It glows, it shines, its seams with light do burst.
The energy enough to rend our space,
To tear our time, to twist our universe.
To see it would be like to see God's face --
We thought! But, then, we never were forewarned
'Twas not His face that we would make exist
But far less beauteous, more to be scorned,
We on that day brought forth The Mighty's Fist.
If 'twere God's blows that rained on us those days
And since that time continue pounding still,
Then seems must our Creator burn with rage,
an anger fit to level sea with hill.
What hubris did we hide below our hope
To rip the world asunder with our mote?
-- Homer's Sonnet, 2***************************************************************************************
Penelope stared at the now-empty hall, littered with bits of floating ash and still, it seemed echoing with the din of a decades-long pillaging.
"They'll be back, Telemachus," she told him, matter-of-factly. "And they'll be more angry."
"Shall I tell the servants to board the doors?" Telemachus asked her. She stared at his face, the face that by now looked almost exactly like her beloved Homer's. He would have been about Telemachus' age, she thought, and felt her throat tighten up. All these years, and still the sadness.
The Machine... she heard in her mind.
It is too early, she argued with herself.
She could feel the cold steel of the crank in her hand, could hear the whirring, feel the electrical charge.
It is too early, she argued with herself.
"Tell them," she agreed. "And let them into the armory. Get them their weapons, so they may defend themselves. Perhaps the rogues will not come back."
She looked out the thin window slit next to her at the landscape below, watching trees flicker in and out of existence. From her vantage, she could see the marketplace, the motorcarts that had stasis generators standing relatively still as the road undulated slowly under them. A tree at the corner of the market briefly became carnivorous, reaching its limbs out for passers-by; when one lit a branch on fire the fire burned downward, and was green.
"Perhaps they will not come back," she said again, but Telemachus was already bounding down the stairs, the vigor of youth carrying him with an energy that she did not feel she had anymore.
She slowly turned and walked back towards her room. The doorway, once so beautifully carved from ivory, a wedding present from her father to her -- he'd disapproved of Homer, but had wanted her to be happy, and so he'd given a gift that would not benefit Homer at all, or so he'd thought, a doorway carved with histories of famous families in the world: The Washingtons, the Medicis, several princes and kings of old England, Honore, the female African General who had first united that Continent -- the doorway now could not be read anymore as a history, but instead stood as an electrified bulwark against all the realities that rained down on the world.
She stood outside it and did not raise her hand to knock, not yet. Her servants would be inside, awaiting her return, not sure if she would. She looked back once more at the ledge from whence she had watched Telemachus make his stand, protecting a life she no longer cared much about herself.
What if I just turned and ran and threw myself over it that precipice?
She slumped against the door, slowly sliding down to the ground until she was crumpled in a heap on the floors outside her own bedroom, which she had come to think of as a sanctuary as much as a prison.
The Machine... she thought again. She could feel the nebula around her. It is too early.
She realized that she was not touching the ground, looked around her. She was floating in midair, drifting away from the door that was now more than an arms-length away. From somewhere, a voice echoed that gravity was simply off, not reversed.
Tears formed in her eyes. She tried to see through them as she made swimming motions with her hands to pull herself towards her sanctuary her prison.
"Homer..." she said, quietly. It was a nearly-silent sob. Homer would know what to do to stop this. Homer should know what to do to stop this. He was exactly the person for it, which was why they had sent him there, in the first place.
Her hand tried to grasp the doorknob. It was frustratingly just beyond her reach. At least in this weightlessness I can bear the burden of my own existence, she told herself, and did not chide herself for being melodramatic. Homer was all she had ever wanted, the only man she'd ever asked permission to marry, and he had been gone for decades, or longer, if you went with the way time seemed to flow in several directions at once ever since Day One, when they had turned on that damnable machine...
... the machine Homer had helped design.
Her hand reached the doorknob. She pulled herself up, knocked in the code of the day. After a moment, she heard someone yell that they would try to get to the door. She waited, tears forming and drifting away from her face to surround her in a nimbus of her own sadness.
From below, she heard doors slamming, being barred. One of the few remaining servants said that the men could be seen outside, staring. She knew they would be back. She wondered which one, finally, would win her, whether they would breach the door that she had pieced together using bits of Homer's workshop materials and the notes he'd left behind.
The notes he'd left her -- love notes that were somehow instructions, she'd realized, just weeks into this new existence.
She had them all, in a chest, and had read them all. She didn't know how he had written them, how he had foreseen what would happen, whether he had at all. Sometimes she wondered if Homer was not taking advantage of the way Time was said to work and dropping off the notes from the future, or the past, or off to the side.
