Thursday, August 17, 2006

Adventures in Rome!!!

This is the shit you come up with working at the LCBO

I chose my words carefully. What else could I do with a knife pressed against my throat? Holding the blade was one very tall and very muscular man. Beside him stood an older man. Despite his age and frail frame, the second was clearly in charge.

“Do sit down, Caesar”, I offered to the general. Instead, he smiled, crossed the room and placed his hand on a small, locked chest.

“I have heard stories of this box” began Caesar, looking out the window. “It has been said that it contains something more valuable than anything else in the world; that you would not trade it for all the gold, all the spices… all the women in the Empire and beyond”. He paused and turned to face me. “Is this true?”

“You have me at a disadvantage, Caesar” I said, looking at the knife against my throat. “But, yes. The object inside that box is more valuable than you could ever imagine. I had hoped it would never be opened. Especially not by you.”

“The key, Maximus. And I will only ask once”. He made a curt nod to the man holding the knife, and I felt the blade cutting into my skin. A few drops of warm blood trickled down my neck.

“You have made your point. In my desk you will find a key to the chest.”

Caesar dashed over to my desk and rifled through the top drawer. After a short while, he produced the right key.

“I warn you, Caesar. The secrets in that chest… you will not be able to understand them. It is best to leave things alone.”

Before opening the chest, Caesar paused a moment.

”It is no secret, what they say. You are a modern day Prometheus, here to enrich humanity with your knowledge. In the few short years since your arrival in Rome, you have given us movable type, and its power to rapidly disseminate knowledge and ideas. You have developed various viewing lenses that have allowed us to image planets we never knew existed as well as animals so small the eye cannot perceive them. You have helped us build better ships to strengthen our army and travel faster and further across the planet than ever before. You have even begun to bring us coal, and electricity, and the myriad promises they hold for the future.”

“Well, I’m glad that you appreciate”, I said, unsure of what to make of praise being heaped upon me by a man who wanted me dead.

“Be quiet!” shouted Caesar, in an uncharacteristic display of emotion. He regained his usual composure. “Prometheus was a god. You are not. Therefore, it stands to reason that you cannot possibly have created all these things on your own”. Caesar fit the key into the chest, and turned it. With a click, it unlocked. “It is my belief that whatever is in this chest has empowered you with this knowledge. It is my belief that the power of the gods themselves is in this chest” he said, opening the lid.

Inside was a dog-eared copy of a fairly thick book. On the front cover were the words, “The Columbia Encyclopedia” followed by the Arabic numerals, “2000”. It was fragile and falling apart, but not due to age. Instead, the book seemed to have been well-used in a short – and relatively recent – amount of time.

If I put photos in, you get less bored

“What is this?!” shouted Caesar, furious. “A written tome? In a language I can barely understand?! Silvanus,” he said, motioning to the man with a knife against my throat. “This has been a waste of my time. Kill him.”

“Wait, no!” I shouted, against my better judgment. I’d sworn I’d rather die and take the book with me if it ever came to this, but now, with the decision before me, I was less sure. “Caesar, you do not understand! That book is more important than you assume. It is the source of all my knowledge, all my secrets. Open it, and you will not be so disappointed.”

He did as I said, and his eyes instantly lit up.

“What manner of illustration is this?!” he gasped. “No painting I have ever seen has appeared so… life-like”. He lifted the book up, displaying a photo of Richard Nixon.

“It’s not a painting. Not a drawing. It’s what I call a photograph. If you look through the book, you’ll see many more.”

He did as suggested, his face beaming brighter with each turn of the page.

“These… photographs are amazing! They look as though you have grasped these people from the air in front of you, and placed them right on the page! Are you the artist who has created them?”

“No. And they’re not created in the same way that you are thinking. There is no brush. No surface to apply pigment to. A photograph is a… well, it’s difficult to explain, Caesar. The process to create them is very difficult and requires many special chemicals. I endeavour to make one within the year.”

“Such strange style of dress these people wear. And the structures I see in these photographs. They are taller than anything I have ever encountered! Surely these are the dwellings of the gods!” He behaved like a hyperactive child, and whatever air of menace he’d put on before was long gone. His eyes squinted, excitedly reading the printed words. “Tell me, what language is this? I recognize the letters, and some of the words… but hardly enough to understand it.”

“It is a language known only to me, Caesar.”

Ignoring me, he continued through the book, stopping at a map of Europe.

“This map… so detailed” he said in a whisper. “I see the lands of the Empire… and some beyond. Ones I have only heard spoken of. And it is all so accurate! Why, Maximus, every sailing vessel and every military expedition should be equipped with a copy of this map at once!” Without stopping to catch his breath, he turned the page. This one was a map of the entire planet. So stunned upon seeing it was Caesar that he nearly dropped the book. “What the devil is this?!” he gasped. “Lands beyond the Pillars of Hercules?!”

“Indeed Caesar. Each one holds more mysteries, more riches for Rome to discover.”

“This is where you have come from, Maximus; from one of these islands across the planet. This is where one can find the tall buildings, the people in strange clothes. These people… their level of knowledge… it must be far beyond our own.” The look of wonder washed off his face, replaced by… hell, I dunno. Anger or something. Tough to read, that Caesar. He pushed Silvanus aside, took the knife and held it up to my eye. “You must tell me where they live - where you come from. How we can get there before they invade here?”

