Sunday, April 3, 2016

epsilon

June 11 – 1 p.m.–The weather is excellent this morning, we have a constant wind from the stern, and Excelsior is leaving behind a beautiful white trail. The dreams I had last night were long and vivid. So vivid I almost took them for real. I’m relieved to see that nobody from my crew is missing in this routine and uneventful journey. In three days we are supposed to arrive at the Northern Fort, unload our cargo, and return to our naval base from the metropolis by next week. Still, the whole dream about the Island was so long, intense, and intriguing! I had the feeling I have lived in that world for a whole week. The story itself is worth remembering. I’d better write down everything on paper while all the details are still fresh in my memory.
“Whales at the prow, about ten degrees to starboard!” shouts the man in the crow’s nest.
“Sir, let’s make a small detour and watch them from closer,” I tell the captain.
“All right,” he says. “It’s a welcome change in our boring journey,” and gives the order for the temporary course change.
It takes about half an hour to reach the huge cetaceans, as they are far ahead and are moving in approximately the same direction with us. In this area rich in krill, they are feeding by swimming graciously with a speed of about five kilometers an hour. It’s a group of five humpback whales, between 10-14 meters in length, apparently made of two bulls and three females. They spend most of the time at a depth of about one hundred meters, where the highest concentration of krill is available and only come to surface once every ten minutes. However, as our ship closes in, the big cetaceans prefer to dive deeper and swim rapidly away, to avoid any potential harm from us. The captain orders the ship back on course and nothing else worth mentioning happens for the rest of the day.
June 12 – 9 a.m.–Since early morning, threatening clouds began gathering in the at prow. Meanwhile, the helmsman is complaining that the compass doesn’t point anymore towards a fixed direction. Its needle is rotating in circles, making impossible for him to keep the correct route. The captain orders the chip log launched behind the ship and we’re doing our best to keep her going straight.
10 a.m.–The sea is still calm, but the sky above has darkened. Lightning flashes slice the cloud canopy once every few seconds. Rumbling thunders reverberate all the way to the horizon a few seconds later. The storm is going to start at any moment. Fortunately, the compass seems to have stabilized back.
11 a.m.Most of the sails are wrapped up now and our advancing speed has reduced greatly. Under a sky as black as it can be, the wind is blowing furiously, rocking the ship back and forth. No rain is falling yet, but we expect to be hit soon by a flood of water from above.
12 p.m.The hurricane is at its peak. Excelsior is battered incessantly by huge waves that hit her gunwale like giant fists. A furious shake from underneath and an angry deluge of rain from atop meet on the deck in a frantic battle. The course can only be maintained only approximately and with great difficulty. Some crew suffer from sea sickness and I don’t feel so great, either. Also, I can’t stop myself from having a feeling of déjà vu.
9 p.m.The waters are calm again, after a storm that lasted over six hours. The sky is still cloudy and the ship changes course towards the direction where we think the shore is, intending to use its features for identifying our position more accurately.
10 p.m.Many of our crew members are getting nervous, because we haven’t reached the coast yet. It’s a full moon night and the mountains behind the shore line should be easily visible from great distances, even on a cloudy sky. It’s obvious we went off course during the storm. The clouds are gradually clearing and I’m starting to look for the polar star to measure our latitude. However, all the constellations look changed and the stars I can see appear totally different from everything I know. When the moon finally appears from behind the clouds, it seems almost twice the normal size, has a bluish tint and its surface features look unfamiliar. We look at each other with surprised expressions while the ocean’s water around us, full of billions of small light-emitting creatures, sparkles in a strange blue color itself.
“What a crazy night!” says the captain. “Let’s wrap up all the sails and wait for the sunrise”.
June 13 – 7 a.m.The Sun returned to the sky from the other side of the horizon at around 6 a.m. It appeared from an unexpected direction. The compass from the steering wheel suggested that it had risen from the south…
“It’s obvious, we have encountered a magnetic anomaly” said the first lieutenant. “When in doubt, trust the Sun,” he added immediately with a smile.
It was a strange looking sun, larger and paler than what I reckoned seeing during all my sea voyages, with a faint green tint around its edge. I’ve darkened a piece of glass in a candle flame, held it in my right hand and watched the Sun through this improvised filter for a few minutes with one eye, while holding a small coin in the other outstretched hand, for size comparison. My rough estimates gave me a diameter about ten percent larger than normal. Soon, the green tint extended to the whole sky. Everybody on board was feeling uneasy about this unusual phenomenon. People began talking about spells and curses, making the atmosphere even tenser.
At 9 a.m. I was down in the cabin, attempting to have a good guess about our current location and intending to triangulate our most probable route, when the first lieutenant came and asked me to come on the deck:
“Alberto” he says,“the man in the crow’s nest saw a group of unusual flying creatures. Even though they are still far away, their size seem to be huge, much bigger than any birds we know.”
In a few moments I was on the deck with a small portable telescope in my hand. The beasts were really far and I could only get a short glimpse of their flock. It was difficult to know what could they be, but these things were definitely not flying like typical birds. Their long, trembling bodies, suggested rather the shape of a snake… I could count three of them and they were completely white. The strange beings seemed to follow our ship.
“Whales at starboard!” shouted then a sailor from the crow’s nest. Then, after a moment: “Whales at larboard!” Then again, after a few more seconds of silence: “Whales everywhere around the ship!” Apparently, a large group of humpback wales, more than thirty, emerged from the ocean at the same time, not carrying anymore about a potential threat from our ship. Meanwhile, still flying too high to be seen clearly, the strange creatures began to rotate in large circles around our vessel. I decided to climb the mast myself, for a better view of the whales placement and hopefully a clearer image of the unusually looking animals from above.
