or commend, reprove or praise, soar jubilantly to magiclands of learning or pluck pensively at the subtle verse of Cushing.
Being a private enterprise, the language school had to maintain a high academic standard and enrolment. Whereas in a public school attendance was compulsory, independent of teacher and curriculum quality, here it was competitive. A dissatisfied parent could withdraw his child at any time.
Thus, Loanna McClorry (along with my new life) was tentatively initiated into the earthy and onerous nature of enterprising academia.
"Our institution lies between Scilla and Charibdis, Ms McClorry," Niko had said, standing over a cluttered rose-wood desk at my time of interview, three years before.
He was a tall, graceful man with unsettled eyes and eternally a lit cigarette between his fingers. His manner was refined and proud, taking infinite pains not to offend.
"Our students must be taught discipline softly. English, French, Italian, etc., is of secondary role, Ms McClorry. We have to keep our students here, in the school, then teach them the language of their choosing. It is our primary job therefore, to mould the young people into participants, do it by entertaining, enchanting--captivating them."
When he spoke he looked into me, not at me. I had to really dig my nail into my palm to severe the spell. The tenure of the textured low tone, the overlaying raspiness of a chain-smoker's voice, the exacting Swiss-precision of intonation and speckles Queen's-English inflection vaunted contention with the best of Shakespearean champions. He wasn't merely speaking, he was orating from his heart of hearts. And I loved every second.
Stavro gone, I retrieved my gabardine and walked down the long corridor for the main lobby. As usual, clusters of children, tiny tidy ones to tall tousled-hair ones, engulfed me in their passing, smiling and waiving or plodding and moping around with no visible acknowledgement of my presence, vacuum and unresolve on their adolescent faces. My heart flitted. I forced myself to loosen up. Teaching would wear me down to the bone by day's end. I would forget all else during sessions. Fifteen to twenty-five souls often hung from my lips, my next articulation, gesture, the light in my eye.
"Precious babes..." suddenly I was overwhelmed.
I donned a transparent plastic hood over dense and ample red hair and walked out of Zaphyriou Language School into a rainy, cool night.
The letters from Phil made an effort to be informative and customary. First, he wrote the details and chit-chat about his recent divorce, and about mother and friends. Then, my brother touched the subject of being concerned and questioned my motives for absconding myself to live and work halfway around the world.
"Couldn't you have chosen," he wrote, "a closer place, like Mexico or Canada? There, at least, we could visit you."
Yeah, I nodded, like that one, and only, time you came to visit Michael at the hospital--in the nine months he'd been sick, once you stood by my side.
In his own way my brother wanted to remind me how I had abandoned him for a second time.
Phil's coming to the world seemed to be one: to inhibit my life and sap on the last of my strength. In our youth, having been nearer his age, I could identify more readily with his puerile fears and whimsies.
We had shared the second bedroom, our beds were side-by-side. He would reach across and seek my hand to hold his own till late deep night. My appendage would grow numb from inactivity and the twisted position. But alas, my slightest movement would prompt Phil to cling to me even more.
"I'm not going anywhere, Phil," I would whisper.
He'd make inarticulate sounds and return to slumberland.
Awake, with eyes open in the dark, I would fantasize what our lives would have been like had father lived on.
Joe McLorry had been tall and lean with curly light-brown hair. My favourite pass time was to play with the curls. I'd pull them to the side, let go and watch them bound back like little watch springs. His eyes, amidst brown and gold freckles, would squint and smile then. Phil's eyes were flecked like that. But Phil's were not smiling eyes. They were round and wounded. My mother's. I had my father's look and his thin sinewy body.
Phil was three years my younger. When he was in kindergarten I would often be called from my classroom to go to his because he wouldn't stop crying. When he'd see me coming he'd rush to me. With smeared tears and runny nose he'd implore, "Let's leave Annie--I want to go home!"
I empathized with my brother, sought to soothe him disregarding my own ache. The construction accident had left us paternal orphans. Phil was the surviving male of the family and was attended by both of us. Now he was the man in the family, the only male McLorry. Nothing must hurt him.
"Loanne," my mother, garbed in black, said, "I missed looking after your father. It won't be the same with Phil, and I want your help."
I became a second mother. I put aside my own grief to embrace my mother's and immersed myself in Phil's upbringing.
I looked after him at school. Woke him in the mornings, helped him dress and taught him how to button up his shirt without leaving extra holes or buttons. I supervised his washing up and would make sure he aimed truly at the toilet. I'd serve our breakfast while our mother fixed herself up for work. Tidy up our room quickly, put the dished in the sink, wipe the table clean, and hold his hand at night when sleep brought with it goblins and horrors.
The years passed slowly with my chores being ample. Phil grew to be eight, ten, fourteen.
"Loanne, Phil'll be sleeping on the living-room sofa," my mom told me one morning, "and you'll be locking your door nights. Your brother has taken to walking in his sleep--and he's at that age...."
But Phil had not. He resented it. He made me feel guilty at every chance he got. And I could never bring myself to explain to him why we had had to separate.
When I arrived home that night, I found Phil's letter and, slipped under my door, a note.
"Please come," the note said, "Alcyone at eleven tonight. It is important that I speak to you and I haven't been able to reach you by phone."
The signature was Niko's.
Nicholaos Zaphiriou was a competent administrator not by formal training but through insight and good sense. The first law with working with people, particularly children, was an active knowledge of the underlying psychology, the kind forged by thirty years exposure to the soul-bearing travail of classroom teaching. He had not simply survived it, he had cultivated upon it.
"They are our little hopes, Loanne." We had been lying side-by-side in my bedroom, at the end of my first school year. "I see more to these young, wound up people than just cute by-products of wedlock. They are our singular future. I look at teaching as the opportunity to have a say in that. Teach them about our mistakes. Make them aware civilization cannot endure another round of the same."
He was a concerned lover and a gentleman. As some put their faith in politics or technology, Nick placed his on the young, rallied on their dreams and imagination.
As I got to know him better, I compared him to Michael. Michael was quiet when it came to the subject of children. The aim in his life had been the day-to-day present and its avail to outwit the competitor, witness his withdrawal or demise, and gain from it.
Nick, on the other hand, had hit upon a harmony in elements. He apprized his business, but parallel, undertook to sculpt character and inculcate reforms. Where Michael would ignore, perhaps even slight, this kind of challenge, Nick would involve himself in it.
I began once more in my life to evolve. Although in my forties, I was surprised again at the power of influence an affair can have. I needed to revive principles that I had, at some point, put aside to replace with Michael's own. Surprised at being aspired to Niko's time-honoured, tested axioms. Axioms which sought to brake the rat-race enough to think choices through instead of sublimately react to them.
"I did not marry because," Niko said, "I could not serve two mistresses." So he chose the children.
"Fifteen thousand have graduated since I opened my school. Enough to populate a small city. With most of my pupils I have spent six or more years. What do you think of this investment? Every time they utter a snipped in English, French and German they will recall, too, the other things."
I knew what `other things'. Respect to self, honour to parents, loyalty to a friend, and trust in dreams.
"A child must have dreams, otherwise it does not grow up, it withers, Loanne."
"And we, Niko, who give love and dreams unreservedly--what remains for us?"
"The comfort," he replied.
"The comfort?" I asked the man in my bed.
"Yes. The comfort of knowledge: to fear less because you know more."
He had turned and faced me. "We have reserves, Loanne. What we give is surplus that weighs us down. We are teachers because we love best giving little bits of ourselves."
I blinked twice, the rendezvous with Niko.
My watch had said ten-thirty.
The shower was quick, but it revitalized me, lifting some of the day's fatigue. It took seven more minutes to fix my face. I slipped into a dark beige overalls suit, threw the black gabardine over my shoulders, and grabbed an umbrella. It was ten-fifty. I scuttled.
Niko rose when I came to his table. He seemed to me a might unsteady, but it could have been my imagination. The silver rimmed glasses he wore were deceiving. There was too much reflection from the small chandelier just over them.
I couldn't puzzle out what this was all about. Alcyone cafe was a regular for the school staff, two blocks away. Friday nights we would gather there, compare notes and chat on the week that past. Tonight, a Tuesday, I saw none of the familiar crew. Across from me a man I had made love with dozens of times, and just might be beginning to love, sat.
"Please, what will you have?" he spoke, his tone dithered.
"Coffee," I told the waiter, "milk, no sugar."
"You have Stavro in one of your classes, Stavro Vergis?"
"Nothing serious, I don't think. He ran away. His mother called the school." He took a sip of his wine. "You expected something wrong?"
"I don't know," I tried to assimilate what had just been told to me. "He was an unhappy child. I tried to see why--"
"It is the reason I wanted to see you. The sooner the better."
"You did right, but what can I do?"
"Loanne, the boy had spoken of you often to his mother. He thinks highly of you. A boy his age may even be infatuated with his teacher." His face from sombre relaxed, "I know I am," he put in, all too unexpectedly, and my heart flittered a second time that day.
"Stavro's father, it seems, got restless..." he paused mid-sentence, and I thought: that's all you are, Niko, infatuated. And we both know it. "...the boy may try to contact you, his mother seems to expect."
"I see," I managed. Then, "It's a nice thing you've said, Niko--you know, the other thing."
The downpour did not let down. I made my way back to the apartment. The black asphalt of the night streets danced glimmering to the down beat rhythm of the rain. There were passers-by scampering through the torrent.
"Restless," I heard myself scoff and splashed vehemently into a puddle. Sophistication be damned--the father got itchy soles, upped and beat feet. Stavro's old man, his idol, simply left home, at break of dawn, a year ago, because he got tired of it all. The thought enraged me, and even the wet cold didn't prevent my damp face from flaring. Stavro worshipped him, and the sonofabitch traded him in for another woman. How can people do it? To children!
I blinked and the past fell away, back to where it had come from.
Stavros stood in front of me wrapped up in the mauve terry cloth bathrobe, several sizes too big for his petite build. His hair was neatly combed and the look of a clean and manageable little young man was upon him once again. My gaze and a rueful smile lingered on him.