“I’m not from there, Caesar. Or… at least not the way you think. Calm down. Take a seat. Let me explain myself”. Surprisingly, he did as I said, perching himself on the edge of my desk. Like a… hawk, or some other apt metaphor. “I am from the future”. My admission was met with a blank stare. I sighed. “You know… I mean, from a time yet to come?”

“I do not understand.”

“Right. I guess you guys have no science-fiction so the idea hasn’t really had time to grow in your mind.” I paused a moment, scratching my chin. “Listen, Caesar, imagine if you could travel through time itself, just as one travels on a boat up a river. This is what I have done.”

“Explain yourself!”

“Well, okay… you were born about 70 years ago, right? In my case, I won’t be born for… about two thousand years. Listen, my name isn’t Maximus. It’s Michael. Michael Smith. And when I reach the age of 24, I will discover a means by which I can travel back through - hell, let’s call it the river of time, to continue the metaphor – to ten years ago. And this book will come with me, along with the total knowledge of human development.”

“I think I begin to understand. These photographs are of people yet to be born; of lands yet to be discovered.” said Caesar, approvingly. “But how did you make this voyage through time?”

“That is a story for later” I said, finally at ease with the knife off my throat. Caesar was warming up to me and my story. “Now, with the knowledge of my day, I was able to introduce certain developments centuries before their time.”

“But if you were born on one of the other islands, why would you seek to come back and help the Roman Empire?”

“Things are not as clear-cut as you believe, Caesar. Spiritually, your Empire and its beliefs have continued into my time, on various other islands. I want what you want, Caesar – to propagate the Empire across the world. I just need to make certain changes to it, first.”

“Is this why you give power to women and non-Romans? Why you freed the slaves? Why you have united with the powers of the Orient and Africa in your… League of Empires? Why you talk about introducing a robust democracy to the Empire?”

“These are all concepts from my time that have not hindered the human race, but have instead helped it develop, almost, into something great. If I can introduce them millennia before they are due, I think that will be a change for the better.”

“You seek to change the course of the Empire, as though you were one of the gods…”

“There are no gods! Have I not made that more than apparent?”

“Yes, you have. You speak instead of… science, and reason, and what they can bring us.”

“You know I speak the truth, and I will show you what the science of my day has developed. Caesar, reach into my desk drawer. Stuck against the top is an item. Take it. It’s yours.”

Caesar searched through my desk and came back with a calculator.

Kinda looks like Colm Feore, AKA Rory's biological father

“What a curious object. Is this, too, from your time?”

“Indeed. It is called a calculator. With it, the most complex mathematical questions can be solved instantly. Go ahead. Press those buttons and see for yourself.”

“I recognize these numerals. They are of the Arabic variety that you helped popularize” he said, hitting the “3” button. The number came up on the LCD screen. “Fascinating! How did that number appear on this calculator? I see no pen, no ink!” Caesar kinda pressed against the LCD display with his thumbs, making it go all weird and stuff.

“Don’t do that!” I shouted, afraid to lose the only calculator in existence. “Now, press the button marked “X”. You consider that the numeral for ten, but…”

“Yes, I recall the system of mathematics you introduced. It is the multiplication symbol”. Caesar seemed annoyed at my distraction. “Now I input the number I wish to multiply by three. I shall choose a number so large that no man alive could answer this question without a minute’s effort!” he said, inputting 677194. He finished the question by hitting the “=” button, and was immediately taken aback. “My word! Michael, is this answer correct?!”

“I’m sure it is, Caesar. And you can ask it ever more complex questions, never getting a wrong response. Surely you can see its scientific value.”

“I see its military value” he said. Then, a curious look came to Caesar’s face. Slyly, he asked, “What other secrets are in this book?”

“Many things, Caesar: Complex mathematical formulae; the true shape of the earth and its circumference; the age and size of the universe; the speed at which light travels through space; recipes to create metals stronger than any we have now; a way to communicate – to speak – through the air. All of this and more can change the world.”

“Indeed!” he shouted, with all the vigour of a man half his age.

“Do not get excited, Caesar. You need me. You do not understand the language in this book. You have nothing to base the units of measurement upon. The timeline of historical – and from this perspective, eventual – events is nonsense to you, for you do not know the point of origin of my calendar. You may wish to do away with me and take the book for yourself, but it is utterly useless without me”. I paused a moment to let Caesar consider this fact. Then, “Caesar, look into the chest again. It has a false bottom. Lift it, and take what is there.”

Caesar did as I said, producing a pistol - a Walther P99 - from the hidden compartment.

“Such fine craftsmanship” he said in amazement. “What is this device?”

“It is a device for recording one’s voice so that it can be played back… or… repeated again at a later time, as many times as you wish. I call it a microphone.”

“What do you mean?”

“You speak into one end of the microphone, and, after pulling a lever, those very same words will emanate from it.”

“Such genius! May I try it?”

“But of course. Put this end of the microphone just in front of your mouth” I said, pointing to the barrel of the gun. Caesar complied. “Now, say something.”

“My name is Gaius Julius Caesar” he said, without hesitation.

“Excellent. Now, simply pull on this lever to hear your words once more”. I pointed to the gun’s trigger. “Be sure to hold the microphone against your ear so that you can hear it clearly.”

Caesar placed the barrel of the gun against his left ear and pulled the trigger.


Blogger Cameron McKay said...

Et tu, Michael?

3:09 am  

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