From the observation point on the mast I could count now about fifty whales. This was an impressively large herd! All seemed to be occupied with feeding, totally ignoring the nearby presence of our vessel. Meanwhile, the three flying serpents came closer to us and I could recognize what they were: mythological dragons, with a length of about ten-fifteen meters! The way they actually swam in the air with their long and narrow bodies seemed to defy the laws of physics. I tried to use my small telescope to see the creatures better, but the ship’s roll had made it useless. I was just starting my climb down to the deck when suddenly the wind changed direction and the mast tilted strongly towards the larboard side with a jerk. Caught by surprise, I lost my balance and fell over the protective barrier of the crow’s nest. Desperate, I grabbed a hawser that happened to be in my way and managed to slow down considerably the speed of my unwanted descent. However, in the end, my landing on the deck was a bit too rough and resulted in a sprained ankle…
7 p.m. - The ship’s physician recommended a couple of days rest until my swollen foot shall be healed and I could walk normally again. I had to go to my cabin and lie in bed all afternoon, using most of my time there checking navigational charts. At about 3 p.m, land was finally sighted. A land that did not look like any coast we expected to see. It seemed to be an island. An island in a region where no islands existed. No matter how much we had strayed from our course, there was no island in this are of the ocean that we could possibly reach in such a short time. Puzzled, we kept sailing towards it.
One hour later we were entering a small harbor with a tall stony quay. Higher, on the rocky shore, an imposing unusual city of a queer beauty was visible. It displayed massive marble buildings covered in ivy, wide streets were visible intersecting at right angles and tall white towers were surrounding its edges. The urban area extended all the way to the ocean on both sides, more than three kilometers across, as if holding the port in a perpetual, paternal embrace. I counted twenty five towers guarding the unusual metropolis. Everything looked like in my dream, and that was really unsettling.
Excelsior set anchor close to the tall pier. Several wide roads made of hundreds of stone stairs were connecting the quay with the high promontory where the city was located. With the help of a crutch, I climbed on the deck and told the captain and first officer about my vision. They already knew we must have come to the Island and paid careful attention to my story.
“It’s out of question to go in the city unarmed, but I shall caution all the people to use their guns only in case they are attacked. We shall not give the locals any reason to become our enemies,” said the captain. “I’m sorry, lieutenant, you have to remain on board for now, but shall have plenty of chances to visit the city later, because we plan to stay here for up to a week. This new mission takes priority over the ammunition transport to the Northern Fort. If the legends about the gold here are true, the crew of Excelsior is going to return home with unbelievable riches. As the highest ranked officer, you’ll be in charge of the ship while we’re on the shore.”
With these words said, they stepped on the quay, followed by a large group of about fifty people from our crew. I remained behind the rail with my worries and the rest of the sailors.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

delta 2

“I am very sorry for your life loss,” I add in the end. “I had no weapons with me and could not even join our group to help with the retreat, because I was surrounded and attacked by the locals, too. I tried to take a detour and reach the ship from the quay, but was prevented from doing it. In the end I had to run far away from the shore and here I am now, in this bare wilderness, trying to survive on my own until I can get back to the ocean and to Excelsior.”
“This was my destiny, I suppose,” continues the first lieutenant. “My life was not so bad. In the end, sooner or later, we all have to go.”
“Then, can you tell me what happened at the palace while I was exploring the city?”
“Of course. The dinner feast was going on nicely. The king brought a few musicians with drums, harps and lutes and we were being treated with beautiful melodies one after another. After a while, even his daughter, a charming young woman, came among us from her quarters and began singing a song herself. I suppose the local wine was starting to have a bad influence on some of our sailors. One of them took his gun out and released a shot in the air. The palace wall amplified it into a powerful sound, like a thunder strike. Suddenly, all the locals, including the king, ran away.
Petrified, we looked at the drunk sailor and the captain scolded him vigorously. Our people thought it was only a minor incident and were sure everything shall return quickly back to normal. However, immediately after this incident, something huge, shaped like a snake, came from the sky and plunged over the entrance where the king had disappeared. From inside, his soldiers managed to defend their sovereign with their halberds and the strange creature, which looked like a dragon, flew away, fading in the darkness with ample moves that looked like swimming through the air.
What we did not know was that the thunder sounds are attributed to evil in their culture. The unnatural coincidence of the dragon attack was also blamed on us. The locals also have a prophecy about a group of demons who shall come one day to kill their king, disguised as people from a far away land. A dragon, descending from the sky at night, is going to help them. All these coincidences put us in the worst possible situation. Now everybody took us for demons or demon-possessed people that had to be killed immediately. The captain was just preparing to walk towards the area where the king had disappeared and apologize for the incident, when suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by soldiers with swords and halberds. Without a warning, they attacked us with the obvious intention to kill. A few gunshots repelled the first wave while we decided to retreat immediately to the ship. You saw the rest of the incident yourself.”
“Then, if I stayed and waited for their mercy…”, comes my reply in a feeble voice.
“You would have been killed on the spot as a demon.”
“How do you know all the details of their prophecy?”
“The king’s translator shouted them at us when the fight had started…”
I ponder for a few moments whether to ask him more about what happens after death, but decide that it’s better to stick to the living world. So, I continue:
“And what happened after you came to the ship?”
