A Milder Fate
by Meredith McKenzie
Course notes—Classics and Antiquity: Myth and Record
Lecture 2: The Fall of Alexandria
Lecturer: Doctor Beatriz Loring
BD U, Semester 1
What happened to the books of Alexandria?
Thieves, Christians, caliphs and Caesars—all have been accused, but none are guilty. There was no great catastrophe, no fire that snatched the Library from existence in hours or minutes. It was the thousand tiny teethmarks of time that chewed away at the words in the Library, the deaths of languages and the mistakes of scribes, the small nips and tucks of censorious librarians. Indifference was what killed the Library: indifference and attrition that slowly broke down the words until there was nothing left, only the pages that lay undiscovered for years, used to fill the empty cavities of a corpse, locked inside a dead man’s chest.
Time swallows its secrets, leaving behind only bones and ashes, fragments and dust.
“Well, all the same, I’d appreciate it if you gave the idea some thought.”
Sitting across from her, Dean Armytage gives Beatriz a watery smile. He has always been good at this—pretending to have sympathy for objections that he then ignores.
Beatriz doesn’t bother to acknowledge it. Perhaps there’s more than a desire for her to shut up and go away behind his placating smile; perhaps he really does agree with her. None of that matters, though—she knows the Dean will never budge an inch. No one manages to snag such a settled, well-paid position as Dean of Classics and Antiquity unless they know how to swallow down their objections, nod their heads, and toe the line.
It makes Beatriz sick, really.
Armytage sighs, standing down his pacifying smile and turning away from her, gazing out of the window. Beatriz follows his gaze for a moment, trying to swallow down her anger and irritation; it’s the end of the day and she’s tired. Out in the courtyard, some undergraduate students are winding long pink and blue streamers around the trunks of the synthetic trees that are planted there—it’s early to be celebrating the end of the semester, but the cold weather’s coming in quickly this year.
It’s a moment or two before Armytage turns back to her, lacing his fingers together and leaning forward. “I’m not saying I don’t understand how you feel, Doctor Loring. I understand very well. But I’d like you to consider things from the other side as well—it’s a great privilege to have the company reach out to us like this. I believe them when they say they’ve no desire to go in, guns blazing, turning everyone into their own mothers or whathaveyou. And frankly, I think it’s very telling that they’ve requested you, given what a vocal opponent you’ve been of this whole project.”
Beatriz glances up at him, almost surreptitiously—he clearly wants her acquiescence. In his own way, he’s relentless. “Do you, though?” she cuts in suddenly, unable to hold her tongue any further.
Armytage blinks. “Do I… think it’s telling?”
There’s a moment when she thinks she may actually roll her eyes. “No. I was asking if you really understand how I feel about this.”
“Doctor Loring, of course I do,” Armytage says, his cheeks colouring. “I watched you on the televisual the other evening, debating with—what was his name? Armin Spencer? The fellow from the Corporation. I thought you made some salient points, some salient points indeed. And this, I think, makes it even more impressive that Hannoti has asked specifically for you.”
There is a long pause, as Beatriz wonders if the Dean truly doesn’t understand what a humiliating position she has been put in. The whole world had just watched her denouncing Hannoti’s project as dangerous and ill-advised. And now, she would be accepting their offer of a job.
He apparently doesn’t, for he continues, “Apart from this, have you considered what a coup it would be for the university? I don’t have to tell you how prestigious and potentially lucrative being named as a co-operative partner with the Hannoti Corporation is.”
“If that’s what this is all about, Silas, you could have simply told me in the first place,” she says, trying to keep her voice even, her words short. In the end, she fails. “There’s no need to call me in here under elaborate pretenses. You already know how I feel about all this, and you’re just wasting both our time with your claim that this is in pursuit of some higher good, rather than money for… I don’t know, building a nicer staff lunch hall?” She knows she’s being belligerent and rude and really quite cruel, but she’s unable to stop herself.
Dean Armytage seems to coil back on himself like a spring. “Doctor Loring,” he says, his voice cold, indignant. “Please don’t pretend. You know as well as I do how these things work, and truly… truly I must say…”
Armytage trails off, searching for his lost words, and for a moment, Beatriz feels quite sorry for flustering him.
“… I must say I think you do me an injustice, insinuating that money and integrity are mutually exclusive in this way. You understand. The starving artist, the starving academic—do you think this is a better way for us to live? Funding means research, Ms. Loring, and it means latitude to more freely pursue our… well, I suppose you could call them pet projects. But if the funding is not there… well then. Perhaps there is not.”
Her spine stiffens, and she flicks up her eyes to his, finding them black and, frighteningly, implacable. It is a very long moment before the Dean opens his hands to her, showing her the soft, pale skin of his palms, as if trying to convince her that there is no implied threat in his words—only a simple statement of fact.
She supposes that it is, of course, true.
HANNOTI CORPORATION—PRESS KIT: ERB-56 PROJECT
The metric for a traversable Einstein-Rosen Bridge—a wormhole—appears like this:
The metric is the easy part—anyone can come up with a theory, with an idea that seems permissible by the field equations of general relativity. The difficult part is everything else. Here at Hannoti, we are actively working to overcome these difficulties and present the world with the first functional time machine in existence.
A proposed time-travel machine would, hypothetically, work in the following way:
Find or create a usable wormhole. Creating subatomic wormholes with particle accelerators is easy enough, and has been since the late 21st century. Enlarging the wormholes to the point where anything could successfully pass through them is trickier. An enormous amount of negative energy is required in order to expand the wormholes we’ve created. Until the Hannoti Corporation perfected the process of creating the necessary amount of negative energy, wormholes large enough to permit time travel remained in the realm of science fiction.
One entry point of the traversable wormhole is moved to within the gravitational field of an object that has higher gravity than the other entrance—say, a neutron star. The neutron star’s powerful gravity slows time at this end of the wormhole, though not the other. Hannoti is still developing the technology required to tow the entrance of a wormhole in this manner, but we are confident of a breakthrough any day now. We have received state funding to continue our research in this area.
One significant limitation of such a time machine is that it will only be possible to go as far back in time as the initial creation of the wormhole. Perhaps guests from our future will one day be able to visit us, when Hannoti has completed development of the traversable wormhole project. But for now, we continue the exciting adventure of discovery—who knows what the future may bring?
