Angels Come To Kill Your Sons
Greeks and archaeologists divide time into ages. They both agree that there's an Iron Age, preceded by a Bronze Age. At this point archaeologists have a "New Stone Age" or Neolithic, preceded by an "Old Stone Age" or Palaeolithic, whilst the Greeks have a "Silver Age", preceded by a "Golden Age". What this all means I cannot say for sure, but if the Palaeolithic corresponds to the Golden Age, then my personal estimation of the date of Atlantis - that is, around eleven or twelve thousand years ago - makes perfect Platonic sense. Of course I was unconscious between then and now, and most of the dating techniques used today - based on dodgy geology and unreliable radio-isotopes - may be incorrect by millennia for all I know. Modern Christians believe that the world began in about 4000B.C. and that all the animals that are here on earth today were there then, and that seems to me at least as coherent as the beliefs of the Scientific Philosophies. Furthermore one should point out that attempts to date the human race using mitochondrial DNA misses the obvious points that not only did I mess with the genetic heritage in big way, but also that we have in our genes both alien DNA and the substrata of DNA known as QNA, substances unknown to twentieth century science. May as well predict the canals on Mars when all you have to view the planet with is a seventeenth century eyeglass. If you believe that only the things that you can actually observe in the universe are true, then you must be very confident of your powers of observation. The Ocean's Near The Shore
But I digress. My peroration was simply to introduce the concept of the "Golden Age", which was the age that Atlantis now entered, nominally under the rule of the five twin sons of Poseidon, but in reality under the fluctuating triumvirate of Qualopec, Tihocan and myself. My Royal Sister Astarte had begun to distance herself from what she termed "temporal power", although Qualopec had been known to remark that if one added together her fanatical followers then she had more legions than the rest of us put together. So in effect it was still the four of us that helmed the state.
Tihocan had perfected what he regarded as a fool-proof way of controlling the power of Atlantis; a three part "key" not unlike those that unlock the trigger of a nuclear missile. He, I and Qualopec had one "third" each, although the objects looked nothing like keys. Tihocan called the combined object "The Key" whilst Qualopec referred to it as "The Royal Source" which made some sense, unlike Astarte's suggestion - "The Scion" - a word whose meaning was obscure, but perhaps meant "progeny". Only Astarte knew. Not that I was much better - I referred to it as "Tihocan's Thingy" until I decided that Astarte's name was funnier and came round to her lunatic nomenclature of "The Scion." For years the common response from visitors being shown around the Sanctuary of the Scion was to ask "Sanctuary of the what?"
Not that we could take our pieces away. The Scion remained permanently in place, powering the lights and boilers and vehicles of Atlantis. The only power that it gave us was that we could shut down the power. I didn't mind if it kept Tihocan happy, but like many of his inventions it seemed faintly pointless. Each Scion Third itself was very pretty though, and I regarded it as a useful trapping of Royalty, like an hereditary crown to be passed down to the next generation.
Speaking of the next generation, my father Atlas surprised us all by becoming a father again. His latest conquest, an Oceanid nymph from Arcadia called Pleione, gave birth to septuplets, seven girls. So it seemed as if Chloe and her seven potential sisters need not reign in Atlantis if they chose not to. Though Tihocan had refused to acknowledge paternity of Chloe in the same way that my father Atlas had refused to acknowledge paternity of me, Chloe was still the acknowledged daughter of a Queen of Atlantis if not of a King.
One day we four were meeting at the Palace of Ampheres and Evaemon, a palace well known for being built of red marble, surrounded by lawns of red sage. The herb-tasting air clean and refreshing, one's nerves were invariably soothed. We had assembled in the Audience Hall of Perpetual Tranquility, with its decor of obsidian turtle shells mimicking the ancestry of the Theme of Mount Aegina, a Theme with its origin in the furthest East, where a cult of the Invisible Goddess had spawned a separate race rooted deep in prehistory. Naturally Astarte felt at home in the Palace of Ampheres and Evaemon.
In these days it was customary for us to bring attendants, something we never used to do. I had two of my harpies, Qualopec had two sergeants, Astarte two priestesses and Tihocan two engineers, all subtly armed in one way or another.