He beamed at me. I saw acknowledgment there.
I would trade them all. All the men in my bleak, sodden life for this boy, this child, who wandered soggy and gloomy streets of night to find me. Would forfeit--had I any--Byzantium treasure troves to have him as my own.
Instead, I said, "Do you remember the poem, Stavro?"
He furrowed an eye. "`Don't Quit'."
"Do you want to quit loving people because something came in the way?"
He stared. Smile diminishing.
"Your mom needs you now, more than ever. Do you want to quit on her, Stavro?"
He said nothing, but looked at the phone.
He walked to it, picked up the headpiece and began to dial. "I love you too, Ms McLorry," his voice was bearly audible.
I knew he meant it. "I love you too, Stavros," I said, and it made my day.
In Arms We Trust, a Fragment of a novel
Part 1 The Marathon Gene: The Undying Flame in The Quality of Grace
It is not because other people are dead
that our affection for them grows faint,
it is because we ourself are dying.
[Partial information was given to me by the people themselves. The rest was acquired from the archives of the hedron, the damaged facet of what remains of the second Hexahedron, of Starseed, as it calls itself. The montage of what follows is mine. P.P.]
A cozy new world.
Unite to obliterate identity.
The irony made Chickbrow quiver in his e-car seat.
The mockery charred and chipped away at his innermost tenets. But the promoters of all that went wrong with the world had not the vision. They had not the heart and virtue freedom needs to breathe and be. So, they choked freedom. Smothered it under the guise of 'planetary civism'. Their brave new children attempted what wise men dread:
Utopia through unilateral information dominance promoted by dogma and arms, drugs and computer bondage.
The new order of things to come was to be a supranational, an incorporate Earth, run not by communism or capitalism, but by the I-Soldier.
The by-product? A form of totalitarianism that would have stunned Orwell. Chickbrow had mastered well the crumbling volume on his shelves. Given to him by his grandfather Cleon.
Chickbrow had not neglected any of the other's words.
"There must be an antipode ... " the old man had told him, back then in the thirties.
Chickbrow was still in his teens then.
"It's the pivotal point of any kind of Democracy. There have to be either bona fide opposing political parties, or nations -- at least a bilateral model. Communism may have posed a threat to us after the second great war, but as well had been a check and balance on our Democratic system: what Democracy needs in order to be healthy and workable.
"When the Soviet Union collapsed, and China adopted the Chart of Provisional Free Enterprise, the West fell in the very selfsame rut a score of others had fallen throughout history.
"No controversy or opposition.
"Smugness, conceit, coquetry and self adoration.
"I just call it being spoiled stupid. Democracy, David Chickbrow, has to have tough and durable debate to survive. None of that patronizing and humoring, superciliously cute and 'darling' stuff between Republicans and Democrats -- two sides of the same dollar.
"No ability, or margin, breathing space, to adapt to.
"A lot of agreeing and splendoring in profusions of endearments may be fine for erotic escapades, sweethearts, heartthrobs and sweet old ladies -- but for Democracy ... they decay it. Spoil it.
"It happens to countries just as easily as it does to people. To young or old nations. Particularly to ones that have never felt the stomp of a conqueror's boot on their native soil. Have not endured defeat. Not suffered humility in a long, long time. So, forgot what it's like. Vanity, like that in a Congress of aristocracy and a Senate of gentry, or an Executive branch of an unchecked and self-appointed oligarchy, is a flaw easy to detect, but ornery as hell to rectify. Because it suits the handful who governs. Sweetens their palate. And theyll fight with rabid fury any and all change threatening their post.
"Power is never easy to step down from, David. But in the history of mankind there has never, never, been enlightenment in power. Never has -- a smidgen even of -- good come out of it. Except a dominion's own degeneration. Its fall from within itself -- like the dominion of dinosaurs."
The Sachem, what they used to call grandpa -- a Ph.D. in Social Science and an Assistant Professorship at Harvard Government School seemed as good testimonial as any -- taught one thing and lived another. He had done this to survive the anachronistic despotism that somehow crept in and managed to rule unchallenged over half of the world for nearly half a century.
The wealthy half.
"Before it had become through-and-through ripe," the old man had told him, "and impose itself by force in 2020, tyranny had been noiselessly but resolutely slithering like a pit viper closing in. Oppression had been smoldering like smokeless coal before the flash of kindling for more than a full twenty years.
"And when the tinder burst to flame, the utopia of a 'new world order of things' turned into a world incubus. Abreast of the rise of the three camps: internationalism, nationalism and fundamentalism came the threat of international gray zones where law had no effect, nationally or otherwise. Here, David, globallized organized crime burgeoned in the form of economical, defense-hysteria, mass-media, Mafia, drug-digital, nuclear, biochemical terrorism."
Chickbrow's grandfather in all modesty was set on besetting his damage over the greatest number of top honchos over the longest period. He was part Hammurabi, part Confucius and Alexander, a Che and a Nathan Hale. But most of all he was true American. To the marrow, a Brave.
"Babylon, Persia, Rome were not brought to their knees by conquerors from outside. They were vanquished, devastated, from within their own stockades. First by narcissism and self-induced conspiracy, then by biting off more than they could chew. By sheer snow-balling. Through an avalanche of their own over-confidence. Soviet communism lasted a little over seventy years, Yankee capitalism almost two-hundred-and-fifty... "
The third millennium, Chickbrow reflected, was going to be full of surprises. His own removal from the space team had been one. And racism had everything to do with it. Contempt for minorities had been another. It seemed there are cycles in history in which some form of intolerance prevails speechlessly under a benign guise. The circumstances, in this century as well as the previous one, were favoring the stooped-head, the post-Hi-Tech informer, the corporate yes-man, the company infiltrator.
Definitely not the redman. The few of his kind that were left.
"Where am I?" she asked. She could not suppress a shiver. Her heart fluttered wildly.
She was not present, yet she was not elsewhere or totally unaware. Reaching out with a tendril of thought she merely perceived eruptions and flashes of what seemed to be a tunnel of beaten gold. It shone intermittently in alternation with deep expulsions. Prismatic needles of tincture emanated from the labyrinthine cavern and from a carved, melanite-embroidered, crystalline fissure up ahead. An enormity of space was ahead and beyond. It swirled in buffed-sable and russet-scarlet. A vortex generated of dancing lusters ... of wizardry, was swallowing her. Her stomach lurched.
She took a quick glimpse behind her, down the tunnel. She felt her chest constrict. I must survive, she thought. She had to learn a great deal about light, strength and wisdom. About Godly things, too.
She purled along.
She surveyed for the mode of her displacement. The principle behind it. No bearing. No point of reference. No air stirred by. No resistance or drift, only a silent disengagement, then a discharge, a release through a milieu she could not relate to or identify. The tunnel was uninterrupted and invariant, slanting every-which-way ... and there was this smell. She sniffed, acrid and sweet, stale too ... the smell of old suns and mutated nebulas, all in vast, spanning reaches.
Her nostrils felt dry, her muscles taut; she thought her forehead burned with hot sweat; and her brain cringed in strokes of insane conjectures.
Although her senses worked, her being did not possess form, but was part of one -- no, two, and more -- of many, many tinklings drifting towards and encircling her, hues wandering and opening like blooming buds, scintillating softly-singing glimmers right at the edge of this fracturing night. They were as one and difficult to separate. One of her eyebrows she imagined rose as if in response, a queer gesture in a study of rapture and despair.
Among the bursts of movement, of star-glow, she glimpsed something enormous and motionless. A deep stupendousness of no edges. A volume. Glowing patterns circuited to and from it.
She drew herself together obediently and became still as a helplessly poised animal. She then shrunk into a distilled point.
"Who am I?" she asked. And knew that instant.
He raised the Vessel over his head whispering prayers. When he opened his eyes he saw the ball of brightness. A fist of radiance that seeped through the domed ceiling of his church as though it were absent and streamed down to the gold Hallow Chalice he held. His hands trembled as the Vessel commenced to glow from within. It flooded his church with thick silver light.
"My Lord -- "
He shuddered, let go, and recoiled. The Chalice remained. The light changed to molten gold, welled over the Vessel's lip, and trickled onto the Altar below, to the floor. And the light rose from its knees.
"A message," it said. "Come. The Bond of the Covenant is Opened!"
Then in a more distant but clear voice, "'For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under Grace.'"
The Vessel hovered in clear, empty air.
"Miracle! A Miracle!" the congregation echoed and ...
... awoke Lukas with a start.
The sheets were wet and salty from his sweat.
In retrospect to Father Lukas Mettropoulos's dream that night, more than a quarter of a century before -- and a quarter of the way around the world -- a similar lamentous Holly Mass and thrum of chanting were just reaching an apotheosis.
[As recorded from the opening of the archives of Starseed. P.P.]
The Book of Peace
Pandect of Concord, Proviso of Intendments.
Intendment 1: Faith, Love and Virtue are chaotic pockets. They pose paradoxes, of counter- or non-entropic, direction-giving configurations common to civilization-forming processes as are Dreams, Hopes, and Visions. Whosoever directly or indirectly conduces, or in any mode, plan, or method, endorses the uninstituted and impending encroachment upon these six pinnacles, as well as the eminence of Grace, shall be expelled and ostracized, in the isolation rendered by temporal tributaries, for the period commensurate to the degree of the abuse. Furthermore, the above Distinctions of Trust shall be shielded by the prudent Ward of Reason we call Olympion [The Head Chair on the Primary Planet, Olympus, in the Sirius group colonized by Orion migrants. P.P.], and not be ranked second in priority to that of opportunism or any aspect thereof -- no matter the encumbrance.