CONTACT: ARMIN SPENCER, HANNOTI CORP.
The soft blue glow of her lamp casts a long oval of light across the floor of her home office when Beatriz returns from her meeting with the Dean.
The darkness doesn’t exactly bother her; it never has. But still, there’s something about coming home to lightless rooms that she finds annoying. When she first took the position ten years ago, she thought she’d find the condition that she live on campus onerous. It gets darker and colder here earlier than elsewhere, and she likes her own space. But over time, she’s come to love the curved walls and the sliding panels where she keeps her books, the soft silver shadows that are cast over the floor come moonrise. The rooms suit her, and, she likes to think, she suits them.
But tonight, after her meeting with Dean Armytage, she feels rattled and needs something to occupy her mind.
Briefly, she runs her thumb across the books that sit in her desk, feeling the soft pages flicker over her skin, before she decides: no, not tonight, and not after the Dean had mentioned pet projects with such a quiet note of disdain in his voice.
Beatriz sighs. She supposes that she brought that on herself.
Instead, she waves a hand towards the back wall of her living room, turning the screen on, waiting as it flickers slightly—the reception is always terrible just before winter—before the coloured blocks of light and shade resolve themselves into something recognizable.
“— well, of course, I can hardly expect Doctor Loring to argue for her own obsolescence.” The voice that springs suddenly from her speakers is, of course, familiar. Beatriz’s back stiffens as she recognizes its indulgent, well-oiled tone. “But sadly, it’s a natural fact that as science progresses, so does society—we hardly mourn for typesetters, do we, or for road builders?”
Beatriz grips the table in front of her. She hasn’t watched the debate; she hadn’t known they’d be re-airing it. She’d supposed it would end up forgotten about, and the less said about it the better.
She doesn’t look away as the camera pans to her face. Even she has to admit now that she looks sharp and sour, her lips pinched, eyes aggressive, hair starting to go grey against the black. Armin Spencer, the smiling face of the Hannoti Corporation, sits across from her on the screen, lean, slick, smiling and handsome.
“My own obsolescence, as you put it, is neither here nor there,” Beatriz watches herself say, her voice coming out of the same speakers as Armin’s, but still somehow sounding quieter, hoarser. “My only concern is that the ramifications are looked into properly—the past is not a tourist destination or something fun for people to dip in and out of, especially if they don’t understand what they’re seeing –”
“Doctor Loring, nobody at Hannoti has ever suggested anything other than treating history with the respect it deserves,” Armin cuts her off. “We are speaking strictly here of scientific merit. Hannoti has no intention of ever offering the service you describe—what was it? Tourism?” Armin chuckles, the sound thin in the small room. “This is simply a baseless fear. Would you suggest we never do anything, just because you fear it might be put to a poor use?”
“No.” Beatriz shakes her head. “I’m simply looking at Hannoti’s record in that regard. As I recall, the company once said it would never run a paid service past the Dark Gate, but it did, assuring its customers that the journey was completely safe, and with predictable results.”
Armin waves a hand. “Are we still dredging up the past? I remind you that Hannoti took full responsibility for the incident, recompensed the families, and the board resigned en masse. You cannot hold the current members responsible for the sins of the fathers, so to speak, Doctor Loring.”
Beatriz watches her own skeptical glower cross her face, the skin on her throat tighten as she swallows, readying to speak.
Again, Armin Spencer cuts her off. “I’m not saying that I don’t understand—indeed, that I’m not sympathetic—to your position. It must be quite galling, having worked so hard to preserve ancient documents and artefacts, having told your students that to some questions, there simply are no answers, and that now, thanks to Hannoti, we will soon be able to simply take a short trip back into the past and find the originals, as new and complete as if they had been made yesterday—as in fact they might have been!” Spencer smiles at her, triumphant, settling back in his chair.
“That is exactly the kind of thing I object to!” she says, lightly slapping her palm against her chair, in a way that Beatriz—the one inside her rooms at the university—has to admit seems childish. “You cannot simply reach into the past and take what you wish from it. Even if this did not have implications that I’m not sure you fully understand, I must ask, would your agents even know what they were looking for or how to find it? The staff profiles you’ve released aren’t encouraging. They’re just techs. Your training program doesn’t include even an introductory world civ course. Will they just be grabbing everything that isn’t bolted down?”
Clearly not expecting such vehemence, Armin shifts in his seat, and she can almost see the machinery ticking behind his eyes. “Well, let us look at your own area of specialisation, Doctor. I understand that you lecture in ancient history, particularly literature, focusing on plays and books that have been lost and exist only as fragments? Would you not love to hold an original manuscript in your hand, knowing that this is what you have been searching for, only able to guess at for so many years? To touch the same page as the playwright must have? Surely, wouldn’t that be the culmination of your career?”
The breath has caught in the throat of both Beatrizes—in her rooms, the first Beatriz can feel her fingers pressing against the cold surface of her desk as she watches her past self on the screen blinking, her lips pressed together in a long, sharp line.
It’s a moment before she comes back to herself and waves a hand to turn the screen off. It slides away, and Beatriz turns her back on it, her mind blank, not wishing to remember how she’d stumbled over her next words, how she’d stuttered as she explained that no, this was not how she felt at all.
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE
Mr. Armin Spencer (Communications Advisor and Enterprise Services, Hannoti Corp.)
Dr. Henry Paffenbarger (Director of Research and Development, Hannoti Corp.)
AS: First of all, I’d like to welcome you all and thank you for coming. I would like to start by again introducing Dr. Henry Paffenbarger, our head of research and development at Hannoti, who’ll be only too happy to field your questions regarding this thrilling development.
Before we get to questions, I do need to assure you that all of us are as excited as you are, but please do let’s keep the questions in order. We have time to get to everyone. All right. Please. Over on my left.
Question: Doctor Paffenbarger, is the machine ready to operate?
HP: At this moment? No, perhaps not. I believe we should do some additional testing. We have sent some organic materials–
Question: [indistinct] –you mean? What kind of organic materials?
AS: Please let the good doctor complete his sentence.
HP:—organic materials, such as plants and insects, through the machine. Later, we sent through a small hamster. This experiment was a success.
Question: Doctor Paffenbarger, could you be more specific? What do you mean by ‘success’?