"Greetings, Most Glorious and Beloved Brothers and Sisters, whose excellence illuminates the halls of time and whose obvious virtue provides an example for all of mankind. True carriers of the flame of Olympus, heroes all, wise helmsmen through the Zodiacal Sea, every feature and lineament proclaiming your imperial divinity," I said, with suitable gestures and symbols generated by the light of illuminated jewels, "oh fortunate Atlantis, know you not that you are the most blessed of countries?"
"Most Glorious Royal Sister, whose Imperial Wings provide shelter to her children from the midnight wind and the midday sun and whose mastery of nature puts the ants and the bees to shame, we can only hope that you are both happy and healthy, for your continued well-being is the very life pulse that fuels the lives of your Royal Siblings," replied Qualopec in a convincing approximation of a human voice, his mechanically propelled fingers forming the gesture for �favourable disposition'.
And so on.
There were a number of items of business. We noted the continued health of the septuplets, our new Seven Sisters. Tihocan described the newly finished Dam, bounded at both ends by mountains named as the Pillars of Hercules, a sixty stadia span, five stadia high, designed to prevent the tidal surge from the rising Ocean swamping the Central Lake. I recently read of the remains of Tihocan's Dam - an undersea bank named the Camarinal Sill - but more of the future in a later chapter. Qualopec reported on the first trials of what we had been calling the Atlantean War Machine, a semi-sentient contraption contrived by Tihocan and myself, and armed with mighty horns whose voice could move rocks, and whose military efficiency had been tested in combat against a rebel city named the City of the Moon Goddess (or "Jericho" in the local tongue) whose tall mud walls had crumbled before the mechanical blare, entombing the dissolving defenders in a deadly liquefied slurry of earth and blood. Finally I described the re-cloning and re-animation of beasts found in the melting ice of glaciers including my personal favourite, the Basilisk known today as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
"And so now," said Astarte, "the Royal Qualopec my twin and myself wish to bring to the attention of the Family the situation of the Cities of the Plain."
The Cities of the Plain were what was known as a Pentopolis, that is, five semi-independent cities - a mere muddle of mud huts before the advent of Atlantean architecture - who cooperated in economy, defense and culture. They had always liked to pretend that they were not under the sway of Tihocan and that his was merely a technical over-lordship. Proud Cities of the Plain whose hubris my scholarship has led me to believe eventually gave rise to legends both Aramaeic and Attic.
"I regret to say that when given the opportunity to raise a temple ziggurat to the Cult of Demeter they foolishly threw my ambassadors out of the city, claiming allegiance to the worship of a bovine deity, a mere golden statue, imported from the far East," said Astarte.
"And I also must report that when given the opportunity to pay a tithe toward the upkeep of the Lapithae Regiment the city elders retorted that they had soldiers enough in their flourishing brotherhood and that they wished to decide for themselves how to spend their own riches. My ambassadors too were thrown roughly from the gate," clacked Qualopec.
"I grieve to learn of such ignorance and insolence, my Royal Brother and Royal Sister," I replied, with a quizzical gesture. "The Pentopolis are fortunate that you have not already razed them to the ground and sown salt in their fields."
"To add to the puzzlement of the Royal Astarte my twin and myself," continued Qualopec, "our beloved brother Tihocan has at his disposal the means to erase any if the offending metropoli with the pull of a lever, as he has tapped into the furnaces deep under the earth using divers pipes and valves of indestructible matter."
Astarte, Qualopec and I all looked at Tihocan expectantly.
"I can see your confusion," he said, with rueful laughter, "but I find my urge for justice against my insolent subjects softened by a prayer from one that loved me once and who loves me still." He produced an object from his sleeves, a primitive roll of papyrus marked with a childlike script. "So touching that one of my subjects, barely literate, should attempt to pen an epistle."
The rest of us joined in his delight and began to see why his interest in the Pentopolis had been piqued.
"I quote," began Tihocan, unrolling the scroll. "Dread Lord of Lord, God of Gods, Most Mighty Jihovan ..."