“After we left the pier, two of their vessels tried to attack us in the open waters. Of course, it was an unequal battle, due to our obvious superiority. Excelsior sank quickly the first and damaged the second so badly that it could barely return to the harbor. In the morning I was already dead. Still, this world seems to have different laws for those who live in it, even if only for a short time. As life had already left my body, I was well aware of everything happening around me. I could see the ship, the city towers, the port, the coast line washed by the waves, my own corpse buried at sea, the sad faces of the crew members and I could hear the captain’s voice swearing revenge. He promised not to leave until he recovers the bodies of all the fallen comrades from the shore and takes with him as much gold as our vessel can carry.
At noon, Excelsior approached the harbor again and used one of our harpoon canons to send a message to the city. The captain asked for the bodies of our crew, a huge quantity of gold, and official apologies from the king. In case they rejected his conditions, he was going to start destroying all their towers one by one, bombarding them from far away, so that no arrows from the shore could reach the ship. It was supposed to be a good deal for the locals, if we think how cheap the gold is around here, but they were too terrified by the coincidences with their prophecy, still thinking of us as demons. To negotiate with the evil was unacceptable in their culture, so they refused the terms from the letter. The captain began to destroy a few towers every day, sending with each such occasion new messages where he explained that we are people, like them, and not demons.
The last time a ship from our world visited the Island was long, long ago, before the invention of the firearms. For this reason, the people coming from our world never had any conflicts with the locals. As for the flying dragon, I have no idea why and how it came to the palace at the same moment with the gun shot. Maybe the gun shot attracted the beast, who knows?”
So, there is a war raging in Gold City and it could last for a while. Retracing my steps is going to be, of course, much too risky. Being dressed so differently from the locals and not speaking their language would betray me as soon as I crossed back the river. The only relatively safe route I can take is this long, circumventing path, down to the point where the river reaches the sea. Then I shall return to Excelsior by navigating on a makeshift raft along the coast. Based on the way the river’s course seems to bend, I also have the feeling the road ahead might be short enough to bring me back to Gold City in four or five days. In consequence, not all the news are bad: our ship hasn’t left the Island and might be near the city for several weeks. If I hurry, I can be back on board soon.
“I can only be grateful for your news, sir! You helped me a lot and know I know what is the best course of action for me.” I say.
“Happy to do a final good deed! I have to go now”, comes his reply, “I’m glad I could bring you some news about the crew. Take care of yourself. And congratulations! You are now promoted to the rank of first lieutenant on Excelsior!” He fades away and disappears in the air.
“Wait a moment, please, sir!” I shout after him. “Can you visit the captain in his dream and let him know I am alive and trying to rejoin the crew?” But it’s already too late, the first lieutenant is gone. I also never had a chance to tell him about my discovery from the forest, about the giant cocoons with people inside them.
I know that what is happening around me is only a dream, but I can see clearly the back wall of the cave shining in front of me, basking in the pale light of the freshly risen moon. My own body, as a separate entity, is sleeping on a dry bed of twigs. I cannot stop wondering about what happens to us when we cross to the other side, when our lives end. Are we going to be unconscious, decomposing to dust and waiting to be resurrected at the End of Time, where we shall judged for our deeds and then either rewarded or sentenced? Or are we going to return directly to Him, the Source of all Creation, after an existence where our ego was only an illusion? Are we going to know more about everything or shall our mind, with all its memories, die with us? The image of the cave dissolves and takes my thoughts with it as I plunge into a deeper, dreamless sleep.
June 19 – The morning starts as usually. I eat for breakfast the last fruits from my basket and one of the fish caught during the previous day. I wonder if the first lieutenant truly visited me in a dream. Maybe everything was just the product of my subconscious imagination. Nevertheless, continuing my journey looks like the best possible choice under the circumstances. I pack up quickly my belongings and prepare for another day of trekking along the river bank. As I keep going, the gorge is transforming into a real canyon with vertical walls, almost impossible to climb. The ground is so full of slippery stones that my advance slows down soon to almost nothing. As the things aren’t bad enough, I have the uneasy feeling that an evil presence is stalking me from a distance. I struggle the whole morning with the uneven terrain and can barely advance about three or four kilometers.
Behind me, I hear at regular intervals the distant roar of what appears to be a large prey animal. Suddenly, the little folding knife and the wooden spear don’t seem suitable at all to protect me against an attack. During the early afternoon I decide to stop where I am and prepare my shelter in advance. A premonition tells me that the unknown beast shall try to kill me after nightfall. I am lucky to find here many pieces of wood brought to the bank by the river. They are not big enough for a raft, but satisfactory for other uses. I need to make quickly a better weapon.
After one hour of work, I manage to put together a primitive ax from a hard stone shaped like a blade, tied with a vine to a solid piece of wood. I jam open the folding knife and mount it tightly at the end of a long stick. It can be used now like a sharp spear that can easily cut through flesh. Looking around for caves, I discover one with a small entrance. Taking the thickest and sturdiest sticks I can find and tying them together with vines, I build a rudimentary door that should prevent any unwanted intrusion inside my shelter while I’m asleep. When everything is finished, it’s already getting dark.
I had no time to search for food, so I eat for dinner the last remaining fish from my basket. It takes me a while to start a small fire in the damp air of the cave. Patience and hard work are needed until I can finally see the soothing light of the flames and feel their pleasant warmth. Then I shut myself inside the small cavern and wait.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

delta 1


The next morning, I woke up in the warm rays of the Sun but could not stand on my feet. No sign of human presence was visible in this area, only bare mountain ridges were marking the horizon everywhere. The lack of food during the previous days had made my body extremely weak. I was also tortured by a strong nausea and stomach cramps, probably from the ingested river water. However, here in the bright sunlight I was also in danger of a sunstroke. With all my remaining strength, I began crawling slowly towards the shadow of a tree, located about twenty meters ahead. Once in a while I would faint, but would come back to my senses after a few minutes and continue my advance with the speed of a snail. When I finally reached the tree, it was almost noon and the Sun rays were already burning my neck. As soon as I felt safe, I sank once more in a painful and numbing sleep.