HP: I mean the hamster did not seem to suffer as a result of having travelled through the machine. We observed it for several weeks afterwards. It did not display any physical or—perhaps I use this term loosely—psychological ill-effects. It still lives now, as far as I am aware.
AS: I can see we are excited.
Question: What was the hamster’s name? Does it have one?
AS: No more questions about the hamster.
Question: [crosstalk] –have you sent a human through the machine?
AS: Not as yet, no. Not at all yet.
Question: But there are plans for this?
AS: As Doctor Paffenbarger has said, there is still more testing to be done. But we hope to, soon.
Question: Two questions. One, what use do you see for this machine? Isn’t this a dangerous area to be getting into? And two, is this the same machine Hannoti published a press release for two years ago, based on the building of a wormhole?
AS: Technically that is three, but I’ll let it slide by. [laughter]
HP: I do see, I do understand what you are talking about. But remember that Hannoti operates under the strictest of state supervision. We are still in the early stages of this technology. We foresee many uses as a research tool, to learn about the past. But to introduce paradoxes… no, no. If there is to be any travel by humans in future, it will have to be under the highest of controlled circumstances. Your second, your second question…
Question: Regarding the building of wormholes. Is this how this machine operates?
HP: I see. Yes. That is the case.
Question: I have that paper in front of me. I reported on it for the Morgenstern at that time. It says that one of the limitations of this technology is that travel to times prior to the wormhole’s creation is impossible. How did you overcome this significant limitation?
AS: I am afraid that answering such a question may be in breach of the confidentiality of Hannoti’s research. Do remember we have poured much time and money into this project, and our patent is not yet secure. Please understand our need to protect our investment.
Question: [crosstalk] –cannot deny, Mr. Spencer, that between the armed guards and restricted press access, Hannoti has been extremely secretive about –
AS: Secretive? I would never say we have been secretive. Concerned with security is what I would say—indeed, Hannoti is proud of the security of its sites. Can you imagine the havoc that could be wreaked if our research were to fall into the wrong hands? We are subject to regular inspections by the state, and we have in-house experts to advise us along our path. We have always taken great care to comply with any requests –
Question: [indistinct] Doctor Paffenbarger, if you could –
AS: Hannoti’s documentation is a matter of record—I repeat, a matter of record.
Question: I was asking the doctor.
AS: All right. All right. Perhaps we should –
“Ah, Doctor Loring. I’m so glad you’ve come. Alda Woolsey—we spoke last week, if you remember.”
She must have taken Beatriz’s wary silence as a lack of remembrance, because she smiles and raises a small, pale hand to the badge on her chest.
“I’m the Director of Research and Development here at Hannoti. Acting. Henry Paffenbarger, you may know, has been on sick leave for the last few months. I apologise for all the procedures you had to go through before you came up here, but you understand, of course, that we take security very seriously here, especially surrounding this project.”
She’d spent a restless night wondering if she had made the right choice, though she supposes there is no going back on it now. Armytage had won in the end, as he always seems to.
Alda Woolsey seems to be waiting for her to say something, but after a small hesitation she turns, motioning for Beatriz to follow her. “I’ll show you where your office is to be,” she says over her shoulder. “I appreciate that you ended up accepting our offer. I admit, I wasn’t sure if you would. But I have been curious to meet you ever since I first read your article in the Morgenstern. It was… interesting, I think, yes.” Alda laughs, and Beatriz is unsure whether or not she should be offended.
Her office, when they get to it, is large and mostly empty—“So you can fill it with your own things,” Alda explains. “We’d like you to feel at home here. So any files, anything at all really, please feel free to bring them in. Although we do have something we’d like to present you as a gift.”
“A gift?” Beatriz is surprised, and she doesn’t bother to hide it.
“Yes, I hope it’s suitable. Armin Spencer—I’m sure you remember him—recommended it. He didn’t want you to feel that there were any hard feelings. Business can sometimes be brutal, I think, yes?”
Beatriz isn’t sure what to say when Alda slides her finger along the black desktop, opening a sliding panel on its surface; her breath catches when she sees what has been revealed. The white marble head of a man, his eye sockets empty, brows drawn together, beard coiled—Beatriz has seen it a thousand times before, though only in illustration. To have a bust made, and of marble, must have cost her annual salary many times over.
“I was told Aeschylus was your especial favourite,” Alda says, and Beatriz can hear the smile in her voice. She doesn’t look at her; her eyes won’t leave the grave visage of the statue. On the pedestal beneath his throat are the words:
But when the dust has drunk the blood of men,
No resurrection comes for one who’s dead.
She knows it well—she has read and re-read Eumenides every year of her life since she discovered it at thirteen. She once dreamed constantly of the Erinyes crawling relentlessly across the land, pursuing Orestes by the scent of his mother’s blood that clings to him, seeking the vengeance that matricide requires. In the end, the laws of the old gods are overturned by the kinder justice of the new Olympians, leading humanity along brighter paths.
“Thank you,” Beatriz eventually says, clenching her fists and looking back to where Alda has been patiently waiting. The gift is kind, she tells herself—unaccountably, she feels quite chilled, quite unsure of herself.
Alda Woolsey smiles. “I do hope everything will be to your liking here,” she says.
Course notes: Classics and Antiquity: Myth and Record
Lecture 5: Changing Perceptions
Lecturer: Doctor Beatriz Loring
BD U, Semester 1
The earliest known work of literature to portray Achilles and Patroclus as lovers is Aeschylus’ Myrmidones, the first play in his trilogy about Achilles at Troy. He based his work mainly on Book 16 of the Iliad, the most famous work of the ancient period. We should note, however, that the Iliad does not specify the nature of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship.
In the Iliad, Achilles wishes for the deaths of all the Greeks and all the Trojans so that he and Patroclus alone can conquer Troy together—nothing more, but nothing less.
There has become an obsession, you might say, with a ‘correct’ interpretation of the text—an attempt to read the minds of long-dead men and determine their intentions. But I think this misses the point. Two people might listen to Homer reciting his poem. The poet speaks the same words to both, but one hears the story of a romance, and the other, of a friendship. And both can simultaneously be right. Perhaps this is in fact what was intended all along—perhaps the ancients were more comfortable with ambiguity than we are, content for the meaning of their words to be malleable according their audience.