"It is an attempt to transliterate my name into their barbarous tongue - they have difficulty with Atlantean vowels and thus 'T' becomes 'J' and 'C', 'V'."
"Mighty Jihovan, Your humble servant as instructed searched for a group of fifty Righteous Men who will acknowledge You as their One True Lord, and turn from the Paths of Iniquity, and failing fifty, twenty, and failing twenty, ten. I regret to inform Your Lordship that I have failed in even that and I thrown myself on Your Divine Mercy. I am mindful of Your Threat to destroy the city and most humbly grateful for Your Suggestion that I and my family escape before You rain down Just Divine Retribution upon us. Not wishing to incur Your Wrath I hesitate again to ask for Your Forgiveness and for Your Mercy for my fellow citizens. If only you could see for yourself the promise hidden within our City, as a lamp under a basket. However I await Your Reply and final leave for our exodus. Your Most Humble and Devout Servant ... I find it impossible to pronounce his ethnic name."
"And this man was an intimate of yours?" I said.
"Indeed. Sad to ignore such a pretty plea from such a generously endowed boy, not untypical of his race."
Qualopec leaned back, creaking in harness. "However heartfelt his plea I am in harmony with honey-haired Natla and ask what stay is necessary when you can whisk your pleasing paramour to safety?"
"As always my elder Royal Brother I bow to your wisdom. I simply wondered if it might be worth prevaricating for one more week whilst we send spies among them. Such spirit may be better tamed than destroyed. Atlantis needs sinew and strength as well as, perhaps, such a prime supply of priapic pleasurers."
"Maybe I should try one of these Princes of the Pentopolis, Paragons of the Plain, for myself," said Astarte, laughing.
"If you have need of a man both harsh and vigorous, with a mouth like hard ripe fruit and salty skin like dark leather," replied Tihocan, "the Pentopolis will provide."
"Oh my!" Astarte fanned herself rapidly, and clasping a hand to each of her many breasts in turn exclaimed "I faint!"
"I have an idea that may amuse," I said. "Maybe I and a handmaiden should travel incognito to this homeland of male beauty?"
"How could you possibly disguise yourself, my Royal Sister?"
"I shall dye my skin and my wings white, and cover myself with a cloak of white feathers. A stranger from a strange land I will be, not the Royal Natla any more, but - to borrow the word "natla" from the local language - newly named "She-Who-Is-A-Vessel-For-Washing-Hands", a pleasant irony considering my role in the cleansing of sin from the Cities of the Plain. Traveling with me will be another of my winged species, my servant Adrasteia."
"And if you are unsatisfied?"
"Then unleash the fire and the brimstone, my Royal Siblings."
And so it came to pass.
We were suitably disguised as ambassadors from the fictional feathery fiefdom, I forearmed with fire-firers, and bejeweled with a broach whose beryllium button when touched unleashed the lava dammed and contained by Tihocan.
We were approaching the first city of the Pentopolis across a wheaten plain filled with orchards and wine-yards when we were made of aware of the type of circus that the population demanded with their daily bread, so fallen were they in their depravity.
The atrocity exhibited on that particular dark day was as follows. Two girls, both found guilty of a crime that we would discover anon, were to be publicly tortured and executed. The method was ingenious and entertaining, if unwarranted cruel even by the standards of Atlantis. The first girl, stripped naked and smeared with lamp-oil was tied to a stake surrounded by dry match wood. Between her and the city wall was a row of bee-huts, swarming with Athena's sacred insect. On the palisade wall itself, her pale flesh smeared with bee's honey hung the second girl. Their youth and nakedness provided for many a ribald comment from the men of the Pentopolis, the unguents that the youngsters were smeared with giving their nubile bodies the illusion of the sweat of love-making and adding to the overall thrill of the entertainment.
At a sign from the magistrate flames were applied to the matchwood, the first girl died yelling and arching in a pillar of smoke. The bees from the bee-huts were driven from their homes, enraged by the fumes, and fell upon the second girl, she the honey-coated one. Her screams shook the very stones as stung beyond endurance she succumbed finally to shock. The audience called and clapped, and ate their sweetmeats, hoisting their children up for better views and saluting the titillating theatre as an excellent entertainment. Revived by pots of water thrown down from the battlements the bee-embattled victim lasted for a number of hours, many bets being placed on the length of her endurance.