Intendment 2: It is further intended, to encourage peace in our Galaxy, that we now acknowledge the existence, but control as well, of the Intrinsic Power-Calling from within us for actions of armed antagonism, behavior of lethal aggression, and other varied manner of injurious and harmful hostility. These wanton but inevasible and primordial reserves of entropic assertion shall not be allowed to trample on our or on others' rights and liberties, but be given vent by the re-establishment of the archaic, but noble and incorrupt, competitions of the Olympus planetary system: The source-cell of enlightenment throughout our Galaxy, and further. This Calling of Primitive Ambition and Dare shall be thus re-directed and shall abide by the Regulations of The Games, leading to zero-claim and non-destruction of opponent's/competitor's persona, world, or planetary system. Contrarily, it shall be conducted in such a way as to honor, above all, the value, dignity and the inalienable benefits of peace for all of Life. The Games of The Power Triad, Business-Politics-Religion, referred simply as The Civil Games, in contrast to The Athletic Games, shall be molded and modeled after the contests of the Archaic Olympiads, the original twelve civilization-bearing, civilization-casting worlds (Zeus, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo...) had attained to consummate under the fountainhead guidance of the Olympion of Olympus. These Games shall have the Golden Spiral of The Galaxy, in contrast to The Golden Wreath of Laurel for sports events, as the highest distinction of honor. Fair play shall prevail -- as all two hundred million worlds have partaken to uphold and respect -- and this shall be regarded as the summit for, and of: survival through variance, cooperation through growth, and coexistence through communication, all instituted peaceably in good will and faith and in efforts to encompassing all Galactic civilizations.
[Thirty years before, 2022. P.P.]
... Steamy incense, burning candles, and the scent of olive oil wafted viscously in the chapel's atmosphere, billowing like blue gossamer over bowed heads. The baritone voice of the leading chanter attained a crescendo. Three measures later the bowed heads cut into the somber solo in compressed resonance and the twilight of dusk trembled on the stained window-panes.
Through an old, rusty grate under the chapel's Alter, the subsonics of the hymn spilled into the hollow earth. Several among the innumerable cavitous spaces below and nearest the reciting source acted as resound chambers interfering constructively to effectively amplify the flurry of the voices into a swelling booming tumult. Like thunder, it roared, racing at the speed of sound through kilometer upon kilometer of passages within the bowels of empty mountain-core ...
Above, the thick smells hung vaporously in the air and permeated throughout. The solemn counterpoint rose from antiquity's end to console, like a clement blanket of faith, the Mount of Holiness: A grand city of twenty monasteries spread upon a peninsula all of its own.
Compliant to time, it propagated life and faith of a thousand years tranquilly and traditionally into the twenty-first century. The Holly Mountain ran its length amidst the most fertile and green of the three Hellenic peninsulas of Macedonia like the backbone of a supplicating Titan.
As the chorus of celibates to the right of the iconostasis faded, that to the left strengthened. A somber and imposing requiem reverberated throughout this Fidei Defensor of Orthodoxy. A forte of hallelujahs thundered amidst isolated, towering monasteries echoing over and covering this untresspassed, autonomous territory of northern Hellas. Thirty square miles of holy land resounded in psalms.
No human or domestic animal of feminine gender had stepped upon the sacred soil. Here, the Holly Mary and a handful of saintesses were the only depictions of, and references to, the female sex.
On these premises male monks did all chores, from mending to cooking, cobbling and cleaning house to washing clothes and conveying to new generations the Divine Ceremonials and Arts of the Church. No one was simply a monk; everyone contributed a functional and necessary allotment of work each day. And when the daily tasks and jobs were complete, praying and services commenced. Hard, rigorous, exhausting dedication. Enough to suffice and atone for the sins of man.
The treasures of this Holiest of Mountains came in many forms: wood-carvings of intricate and delicate designs, ornate prayer stands, liturgical crosses, Episcopal thrones, lecterns and chests. Along with the paintings, carvings and the libraries of parchment, silk and paper manuscripts of the Holly City, precious reliquaries were kept in the sanctuaries. Also, numerous liturgical vestments of exquisite hand-woven and gold-embroidered craftsmanship were preserved. Amidst this wealth of arts and sanctity one could not help but wonder what more had been watched over?
The oldest among the monasteries, Xenophontos and Lavra, over a millennium in age, were ones endued with gravest respect and most reverend cognizance. They were the heart of the Faith. Beneath their grandeur of buildings and halls of old wealth and immaculate decor existed a maze of catacombs and vaults. They hid and protected the fortunes of the vanquished Byzantium. Within the Earth's crust lived still the legacy and mythical treasures of an empire, maintained by secrecy and observance. Only few knew of its whereabouts, of its incredible presence. Fewer still experienced themselves its revelation.
Yet, while the Services inundated above, treachery preponderated below.
The confidant of the bishop's council froze in his tracks at the din. Then dismissed it with the waving of a hand. The maverick look in the red-rimmed brown eyes now shifted into a waxing skittishness. His gait quickened while the storm-lamp in his right hand threw a tottering giant's shadow on the dank dirt walls after him.
"Down there. Go!" he urged himself.
His hawkish nose almost ensnared the frayed piece of marked cloth he had been grasping in his left hand. His eyes darted back and forth from it to the forking of the tunnel not far ahead.
"To the right, monk -- the Lord is always to the right, muddled monk," he hissed, and broke out into a braying, raw laughter.
The renegade confidant took it upon himself to abscond with a mere speck of the subterranean acres of gold, silver, precious stones, icons; with a mere drop from a venerated sea of preserve of the richest dynasty in the history of mankind. But when he confronted cavern upon cavern of innumerable kingly ransoms of the purest, biggest, rarest jewels; a legacy of the finest etched and embellished cutlery and crockery, artifacts and weaponry; the regal treasure troves of forty-five generations of emperors, royal courts and their heirlooms -- the covetous monk was simply overwhelmed.
As madness saturated and delirious by the opulence surrounding him the raw-boned driven man now ventured into a far cavern, uncharted as many were not, and seeking refuge within its bowels confronted a vista no man everbefore beheld. Into a thicket of monumental abnormalities and agonizing irregularities, of violating symetrical perfections and aberrations commiserate to a starting pupil of Chinese, who must disentangle ideograms by the handfuls.
In a frenzy to escape Nemesis he had encroached upon what paranoia must have construed to him to be the very kingdom of Heaven -- or Hell.
Tears of terror and anguish swelled in his red-rimmed eyes, mouth drooled and nostrils flared, and his throat pained from uncontrollable contractions brought on by excruciating efforts to let out a scream.
When his sight grew fully accustomed to the thin pink light and delicate beams that dimly emanated from everywhere and nowhere -- augmented by giant fountains and geysers of pulsing violet -- the deep yellow glows and intermittent flashes of diamond-burst brilliance before him, he finally reckoned that he no longer stood in man-made tunnels.
About him spanned a space not unlike the outside. And this vastness had above it a sky -- studded with the heavenly bodies of night -- but alive and stirring, flecks and speckles that left in their course rainbows and motion and soft scintillating tinkling sing-song echoes. He looked upon this expanse, and before his mind went into utter shock, he glimpsed upon towering solid contours: of pyramids and spheres, upon an inner city of polygons and polyhedrons -- and in front of him a glow that was a woman.
A distant almost familiar drone thrummed on as he lingered there dazed.
Catatonic, the intruder, lumberingly, turned about and exited. As he did, behind him materialized a solid rock wall, eradicating any indication of an entry way ever being present.
[From the archives of Starseed supported by the decoding of Linear A, the Disk of Phaestos and the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. P.P.]
... On a bizarre vast edge between two voids, one of the Universe the other of the indefinable Erebus beyond, Residua of Essence spin in felicity, counter-spin in enchantment and unfold progressively more pronounced. They intently and enthusiastically shift back and forth -- among their supplementary domiciles and rivulets of edifice-plasma -- uniquanta of knowledge, insight and lore.
It took them only a small fraction of a hyposec to assimilate the new and utterly unexpected bit of data of information inflowing through the elliptical space-time curvatures that furrow the vacuum of the eleven dimensions available to them.
But they greet and accept with loving eagerness the embrace of the extraordinary and magnificent experience of the joining of life -- a new and most integral 'being' -- to them once more. They and the flowing edge complete the vortex, the revolving sphere-shell, Front of Creation which, along with its angular motion, has been traveling radially outward at the speed of light since its inception. It would have taken the Front of Creation, at its current curvature of largeness and speed of rotation, thirty-seven billion years to achieve a single circuit about the blue glowing hub, the core that is the sweeping blister of the Universe.
The multitudes Residua of Essence would have in effect been termed souls, till of this late happening, this instillment of joyous hearkening, when a passage of a ripple of force imbued itself within them bridging the domain of spirit- and faith-essence to that of energy, form and matter of the Universe Proper, entelecheia your Aristotle calls it. And that which had once been invisible and immaterial, but aware, aethereal ambiance began slowly to acquire the prominence and salience of its kind and shape, that is, its former nature ...
... In the very start, the first color shifts had been detected by our equatorial astronomers at a distance a hundred-fold beyond that of your Virgo constellation and that of Vereniki. They had been in the form of a traveling peripheral ripple heading toward neighboring galaxies omni-directionally -- a vast sphere shrinking back onto its source. Back to the very asymptotic, geometricalless and temporal source of Creation. The color of the stars this ruffling undulation had been leaving in its wake was an almost stand-still pinkish-white brilliance in the spectrum shift. It not only showed that the Universe had completely and unexpectedly begun to slow its expanding, but, by further observation and straight forward calculation, it was discovered that it had begun doing so for an extensive time. The steady rate of expansion, which for thousands of millennia had served as a heat sink, had ceased long-long ago ...
[What analysis did not show, however, until later, was that the edge of the Universe, the Front of Creation, had initiated the awesome operation of braking four billion years back. P.P.]
... Unthinkable quantities of trapped force [Starseed goes on] were been introverted; reconciled and re-conducted in a spontaneous manner counter to the original path of their impetus. Against the grain of their nascent momentum. Instead of turning order into less order, the internal pressures had reversed, compoundingly, releasing free magnetic monopoles.
The preserving mechanisms innate to the Front of Creation had at this point collapsed; already several rents were being torn in the fabric of the void and were now made accessible to Residua of Essence.