Aeschylus leaves us in no doubt how he himself views their feelings, as he has Achilles utter these lines, after Patroclus’ corpse is brought to his tent:
σέβας δὲ μηρῶν ἁγνὸν οὐ κατῃδέσω
ὦδυσχάριστε τῶν πυκνῶν φιλημάτων
No reverence had you for the unsullied perfection of your limbs
O you most ungrateful for my many kisses
Can we say that, just because Homer left these pages blank, Aeschylus was wrong to fill them in? His reading of the text does not invalidate others’; Homer’s world is large enough to accommodate us all.
The laboratory is plain and stark, not much at all like what Beatriz had been expecting.
Alda Woolsey is here, and, much to her annoyance, Armin Spencer; plus two of Hannoti’s agents. Beatriz looks at them from across the table. The woman, Morgan Sadler, looks young, much too young, until she smiles, and then the whole of her life seems to write itself across her face. The man, Niko Bestlove, has been quiet, watchful, his eyes flat and dark. They don’t seem to notice her at all, listening as Armin Spencer speaks, going over again and again what they’re to say if the press asks them any questions or catches them off guard at any point.
Beatriz can’t stop herself from staring at them—will these be the people who step backwards into worlds she has only ever seen in her imagination, then? Who touch the pages of manuscripts she’s only ever seen in reproduction, re-made by technology, but still full of holes and best-guesses, forever incomplete?
She wants to hate them—more than anything else, she wants to despise the pair of them. But in truth, she doesn’t know what she feels towards the man and woman opposite her. Would she swap places with them, given the opportunity? She has spent so long creating times and places in her mind that she truly doesn’t know; she has filled in the lost, unknowable spaces in time with her own conjecture, pouring into them parts of herself. Would she, on seeing reality, be able to let go of everything she’s made?
Beatriz glances up and sees Armin looking expectantly down at her. When she doesn’t respond, he apparently repeats himself: “I’ve prepared a statement for you to fill the—shall we say—technical details.” He holds his fingers up to place imaginary quotation marks around ‘technical’. “If you’d not mind glancing over it, I’d appreciate it. It’s why you’re here, after all.”
He slides a datapad across the table to her, its screen blinking with cursors where she supposes the information he wants her to add is meant to go. Beatriz’s brow furrows as she reads through the paragraph he’s prepared, swallowing as her mind suddenly catches up with her eyes.
“Is this true?” she asks, looking up at him. “This is the first trip you’ve decided to make?”
“Not the first,” Alda cuts in. “We’ve done others, but this one will be the first of its kind.”
Beatriz catches the slight, sharp shake of Armin’s head. “What Doctor Woolsey means is, this is the first time we shall be attempting to use the new technology. We have made short trips before—to within a year of our Bridge’s creation—but this is the first grand trip, yes, to a place of consequence. Somewhere we’re willing to publicise.”
Beatriz touches her finger to the datapad’s screen, scrolling through the text. “The Library of Alexandria?”
Armin is smiling. “Of course. I thought that for our first full trip out, so to speak, we should perhaps be more academic, something that won’t rile anyone up too much. It’s a perfect balance, don’t you think? Far enough back to excite people with the possibilities of the technology, but bookish enough that no one can accuse us of trying to change the course of history. I’d not want to inadvertently drop either Morgan or Niko here on some famous battlefield, have them come back to find Hannoti has never existed…”
Armin laughs at his own joke a little, though Beatriz doesn’t miss the slightly irritated glance that Alda Woolsey shoots him from behind her glasses.
“This is why we especially wanted you on board for this first mission,” she says as Armin continues to chuckle. “With your endorsement, I feel that Hannoti can truly demonstrate the good that this technology can do, the knowledge that we can recover. We have no interest in prodding or poking anything that we ought not. This is a research tool, not a theme park ride.”
“I’m sure Doctor Loring understands this,” Armin says smoothly. “And Morgan and Niko here are the best of the best. Niko has made more experimental trips now than our other agents put together, and Morgan was the first to make a trip into a time before the Bridge’s existence. I have nothing but the greatest of confidence in both of them.”
Beatriz looks at the two of them again. Morgan is faintly smiling at the praise; Niko has not even reacted. There is something deeply unsettling about him; she does not like the flatness of his eyes, the way his face betrays nothing, no twitch, no hint of what he may be thinking. There is a yawning sensation in her chest as she realises that he does not care at all about what he is being asked to do—that this is just another day at his job: exit his own time, collect things he does not care about from another point in history, get paid.
“… I’d hate to spend the resources only to find when our agents return what they have brought with them is, say, a shopping list or something equally mundane.” Armin Spencer apparently hasn’t noticed she’s not been listening to him at all. He points again to the datapad. “As I have said, I’ll need you to make your suggestions and submit the form back to myself and Doctor Woolsey here. I must say I’m quite excited to see what you’ll recommend for us. Please—and I know this may be difficult—try to not make it too boring.”
It’s dark in her office, the glow of her screen the only thing illuminating the room.
Dean Armytage has left her a veritable barrage of voice messages:
”I beg your pardon for calling you so late, Doctor Loring. But I must request you call me as soon as you get this message. I must know how you are progressing. Please do call me.”
”Oh, this machine—are you never in your office? Oh—oh—“
”I wonder, did you get my message? Please do call me. I am concerned. It is Dean Armytage.”
”Doctor Loring, this is discourteous. I feel you may be ignoring me. I must say I—“
Reaching over, Beatriz turns him off mid-sentence. The darkness is relaxing against her tired eyes, but eventually she switches on her desk lamp, reaching into her drawer and pulling out the thin pad of paper she brought with her from the university.
She’s been working on it, off and on, for almost eleven years—ever since the fragments of Aeschylus’ trilogy had been re-discovered, yet again, in the depths of the university library, un-catalogued and forgotten. Small pieces of papyrus, held between pieces of glass, barely holding their shapes, the letters that had been written on them thousands of years before only just legible—letters and words in ink scratched out by long-dead scribes, discarded as better copies were made, and then lost as the libraries that housed them slowly blinked out of existence.
Dean Armytage had grudgingly agreed to allow her paid time to work on them, painstakingly reconstructing what they might have once said, filling out the stories they might have once told. She’s authenticated every word she’d used of the original; she’d manipulated the lines when they’d needed it, trusting herself to use a light touch when they hadn’t. Until finally she had arrived at this complete version—a pale imitation, even she admits, of what Aeschylus once wrote: the trilogy of Achilles at Troy. Myrmidones, Nereides, and Hector’s Ransom. The story of Achilles’ rage at his beloved’s death, his mad revenge against the man who’d killed him.
