Friday, February 2, 2007

A Historical Short-Story: "The Mechanism"

The Mechanism
By Jarod Kearney

"My Emperor, we MUST impel the device. Our paths are ending… we have no choice!"

General Rubicus stood in the central hall of the Roman capital Ravenna, the massive tiered columns and white stone walls echoing faintly with sounds of feet and metal. His field officers stood lined with him, their bodies still wet with sweat and dragged mud from the ancient swamp surrounding the city.

Emperor Romulus Augustus stood, his youthful face contorted in a slight sneer.

"Ridiculous. I'm not touching that....MACHINE."

Romulus moved down from his throne, his eyes passively gazed above the General's head.

"It was made by a madman. My advisers tell me he is a rube from the borders of Britannia."

General Rubicus clutched his hand tighter around the bone-pommel gladius.

"He has come through for us before. His adjustments to our balistas, his orientations of tactical siege equipment. He is the finest craftsman I know, regardless of his various and questionable methodology. If he asserts this device will beset our enemies and ultimately oppress their ranks, I have to grant him that reason, despite its apparent peculiarity."

Romulus' advisers, backed crudely into a corner, clicked their tongues and shifted. The Emperor looked sideways at them, then quickly upward again.

"Repelling barbarians with a barbarian. It is an insult, it's so trite. My heritage and blood cast down upon this city, that is what will save us, not some geared mechanism of bronze and gold. You are a fool to put your faith in such crafts."

Rubicus stepped forward, straining slightly in his bow. Between him and the emperor lay a small bronze box, its polished inlays revealing a single out-cropped button of turned gold.

"Odoacer is upon us, that is the truth of things. My columns cannot hold such audience as to repel the impossible. The Heruli have breached the palisade, their assemblage pressing without relief or hope of relent. There is nothing left now but faith...Nothing! We must activate it. If Orestes were alive he would have understood this."

"My Father" interrupted Romulus, his teeth exposed with anger, "was an idealist who would have his Empire ruled through puppetry and gimmick! What was the end of all his orations? He was befouled by the very primitives who violate us now. And you would have me contaminate my breath with actions of faith? It is you who are the puppet, general. You wish me to step down from my blood and beg the vulgar workings of a lunatic?"

Romulus kicked the box hard into the wall. It did not break, but tumbled sideways and fell back into a marble recess. General Rubicus started, his eyes open with disbelief. Romulus smiled, turning his back on the General.

At that moment, the air opened with the sound of distant drums. Faint screams began to rise, and the sound of hoofs increased rhythmically. General Rubicus looked toward his men, nodding slightly. In cessation, the officers turned and wearily walked out of the hall toward the oncoming noise. Rubicus followed, unsheathing his sword. As he crossed through the doors, he paused and glanced back toward the abandoned box.

"Fool" he muttered. Gathering his armor tighter against his chest, General Rubicus sharpened his eyes deeply and walked toward the oncoming battle. The Heruli army swelled before him in a great moving mass, the warriors howling and pulling their Germanic locks like a thousand unhinged savages let loose upon the scattering city.

-------

(1,600 years later...)


Archaeologist Michael Castellucio's hand shook as he carefully removed the bronze box from its covered recess and resting place for the last 15 centuries.

"It's unprecedented! Don, have you ever seen such perfect preservation?"

Assistant Archaeologist Don Lucana sat crouched in the palisade excavation strata, his hands folded in front of him as if he were praying.

"No, no...Michael, look at the patina, even the ends layered in the earth. Wait, don't move it any more, I want Carl to get that angle."

Carl remained silent, his student camera documenting every inch of the dig plane. Instinctively, he leaned toward the left side to get a better shot.

"Thanks, Carl. If I'm not mistaken, this artifact will be the pride of the National Museum of Ravenna."

Michael moved the box up out of the final inch, setting it gently in the open.

"True, and we don't even know what it is." He chuckled. "Carl, I hate to tell you, but I think we just eclipsed your English archeology for the next ten years!"

Carl smiled, snapping another picture. The Ravenna Historical Society had fully funded the dig on the condition that any objects found would remain within the city. Michael and Don immediately offered their services, eager to excavate the area seen by many as the last life-thralls of the Western Roman Empire.

"Don, come here, look at this." All three men leaned in. A round button-like protrusion could easily be discerned protruding from the top surface.

"Is that gold? Don, is it? Here, clean it off."

Don began carefully removing residual dirt from the surface, his brush delicately swabbing in parallel strokes. Suddenly, the button depressed into the box with a sharp click.

"What did you do? What..."

"I barely touched it...you saw, I was just brushing the dirt! Shit!"

All three men sat back on their haunches. Carl lowered his camera, his face contorted upward into faint trepidation. The men sat back for a moment, then jumped as the box emitted a sudden, deep whir.

"What?" Don whispered.

The whirring grew louder, the sound of obvious gears grinding to life and spurring within. The men could not move, but stared in disbelief at the vibrating chastity. With a loud inner collision, the whirring stopped. The sounds of moving taxis and street vendors filled the air over the unexpected silence. Within seconds, an earsplitting vibration discharged from the box, its high intensity tossing the men back as they covered their ears.

"Don! What....is that....coming from the BOX?"

The men clenched down as the vibration resonated high above the dig. It pitched higher and higher, pulsing out in waved inflection. Its strength seems to increase as it moved to higher and higher scales, shrieking out with mechanical tenure. The men could barely keep from collapsing, the shrill intonation penetrating through their covering hands despite their best efforts. Eventually, the pitch rose above human hearing, and, as quickly as the vibration started, they could no longer hear it. Cautiously, they removed the hands from their ears.