When I woke up again, the evening shadows were spreading over the ground. Part of the pain and nausea were gone, but I was too weak to travel. I noticed in the grass, next to me, several fruits similar to oranges, probably fallen from the branches. I decided to try eating one, assuming it was not poisonous. Without food I would have died anyway, so there was little to lose. Luck was on my side. The fruit had a refreshing taste and appeared to be full of nutrients. Still feeling pain everywhere, I took small morsels and forced myself to keep eating until I finished it. Then I grabbed another and managed to it all of it, too. Soon after that I fell asleep again.
June 17 – The second morning on the other side of the river. I’m still very weak and all my body aches and feels like being made of rubber, but, for the first time, I can stand up and walk slowly. My nausea and stomach cramps are gone. Returning to the city along the path used the other night is not an option. The area might be still guarded. I would be recognized immediately and captured or killed, not even having the strength to run away this time. I still cannot understand what happened that night to ignite such a violent conflict.
The best plan is to continue the trek along the river’s bank all the way to the sea. I could find food along the way and learn more about this land. After arriving at the ocean, I could go along the shore until I reach the outskirts of the city. I might walk or I could use a raft. I don’t have any tools to build one, but maybe I shall find along the way a village where I could get some help. There could be opportunities to change my clothes with something used by the locals and sneak back in the city without being recognized.
Tying my coat’s sleeves and making out of it an improvised bag, I put inside it as many fruits as it can carry. They shall help me keep both hunger and thirst under control for a while. Due to the unpleasant effects resulted from ingesting the river’s water, I’d rather avoid drinking it as much as possible. I also grab a dry branch that I plan to use like a cane until my strength fully recovers. With my slow speed and often rests, I can barely cover one kilometer in one hour. Several large, white birds are flying above and dive every once in a while into the river, fishing. Rough, short grass blades cover the land, while isolated trees are scattered here and there. No big animals can be seen along the bank or on the higher grounds. The rocky mountain ridge seems to go parallel with the stream. In a few places, gold veins are visible on the bare slopes.
I have to take frequent rest breaks, and use each of them to eat a fruit. My condition is gradually improving and my mind can think clearly again. I begin to inspect my possessions. The water has damaged my watch and it has stopped working. Its glass is cracked, too. However, its condition is not beyond repair and I shall keep it. Luckily, my notebook and pencil were well protected in the tiny waterproof wooden box from my pocket. A small, folding knife thought lost had fallen into the stuffing of my coat and shall be a valuable possession inside this wilderness, but my flint is gone.
At noon, I take a longer break and spend about an hour on the river bank, cleaning my clothes. Then, while they are drying in the sun, I search for rocks that could be used to start a fire. It takes me only a few minutes to find a couple that can do the job. With my little knife, I make a spear out of a long branch and try to catch some fish with it. Unfortunately, without success. Continuing my inspection of the available local resources, I glimpse some long vines growing farther in the grass. I cut the longest ones and manage to knit from them a primitive basket that can be carried on my back, releasing my coat from this kind of job. The new bag shall be employed to carry fruits or other useful objects I could find on my way. I take with me several more vines to be used later for ropes.
Late in the afternoon I feel more and more energetic. My speed has increased to about three kilometers per hour. On my way, I find more orange-like fruits and fill my little basket with them. The river valley is becoming narrower now and the bank has a rocky consistency. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems the water course is becoming narrower, too.
At night, I gather dry branches and succeed in making a fire by striking my flint rocks on each other. I improvise a torch and try to do some fishing in the dark. This time I succeed in catching two. They look similar to graylings. While the fish are getting cooked above the flames, I discover a small spring flowing from a rock nearby. For the first time since the palace dinner, I am not hungry or thirsty. Soon I am diving into the world of dreams.
June 18 – My body feels fully recovered and eager to continue the journey. I eat a few fruits, fill the basket with more, picked up from a tree nearby, and start my march for a second day. I do not have a recipient to carry water with me and shall have to rely on every opportunity along the way to quench my thirst. I’ll drink water from the river only if there is no other option available. After about one hour of walking, the valley becomes as narrow as the river itself. I’m surrounded by steep cliffs and on the ground full of stones, my speed slows down considerably. The rock walls have an unusual blue color. Could it be whinstone? There are no more trees with fruits. I take a long break at noon and spend about two hours fishing. My spearing skills have improved and this time I catch five river creatures: two salmons and three graylings. Cooking them takes another hour and it’s already late afternoon when I start marching again.
In the narrow gorge, the night seems to come sooner. At sunset, I find a cave and decide to spend the night inside it. Some water drips from a corner of its ceiling and is more than welcome to alleviate my thirst, as I improvise a cup from the skin of one of my fruits to collect it. The trees are completely gone from the landscape. By happy chance, several thick bushes still grow nearby and I can collect enough dry twigs for a fire. After dinner, the sleep grabs me almost instantly.