She’d mixed the ink herself, using the ancient method, and scratched out the words, she flatters herself, that Aeschylus himself would have used. The paper had been hard to come by. She’d managed to put it on her expense account, though Dean Armytage had had some things—many things—to say about that.
Beatriz glances up to where her lamp casts long shadows across the face of her bust of Aeschylus, his empty eye-sockets staring at nothing, and suddenly feels quite ashamed. Should she have dared this? Could she truly say this wasn’t a project of vanity, but rather one of scholarship?
She places her text back in her drawer, locking it, and turns off her lamp.
“I’m sorry about Armin. For what it’s worth, I think your idea sounds fantastic.”
Beatriz turns and stares blankly for a moment, before her memory supplies her with the almost forgotten name: Morgan, Morgan Sadler.
“The truth is, you weren’t the only person we canvassed when we were looking for ideas,” Morgan continues, as if she hasn’t noticed Beatriz’s momentary confusion. “There was another group that Armin favoured, until it became clear that what they wanted was completely unfeasible.” Morgan laughs. “They wanted us to go back and rescue some princes from a tower or something? Anyway, it would have been a disaster, totally would have changed the course of history. Armin wanted it because, well, it sounded like an adventure, guts and glory, averting wars, that kind of thing. Alda had to talk him out of it.”
Morgan laughs again as Beatriz stares at her, wondering what on earth she’s hearing. “That sounds… exciting,” she eventually manages.
Morgan shrugs. “Well, maybe. But I think this is better. I don’t fancy at all being set down in the middle of a warzone. And I like plays. I mean, I don’t know the one you’re talking about, but I think it’ll be good. And for all he carries on, Armin will find a way to spin it. He usually does.”
There’s a slight pause, and Beatriz assumes she’s finished. “I’m sure he will, Ms. Sadler,” she says, not bothering to keep the iciness out of her voice. “But in the meantime, if that’s all… ?” She trails off and turns to go, making it clear she’s not inviting any further conversation.
“Wait.” Morgan reaches out and touches her arm, halting her as she walks. “I can see this means a lot to you,” she says. “I’d like to do a good job—I mean, we all would, of course. But I think Alda just wants the machine to work; Armin wouldn’t much mind if we did come back with a shopping list as long as it looked good; and Niko… well, he’s…”
She trails off and darts her eyes to the side. Beatriz, unwillingly, feels her curiosity spike. “He’s what?” she asks, after a pause.
“He’ll be retiring from all this soon. Hannoti have asked him to do this one last thing for them. He doesn’t especially want to go, but they’ve offered him some good money. More than I’m getting, anyway.” Morgan smiles, maybe a little ruefully. “He’s been with the company a long time, though. I think he’s earned it.”
Beatriz watches her for a moment. Her face is young and earnest. “I’m not sure,” she says after a moment, “what it is you’d like me to do for you. I said my piece. You have what you need.”
“I know, and I can see I’m annoying you,” Morgan says. “But I promise I won’t take up much of your time—I just really do want to make sure I know what I’m doing. I mean, Niko’s at the end of his career now, and Alda and Armin have been here long enough that their pensions are secure, and anyway, corporate always look after their own—but me, I’m out in the cold if this doesn’t come off.” For a moment, Morgan glances up at her, and Beatriz can see the desperation hiding just behind her eyes. “Surely you can understand?”
Reluctantly, Beatriz realises she can.
HANNOTI CORPORATION—PRESS KIT: ERB-56 PROJECT
The lost treasures of the Library of Alexandria: the greatest repository of human learning ever to grace the face of the Earth. We thought we would never again see what was lost to the flames of war and strife.
But now, Hannoti can recover it.
We are proud to say that testing is now complete for our much-anticipated ERB-56 Project—a machine through which we can send human agents through time and space, and answer the questions that have plagued us across the years.
Once, scientists and scholars from around the world gathered to add their wisdom to the Library’s vast collections. But accidents of history all but erased its existence, leaving us with a gaping hole in our collective learning.
This month, Hannoti will conduct its first major trip through history to recover the original manuscripts of Aeschylus—one of the ancient world’s most revered playwrights and philosophers. You may not know his name, but his words hold universal significance: moving and powerful, his work resonates with us all.
We have selected this period of history and these works in particular with the utmost care and with the assistance of Doctor Beatriz Loring of Beta Dalnez University, the foremost scholar of antiquity currently working. She will be on hand to authenticate the manuscripts and answer any questions you may have regarding the works and their revered author.
With this, Hannoti hopes to prove what its work has to offer the fields of scholarship and inquiry. We welcome questions and requests for interview.
CONTACT: ARMIN SPENCER, HANNOTI CORP.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Morgan says, her eyes shining.
They are in Beatriz’s office in the Hannoti building. Against her better judgement, Beatriz invited Morgan here after their most recent meeting, in which they had pored over a map believed to be the most accurate of the ancient Library, and Beatriz had made her predictions for where their treasure was most likely to be found.
“And Achilles and Patroclus, they were lovers?”
Beatriz swallows. “Well, Aeschylus certainly thought so. Though there is room for debate on that topic.”
She wonders if this has been a mistake. She and Morgan have been spending more and more time together, and Morgan’s seemingly never-ending interest in her work has worn her slowly down—until finally, this evening, she has unlocked her desk drawer, taken out her precious papers.
“Well, I don’t see how,” Morgan argues, crossing her legs where she sits on Beatriz’s couch. “You’re looking at it too academically—I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t mean that.” She smiles. “I just mean, it seems so obvious to me. You would have to have a heart of stone not to see how beautiful it is, how romantic. I mean, in a terrible sort of way. Did Achilles really refuse to bury Patroclus and keep his body in his tent, holding it and weeping over it?”
Despite herself, Beatriz’s lips twitch into a smile. “You mean burn the body, not bury. Well, yes. That’s what the story says. But it’s more complicated than that. Achilles had many—“
“Hmmm.” Morgan interrupts her, gazing towards the window. “And the only thing that made Achilles come out of his sulk and help with the war was Patroclus’ death. I mean, he didn’t really care about anything else, did he? He just wanted revenge for his boyfri—well, I mean, his beloved. I like my friends, but I don’t think I’d go on a rampage for any of them. Seems to me like only love could do that.”