Elsewhere, within this fringe, the Vanguard of Creation, point-pockets of internal pressures were mounting to those experienced in the Boundary, turning upon their fountainhead to cause a rip in the Plank wall. They induced a laceration into chaos ... and spawned small split cells, bifurcations, of fractalian repercussions in place of anomalies, but with asymmetries: ports of forthwith temporal bonds for the reconstituting Residua of Essence. Beyond this point our space, time and matter fundamentally broke down. What the Residua of Essence peeked into, over this limit, on the outlying extreme side of Creation, was the birthing of a new Universe of the furthest completeness ...
... Meanwhile, the wealth of might, at once loosened in the braking Universe Proper, sought instantaneous and new direction. And not only by revivifying the Residua or violating accessibility across Plank time.
Sentient life scattered all over the Cosmos, along with being sapient entities of identity, of thinking, feeling and ken, were, as well, entities of direction. Entities that could use up further this excess energy. Coolly fuse it into action, assimilate it into motion and mold it into fractals of organized and functioning matter. These organic assemblages, sapient transducers, manipulated raw force -- even of unrestrained pressures -- to give it vector of focus, adjustment and design.
Once, the Residua of Essence too had been such.
Corporeal beings that could forge from concepts by their acumen, spirit and will-strength alone: could steer their realizations and translate them into palpable action through their physical bodies and could aim their course tangibly as well as immaterially. This initiating of the direction-giving process was referred to by them as reflection and insight, expectation and sagacity, prudence and wisdom, verity and belief.
And now, they jubilated in its reacquirement, rejoiced in the regeneration of their corporeality in the tenfold.
But often, as well, the outcome, or, the prime consummate and culminator of a portion of this pent-up and undirected loose energy, had invariably been the fury of malcontent, the insobriety and overindulgence the sweet brew of power excites and then goads within us, the surge and rage of raw violence, the vehemence of dissension, and the hand-released arrow that swiftly and pointedly darts for the unsuspecting heart of peace ....
[The teachers obituary for his killed in action, older son, Kyrillos, during the last invasion attempt against his homeland in 2002 by descending, starving and banded Caucasus tribes, Turanian hordes and Tartar-Mongol legions armed by Glixxons rising World Confederation. Arms in exchange for Black and Caspian Sea oil. From my journal, 15 August 2052. P.P.]
"These were our children who died for our/lands.../ But who shall return us the children? -- Rudyard Kipling, THE CHILDREN ....
" ... this is my promise and pledge," the teacher writes, "my covenant of testimony and grief for my own lost and unreturned child, Mr. Kipling. To the bringer of holocausts, to the shamer and exterminator of dignity and kindness in man and upon planet Earth, to the trespasser of the limits, to the non-citizen of humanity I vow my non-alliance and my non-affiliation. I commit my disunion with and divorce from him. More. I firmly establish my dissension with and division from him. This, I promise to the breaker of the covenant between man and peace. Further ...
" ... Past oppression and ignorance, indigence and beggary sired violence, passed it down to the present and strive to keep it bustling into the far-deep future ...
" ... Violence wroughts up anarchy. Or welts dictators," the text I have unearthed goes on to say. "The stipend of either is misery, the rack of the mind and soul, isolation, exile and death to those who side with enlightenment and freedom, roots and balance ... "
I read these pages the teacher had written one half century before, again and again, and in my search I see yesterday's questions become today's, today's questions the future's, and the future's become a distressing way of life.
More questions come:
" ... On one hand there is this suffusion of talk on amity and labels about peace, accord upon all Earth. On the other all this High Definition and Dolby Surround Sound of blood-surfing.
"Why this worshipping of weaponry?
"Why this eliciting of respect by instilling fear, by ingraining death-and-rage? Why this flair for mass-expiration in 'best sellers', this propaganda in praise of a state of perpetual war and siege -- in the warring hero -- capitalized in animations on the monitor, motion pictures on the big screen?
"Why this thrust of thirst for Inquisition- and Nazi-like tortures that daunt, instruct and institute terror and minister mistrust, paranoia and neurosis, epilepsy and murder into the innocent, sensitive and impressionable souls of our children today with each such book read and each such film seen around the world, children that are brainwashed and are destined to grow up to become the hard-hearted, senseless barbarians of a boot-camp world tomorrow?
"Why this paean to hate?
"Why this trundling paradox?
"Is it only the paradox of naiveté?
"Where is the source of this child molester?
"Who and what generates the oxymoron?
"How is this condition licensed to propagate and reach our children -- throughout the globe?
"When did it begin to perforate as part of their reality?
"In place of marbles and dolls, rector sets and chemistry sets, microscopes and telescopes -- an endless variety of new and civil toys -- we give them Winchesters and Star Wars, Colt 45s, Desert Storms and Desert Foxes to play with. In place of books and tutoring, art and music -- boundless new horizons of worthy literature, creative and humanizing recreation, means of civic scholarship, harmony and philanthropy -- we give our children Magnums, tanks, Stealth fighters, Harriers, Eurofighters, a licensed NATO on the stand-by to indiscriminately incinerate, butcher and mangle infants, the old, the helpless (not to mention innocent animals and plants. Dont these as well have the birth given right to life? Dont these give sustenance to all of the biosphere, Homo Sapiens included?).
"Why do we hustle into our childrens hands raw fury and spite to build upon; rush into our flesh and bloods lives animosity and malice -- these cruel tools of war and slaughter -- to settle differences with? ... "
The text I have unburied proceeds to ask more:
" ... What manner -- brand -- of peoples have the propensity to lavish in, to glory in, crime of wrath, molestation, mistreatment, to splendor in intimidation and harassment, bigotry, in the harnessing of revenge and rancor having as prime premise difference? Difference, as that of the privilege and right to come from another source of parameters, to come from, believe in, stand by, a different process and system of values, concepts and interpretations of Life, Love and Liberty? ... "
Next to this outraged man and educator, I too dare pluck up my courage. I stand by this begrieved fathers loss of his boy to those reverent and worshipful in the implements of war and wars themselves and I boldly ask:
Who are, on our globe today, the modern Hannibals, the new Genghis Khans and Tamerlanes that triumph and tradition in arms and armament? Who today thrive on a way of life based on that of the invading Goths and the raiding Vikings, the plundering Visigoths and the butchering Huns, on retribution and raw conflict, on the proliferation of accouterments of bloodbaths, hatred and wholesale killing?
Who prey on the incitement of doubt and insecurity?
Who mock precepts that have passed unscathed the test of time as human reason and moderation, the wisdom found in tolerance and restraint -- simple and plain horse sense in a nut shell?
Who privilege only those who unquestioningly put in with them, but spur their SIA, intelli-bombs, seek-and-sack missiles, spy and laser-bearing satellites and Citizen Protectors in cold candor to devastate and pilferage, pillage and terminate all who do not?
From the text I have undug:
" ... What nations live by the fire arm? The sword? Bolster and brace soldiering from cradle to coffin? Have to dodge bullets in their own city streets, hospitals and schools? What peoples subsist by -- get their kicks from -- the drawing of blood, and silence eternally the irreconcilable?
"What peoples browbeat and mute those opposed to their 'custodian-like' arrangement of things? Hush those who are of a different history or stock of roots, of a contrary trust of values, and those who believe in an alternate form of Democracy?
"What manner peoples thrive on war and sub-war, insurgence, coercion and scuffle -- on the code of the Universal Barbarian? And ... let the rest cry their beloved country? ...
" ... What manner peoples foment internally and internationally the strife of greed as a National Product -- as a way of life -- and with a straight face proclaim this attitude to be 'a marshaling of the competitive spirit'? ... "
I gnaw and pick at parched lips at this mans dare, his pain of loss ... as these numbing questions of his -- this bizarre manifesto-of-a-manuscript I stoop over -- reel into and through my amazed mind to ask in writing that which most of our world citizens cannot utter in resounding protest or even whisper, in principle or document, or indeed in loud thought in 2052, at fear of their lives and the lives of the ones they love.
" ... Who are those that gain profit by candying the act of rapacity? Honey a coexistence that is based on mutual suspicion, so as to bolster their arms sales and fatten themselves from it -- arms sales to my divided island's oppressor, to the fresh primate hordes of a modern roused Attila -- and do so with velvet language and a silver tongue? Who wear the mask of the 'verist', a domino of dismay, 'mince' words and didactically admonish -- or use some such philippic poise and prose -- that which they covertly and by example provoke, grossly, in bulk and en mass? War games no less.
" ... Who do away with esteem and self-respect and instead bring discredit to non-war, and cynicism to peace-first, and proscription to entente for peace, at the peace table, prosecuting and abolishing by this attitude and these actions world-wide fidelity, world-wide union?
"Who persist in their own opinion of deontology? Are almost convincingly engrossed in their own efforts at rediscovering, revivifying and resurrecting what a comprehensive yet practical interpretation of ethics is, that is, at rediscovering the wheel of virtue; while these same peoples are shystering and pettifogging, trickstering and hoodwinking world economies?
"Who are immuned to pangs of conscience? Self-righteously consider themselves the new Rome Imperium?