I sit inside the cave, next to the fading flames and listen to the whispering voice of the river. The waves generate low, rhythmic sounds that combine into a sad and monotonous melody. The moon is preparing to set and suddenly I feel someone’s presence nearby. Lifting my head, I glimpse the dark standing outline of a man. The pale light of the dying fire unveils his preoccupied face. The second-in-command stands in front of me. This can’t be happening. Am I awake? No, I can’t be awake. I must be dreaming. However, dreaming or not, I have to find out what he has to tell me.
“How come you are here sir?” I ask.
No answer.
“How did you find me? Am I close to the shore? Is Excelsior nearby? Am I awake or am I dreaming?”
The first lieutenant continues to look at me in silence. The whole scene feels awkward and my own words, echoed by the cave walls, sound distorted, as if coming from someone else’s mouth.
“You’re dreaming,” he answers in the end and takes a sit on a boulder on the other side of the embers. I decide to be patient and remain silent, waiting for him to continue. For a while, we look at each other and nobody says anything.
Then he breathes out: “I just came to say good bye.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going? Has Excelsior already left the Island?”
I was hoping all this time that I can escape from this place and that my ship shall be waiting for me somewhere. The first lieutenant doesn’t answer immediately. Another long period of silence follows. Then, he goes on in a low voice:
“I was among the people who died in the fight that took place in the city. They call it Ora Urbo in their language, and that means Gold City.”
“This can’t be true. I thought I saw you next to the captain, crossing the mobile bridge and returning to the ship.”
“An arrow pierced through my back and damaged my aorta. I managed to reach the ship’s deck but died from the internal bleeding a few hours later, aboard Excelsior. The doctor could not save me.”
Long, uneasy silence again. Even though I’m dreaming, I feel he is telling the truth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

gamma 2

I could glimpse behind me more and more soldiers filling the road and moving towards the quay. Gunshots could be heard once in a while, the night was full of sounds of steel hitting steel, full of cries of anger and pain. I turned a corner, hoping to lose my attackers and planning to get back at our ship by making a large detour through the less circulated streets, avoiding any direct path that was at the risk of crossing the battle area. It would take longer, but I hoped to arrive at the shore in relative safety. The canons from Excelsior began to shoot, with their thundering noises shaking the darkness and the windows of the buildings near the pier. Before leaving the main street, I noticed several bodies lying on the ground. They belonged to the islanders.
Threatening shouts and footsteps were still audible behind me and had to keep moving, turning right or left at every crossroad while the sound of the waves hitting the shore became louder and louder. Gradually, the streets seemed to become narrower and soon I found my escaping path blocked by a dead end. Stopping here was not an option. I had no idea what caused the conflict and no wish to be captured, maybe even killed on the spot. Being unarmed didn’t give me any realistic chance of defending myself. My mind was searching desperately for a way out.
A balcony hung above within my reach, on a house wall. Fear gave me wings. I jumped high in the air and grabbed its lower end. When my pursuers arrived at the scene I was up high, running along the crest of a long roof covered with gold tiles. I continued my race high above the ground towards the harbor, leaping from a house top to another. Luck was on my side this time: all the buildings in this part of the city were two stories high and close to each other. I had a usable path to reach the shore.
In the bright moonlight I could see now the battle on the pier. Some of my people were lying down there, too, while the survivors had already crossed the mobile bridges that connected our vessel to the shore and were back on Excelsior’s deck. Our ship’s cannons continued to bombard the city’s exposed streets from the higher slopes, inflicting a lot of damage to the enemy fighters. The locals were trying to shot at her with burning arrows, but they were too far away to matter. For some unknown reason, their archers were not using the tall, white towers. Maybe they hadn’t had time to climb them up and hoped to catch us from close distance, while our ship was still near the quay. Thousands of armed natives were now approaching the pier, preparing to fight our crew with swords, spears and arrows. Even though our weapons were superior, it was impossible to win a battle against so many enemies. The mobile bridges were lifted, leaving immediately a several meter gap between the pier and our ship rail. I glimpsed a few archers aiming in my direction as I was running high on the roofs, but they were not close enough to put me in any real danger.
I realized now that it was too late to go back to the ship directly. The whole area near the harbor was already filling fast with enemy troops. While running as fast as I could towards the city’s edge, I had to think quickly about a new way out. I decided to take an even longer route, all the way to the city’s outskirts and arrive at the shore there. Then, steal a boat or jump in the sea and swim towards our vessel until I could reach her safely, far away from the threatening pier. If I wanted to succeed, I needed to move even faster, because more and more shouts and footsteps were audible from the streets below, running parallel with my escape path. I could also glimpse four or five soldiers trotting on the roof behind me and my only option was to keep racing, no matter how tired I was. Heavy drops of perspiration were already pouring along my body while I was breathing heavily from the effort. I had to be thankful for our past military drills that had brought my stamina to a high level. My strength and endurance gave me hope.
I kept running and jumping from one roof to another. When I finally arrived at the city outskirts and was ready to dash towards the sea, I saw in the bright moonlight that Excelsior was already moving away at full speed. I was still hoping to use a boat or just swim towards my ship, but the locals had probably anticipated my intention. Several squadrons of soldiers were patrolling the harbor area and the shore line all the way to the farthest suburbs of the city. The towers flanking the pier were now full of archers who were shooting burning arrows at my people. However, our vessel was already out of their range. There was no way that I could reach the shore undetected. My escape plan had failed.
For a few moments I thought about surrendering to the natives and asking for their mercy, but on second thought, I still did not know what had caused the trouble. Based on the violence of the battle, they would have likely killed me if I gave them the opportunity. Most likely, the people on Excelsior thought that I was already dead. I couldn’t count on their return to save me and, with my pursuers behind, had to improvise quickly a way to survive alone on the Island for a while. The best option was to move away from the city and try to learn what happened during my absence from the palace, while also staying free in the process. It was imperative to act fast and make the enemy lose my tracks before it was too late.