"Time," she'd said to herself once, "is now an explosion, not a stream. It is a supernova of dimensions that is exploding outwards from that day, so that events no longer flow in one direction at a time. Cause used to precede effect, or, sometimes, if we worked hard, we could make effect precede cause, but it was always this, then that, then this. Now, time, events, sequences, all started from Day One but they all occurred somehow simulataneously and overlapping."
She had had a vision of streams of events, of worlds, of people, all jumbled and proceeding outwards, bright sparkling streams of lives and laws and deaths, from which one could jump each to the other and she had known that she was on to something, had felt that she had grasped the basic nature of this new existence.
But she had been on The Machine at the time, and did not trust her own sensibilities. She had never mentioned to anyone that theory.
The Machine was her own creation, made up of those things that Homer had left behind, as well, but not from the notes she suspected he had deposited with her after-the-fact. She craved it now, as a servant finally opened the door and let her in. Once inside she began to fall -- gravity was on, here, and worked as it should, the bulwarks that Homer's notes had created helping solidify reality in her room, and the servant, whose name she could not recall at the moment, so addled was her mind, helped her stand upright.
"Leave me," she said.
The servant glanced in the corner where the machine stood next to a magnificent, overlarge chaise longue, and then nodded and walked quickly away. Penelope closed the door behind her, heard the static-generating locks slide slowly and heavily into place.
Let her disapprove, she told herself, as she licked her suddenly-dry lips and looked at The Machine herself.
Early or not, let her disapprove, Penelope thought, and walked over to The Machine.
It was ten feet tall, and half-again that size around. The outside was elegant, crafted over the years into a porcelain shell that hid the gears and generators inside under a pearly-white, translucent sheen. The ancient folk who had first seen the beauty in porcelain and suspected its mystical qualities, who told themselves that porcelain protected against poisoning, that it could heal, had been close. Porcelain could hold reality in place, she knew now (and some few others did, probably) and porcelain, beautiful as it was, hard as it was to craft, was necessary to tame electricity, to take rogue electrons that wanted to charge and jolt and crash around, and to nestle them together into clumps that could form bonds with her own, to make electrons that existed in a nether state join hands and pretend to be compounds her body needed.
She caressed the cold, shiny surface, and then held her hands up just centimeters away from it. Her brow felt cold, sweaty, in anticipation of what would happen.
With her eyes locked on her dimly-seen, sunken reflection, her own gaze staring back at her from underneath the glaze that shone on the surface as though her spirit was trapped in the porcelain -- as it indeed was, she realized -- she reached her left hand out to the metal handle that protruded from an artful opening off to the side. She began turning the handle, which glided easily in its revolutions. She began slowly, as she must, winding it once, twice, thrice.
She picked up speed, requiring only a little more effort on her part. Inside The Machine, she heard clicks and whirrs as gears began turning. A slight buzzing sounded as the ballbearings, on the ends of the antennae-like spars that she knew swept from a central column, rolled along the inside of the porcelain, their tiny metal selves picking up an infinitesimal but significant amount of the porcelain itself, the specks integral to the taming of the electrical charge that built up in the generators that were likewise powered by her churning left hand.
Her right hand sought the finger holes as her left continued to work, as The Machine crackled to a sort of brute life. Thumb in first, she'd learned, for the most results. Then smallest finger, the one she'd taught Telemachus to call the pinkie, and alternating back and forth. As each finger slid into its enclosure so that The Machine became a giant glove on her hand, she could feel the odd pulsing of the transformed energy that was being created.
The generators created an electrical charge that went coursing up and down the central column. The ball bearings attracted the electricity but began moving too fast to hold it, whipping through their orbits at speeds of thousands of miles per hour, so that when the electricity sped down the antennae to the ball bearing, the electrons reached the metal globes and wanted, needed to hold on but the porcelain occupied their spot already, and so they were flung off into the ether, creating a new form of matter -- not plasma, not quite, but something very like it -- and that electrically-charged nebula grew and grew with only one outlet, her questing fingers that even now felt the power, the energy pour into them, replacing the very blood in her veins, almost.
It whipped into her heart and through her lungs, this power, tamed but wild, crackling but quilted, and then back around through her body, through her brain. She could feel it dampening her reflexes, opening up cells in her mind, leaping neurons. She could feel her muscles falter, her eyelids flicker, her knees buckle.
She stopped turning the crank as she lost almost all control over her own muscles, as the electricity she had generated filled her up. Her right hand slid free of the holes and she laid herself down on the longue, mouth already working to speak aloud the dreams that would get her through the rest of the day.
Her eyes were shut tightly as the door opened and a young, naked woman walked in.
Next: Athena's directives.