"Who reckon themselves absolved from the transparency of pretentiousness and presumptuousness in their usage of words like globalization, democracy and communism, coherence, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Amnesty International and egalitarianism, partnership for peace, socialism and suchlike fiats and caveats as if the globe were a joint-game-board of Scrabble and Chess to have fun with and get rich from; to ridicule and sport from the torture and anguish of wearied refugees, the 35,000 children who die daily from poor peoples disease; sport with toppled economies and indebtedness, famine, with ruthless and unchecked bombings so their brood of Generals can try out their new arms on living flesh, the afflictions and fears of the powerless, the helpless? ... "
The manuscript then alludes to the 1946 writings of George Orwell. Apparently 106 years later nothing improves ... nothing emends ... nothing encourages:
"In our time, political speech and writings are largely the defense of the indefensible. Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, 'I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.' Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
'While freely conceding that such regimes exhibit certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which certain people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement ... '"
The text of the manuscript goes on:
" ... I now think of the tragedy of my beloved son and land, my beautiful brilliant isle torn in two, and of that other fair and green island, Ireland, and its many sons, the same of fate; and of the sons of the Scots and Welsh, the same of fate; the fate all weakened minorities evidently must face and endure; of the sons of the trampled and smothered Balkans, of the sons of a starved Sudan, an emaciated Africa, the un-unified Koreas, the sons of the calamities of a Vietnam, a Laos, a Thailand and a Cambodia, the toll of sons of an Afghanistan and a Chechenia, the genocide of a Curdistan and the million-and-a-half dead sons of an Armenia, the twenty million Russian sons and daughters a political experiment murdered, of an Iran, of a Lebanon and a smashed and famished Iraq, the sons lost in the fifty-year strife of an Israel and a Palestine, the sons of the worlds downtrodden ... and I wonder when this sacrifice of our children will suffice? When will it all end ... as Popes and Presidents, Muftis and neoteric Sultans, Patriarchs and Planetarchs, Rabbis and Prime Ministers promise us it will before, or in, their term of office? As universal treaties and alliances, as Human Rights and International Criminal Courts are there -- are paid billions by us, the World Citizens, each year -- to arrest, deactivate and abrogate ... since 1946?
"When is that 'Universal Soldier of Mercy' sung so much by us -- that long-awaited neutral but civilized NATO and that long-anticipated impartial but humane UN, that modern but just 'Nuremberg Trial' -- spoken of so often by so many coming to judge the handful of overly zealous, dallying, arrogant politicians and gung ho soldiers, the war-gaming power-anxious oligarchy, responsible for the consequence of a Pearl Harbor, a Hiroshima and a Nagasaki and their 210,000 innocent sons and daughters dead, the ten million killed in a First World War that man should have had the manly decency and sense to avoid, a Second World War that extracted fifty million more mostly young innocent lives, the slaying of two million innocent Vietnamese and fifty-three thousand innocent Americans, the carnage of a Mai Lai and a Kent State and a Tiananmen Square, a Baghdad, and a Kosovo, and the bestiality upon innocence as that scaring the naked napalm-burned tiny torso of a Kim Fok; and wipe out soldiering and bullying once and for all!
"Then this is the violator.
" ... I bring visions of Rwandan, Somali, Sudanese, Bosnian, Serbian, Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Iraqi, Central and South American, Cuban war- famine- and drought- and disease-vanquished victims to my mind," the teacher says, "and ask how many children's and infants swelled, empty bellies, napalm-scarred bodies, sexually-exploited lives, AIDS-ridden days have these Christian, Moslem, Hebrew, Hindu, Buddhist ... promises filled or comforted!
"Then this is the coveror of Truth.
" ... Whose history and philosophy of living is based on the business of death-dealing? On the industriousness of warring and fortification? Proliferation of a way of life founded and based on armament and expansion? On a leveling machine of intervention upon, and occupation of, sovereign Lands? The hammers and the sickles? The Apocalypse of the thunderbolts, the pretext of the NATOs, the pretense of the UNs, on a defunct Security Council and the Armageddon of the blazing mushrooms? Whose ambition and 'Manifest Destiny' is rooted in the use of the scimitar and embedded in the horror of the swastikas -- in genocide? The unjustness of, and wastes in, terrorism and murder? In the symbol of the phoenix bird afire? In the Cross aflame? On the word not kept!
"Then this is the breaker of the covenant between Peace and Man, Harmony and Grace, the usurper of our kin and children, Mr. Kipling, the children that will be returned to us when hell freezes over," the teacher writes.
Chip off the Ol' Block
"Power is always charged with the impulse to eliminate human nature, the human variable, from the equation of action. Dictators do it by terror or by the inculcation of blind faith; the military do it by iron discipline; and the industrial masters think they can do it by automation."
Middle-aged with a broad bust, silvering hair and bushy stray brows Reginald Marcus stopped scribbling, squinted and eyed the intruder from behind the posh cherry-wood desk.
"What is the nature of your call, Mr--?"
"Hauge, Dr. Seamus Hauge. Billions, Mr. Marcus."
Staring hard now, Reginald Marcus, president of International Medical Software Development, bit his lip. Last night's partying with the board pantheon was apparently not punishment enough. And currently they had been the only staple of companionship around. His inflicted isolation lately, he hoped, would not debilitate him, turn him into another Hughes.
The heavy sweet aroma that expensive Havana cigars are famous for mingled with the scent of leather of the choicest Near East quality.
"Most appropriate, Mr. Marcus, for the biggest medic software company around."
"That we are."
Reginald Marcus considered having an employer-employee talk with Ms. Atwood, his new, goggle-spectacled, personal secretary. Retirement had absorbed the older, more adept, Mrs. Parsons. Bless you, Mrs. Parsons, he thought, but your understudy dispenses protocol blindly.
"I do hope you remember." Hauge reached into his coat pocket and extricated a small white card. "You had said, `Show this card.'"
A vestige of recollection trundled in Marcus. "University of Edinburgh?"
"School of Computer Medicine--now doing a sabbatical at A & M," said Hauge. "Hadn't explained half of what it's all about. Too busy looking over my shoulder and all last evening."
Then and there, Marcus denounced Old Cherokee Bourbon and silently apologized to Ms. Atwood.
"You did say billions?"
"Quite. Sir, you pioneer in treading paths no one has ever voyaged on before. Of course, you'll undoubtedly be facing competition no one's ever dealt with..."
Marcus was grateful for the man's garrulity. It gave him time to compose. Looking out the penthouse window, that was one of the four walls opposite the luxurious bar, he gazed upon the azaleas flooding onto the terrace, the pointed and cubed tops of looming skyscrapers with their mirroring or black windows, the steel and glass blocks of his empire where the thousands of men and women worked for him like sprightly ants scurrying every which away.
Marcus nodded at the man: his newest and perhaps most lucrative triumph. If only Quasimodo would stop pealing those bells inside his head.
He reached into the pocket of his cashmere jacket. "Want a couple?"
Hauge looked at what Marcus was offering. Anti acid drops. They came in an etched container, carved out of white gold in the shape of a basket cockle. A modest diamond carapace was set into it. A pistil of blood-red was infused atop it.
"I don't mind if I do." Hauge took two. "I say, we were a slight tipsy last night."
"A might." Marcus took a deep breath.
"It's a Mont Blane ruby," he said, fingering the blaring red stone.
His tenure just then carried the exaggerated seriousness of Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The container was small in Marcus's palm, but prodigious, substantial, potent.
"You do have an eye for the arresting," Hauge said. "Excellent taste too. The braised liver with the onions was lip-smacking, and the chitterlings...never tasted anything like it."
"Now, to our subject, Dr. Hauge."
"Quite." Hauge alternated his legs. "It's a processor, to make a long story short. Somewhat different from a computer processor in that it learns and...and carries a certain, I might say, intrinsic leverage."
"Don't all?" Marcus tossed four anti acid pills into his mouth. Haziness enclose him and thickened.
"Not quite," Hauge said. "All processors so far in the market are silicon and binary. They are made up of tiny transistors, switches, imprinted on silicon based wafers which are activated to an on or off state by a trickle of current--"
A churning built up in Marcus's stomach, clutched for a time, then loosened. For a moment the upheaval seemed to wane. It was a rough landing, not like ever before.
The whipping in his gut build up again, gripped, expired. The pill holder shone. Its rainbow beams washed over him and nudged him five centimeters into the soft leather of the chair.
"Don't claim to be a pundit, but I am conversant with the subject of solid state electronics," Marcus said, showing a bit ruffled.
Hauge spoke over the wide desk separating them. "May I illustrate further?"
"Never say no to that."
Marcus tolerated another brisk, vibrantly disorienting pang of nausea. He must look the worse for wear. His onerous, strained breathing patiently slowed down, but still tethered in pain. "The stuff must of been poison," he mumbled, his heart hammering against his chest, keening to break loose from it. But Hauge seemed to no longer be attending him or his predicament.
Marcus listened to Hauge prattle on about what he considered monumental, and rated him arch-ingrate. He thought that he would perish here, imbibed, maligned like an unsuspecting Napoleon amidst his empire; his immortality perhaps mere footsteps away.
"No offence intended," said Hauge. Hauge looked relieved. Then lifted and high of heart. He sank into his chair, relaxed, and seemed to appraise all that surrounded him.
The office was huge and plushly furnished and was only a small part of the pent-house they were in. Low, soft music and singing was piped in that he recognized to be Bolivar, an old opera by French composer Darius Milhaud.
Hauge next upped his head and took in the vista of a quadrant of Dallas that lay beyond the enormous window and between an Apollo by Scopas and Orcagna's Madonna delle grazie.
"I only wanted to clarify a point," he now continued. "My discovery is neither silicon-based or binary. It's organic, neural-prosthetic implant or permanantly cultivated, DNA-protein-based." He produced from his pocket a black cube the size of a die with a thin pig tail of tiny electrodes running off it. "Uses quanta states instead of binary logic."
"No offence taken," Marcus returned in his Texas drawl, craning forward for a better look.
I've landed a big one this time, his gut told him. Intuition and on the spot assessment of multitudes of executives, yuppies and hirelings over the years had honed and sharpened his capacity for judging, and seldom proved him wrong. His ashen face started to bead with sweat.
The sun, rising behind the forest of buildings, was turning the cinemascope, polarized plate-window to sunset red, and only a massive vermilion ball, jabbed by black angular and sharp-edged protrusions, could now be decerned. The flat land and low granite hills beyond gradually faded into an artificial, maroon dusk.
Numbing out there, Marcus's thoughts bandied about. The yellows and ambers, the glare of the lapis blue sky, the harsh light of the desert rocks and dust. The heat that makes air ripple like silk.
He had planned to leave today for Kruger National Park in South Africa to survey his latest acquisition there, a three wing hospital, purchased dirt cheep. But it could wait. So could Lanarkshire; that was a nine-floor, thousand-bed `gift' from Glasgow, literly a steal. Competition better don their glasses, he thought.