I jumped off from the last house roof into a tree, then on the ground, and disappeared in a forest that covered the Island’s slopes not far from the shore. At least here, in the woods, I didn’t have to fear the archers anymore. A few burning arrows hit the upper branches of the trees above as I was landing, signaling me that the locals knew where I was. I had to make them lose my tracks, and I had to do it fast. I decided to change my direction of movement towards the inner area of the Island, where I expected to have a better chance to fade away from their sight.
Running through a forest at night, even with such a bright moon shining up in the sky, can be a nightmare. More often than not, invisible branches hit your face painfully and your feet stumble on rocks and roots you can’t see well. Yet, I had no choice, I was forced to keep going, gasping for air with my mouth wide open and with my clothes drenched in sweat. My heart beats, like a hammer hitting the anvil inside a blacksmith’s workshop, hurt my chest, but I pushed myself to keep going. 
Soon I found a narrow alley and my speed increased somewhat. As I was moving inland, I expected to see myself climbing a gentle slope, but, surprisingly, the road was descending. A few minutes later, my common sense estimated that I was already below the sea level. My lungs were burning and I felt thousands of needles piercing through the exhausted muscles of my ankles and thighs. Unfortunately footsteps and voices of several soldiers were still audible behind me, albeit somewhat farther. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to see the Sun rise again the next day. After about half an hour of agonizing run the distance from my pursuers increased, the forest ended abruptly and a large swamp blocked any further advance. Far behind it, a rocky mountain ridge reflected the moon rays. I took my chances, plunged inside the wetland and began crawling towards the thick cane bushes that covered large parts of it. Up to the neck in the muddy water, I prayed that my enemies won’t find me.
I’ve spent the next two days inside deep water, hidden by the thick cane bushes who were spread all over the wetland. Apparently there were some thermal springs around pouring into the swamp, keeping my body temperature warm enough for the next hours and preventing it from getting hypothermia. I was either swimming or crawling slowly further from the shore every time I had a chance to move without being noticed by my hunters. At dawn I realized the swamp was actually the edge of a river several hundred meters wide. A huge river below the sea level? Where could such a river flow to?
After sunrise, the river bank was already full of soldiers, they even brought a few boats and began patrolling along the shore. I was apalled by their determination to catch me. Once in a while they would approach the swamp, rowing back and forth through the cane and reed covered areas. None of them passed really close to the place where I was currently hiding. 
My only escape path was now to the other side of the stream. Every time my enemies were not nearby, I would move away as quietly as possible, adding a few more meters between me and the shore. Fortunately, the mud was not thick and I also found a small wooden log to keep myself afloat once in a while. That allowed me to dry and warm somewhat my upper body. Suffering of thirst, I had to take my chances once in a while and drink in small sips some of the muddy swamp water. It had a mildly salty taste, but was potable.
The boats continued to patrol around and through the wetland for the whole day and I had to conceal myself even deeper inside the cane bushes to avoid being captured or killed. I spent the second night and the following morning in the water, shivering from cold and encircled by my enemies. The sky became cloudy in the afternoon and a powerful rain started in the evening. Most of those chasing me retreated to the shore. I realized immediately that this was my opportunity to escape. Swimming slowly and under the cover of darkness I crossed the river at the beginning of the third night. None of the soldiers saw me leaving and none ventured after me, yet, as soon as I was out of the water, I kept walking downstream for another hour before I finally felt safe. Suffering of hypothermia and exhausted from hunger and strain, I fell to the ground and lost consciousness.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

gamma 1


June 20 - One week has already passed and I could not write anything in my log during this time. Meanwhile, I became a prisoner of this world. I shall put now on paper the events of the last few days while they are still fresh in my memory.
That night of June 13, the dinner at the palace looked like a gift from Heaven. The captain, sitting next to the king, began talking about trade. We were going to be rich, so rich that none of us would ever have to work again. All officers and sailors were happy and relaxed. Despite the skepticism and lack of contemporary proofs for the existence of this El Dorado, we had actually found the Island!
After a while, with my stomach almost full of food, I was curious to explore the city and requested permission to do so from both the king and our captain. They kindly allowed me to wander around alone, but I was asked not to take any weapons with me. I left my sword and gun in the hands of a sergeant and strode out from the dinner terrace while the rest of the crew continued to enjoy the feast.
Soon, I was walking uphill onto a large boulevard made of granite stones, lit by the same strange yellow globes. Most buildings here were made of white marble. They were massive, rectangular, with Doric columns marking the edges and with ivy covered walls. The doors and windows were composed of an unknown species of red wood while the roofs were all covered with gold tiles. Some houses had only one floor while the tallest had up to five. Gardens with exotic flowers and trees would sometimes separate the edifices, every fifty meters or so (I like the simplicity and clarity of the units designed four years ago and made official two years later by the French Academy; for this reason I decided to use the meter, with its multiples and sub-multiples, everywhere in my log when referring to size or distance). Far away, near the outer edge of the city, I could glimpse once in a while one of the white towers, aiming towards the dark sky. I continued my walk. This had always been my way of getting acquainted with a new place: its detailed exploration on foot.