Adrasteia and I sat some way off on our horses, watching the spectacle without comment and then, as the crowd began to disperse for their evening meals, we wheeled our horses to the gated street on which the house of Tihocan's lover -named Lut of Ur in the local argot - lay.
As we turned into the street many comments were directed to us by the women of that place - I fain repeat the exact phrases - to the effect that they wished to lie with us, commenting on what they hoped to do should they overcome us naked, in what position and with what implements. I, Royal Princess of Atlantis, used as I am to all of the gamut of girl-on-girl gallivanting, was shocked not by the suggested sexual escapades, but rather by the sense of contempt and threat in the tone, as if I was little more than a sex slave, my body an object, my feminine beauty merely a commodity to be bought or stolen by these common harridans. Bullies they with no more beauty than the boils on a bubonic beggar.
As I dismounted one of these butch beasts attempted to place her lips on mine, her rough fingers bruising my breast beneath my tunic. Adrasteia stepped forward, bronze sword raised, but fortunately at that moment the door of Lut's town villa cracked open and we were hustled out of harm's way by cudgel-wielding household servants.
"Is it surprising that the men of this region prefer their own gender?" I remarked to nobody in particular as my clock was taken and a cup of fresh ambrosia pressed into my hand.
Lut of Ur himself appeared and flung himself headlong at our feet.
"Oh my abject shame that my neighbours should use the messengers of the Lord so!" he wailed. "Alack and alas! I rend my outer garment and pour ashes from the hearth on my head!"
"Arise oh pretty playmate of my Royal Brother Tihocan," I replied, taking his hand. "Atlantis is not so corrupted that a man should be punished for the crimes of another."
"Your Highness is an angel of mercy sent down from heaven itself," he replied, "heaven" and "angel" words from his strange tongue, components no doubt - to use a modern analogy - of the cargo cult worship of Tihocan. Our winged whiteness no doubt gave to the concept of angel a solid appearance, a personification to what until that moment had only been some nebulous spirit of the air.
I am no connoisseur of male beauty but I could see what Tihocan saw, for Lut was a beautiful man. From his clear brow to his shapely legs he was a veritable statue-maker's paragon, even to the marble smooth veneer of his tawny skin and the delineated muscles of his arms and torso - truly, his eye dark as amorous midnight, his deadlocks like roots of blooming and bushy desire, his teeth made to make the biter long to be bit, his black mouth like a long drink of growing excitement.
Three women, one wife and two daughters, shared his house, ebony beauties all. Blessed lucky Lut, unlucky only in his location.
We supped in the dining room on the upper floor, the far end of the long room having a balcony opening over the street. A constant racket could be heard in the distance and this grew in volume until tiles and clods were being thrown up from below.
"I am here to learn," I said, eventually. "Let us see what we see."
I led Lut to the balcony and looked down on the melee beneath. My appearance was greeted with rude solicitations and whistles.
"Sisters," said Lut. "These are visitors in my home, under my protection."
"Send her down that we may sport with her," yelled a female ruffian. "We have a taste for her pale flesh."
It appeared that my blonde hair and white face had aroused equal desire and aggression, acquisitiveness and jealousy in the dark maidens of the Pentopolis, they no doubt equating my look with the riches and sophistication of the distant City. It seems a lore of nature that pale skins lust after dark and vice versa, as if some sort of unspoken genetic taboo adds to the frisson.
"Maybe my daughters would wish to come party with you?" suggested Lut, helplessly. "Are you not some of their school fellows?"
"Old stock. We crave new meat," the ring-leaders laughed.
I spoke. "I am called She-Who-Is-A-Vessel-For-Washing-Hands," I said in the poshest of posh Atlantean accents. "Your invitation is an interesting one. However today I weary from many months of travel. Tomorrow I may be refreshed enough to join lustily in your fiesta."
There was a good natured cheer and the tension was diffused. We bade them goodnight and closed the shutters on the scene.
The conversation turned to the girls I had witnessed earlier on the pyre and on the palisade.