"It works quite splendidly." Hauge interrupted Marcus's fixed look and raised the black die higher. He regarded as Marcus got deeper absorbed by the shades and moods around him. The hangover had run its course and would make things easier. Marcus looked to him dazed, and his eyes like two red puddles at the bottom of a dry well. Make hay while the sun shines, Hauge thought.
"Matter of fact its encapsulation is entirely too exaggerated. The active device inside is much, much smaller. It will be designed to interface directly with synopses. But the filament connections make it presently impossible to reduce further. Working on it. Its function? I'll demonstrate shortly."
Marcus steepled his hands. "About the billions." His attitude and diction changed. The voice was curt and brisque.
"No question about it. Everyone and their aunty would kill for one," Hauge preened. His listener attended mutely, so he cultivated the idea. "Rather funny, but fashion rests on the most rudimentary supposition that has ever promoted a model of human trend: a majority of people will be imitated more often than not. Fads come and go. Not trustworthy. Yet in the long run a trend-varying populace will be imitated most of the time than not. The untouchable harijan, here, would want, and be able, to reach the highest Brahman--"
"We're not Hindus, Mr. Hauge," Marcus cut in, unsettled. "Jean Cocteau said, Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far. More pertinent, will the proponents of this trend have the tolerance to see it through to success and absorb the costs? Why, sir, would everyone want one?" Marcus fumbled with the pill container again.
Hauge looked down the desk. "Because we can make it from them for them," he said. "A trend of fashion will catch on in some places like flash fire, and this can do it, Mr. Marcus!
"A fad or here to stay?" Marcus stubbornly inquired.
"Mr. Marcus, what a question!"
"A good one," Marcus retorted. "A common mistake with technocrats is that they try to do away with, they say alleviate, human deficiencies. Aimless wriggling through the dark is what I say. Yet, and here's the paradox, they depend on these to make their bundle. They try to improve the system, and profit at the same time, by getting rid of it. Will your device provide to the degree that no other gambit is needed?"
Hauge stared puzzled.
"Look, we've got problems in this business that all these gadgets put together cannot solve," Marcus said. "Dehumanizing people to promote what is not simply a fad but a permanent fixture can prove not only unprofitable in the long run, but the most chancy and perfidious of all ventures risked. So, a fad or here to stay, Mr. Hauge?" The raspy voice was permeate with disdain, with harsh reservation.
And your place in this snug paragon of corporate rectitude, Mr. Marcus? Hauge itched to ask. But, for the present, he had to keep Marcus sweet, and thoroughly receptive.
Marcus sighed. "Your answer to my question?" he asked, and eyeballed Hauge. "Business, Hauge, ain't Pachisi."
"I don't know the answer," Hauge expelled, with calm gravity.
"I don't think you want it to be a fad," Marcus snorted. "Biological engineering is only a step below cyborgs." Now an odious and distasteful look darkened his face. He reflected at the consequence of the precarious grounds Hauge was rummaging through, and the rip it could irrevocably rend in the edifice of popular consent.
"Don't know who said, 'boldness without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination'. That's burning ground, Hauge. The deep roots you talk about, are they perhaps the uprooting of other social strains?" Silently, All the same, curious as hell to see what you're nuzzling up to... Then loudly, "Want some coffee?"
Ms. Atwood softly served the cappuccino.
I must've been sloshed, Marcus thought. He grunted massaging his temples.
He put down one of the two silver and ivory tankards the secretary brought in, rose, moseyed over to where Hauge sat. His flat nose, his six foot three, two-twenty pound lean frame he hoped would hint at his beloved hobby. In his middle forties he could still get a few rounds in the ring without losing much wind. Other than by-the-book pugilism Marcus harrowed at all form of polemic art. But he loved to bluff. It gave him the edge over disorderly board meetings.
"Dr. Hauge, what's this about making computer components out of people?" A look of stern reproach appeared on his face.
The other scanned the tower before him and sipped the last drops of his coffee. "Not out of them, dear man, for them, like a heart valve, a skin graft from artificially cultured cells, plastic arteries, etcetera. Things that enhance, save people's lives as Pacemakers, artificial kidneys."
"Go on," Marcus said and sat near in another chair. Never had he been offered anything to compare with what this young man was offering. In his mind flashed a menagerie of cyberpunk images and endless queues of eager, nail-biting clientele. Meanwhile, dim circumspection tainted him with doubt. Visions of hacked, and patched up heads and defiled torsos paraded in front of him. But in the end he nudged aside the stink of fear and revelled at a euphoria of released capital fantasies.
"To put it simply," Hauge continued, "a sample of the subject's DNA is got and blown up hologrammically in a computer. The double helix is much easier to deal with that way..."
Hauge thought while he spoke, Something akin to hunger in that stare. A breeze of faith with a trace of sadness touched his face. It made Hauge's heart flutter. You never felt the bite of frost through torn shoes in deep Nor' Loch winter. Never had to eat stale bread and left-over mutton days unend in squalid, pest-infested, Auld Reekie ghettos to save up for coming tuition fees.
"...then the work begins. All genes not supportive to the preset parameters are extracted and replaced by modified ones: genes that heal the crippled, the blind, can make the deaf hear again; genes for mathematical acumen, for musical talent, for body stamina, business sagacity--you name it. The helix is then shrunk back down to its nominal size, superimposed on the original, and with the help of a broad-band laser beam is imprinted upon it..."
Blood, Marcus? Is that what you want? Hauge remembered his own skeletal, pinched face crimping in concentration over volumous texts. The explosive awakenings in the midst of nights by dreams in which cadavers he had dissected pursued him, threatening to fell him into so many lean strips. And that one child, the little girl, that expired in his arms slowly and lingeringly because the blood pool was empty and her parents could not pay Marcus, the world-wide provider of blood, for the rare, new blood. What new deal were you striking up, Marcus, at the time?
"Pardon my limited knowledge of genetics," at last Marcus wrenched in the luxurious chair, his hulking body coercing a tormented squeal from its frame, "but won't that just change the original chromosome's physical shape and not its quality?"
"Ah but it will. Chromosome is the name of the strange fellow: body of colour. Very sensitive to color frequency modulations. The modified facsimile will be color stained--coded with transparent dye where effective changes are desired, and by a mirror dye where not."
"Still, that leaves you with just one little, altered chromosome." Marcus stood up grinning, his argent hair wildly streaming and gleaming from the blowing air vent close above it, his pearly teeth teasing with their perfect dental work. He patted his lips with his index finger.
"That can, and will, reproduce its exact duplicate," Hauge came back, "since the regenerative mechanism will not have been touched."
Marcus laughed, "I didn't know such fidelity, especially in the case of artificial encroachment, existed. But the building of a complete helix from half of one--a split helix--is done, if I'm not mistaken, with the aid of an enzyme," Marcus said.
"I didn't either--a decade back. But at University we managed, piecemeal, to weed out that protein strain and the aminos and anything else that could interfere." Hauge tapped at the die and its dullness dispersed.
Marcus knitted his brows. "Well, won't something else still rectify the mutated helix?"
"No. Now, the enzyme only constructs the mirror image of that which is in front of it. It does not compare chromosomes in doing so."
Marcus shook his head. "Hauge, it'll still give you a chromosome different from the subject's intrinsic physiology. Won't the body's defences fight it off?"
"Does the immune system fight off radio-actively mutated chromosomes, tissue for that matter? If it did we would have the cure for AIDS--for most cancers. The same principle holds true here. Furthermore, this is controlled and meticulously guided mutation. Not to mention that it comes from the same contingency as its host's inherent genes."
Two million years of conditioning, Hauge thought. The sun. The moon. Lightning. Fire. The piquancy of light and the seductiveness of color and what they incite, all pact into an irresistible live blend of rays. Symbols of a revered, supremacy/servility evolutionary path. Ritualistic moulds of castes and adherents to combat-based values--all now exposed, unguarded, before the slued raptures of subliminal intensities and hues, bolting through the optic nerve. Visible phenomena that silently cuffed and castrated willpower, the id, the superego--the brain's very identity. At that moment, Hauge caught himself almost splendouring. He was engrossed in the force of power availed to him. It tickled within him that mysterious ember he called imagination. But only for a moment.
"And its quota?"
"Varied solely by the subject's needs and by the subject alone." Hauge pinched two of the exposed fine wires on the end of the die's pig tail. Marcus saw the inside begin to whirl and soon turn to murky grey, dull cream, and, finally, to diamond brilliance.
Marcus got up and came close to look at the sparkling jewel the other held between his fingers. Coruscating sprays of rainbows caught, filled and kept his eye--his sight. Its pristine radiance bathed his retinas making him blink and a drop dribble down his cheek.
"It's sin, itself!" he nearly drooled and kneeled before the Scot to have a better look. "Where is the agent?"
"A tiny shimmer--the star, if you look hard, in its geometric centre."
"Body heat. It is attuned to the body heat spectrum. Enough to generate ample potential for the chromosomes to activate and act as catalysts to the liquid plasma pigmentation surrounding it, and then some. Here," Hauge said and pinched more wires. The liquid swirled, sparkling, spewing needles of sheen through space. It changed to transparent bloodstone.
"Get off your knees, old fellow," Hauge said, offering his chair. "Take this too." He reached into his pocket. "Shouldn't we get back to the billions?"
Marcus pinched and gawked.
"Are you with me, man?"
Marcus saw the die in his own hand turn into a green emerald, a blue sapphire, yellow citrine, fire opal...
"Eh, Yes. Absorbing sort of prettiness."
"So, pretty!" Marcus's parched voice was weak and reedy.
"Er--you're in no condition to preside over the board, dear man. Oughtn't we let your board's directors know that you're postponing things? Till further word, let's say."
Marcus rose, walked to the complex communicator, punched the red button, said what he was told, and returned to his seat.
Ms. Atwood," Hauge remembered the little plaque on the slight, bespectacled secretary's desk, "would you come in," he said, now bending over the intercom and standing behind Marcus' elegant desk.