Here and there, people would pass by, dressed in long silk robes, most of them colored in green. A few of them would observe me discreetly, as I obviously looked like a stranger, especially because of the way I was dressed. The men were tall, athletic and handsome. The women wore their hair long, spread on the shoulders and appeared to be very beautiful. Everybody’s hair was dark, their skin pale and overall they looked similar to our own people. What I found curious was that not a single old person could be seen in the whole city as I was moving across it. Maybe the late hour was to blame? Perhaps they preferred to spend most of their time indoors? Who knows what other strange local habits might exist in this place?
Walking leisurely towards the city center, the slope decreased gradually, as if I was climbing onto the surface of an enormous sphere. I found myself soon in a wide square, at the edge of a plateau that was connecting the shore with the Island’s inner lands. The scenery was dominated in the midpoint by a giant statue of a man standing in a heroic pose and holding up a broad, curved sword. Of course, even the statue was made of gold. There was an inscription in front of the sculpture, but it was written in an unknown alphabet, so I could not guess whom it did portray. I crossed the square and let the feet carry me farther, towards a park with narrow alleys paved with shiny black stones, surrounded by trees similar to birches. Here, I laid down on the grass for a moment and looked at the sky. I gazed at the stars in astonishment and could not understand what was going on.
All the celestial objects and constellations, so familiar to me, were now completely changed, unrecognizable. The legends about the Island mentioned this phenomenon, but I thought of it as being only a metaphor. Now I was confronted with its reality. I could still see the luminous band of the Milky Way dividing the sky, but even this feature looked too wide, too bright. Everything that was visible high above me appeared strange and unsettling. Soon after that, the Moon rose above the horizon.
It was an unbelievably huge Moon. With a small coin in my extended hand, I checked its approximate diameter. It was more than twice the size of the one I knew, with a bluish tint, and its surface features, clearly visible, appeared totally different. Then I realized we were not on Earth anymore.
I decided to go a little farther with my exploration. The park turned gradually into a real forest. I was stepping now onto soft, elastic grass, under trees with crowns enveloped by a blue, eerie halo of light. I saw here and there unusual white, elongated objects lying motionless on the ground. They were shaped like huge cocoons, but their dimensions were as big as human coffins. I didn’t like this analogy pulled on by my own mind’s subconscious and decided to go even farther and investigate them from a close distance. As my steps were moving towards them I could see more and more such white shrouds filling the forest. They were just big enough to fully envelop human bodies…
Then I saw a cocoon with fewer threads around it, set in a horizontal position under a tree. An old man was inside it, dressed in a gray robe. His body was partly enveloped in the unusual, shiny material, with the eyes shot. He seemed dead.
I came closer to him. At a careful look I could spot in the pale moonlight white threads that were being spun in the air by an invisible hand. As I bowed to take a better look at them, the old man opened his eyes and looked straight at me. That was more than I could stand. The uneasy atmosphere of this strange place exploded into my face. I turned quickly and began to run back towards the palace.
I wanted to be back among my own people as soon as possible, I had to tell the captain about my discoveries and my worries. My pocket watch showed it was already 10 p.m. The streets were almost empty. In the silence of the night I could hear the rhythmic echoes generated by my footsteps reverberating on the gray pavement. As I was rushing downhill I saw a white, huge shape, looking like a snake, coming through the air from the palace direction, flying high above my head and disappearing into the night.
I was near the palace now, tired and breathing heavily from my run, with drops of perspiration covering my forehead, yet something seemed wrong. A few moments later I heard gunshots and saw many local soldiers in red uniforms on the street, wearing halberds and swords. It seemed that a fight had broken out between our men and the natives. Unnoticed, I came closer and waited for a short while.
Through the open door of the palace, the captain burst out with a pistol in his left hand and a sword in the right, followed by officers and sailors. The guards waiting in front of the gates were knocked down and my crew mates began running towards the quay, pursued by a group of locals armed with halberds. I was coming from behind, following my people as fast as I could, trying to shorten the distance that kept me apart from them.
However, a group of about fifty soldiers appeared unexpectedly in front of me from a side street and blocked my path before I had a chance to go further. I was unarmed, so I slowed down, pretending to be a local and trying to pass the troops by the road side. I had no luck. One of the officers turned his head in my direction, recognized my foreign attire and shouted something. Two men started running towards me, with their halberds glittering in the moonlight, ready to kill. Their weapons were made of sharp steel, fully capable to cut in half with a single strike any unarmed individual. I had no choice but to run back as fast as my legs could carry me.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

beta


The personal log of Alberto Shimada
June 11 - Our journey has been quiet and peaceful so far. The sea is calm, we have a steadfast wind from the stern and hope to reach our destination in three days. This afternoon, a group of eight dolphins escorted the ship for about thirty minutes, jumping in and out of the water, sometimes almost up to the height of the gunwale. I have always found strange that the dolphins are so friendly with us, humans.
As the second lieutenant on Excelsior, I am in charge of the crew’s shifts, the weather observations, and any other science-related events that could be of interest during our short expedition. However, I don’t expect to see anything unusual during this routine trip.
June 12 , 10 a.m. - I have just been proven wrong about my previous log entry. Anomalies in the magnetic field were detected in this region of the ocean. The navigation compass began to spin in circles this morning. There is no shore line in sight, all we can do is keep the helm straight and follow the sun. Strong, random bursts of wind are hitting periodically our sails from unexpected directions. The captain ordered the chip log launched behind the ship.
1 p.m. - Cumulonimbus clouds are gathering from the east. They are pushed by the wind towards us and look threatening. The sea is still calm, but the incoming storm cannot be avoided. Fortunately, the compass seems to have stabilized back.