"I don't....Michael...what just happened?"

Michael gathered himself, breathing out sharply.

"Look, the box is still vibrating. We just can't hear...." Michael stopped. His body shook slightly as he felt a swift rush of energy. He backed up, his muscles tightening. He could feel his face flush as sudden and uncontrollable waves of adrenaline coursed through him. He looked over at Don, who also paused and backed up, obviously affected in a similar fashion. Carl just stared at the two men, confused by their new expressions.

"Don, I just...."

"Yeah, I feel it...I...what is that?"

Michael stood. His body urged forward almost involuntarily, his arms swinging out. He began to stomp his feet despite himself, in what he could only discern as pure, complete aggression.

In the streets above, cars began to pull over and bicyclists stopped as men made their way onto the sidewalks, some huffing uncontrollably, others swinging their fists into the empty air. Others could be heard laughing, stomping their feet with pugnacity and moving about in circles. Throughout the city, honking and the sonorous voices of men cascaded out in increasing diameter, the effect moving forward, outward, until the entire metropolis was turbulent with the sounds of emulation and archaic outcries.

--------

"WPIX, NY. This is Channel 12 with the Six O'clock News. I'm Cindy Reynolds."

"It has been three weeks since the sudden and deliberate attack on southern Germany and eastern France by the Italian National Army. The undisputed and consistent victories by the previously moderate-grade army was at first attributed to the element of surprise, yet despite military intervention by several allied European countries, the Italians continue to push forward with unstoppable force. Tonight, we have breaking news which may explain this phenomenon. Our guest is head of the ARWA think-group Dr. Julian Tarhri. Dr., welcome to the program."

"Thank You"

"It has been much debated these last weeks on the political reasons behind the invasions, but I understand you have evidence to explain the seemingly invincible nature of what most would consider a small to mid-sized army."

"Yes, Cindy, our group has discovered a resonant frequency placed hidden through a previously unknown spectrum of sonic carriers. This wave has been undetectable until now, and stimulates brain activity by mimicking the chemical vibrations of neuro transmitters. By doing this, the frequency directly targets the areas of the brain associated with aggression and the adrenal glands. By our estimation, the vibrations compound the release of adrenaline into the body by at least 200%. This would account for the reports of increased strength and stamina seen in the Italian nationals."

"Wait, wait Jules -- may I call you Jules? Are you telling me that a radio wave is doing this?"

"No, it's not a radio wave; it's a resonant frequency piggy-backing on a higher..."

"Well, why is it only affecting Italians? You've heard the reports of Italian Americans returning to Italy in masses, some even sabotaging American equipment before they go, but only the full-blooded Italians seem to be affected. How do you explain this?"

"We can't, not officially. However, some of our geneticists have theorized that the frequency may be so finely tuned that it has activated dormant sequences somehow particular to those of Italian decent. Others believe it has within its wave-length tiny distortions that associate with human genetic codes by geography, relating to the original migrations of Homo-Sapiens and their adaptation to their local environment, in this case the peninsula of Italy. It could be however, that...."

"Thank you Julian, but we have breaking news from our correspondent Tom McDirmond live from Rome. He has finally been allowed limited access to the central square where President Giorgio Napolitano is addressing the country. Tom....can you hear us?"

Tom McDirmond stood on the sides of a massive crowd swaying and chanting into the mid-summer air. President Napolitano stood on a tiered platform, the speakers echoing loudly into the square. Tom was being shoved back and forth in the frenzy, and occasionally someone pushed him deliberately yelling something in Italian. He did his best to maintain his composure as he spoke into the microphone.

"Cindy....can you hear me? Yes......I am here at President Napolitano's State address....Cindy....I have never seen anything like this. The fervor is deafening....Cindy; the citizens of Rome have come out by the thousands, exhibiting behavior which can only be described as powerfully manic, almost savage. They are shouting something....Cindy, hello...."

Tom was knocked violently to the ground, his microphone tossed backward. The camera fell to its side, continuing to show images of the uncontrolled horde swarming in unison. President Napolitano shouted through the speakers, raising his arms in sudden and bursting gestures.

"Tom? Tom? It seems we lost him. What?...the feed is still showing. I can't quite make out what they are saying."

The camera bumped as the crowd moved back and forth, the howling shouts overcoming the President's speech. For a moment, the feed cleared, showing Napolitano screaming into the microphone.

"Conquisteremo il mondo e riprendiamo, il nostro impero legittimo!!!"

Raising his arms upward to the sky, Napolitano gazed fiercely into the crowd, the voices of a thousand Roman citizens chanting and frothing madly in response:

"Desidera in tensione l'impero!! Vive Caeser!! Vive Caeser!!! VIVE CAESER!!!!"


- End

3 comments:

Devon said...

OK, I'll bite.

What the HECK?!!

Is it something like Tesla's earthquake generator? Or the opera singer that can shatter a wine glass?

I would like to have one of these boxes so I can play some pranks on the Italians in my office.

Love the Blog.

DigitalRich said...

Many thanks for participating in the 3rd edition of Carnival of the Storytellers!

The edition is now posted and can be found at:
http://digitalrich.blogspot.com/2007/02/carnival-of-storytellers-3rd-edition.html

DigitalRich

Martin Langeland said...

Very well done!
Thanks again.
--ml