The secretary entered, showed riddled over the sitting man playing with his empty hands. "So, so pretty..." Marcus raved on.
"Is anything wrong, Mr.--"
"Mr. Marcus will be leaving now. Oh, and, Ms. Atwood, would you be kind enough to bring your pad with you when you come back. We have changes to make."
An enigmatic expression cast on the young lady as she faced Hauge, sitting behind the great desk. For a moment, Hauge thought amused, she must have taken me for someone else. "Yes, sir," she said, lingering her dispersed, fishbowl stare a while.
The Scotsman observed and humoured the other's fascination as she watched the die in his hand turn cornelian pink, hyacinth red, amethyst violet, lazurite blue, peridot green...
"Have one," he said, reaching again into an empty pocket, knowing it would be the most important thing on her mind from here on. "Anything else, Ms. Atwood?"
"No, oh not a thing, sir. So pretty!" she chirped and gawked at her empty hand, sighed deeply and escorted her charge out.
"Ah, one more thing. Change Mr. Marcus's flight for Marakesh instead, and accompany him personally till he boards." The climate should be more akin to Texas's, he considered, and put the real die back in his coat pocket.
He always wanted to see how it felt to be a megatherium of business, unfettered to make and supply freely as much blood as needed for poor, needy people and little girls like his late sister, Margaret. But he wasn't sure if he had what it took. Clearly, though, all one needed was a dab of cheek and a spot of hypnotic power at his touch. Everything else then just couldn't help coming your way.
The board members will be the true challenge, the Scot thought, after Ms. Atwood had left.
"Into the maelstrom!" he hollered and quailed at his own sound.
It was noon, the sun out of view, and the show-case window clear. Marcus's empire spilled once more before Hauge's surveying eyes. He'd have to call upon more compelling reserves than the die for the board. At that rumination, there was a knock at the door.
A meek Ms. Atwood peeked in. She took off her bone-rimmed glasses with the thick, round silver lenses. The secretary's irises rendered an unexcelled performance that even a chameleon would have coveted to be capable of. Hauge quickly looked away--but not quick enough.
Ms. Atwood was careful not to look directly into the bar's inlaid looking glass on her left as she refitted the eyeglasses. At times like these, she thought, a mirror could prove to be one's own worse enemy.
"The saddest part of all this business, Mr. Hauge," Ms. Atwood said, leading the catatonic man slowly out from behind Marcus's massive desk, "is not recognizing your competition and not inquiring why one needs to wear thick, silvered glasses inside this glare-free building. The naked eye, Mr. Hauge, can often be quicker than a die."
Test of Time
"Arthur, there is another--" No, no, it's too blunt.
"This has to come to light sooner or later--"
"Why not sooner than this?" he'll ask.
"I'm leaving, Arthur--"
"Where to this time, Victoria?" no good.
I woke up that morning and knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Evangelos. But because of my indecision I was swiftly loosing him.
It had been a soft June morning, in '47, at the time the Marshall Plan had been implemented. After Arthur went to the office, I paced the floor like a caged lynx, my third cup of Maxwell-House in hand--coffee and cigarettes were the most bounteous among the staples the embassy rationed to its T.O.D. personnel and their dependents.
I locked up, got in the battered Ford Town-Wagon I used on my digs and drove for Piraeus.
"Step on it," I said to myself.
Glimpsing in the rear-view mirror I caught site of a white sliver of a sun emerging from behind Mt. Hymittos, and two blue pits staring back at me. I fussed with a crow curl on my forhead, but gave up when a gust of hot breeze tumbled more down. Suddenly, ahead, dozens of windows burst their glare, dazzling my way...
Victoria Hall wanted to break loose from her second marriage as well. She was an archaeologist, resilient in stamina but restless in her moods. She resided in a house near the University where she taught when she was not away digging up relicks. She was in her mid-thirties then, had an eight year old son, Theodore, from her previous marriage, who lived with his father in Oregon. Her daughter, Sara, nine, lived with Arthur and her.
Victoria was tallish for her sex and her expeditions kept her well lean. A speck of a mole spotted her above the left brow. Snugly-fitting dresses, she had discovered young, did wonders for her shapely, exercised figure. She carried herself with an air of confidence; when sitting she could always attract male glances by crossing her long, shapely legs.
It was due to Arthur that she had been in Greece--that never-never land--for those two unforgettable years.
...The little ship was ready to leave when I reached it. I ran to board. The boy there took my hand and helped me up the ribbed plank. Once on deck I drew in a breath.
I climbed a narrow set of stairs to the caique's upper deck.
The roar of the engine smothered conversations, singing, and galloping children calling to their mothers. The passengers scuttled to sort their belongings near by and take seats for the two-hour journey over Argosaronicos.
I leaned on the side rail and watched the seagulls snatch, break and swallow sardines when a sheet of sea drizzled on me, choking off their dumb squawks. My arms and shoulders shuddered at the wet slap.
`Dear Arthur,' I had begun the note, just before I left. `I must act soon or my mind will crumple. I ask of you to understand and not question my state, accept only that I can no longer continue our lives together. It is of no oversight of your own, simply it is how things sometimes come about. Victoria.'
I had been petrified at the time. What if--?
The seagulls drifted off, protesting to the termination of their regale, and as their cries ebbed I fell back into the shadow cast by the canvas above.
I egressed deeper into the shadow. I backed all the way to the bulwark, and thrust to retreat still further...
Victoria had first heard Evangelos' music over the portable radio. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. There was in it the power of a Beethoven, a dab of the grace of a Vivaldi, and the urgency of a Wagner. She would listen while she dusted off and pasted together pot shards, or when dry grit from day long excavations parched her throat bringing tears to her eyes. She would conjure up in her imagination the phisiognomy that had the reserves of sensitivity capable to compose such hymns to restoration. What was the man like? she wondered.
Nann Elly Walker, the Ambassador's burly Texan wife, accomodated. "Why dont you come and see, dear," she had popped out, during happy hour at her place. "He'll be here on Ed's birthday and, just maybe, he'll play that yawning piano we forgot in our living room."
...The hours seemed like eons when Manaras Express finally advanced to the breakwater, maneuvered and docked by its stern to the quay.
I gripped the richly painted balustrade and followed the queue to shore.
We had used the hospice often enough as it was next to the water and afforded practical and private amenities for our escapes near the sea. Evangelos's cottage was a half hour's steep climb, isolated within mountain pine and thistle.
The hospice room contained three straw chairs, a double bed drooping in the middle, and two square night-tables on either side with a storm lamp on each...
Victoria's lover, Evangelos, was talented and accomplished. It thrilled and mystified her that although one day she could boast of having had uncovered all the hews of his soul, the next he would be shrouded again, be the quintessence of a new enigma. Prosaic apparel, casual poise and an aloof stride contested an ascetic discipline and an unquestioned fidelity to his muse. Evangelos was a slight taller, but thinner with drawn, Byzantine eyes. His slender, fine fingers vaunted versatility upon the keyboard, the strings, and her sensitivities. His being wrought noise into the symmetry of music. It bestired and fermented, glorified her, awakened and enobled her by simple flicks of his delicate wrist. He was grace and force, surge and surrender, and, she believed, the timber she awaited for in her gray existence. He elevated Victorias's life to karma.
...My face burned with the drying salt still on it.
I had been nursing paranoia since morning when I had written the note. Now all of the Apocalypse threatened me.
Four years of marriage epitomized by a few snippety couches.
I could not anticipate Arthur's full regard to the laconic vein. But could predict trying muscles on either side of the mouth, pressed lips, furrows creasing the eyes.
Evangelos was quite the opposite...
Theodore had Victoria's sapphire eyes and his father's nose, mouth and strong chin. When he spent the summer with them she observed that her son had no problem picking up modern Greek, or mingling with the boys in the neighborhood. He proved to be quick at soccer and an ace swimer as he escorted her at the dig sites on the islands. He made friends easily enough, all of whom he wrote to well past summer and would send Christmas and Easter cards.
...It had been Arthur's dark blue uniform (and uniforms Evangelos could not understand) that flattered and flirted his blush that first attracted me. I had been reeling with passion those days, drunk with my gentleman and officer, and these priorities did not leave time enough for love. I would search for it later, I had promised myself, when the spell abated some...
Sara unlike Theodore would spend her free time improvising variations of her wardrobe. She would try on combination after combination of apparel, and rummage through Victoria's bijoutery to find and hang on her gangly self matching earrings, necklaces, and assortments of bracelets, rings and brooches. She would often talk to her room as though entertaining a melange of dukes and duchesses, earls and counts. An empty room that to her was bursting with spangling royalty.
...The creaking door started me. I went to it towel in hand. It was the breeze and no-one else. Still, I nourished hope that Evangelos would be standing there.
On occasion Evangelos tripped to Athens for his concerts or rehearsals with the orchestra. Whereas Athens, depleted and exhausted, fostered nostalgia of how things once were, the island of Aggistri personated creation undiluted, manifest. He composed brilliantly of a war-weary city on an island overwhelmed by light.
He strove to save that which men in boots had covered, trampled and abandoned. Anastasis he called it. Resurrection.
Arthur, on the other hand, as naval attache, had become engrossed in the finesse of diplomacy and absorbed in the details of his charge. He charmed me by his evolvement. I observed him unfold, elicit skillfully, educe assertiveness and carping that only evoked more admiration.
I too could boast devotion to my craft. The city was my citadel, the Academy facilities my turrets, and the ancient land of the Hellenes my realm of reign. The artifacts I unearthed, timeworn and hoary, thrummed of a phoenix, a rebirth that struggled tumultuously not to be passed over. Alongside Arthur opportunities emerged to dig and salve...
By certain media Victoria ensued the legal paper to engage in maiden digs bringing to light precious treasures at Samothrace, Aegina, Thera, and Orchomenos. Out of convivial companies at the University, happy-hours at the Walkers and cocktail evenings amid the upper crust, her exposure grew and ripened into influential purviews.
Evangelos would compose upon her prizes, transposing his music to the splendor of her findings.