"Their initial crime was to give some bread to a poor man who had entered the city," said Lut. "Incitement to vagrancy and beggary is punished severely. The burgers of the city resent their wealth being used to support the non-productive. These girls were violent in their own defence, scorning the authorities, scorning what the city holds dear, resisting arrest, pouring scorn on the thing that the city calls sacred. The judge spurred by local politicians and opinion makers who had fabricated crimes amounting to treason sentenced the accused to death, the method of execution discovered by popular poll."
"This is not justice," I replied, unable to keep a spark of anger from my eye.
In another incident a servant of Qualopec had got in a dispute with a citizen of the Pentopolis over another beggar, and in the ensuing fracas the citizen was hit in the forehead with a stone, making him bleed. The citizen had demanded that Qualopec's man pay him for the service of "bloodletting", and a Pentopolis judge sided with the rogue over this spurious medical cost. The servant of Qualopec, well armed and fleet, and trained in the Lapithae Regiment had retaliated by striking the injudicious judge on the forehead with his own gavel and then demanding that the judge to pay the resulting fee from the second "bloodletting" to the complainant in his stead, making all square. His wit unappreciated the servant of Qualopec has left that place at high speed pursued (but not caught) by a posse of local lawman.
"The law has gone mad," I observed. "This is little better than anarchy."
"And yet all but a few approve and call it freedom," said Lut.
"Such a rule brings into disrepute the philosophies of the founding fathers of Atlantis. It is a farce fuelled by greed and enforced by morons."
"And yet the peoples of the Pentopolis regard their arrangements as the very pinnacle of civilisation and in their arrogance and pride refuse all advice or censure. Merely calling into question the competence of the system of city governance is thought to be the work of a traitor."
"Only Atlantis may rule," I replied, "by divine right."
"I and my family are subjects loyal and true, but I fear that none other in this benighted place can be swayed back to the path of righteousness."
"Very well," I said. I had decided. "One of the five cities must be destroyed to educate the remaining four. The very symbols of their pride, the towering buildings in which they conduct their daily business, will be brought down in flames,"
Lut and his family grasped each others' hands in dismay, demanding to know which of the five.
"Only Lord �Jihovan' knows that," I replied with more confidence than I felt. "We must leave in case this burgh is the one chosen. Pack up your belongings and your slaves. We will leave in caravan by the Western Gate and take shelter in the nearby hills."
And so as chill dawn was breaking whitely we were en route, the Pentopolitans casting many a backward glance with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. When I thought we had gone away from that place a sufficient distance I sent the signal for the slaughter to commence. In the distance I could hear the clang of metal stalls being the erected in the markets and the shouts of children on their way to early lessons, all trying to evade the heat of the midday sun but all unaware of the fiery furnace in which they were soon to be smelted.
"We shall shelter in a cave over the rise," I said. "Do not look upon the destruction directly lest you be blinded by the light or cremated by the heat."
We waited in the dark, the outside world shrunk to nothing more than our own shadows cast by the light from the cave's mouth. And then it was as if we were bugs on a blanket that was twitched beneath us. The very floor seemed to twitch to one side and then the other in a fashion that awaked a very primordial nightmare. I cannot describe the sense of wrongness that this engendered in our senses. There can to our ears a growling and a trumpeting, as if the very roots of the mountains had let loose a pack of titans, stony bears and flint-toothed wolves, all howling simultaneously in a basso cacophony. The cave mouth darkened and reddened as if covered by a gargantuan incandescent hand, and the smell of brimstone stuffed itself into our mouths, causing our nostrils to rebel and our eyes to swim, so that the lungs in our chests were squeezed as if by the paws of the Behemoth itself.
We huddled together like kittens in a sack but then "My wife," cried Lut, "our mother," wailed the daughters. For that good woman was no longer with us.
"Wait here," I instructed. "I will risk a glance outside."
My powers of description rather fail at this point. I stumbled outside, face masked in scarves, to be confronted by a red motionless sea, stretching from horizon to horizon. I say motionless, but the very air above it simmered, and the whole landscape made me wonder if I was in some dazed lotus state. The plateau looked like the top of edge of a piece of burning charcoal, featureless and bizarre. The heat from it blushed my cheeks and scorched my clothing.