4 p.m. - Most of the sails are wrapped, ready to face nature’s fury. The wind’s strength has increased. The sky above is completely black, sliced periodically by lightning flashes. Even for someone who has seen sea storms before, we've got a terrifying view today, a realm where the Hell itself seems to have switched places with Heaven and is preparing to fall soon on our heads. The sea surface is glassy, covered with dark ripples that are gradually transforming into long rows of unfriendly waves. The rain hasn’t started to fall yet. A feeling of anticipation, like before an important battle, is reigning on the deck.
8 p.m. - The storm is at its peak. Huge waves are sweeping over our ship. A furious shake from underneath and an angry deluge of rain from atop meet on the deck in a frantic turmoil. Powerful water fists are battering our vessel, coming from all directions. With difficulty, we can still approximately maintain our course. Some of the crew suffer from sea sickness and I’m not far from it myself.
11 p.m. - Excelsior was fortunate and survived with relatively little damage. A total calm surrounds us now. The wind has stopped and the ship floats immobile on unfamiliar waters. No waves, not even ripples are disturbing the water's surface, making it appear like an endless mirror reflecting an eerie world totally different from ours. The ocean is radiating a strange blue color, probably given by billions of small light-emitting creatures. We continue to wait for the return of the breeze.
June 13, 9 a.m. - The wind has started to blow again and we are finally moving. What gave everybody a scare this morning was the green tint of the Sun’s color. Due to some unusual atmospheric phenomenon, our Sun also seems to be a bit bigger and paler. Not having a direct way to measure its angular diameter, I held a piece of glass in front of a candle to darken it with smoke and observed the bright disc through this improvised filter. Looking at the Sun through the smoked glass with my right eye while holding in my extended hand a small coin and looking at it with the left, I could make a rough comparison. The Sun’s diameter seemed to be about one tenth larger than expected. I suppose that an unusual dispersion of the light is to blame. Soon after my visual checks, the unusual green tint extended to the whole sky.
2 p.m. - Our course continues towards north. At noon, the sailor in the crow’s nest called out, signaling land. This is certainly an odd thing, because we are supposed to have only open sea in this region. Based on the available facts, the only logical explanation is that we lost our direction while affected by the magnetic anomaly, during the storm, or in both situations. The captain ordered the route changed towards the newly found shore, as it was not too far away. Once there, we could hopefully identify the place and pinpoint our location before correcting the course.
7 p.m. - The land detected in the early afternoon seemed to be an island and it was reached around 4 p.m. As we approached the shore, we saw a circular harbor with a tall quay opening in front of us. Behind, on the rocky shore, a large city was spread, with massive marble buildings covered in ivy, wide streets intersecting at right angles and tall white towers surrounding its edges. It extended all the way to the ocean on both sides, more than three kilometers across, as if holding the port in a perpetual, paternal embrace. Looking at the towers, maybe thirty-forty meters tall, I counted twenty five of them. The buildings displayed an exotic architectural style, similar to the Greek cities from Antiquity, appearing at the same time massive and graceful.
I could not remember having seen any city like this before. None of us could recognize this place, none of use had any idea where we were.Excelsior set anchor close to the pier. Two narrow mobile bridges connected soon her gunwale to the quay. Several wide roads made of hundreds of stone stairs were climbing the slope towards the high promontory where the heart of the city was located.
“We shall find out soon what is going on here” said the captain, and about fifty members of our crew, including myself, went ashore. The roofs of the buildings were neat and shiny, made of yellow metal tiles that looked like gold. Of course, I thought at first, there is no way this is gold, because nobody could afford such a waste for a whole city. Then I remembered the legend about the Island, I remembered my trip to the Southern Islands from the previous year and the surreal meeting with Mei Xing, the old Chinese woman who was selling traditional clothes in our urban center. The memories made me freeze. What if the old stories were actually true? I looked at the captain’s face, and his expression showed me that he also knew where we were.
The locals, with features and skin color surprisingly close to ours, showed up on the pier and invited everybody to a Gothic-style palace situated a little further uphill. Dressed in a sumptuous blue robe made of silk and with a silver crown on his head, the local king gestured us to follow him on a large marble terrace where several long tables full of foods and drinks had already been prepared for our crew.
The monarch had next to him an interpreter that could speak satisfactorily our language. The speech of the locals had a nice musical sound and gave me the feeling that many of their words were similar to those found in languages from our continent. Its phonology was probably closest to Latin, but with many notable differences from it. The words’ ends and structure sounded confusing and I could not make out anything from the conversations I heard being spoken around me. Was this a creole talk created from a mix the tongues spoken by the visitors from all over the world who might have arrived at this place for so many centuries? Where did the Island’s inhabitants come from, after all?
We were asked about our trip and about the reason that nobody from our people visited their city for such a long time. The captain told the king what he knew from our legends. He explained how only a few ships in the past were able to find the Island and how this place could not be reached anymore in the recent times, when everybody believed that it had disappeared underwater after a powerful earthquake.
“Yes, every time people from your country come here, they complain about the difficulty to find our city,” commented the king through the interpreter. “Then they want to trade pretty much everything they have for our cheap yellow metal. We shall be glad to do business with you, too. However, before anything else, please come and have dinner with us. We have prepared our best food to honor your visit. I am confident you shall find it delicious.”
The king was right, the food had a wonderful taste. When the night fell they brought, instead of candles, many crystal globes that radiated a calming, cold, yellow light. And yes, all the cups, plates, roof tiles and most of the metal objects I could see around me were made of gold. Could this be the Paradise on Earth? But were we still on Earth?