Reaching over, Morgan takes the pages from Beatriz’s hand, running her fingers lightly over the letters. Beatriz resists the urge to reach over and take them back. She’s not sure why Morgan has taken them—she can’t read the language, and there’s nothing there that Beatriz hasn’t already read aloud to her, translating as she went.
“And you wrote this?” Morgan eventually asks, not lifting her eyes from the paper.
“I—“ Beatriz, embarrassed, caught off-guard, suddenly isn’t sure what to say. “Partly,” she eventually settles on. “Aeschylus wrote the plays. I was working from fragments. I… I tried to fill them in as best I could. But it’s… it’s just a hobby. It’s not necessarily for publication.”
“You’ve never shown anyone this?”
There’s a lump in Beatriz’s throat. “No.” She pauses. “Not until now.”
“I think it’s beautiful,” Morgan says again, looking up at Beatriz’s face.
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE
Mr. Armin Spencer (Communications Advisor and Enterprise Services, Hannoti Corp.)
Dr. Alda Woolsey (Director of Research and Development, Hannoti Corp.)
Dr. Beatriz Loring (Professor of Classics and Antiquity, Beta Dalnez University)
Mr. Niko Bestlove (Hannoti Corp.)
Ms. Morgan Sadler (Hannoti Corp.)
AS: All right. That’s the introductions. Now, we’ll be welcoming any questions –
Question: Where is Doctor Paffenbarger?
AW: Doctor Paffenbarger is on sick leave. I am the Director of Research and Development.
Question: [indistinct]—for several months? I contacted him on his personal number. He did not pick up.
AS: I’m not surprised. Now. If we could direct the remainder of our questions to people actually present, I’d appreciate it.
Question: My question is for Mr. Bestlove and Ms. Sadler. Are you afraid to travel so far back in time?
Question: Could you elaborate?
NB: It’s my job.
MS: I think Niko means that we’ve been highly trained for this. There isn’t a situation that Hannoti hasn’t prepared us for.
Question: Are you prepared for a scenario in which you cannot return to the present time? Is this a real risk?
AW: [laughter] No. We have rigorously tested the machine. I don’t foresee that as a problem at all. We know the machine operates even under duress. They were controlled circumstances, of course, but we are confident that we’ll see success.
Question: I want to ask about the hamster. Can we –
AS: No, we can’t.
Question: [crosstalk] But I –
AS: Next question. Over here. Please.
Question: Doctor Loring, perhaps you could tell us more about why you joined this project? Isn’t it true you were once a vocal critic of Hannoti?
AS: I think I can speak for Beatriz when I say that over time she has come to appreciate the inherent value of our work at Hannoti.
Question: I was asking Doctor Loring, thank you. You’re a well-known scholar of Aeschylus, Doctor Loring—in fact, I remember you wrote a piece for the Morgenstern criticising the ERB-56 project, saying in part that even if they did return to the past to find lost artefacts, the artefacts themselves were worthless without interpretation and proper curation. Have you changed your view?
BL: No, I have not. I think these things remain true, and that’s what I’m here to provide—curation of the items that are brought back, so that we know exactly what they are and how they contribute to our knowledge of the ancient world. A piece of paper is just a piece of paper, no matter where we got it from. We can’t learn anything from it unless we know exactly what we’re looking at, placing it in its proper context.
Question: And what if you were to bring back, say, something like an ancient daytime soap? Or a boring letter talking about the weather?
BL: The only reason any of these artefacts have value is because we, as people, assign it to them. The plays we have fragments of… well, when they were first discovered, they were important because they were what we call ‘high culture’. But as the field of archeology changed, the focus shifted to more quotidian items… I mean, much of what the plays were discovered with were things like personal letters, administrative papers, recipes, household shopping lists. Things we’d throw away without a second thought.
Question: So you don’t think those things are valuable?
BL: It’s a different kind of value. It’s not my field. That’s more anthropology. I teach literature. But still, even if we had a shopping list, we’d still need to interpret what it told us about the people who wrote it. It wouldn’t be any good on its own.
AS: Perhaps we could move on.
Question: Ms. Sadler, how do you feel about leaving your boyfriend to take on this task?
MS: My… I’m sorry, what?
Question: Or has working so closely with Mr. Bestlove sparked the flames of –
AS: Please, Ms. Sadler and Mr. Bestlove’s private lives are their own. Next question.
Question: Mr. Spencer, Doctor Woolsey, why are you being so evasive about the whereabouts of Doctor Paffenbarger?
AS: I’ve said all I intend to say on the matter. Doctor Paffenbarger is at home. Or maybe he’s on a beach somewhere. I don’t know. It’s his sick leave. He may spend it as he wishes.
Question: [indistinct]—I just want to know—[indistinct]
The datapad clatters down onto Beatriz’s desk.
“Have you seen this?” Morgan’s voice is high-pitched, thready with anger.
Beatriz glances up; the pad is open on a tabloid rag called The People’s Voice, and she sees the headline A ROMANCE ACROSS TIME scrolling over the screen. “Is this what I think it is?”
Morgan exhales, pressing her palms against her forehead. “I think Armin’s secretly pleased. He’s cozy with the tabloid that writes this junk. But as if I would… and with Niko…”
Smiling a little, Beatriz closes her screen and turns her desk lamp on. “Morgan, I’m sure this can be cleared up. Won’t Niko deny it too?”
“He would, if he cared. But he doesn’t.” Morgan slowly sinks onto the couch, sliding her hands down over her face. “Look, Hannoti is a competitive environment. Very. We’re all ranked by each other, and something like this… it’ll sink my career. Everyone knows it’s not true, but it doesn’t stop them whispering in the canteen, getting jealous… everyone wanted this assignment. Everyone. And after what they did to Paffenbarger…”
Slowly, Beatriz stands and crosses the room, sitting down next to Morgan. Carefully, she places her hand on her knee. “Morgan, what did they do to Doctor Paffenbarger?”
Morgan is silent for a long time. She doesn’t remove her hands from her face as she begins speaking. “If I tell you this, Beatriz, it can’t leave this room. It can’t. I complain about this stuff with Niko, but if this gets out… I’ll be really finished. Really.”
She takes in a long, shaky breath.