Corroboration in A sharp, and she cheered along side of him.
She listened to the music chant of renown and magnificence, in major and minor modes, and found no intimidation there. She could not compass any discord that alarmed her of usurpation. The motifs were tense but pastoral, sensitive, interlaced with sensibility and counterpoint. The flute reigned, the oboe complied and the tympanies and orchestra filled and coalesced inflecting a dithyrambic cadence.
...Arthur, Evangelos, his music, and my archaeology instituted the quartet of my haven. For two years this foursome prescribed and routed my future. I was the node, the juncture, of their convergence. I was the exigency of our intrigue.
Arthur presided over it all by some intrinsic prerogative availing him to grasp and control, barter and negotiate liabilities and `benedictions'. He ushered clout and pull to expedite my excavation permits and licenses. There was, back then, the time I aggrandized him as the cornerstone in the ascendancy, the mother wit that unfastened, released, revealed, and dispensed all in its proportion and rank.
But Evangelos with his exotic Victor Mature eyes was the afflatus.
He complemented and augmented me.
His music chaperoned the digs and accompanied the troves I expositioned. It was a natural marriage.
Arthur took delight in my delectation, and I could tell the magnitude of his joy through my own. The laughter in the eyes, the patent glow on his face, and his inherent shyness, so naively puerile, incarcerated me.
The gulls plummeted indolently into the calm water. A few just skidded their wingtips sketching on the sea's even surface. Some simply floated on the air currents behind the boat.
Aggistri's evening shadow cast upon the boat, a kind of giant whose hunched back emerged from the plane of the sea eclipsing a quadrant of sky. A Zephyr blew and comforted me in its coolness. The scent of iodine not spice was pervasive now. While the caique cleaved through the inert span of sea, I looked at a solitary figure that went and sat at the edge of the receding wharf. Little-by-little the form thawed and blended into the grain of the landscape. And I, bit-by-bit, sifted once more the tesserae of my own life.
I had waited in the hospice turning Evangelos's words in my mind. The small room shrank compelling me to push on. I had lain down instead parched and fevered and sapped.
Lest being wrong I had let half hour more pass. Then gathered my things, and despite my affliction, had boarded the boat back to Athens.
Now the sun crept over the rim of summits of a single broad mountain that was the island. From this vantage point I clearly saw Aggistri's full profile amidst other isles, till a while later they all melded into the craggy fringe of the Peloponnese...
"Arthur--" Victoria speculated about the coming night.
He would be stirring the martinis. There would be guests, the Walkers, perhaps even Sara and Theodore. He would ask what she had prepared in the order of snacks slighting her appeals.
"Arthur--" she imagined still another scenario.
He would turn and look, in his navy blue uniform, and she would see the emotions tangle on his face, lines from weariness, tired green eyes. In his hand the note.
...I retrieved the sunglasses hanging down my neckline and put them on.
That Friday night Anastasis inundated throughout the outer lobby of Concert Hall. Latecomers queued at the box office. The motif was intimately familiar to me.
"I will not be absent from my own premier," Evangelos had insisted perturbed a week before. "We can go together, Victoria--or go alone."
My attempt to shift his priorities for this one occasion had failed. I must have seemed to him to be nourishing a threat to his muse. I had not persuaded him to let another conduct his music nor spend that last weekend together on the island before the new digs at Delos took me away.
The happy hour regulars waived from the ticket booth with tickets in hand. Among them Arthur. His uniform was a bit creased. He had come directly from the office, or gone to see how the kids were doing at their first day at camp.
They were all happy I had made it.
I fabricated the excuse of really being too exhausted from driving to the Thermopilae site and back to stay on.
"I'll go home, freshen up, and wait for you all there." Arthur offered to go with me.
"I'll manage," I said.
I went up to him, gave him a kiss and exited.
As I drove home the radio continued Evangelos's Resurrection broadcasting it live from Concert Hall. It said much to me. So subtle an ally. One that completely eluded me, one that Evangelos and Arthur do not know about to this day.
I crumpled the note that had been in my pocket and tossed it out the car window.
I know now where Evangelos's loyalties had lain, but a spark of vanity I call hope had compelled me to trip to the island that August morning.
So it came that I had chosen.
Once, in the solstice of my life, Victoria had promised me to search for love. In this pursuit, among the resurrection of a city and a score of treasure troves unearthed, we discover today, forty-eight years later, that Arthur alone has endured, has remained the one true, unscathed by the test of time.
Copyright by Vasilis Afxentiou 1999
All Rights Reserved
Vasilis Afxentiou is an ESL/EFL teacher in Athens, Greece. He has been teaching English on-and-off since 1968, and full-time since 1985. Prior to that he worked as a Technical Specifications Writer for seven years and as an Engineer for five years. He has also studied music formally at the Hellenic Conservatory having majored in the classical guitar.
He was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He went to college and university in the United States where he received his degrees.
Vasilis's writing credits include published fiction and non-fiction appearing both in
Greece, Europe, Australia, Canada and in the USA. A few stateside and other, paper
and e-publications he has written for are Writer's Choice, Greek Accent, Salon DAarte,
Akkadian, National Herald (Proini), and Crosscurrents. His writing includes short
stories (literary, fantasy and science fiction), articles and essays (mostly travelogues
and health diets), a theatrical play, five novels, a novella, and a book of short stories;
all in English and/or in Greek. Some of his fiction can be found at:
2. http://www.bookmice.com/grace.htm , http://www.amazon.com, http://www.bn.com
Vasilis has received several Distinctive Certificates from WD Writing Competitions held over the years, and also Honorary Mention in his Greek literary work in Athens.
In Greece he's been published in 30-Days, Key Travel News, Greece's Weekly, Athena
Magazine, The Athens Star newspaper, fragments of his work appeared in ELT NEWS, and has
been invited to be published in the poetry anthology of Contemporary Greek Poets, Vol.
All work Copyright by Vasilis Afxentiou 1999
All Rights Reserved
The Social Irony of Vasilis Afxentiou, a review by James Robert Strope
If his stories are about being trapped, nearly immobile in the slow and viscous flow of geopolitical forces, Vasilis Afxentiou has accomplished his goal.
Men In My Life is told from a womans point of view. The story is immediate, all image and action in the beginning paragraphs, and then slows with flashback and interpretation. She compares the men in her life to each other. Its a closed system. She learns only from her own experience. What has she learned? She explains her work as well. She is a teacher. Afxentiou provides a delicately crafted emotional undercurrent that could become beautifully tragic. With more work on the story, and less explanation, this could be a seriously powerful story.
Many of the interpretations are involved, losing associated image, becoming abstract. For example, "The basement of my brain levitated and expanded" begins with a substantial that is modified by an odd, substantial adjective: basement brain, which does not help me call up an image. When it levitates and expands, I am nearly lost as to what Afxentiou has to say. I must read it again and the continuity of the story is lost. Perhaps that is what the author is trying, juxtaposition of sharply or impossibly contrasting images, strawberry alarm clocks. If not, the author is providing much more subtext than needed, the things that he must know in order to write the story but that should not be included in the story. The few bits of action are exciting.
In Arms We Trust, Vasilis Afxentiou uses science fiction motifs to portray characters in circumstances that approaches the tragic. This magnificent story paints a well-crafted vision of the apocalypse of change.
While it bears a great deal of essaying, it does so with an admirable use of the language. The sentences and paragraphs are reliably charming. "A lot of agreeing and splendoring in profusions of endearments may be fine for erotic escapades, sweethearts, heartthrobs and sweet old ladies -- but for Democracy ... they decay it. Spoil it." However, if the author would turn his considerable talents to revealing the story and its context by actions that characters perform, this would become an influential piece of fiction.
There is no shortage of geopolitical predictions cutting through the thin story line and speaking across the centuries. For example "Faith, Love and Virtue are chaotic pockets. They pose paradoxes " He coins words liberally, making verbs out of nouns and nouns out of verbs. He weaves a foreboding undercurrent of change that forces us to act and react, possibly not optimally, to protect ourselves from the mystery. "They induced a laceration into chaos ... and spawned small split cells, bifurcations, of fractalian repercussions in place of anomalies, but with asymmetries: ports of forthwith temporal bonds for the reconstituting Residua of Essence."
A woman is caught in a golden chase scene. Intruders attempt to penetrate the mystery. The characters are trapped uncertainly in their ideas. Are they agents? Victims? Its an easy and worthwhile experience to read this story, even though the story is the least of it.
In Ratt-tat-tatt, Hauge presents a view of American greed and violence most lately exemplified in the bombing of Serbia.
While not the best written, Ratt-tat-tatt is the clearest in exposing his dark vision, this time in the American imperialism, that only the most radical Americans ever sees and never experiences.
Hauge offers too direct a polemic to be artful or interesting to anyone who is new or resistant to the premise of the new American imperialism. Although the characters thoughts are real enough to be believable, the thoughts are not well-integrated with the story and do not support the story line but distract from it. For art to be effective politically, it has to carry its burden more effectively.
Hauge the Yugoslavian genetic engineer is sharply contrasted with Marcus the international tycoon. The story turns on a bit of magic.
Chip Off the Old Block is an earlier version of Rat-tat-tatt minus the anti-NATO polemic. There is much more genuine conversation between Hauge and Marcus, although they spend a lot of the readers time explaining things to each other. The two men attempt to manipulate each other while the dark and ominous undercurrent reliably flows, somewhat offsetting the lack of immediate action.
Test of Time explores relationships in interpretive flashbacks with much physical description of faces and dress, most of which is fairly effective at painting images but does not contribute much to the story. The language can be very good: "The gulls plummeted indolently into the calm water. A few just skidded their wingtips sketching on the sea's even surface. Some simply floated on the air currents behind the boat."
He takes care of his sentences, designing unique ways of describing things, a kind of abstract metaphor. He is never trite. This writer has a great amount of talent and a vision, conditions which create the possibility of greatness. I urge him to reinforce the story lines with action (or inaction!) and to minimize that which does not directly support the action.