The five cities - their rivers and fields, hills and woods, towers and plazas - were gone. Not a trace remained. Indeed later survey teams sent in the weeks that followed found nothing but a glass-like surface made of acid minerals. For years after the area was referred to as the Forge of God; nothing grew, nothing living could survive. It was if the very sea-salt in the blood of the citizens of the Pentopolis was all that was left. It seemed that Tihocan had rather under-estimated the might of his new weapon.
Nearby I espied what resembled a new outcrop, facing the inferno. It was the white remains of a human form, recognisable only due to a couple of surviving teeth, deeply desiccated and covered in a thin layer of what looked like potash. It was Lut's wife, reduced to a quintessence of sparkling dust, still upright only because of the rock-spur she had staggered against.
I took the family with me back to the City and installed them in housing with a pension at my own expense.
"We are the only representatives now living of the once proud race of the Cities of the Plain," said Lut's daughter as I was taking my leave, her face full of sadness.
"Yet you have two females - you and your sister - and one male - your father. Surely the race may be seeded again?" I said.
So she went back into the house with a smile, vowing to ply the patriarch of the postulated new tribe with wine and to show him the fecundity of his loving daughters.
Some time later I met with Tihocan for a postmortem on the holocaust.
"What unholy force did you unleash?" I asked, laughing. "Verily you smote the Pentopolis and its people into non-existence."
"I tapped the fire at the center of the earth, the very force that you see in the volcano, that very thing that once gave shape to the circular islands of the City, and which even now slumbers deep beneath us," replied Tihocan.
"And how was such energy contained, cunning god of all engineers?"
"As to that, I will show you a new device in my workshop."
We stood before a large object, not unlike the portico of a circular temple, with glittering pillars on the periphery suspending a disc of gold, chased with obscure patterns not unlike an abstract map
"As you know I had hopes of a time machine," said Tihocan, gesturing at the device, "but rather than manipulating the descriptors of matter to allow me to travel in that dimension, all that I achieved was a method for stopping all movement."
"That sounds the opposite of your desire, although I am not sure that I understand."
"I shall demonstrate."
Tihocan took a bowl of naphtha and, placing in on the floor in the centre of the device, ignited it with a fiery torch.
"Observe," he said, pulling down a lever on a nearby control panel.
There was a clunking from beneath our feet, and it was as if a blue glassy wall interposed itself between us and the flaming basin, its surface patterned like a giant honeycomb. There a crackling and a crunching as if of water freezing, and deep within the device the burning naphtha ceased to move, the very flames suddenly immobile, like a burning bush that fails to consume itself.
I stepped forward and held a hand near to the bluish exterior.
"It feels neither hot nor icy," I said in some wonder.
"It is not conventionally cold," replied Tihocan. "It is just that the very particles of the objects within are stationary, as if they were at the lowest possible temperature."
I clapped my hands in awed applause. "And so, my brilliant and clever Royal Brother, how did you use such a thing to direct the howling depths of the earth?"
"I merely created a pipe whose material was immobile in time and which therefore unbreakable and unmeltable. One end I caused to be placed in the furnaces below and the other fed to the Plain of the Pentopolis."
He reversed the controls and the icy wall fell away. The bowl of naphtha burned as before, untouched.
"Could a human being survive such a stasis?" I asked.
"As yet not," replied he, "but I am working on a suitable armour and helmet that might preserve intact such an experimenter. In effect although I have not conquered time, I have opened the passage for a traveler into our future."
"It would make an ideal prison."
Tihocan laughed. "A bizarre whimsy, my beloved Royal Sister," he said. "After all what sort of miscreant would one wish to preserve alive when one could merely dispose of them with a swiftly falling axe?"
"I am indeed foolish," I agreed, and we went away to toast each others' health, temporary united in fraternal love.
It was a year later that the faintest of tremors, a side effect perhaps of Tihocan's exercise in nemesis, fluttered the paving stones of the City and set the sea a-quiver.
The Ocean's Near The Shore