“Look, it was Niko who went. You know, one of the strictest rules we have to adhere to is no paradoxes. No paradoxes. We just can’t. It’s why we have to be so careful, document everything, present to the state every week about what we’re doing. But, you know, this problem we had with not being able to travel back before the wormhole was created. It means the machine was pretty much useless in the short term. Yeah, I mean, in fifty, one hundred, one thousand years’ time, Hannoti could use it. But corporate needs a return on its investment now. So we had to find a solution. Paffenbarger thought of it. He said… well, he said that if we sent an agent forward in time, far enough forward to a point where some future version of Hannoti had overcome the technical issues with figuring out how to go back… then the agent could tell us how to implement it. I mean… that’s a paradox. That’s about the biggest paradox you can come up with. If we didn’t have it, then how could a future Hannoti have it? They’d be basing their solution on ours, so… you get it, don’t you?”
Morgan pauses. Beatriz sits. Still.
“Like I said, it was Niko who went. And I mean… he never talks about it. Never. But he got what he was looking for. He brought it back—all the equations, everything we needed. They left a time capsule… something so that whoever was waiting for him would know who he was, what he needed. But he’s… he’s been really different since then. And Paffenbarger. I don’t know what really happened, but he must have had some crisis of conscience or something, because one day he was here, the next day he was gone. ‘Sick leave’.” Morgan laughs, but it’s a bitter, cruel laugh. “Maybe they bought him off. They bought off Niko, but he knows he’s never really going to get out of Hannoti now anyway. And me… I guess I’m in the same boat. Because I know.”
Beatriz swallows and feels the minutes ticking by. She isn’t thinking anything. There’s nothing she can think.
“Morgan,” she eventually says. “You have to tell someone. I know the editor at the Morgenstern. You could—we could—“
“I can’t.” Her answer is definitive. “I shouldn’t even have told you. You understand that, right? I don’t know why I did. You’ve got to promise me. Promise me.” When she sits up, Morgan’s eyes are wild with fear. “This was a huge mistake,” she says. “I have to go.”
She begins to stand up, but Beatriz catches her hand, pulls her back. “Please don’t.”
Morgan’s eyes are closed as she sits down again. “I don’t want to think about this anymore. Please. The mission’s tomorrow, and it has to go well. I can’t even think about what will happen if it doesn’t.”
“What –” Beatriz begins, feeling very small. “What can I do?”
There’s only silence, except for the sound of Morgan’s breath as she leans back against the couch. “Could you read to me?” she asks. “Read the play you wrote. About Achilles. It’s so beautiful.”
I’m aware I’m imposing by contacting you at your personal address, but once you read the following I’m sure you’ll understand why I declined to use your professional addresses. As it is, this email is coded to delete itself and its attachments one hour from the time you first open it. It cannot be forwarded. You could take a photograph of the screen, I suppose, but I’ll just have to trust that you won’t.
I assume you must have had a change of heart regarding Hannoti’s ERB-56 Project since you published your article in the Morgenstern. But I know you, Beatriz, and I trust that you still keep an open and critical mind.
I usually find the direct approach is best in these instances, and so I will be blunt: I am sounding you out as a potential source of information on the project. I don’t think I need to spell out that this would be strictly confidential, and may include information that Hannoti does not wish to be made public.
While I realise that this may seem like it’s coming out of the blue, I hope you’d be aware of the Morgenstern’s long-running investigation into this project, including the apparent disappearance of Doctor Henry Paffenbarger. I personally believe that Hannoti has something to hide regarding its research in this area, and that it’s in the public interest to know what this is.
Please read the attachments to this message carefully. This is only some of the information we have collected over the past two years. More will be revealed if you decide to contact me.
I believe you have integrity. Please, at least consider replying.
“Doctor Loring? You seem a little distracted.”
Beatriz glances up; Armin’s voice is sharp and his face looks drawn, as if he hasn’t slept well. She hasn’t slept well herself—though she didn’t look at the message from Aneurin Lynwood again, the words have played through her head on an endless loop.
She manages a wan smile, and he continues where he’d apparently left off: “I’ve called you in here to discuss a rather delicate matter. It seems that…” For a moment, Armin trails off and gazes past her, a lapse in his telegenic charm that Beatriz has never seen before. She licks her lips and waits, tries not to rub her fingers against her sweating palms.
Armin shakes himself and begins again. “It seems that one of our lower-level employees has been approached by a newspaper, asking for certain information that we at Hannoti would consider privileged. Now. I know that you’re aware of the conditions of your employment here, and the confidentiality agreement that you signed.”
Silently, Beatriz stares at him, though she may as well be staring at a cardboard cutout of a man for all that his expression gives away. “Are you accusing me of something, Mr. Spencer?”
Armin seems to turn her words over in his mind for a moment, before shaking his head. “No, no. Of course not. In any case, this information… it’s quite high-level. I’d not expect that you’d know about—“
Something in her face makes him cut himself off mid-sentence; Beatriz draws in a sudden breath, realising that, somehow, she has given herself away.
They stare at each other across the desk for a long moment, before Armin sputters back to life.
“Doctor Loring—I—what am I to—who told you?” Armin smacks his forehead with his palm in such an over-dramatic way—like a performer acting out an only semi-convincing portrayal of outrage—that Beatriz has to bite back a hysterical, terrified laugh. “No, of course I know who it was. Niko. I knew something was happening with you, but I would never have thought he would—“
Beatriz almost opens her mouth to correct him, before her sense returns and she snaps her mouth shut again, swallowing as Armin presses his hands down flat on her desk, breathing heavily.
“Doctor Loring,” he eventually says, not raising his head. “I don’t have to tell you the ramifications of this information leaking to the press. Now tell me.” He looks her in the eye. “Have you received any communication from Aneurin Lynwood, the editor of the Morgenstern?”
Beatriz’s throat feels as though it is sealed shut. Armin’s stare is cold as ice.
“No,” she eventually tells him. “No, I haven’t.”
Hannoti Ushers In a New Era: First Time-Travelling Journey into the Distant Past a ‘Complete Success’
The People’s Voice, 08/07
— with Valerie Porplyzia
It seems like the stuff of dreams: to be transported back into times past, to re-live moments we had thought lost. Most of us would probably choose to go back to a happy memory from childhood or, perhaps, to slip the next week’s lottery numbers under our past self’s doorway.
Luckily for us, the Hannoti Corporation has always held loftier ambitions.
“Obviously, we are most delighted with this outcome,” company spokesperson Armin Spencer told the press on Friday. “It couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Our agents, Niko Bestlove and Morgan Sadler, performed their task admirably.”
He is speaking, of course, of the first-ever trip into the distant past, using what Hannoti has referred to in press releases as their ‘ERB-56 Project’—a top-secret operation that has seen them develop the world’s first device that allows travel not just through space, but time.
While some of us may have preferred to hear of Hannoti travelling back and collecting samples of the long-extinct house cat or preventing the outbreak of World War IV, the company chose instead to focus on the more academic pursuit of rescuing lost literature from the ancient Library of Alexandria, located in what was once Northern Africa.
“We decided it was a worthy endeavor,” Mr. Spencer explained to reporters this morning. “This technology is very new, you must remember. We’re taking it slowly for the moment.”
Mr. Spencer went on to explain that Hannoti’s in-house expert, Doctor Beatriz Loring of Beta Dalnez University, was currently working on a translation so that those of us who aren’t familiar with the ancient language the text is written in—‘Greek’, as it’s called—can enjoy this newly recovered work.
We wait with bated breath to see what this new technology may bring in future.
Morgan’s forehead creases as she tries to find the words. Beatriz bites down on her tongue, resisting the urge to hurry her.
It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since Morgan’s return—she has been in ‘debriefing’ since then, which she hasn’t talked about, but Beatriz can tell she didn’t like it; the rings under her eyes and nervous movements of her hands speak volumes.
“It was… it was dark, and we were so focused on getting in and out, and looking at the charts to make sure we were going to the right place. But it was exactly like you said it would be, the huge hallway when you first come in, and then the little rooms, with all the… um. Anamari?”
“Armaria,” Beatriz corrects as gently as she can.
Morgan nods absently. “Those, yeah. Anyway, we had to go to like three of them? But Armin says we found the right one. Did we?”
For a moment, Beatriz almost wants to shake her, to shake loose the words for all she must have seen, the air she must have breathed. What did it smell like? What did the marble beneath your feet sound like? Were there people? Did it echo? Did the lanterns… Closing her eyes, Beatriz stops herself. She looks down at her hands, her fingers curled into her palms, and simply breathes.
“I’m sorry,” Morgan says softly, as if she can read her thoughts. “I know I should be able to tell you more, but… you know, it’s hard. You just get into that headspace, and you don’t see anything but what you need to do.” She glances away. “And I’m really tired, Beatriz. I’m sorry. And there’s something going on between Armin and Niko—I don’t know what, but Niko’s furious about it. I don’t even know what to say to him. Did you… did you at least get your play?”
Beatriz pulls in a deep breath—it’s hard to know what to say. She hasn’t been allowed to see or touch the original manuscript. Alda had provided her with copies from which to translate, and perhaps that had been for the best. Even with the soft, filmy sheets of paper that they had printed the copy onto, her hands had shaken so badly as to almost crush them, carrying them from Alda’s office to her own. She hadn’t looked. It was only when Armin sent her four emails marked ‘URGENT’ in a row that she had forced herself to begin, skimming her fingertips over the lines, breathing out the words as she read them, reading them in Greek before she even dared to attempt to turn them into anything else.
Perhaps she understood Morgan more than she was willing to admit—the only way she could force herself, in the end, to sit down to the task was to pretend she was looking at something else entirely, something she did not know and perhaps did not care for.
“I did,” she says. “I’ve finished working on it. Would you like me to read it?”
Morgan leans back, resting her head on the arm of Beatriz’s couch, closing her eyes. “Yeah,” she says. “A lot, actually.”
She lays the paper down on the desk in front of her and looks up to where Morgan still sprawls across her couch, arms behind her head, looking up unblinkingly at the ceiling.
“Is that the end?” she asks, not looking over as Beatriz nods. Morgan is silent, as if thinking things through, before she eventually says, “I liked your version better.”
Beatriz blinks. “Pardon?”
Rolling over to look at her, Morgan rests the side of her face on her palm. “I don’t know. It just seemed like… I couldn’t really understand why Achilles did what he did. Patroclus was almost, like, an afterthought.”
Over the low, deep thud in her chest, Beatriz tries to answer, “I see what you mean, but… what you have to remember is that Aeschylus wasn’t telling a romance story. He was a moralistic playwright… he wanted the audience to think about community, and how Achilles was derelict in his duty to his country. That was what he found interesting, what he wanted to teach people about—duty to your people. On his epitaph he didn’t even mention that he was a playwright.”
“What did he say?” Morgan asks, eyes sleepy, blinking.
Beatriz swallows. “He wrote, ‘Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian, who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela; of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak, and the long-haired Persian knows it well.’”
“But what does that mean?”
“He wanted to be remembered for his military achievements. His Achilles was the same. He could have been anything, asked people to remember him as anything he wanted. But he chose to be a warrior.”
Morgan turns away, looking again at the ceiling. “I still like yours better,” she eventually murmurs, and Beatriz can see she’s drifting towards sleep, her breath becoming heavier.
“Beatriz?” she says suddenly, with a start.
Morgan’s eyes are wide. “You didn’t tell anyone, did you? What I said about Dr. Paffenbarger? What Niko did?”
She feels very, very calm as she says, “No. Of course not.”
“Good. I knew you wouldn’t.” Eventually, Morgan curls over on her side, and Beatriz watches her for a moment, wanting to wake her to tell her to go to her own quarters, but not having the heart for it just now.
Instead, she looks down again at her translation—there are notes and annotations, places where she’s written down several variations of a line, looking for the one that is the most pure, the most true. The bust of Aeschylus that Alda had given her on her first day looks down at it with hooded eyes: his stolen work, uprooted from its correct place in history.
Eventually, it becomes too much for her, and she slides open her drawer, placing the translation on top of her own work inside, unable to bring herself to look at it any longer. Beatriz drops her forehead to her palms, wondering where she should go from here. Aneurin’s message has long since deleted itself from her email, but she knows his address, knows where to find him.
There’s a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as she reaches for her datapad, logged in, as it always is, to her personal email. She unlocks the screen with a few taps of her fingertips, and stares down at the screen.
Across the room, Morgan stirs, and Beatriz begins typing.