Retro      Star

Before the Lakota recorders, Jason the captain of the Argo, who led the Argonauts' expedition to regain the Golden Fleece, foresaw this apparition heading for Earth:

R E T R O S T A R

D I R E C T O R Y

A N D

L I N K I N G

P A G E

RETROSTAR, OR, THE CIRCULAR WEB:

Chronicles of a Twin Earth, Sun, and Solar System Under Siege

Dedicated to Gabriel Tall Chief who first blew the horn and to M.G.Y. (Marty Gantry Yeager aboard RMS TITANIC) who couldn't hear it...


Retro Star

WELCOME TO THE TWIN EARTH(S)!

THE TEN HEAVENLY STONES OF FIRE--FROM THE BIBLE: Ezekiel 28: 13-14:

"Thou has been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the Sardius, Topaz, and the Diamond, the Beryl, the Onyx, and the Jasper, the Sapphire, the Emerald, and the Carbuncle, and Gold...thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast on the holy mountain of God; thou has walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire."

Note: Each fiery stone of heaven is corrupted by the fallen cherub, Lucifer, the "Light-Bringer" who was Keeper of the Stones, and it acquires a different character and a guiding deadly creature of evil genius hidden within it.

WELCOME TO VOLUME I, FATAL CONVERGENCE! This is the ill-starred point of entry for the First Alien Entity!

The late great, state of the art, "unsinkable" Ship of the World has set sail on its maiden voyage with its cargo of fools, both fabulously rich and contemptibly poor, educated and uneducated, moral and immoral, beautiful and ugly, tall and short, nice tempered and ill-tempered, with nice teeth or with bad teeth, brown eyes and blue or black or brown, green or hazel--a complete human spectrum if there ever was one assembled together on one huge vessel. Certainly, there was more than room enough on this one. As tall as a New York skyscraper of that day, she was a whole city afloat, all the social classes present and fraternizing more or less amicably together to get to their destination, the New World's portal of New York, where they would part and, except for the super rich, never see each other again. Yet as sometimes happens with management at the highest levels, arrogance sets in, and just a tinge will do, impairing judgment and producing flawed decisions that, in the Titanic's case, proved just as fatal as it once did for the once mighty Titans who committed hubris and lost Atlantis.

That precondition corrupts everything man puts his hand to. A brain scan now to read people's thoughts? British scientist from University College London can now identify thought patterns by using functional magnetic resonance (fMRI). Chillingsworth's Ultimate Weapon, utilizing his brain scanning creation, is next to be developed. Terrorists can be identified by the fMRI, very soon now. The Ultimate Weapon is next, to not only identify but eliminate anyone who is a "terrorist," that is, anyone who opposes the coming World Government.

Sailing full steam ahead to New York and, ignoring every warning, straight into an ice field...

Aboard the ill-starred liner a little girl in First Class lay in bed, troubled with a bad dream about people, some she could recognize, splashing about in nasty cold, icy water, screaming louder than she was ever allowed to scream, while her nanny sat beside her reading her naughty French novel of illicit romance between a governess and a duke in a Gothic castle.

"Lullaby for TITANIC,"

by Eben Chen

I

Beneath the waters so cold and deep

A once great ship has gone to sleep.

No stewards, no crew, no Countess of Rothe,

Their lives fill the dustbin that conquered the Goth.

REFRAIN: Lullaby, Lullaby, rest thy soul, child,

Till you die;

Lullaby, Lullaby,

The wheat and tares together lie.

II

Fins fan the rust of staterooms’ dark decay,

Their gold and jewels in Time’s hand slip away.

No ship horn blast, no thundering steam,

A Ghost lies in pieces—a gray, silent dream.

REFRAIN

III

So sleep on, Titanic, your unreaped souls

Await the great Trumpet and the wrath of Bowls.

Your voices were stilled when you drank the last wave.

An Astor beds with stokers, a reverend with the knave.

REFRAIN

IV

The city shyster turned the bed

The village matriarch was laid—-

The Rubaiyat of Khayyim with Grey’s pure, milk-white maid.

So sleep on, gray Dreamer, until the last Trump,

And the angels cast doom on the earth’s blasted stump.

REFRAIN: Lullaby, Lullaby,

rest thy soul, child,

Till you die;

Lullaby, Lullaby,

The wheat and tares together lie.

Kiowa sages recorded the Great Canoe's sinking on their cowhide calendar.

Ero the Cybernaut also gazes into the devouring mouth of the Red Star:

In its path, planets and stars and entire galaxies are consumed by the red-flaming star which is able to expand galactically as well as shrink to ringstone size:

CHRONICLE ONE, PART I, VOLUME I, FATAL CONVERGENCE, RETROSTAR

Dr. Pikkard, Dutch Genius/Retrostar's Cosmic War Challenger # 1

At certain points in the war, Dr. Pikkard's greatest creation, the intrepid e-butterfly named Wally, is the lone combatant, as when he circled the earth at the side of the red blazing star.

Our RetroStar Chroniclers:

Gabriel Tall Chief, confined to bed in a children's hospice the remaining days of his CP-shortened life, shone like a pure blue star of heaven (which is awarded to those who fall in battle) in a red-star-dominated world. Which was more powerful? Only time and events will tell:

Gabriel's disciple and dream-weaver and dream-rider, Horace Brave Scout, who gathered the "fragments" of the chronicles that remained after Gabriel died and made a great leap for mankind by riding the dreams of others to fulfillment before he rode his own.

Chronicler Horace Brave Scout, Gabriel Tall Chief's heir, playing "Amazing Grace."

The Series of the Twin Earths is available on disk or can be electronically transmitted. The series consists of: RETRO STAR, Vol. 1, Fatal Convergence, Vol. 2, Cloud and Avalanche, Vol. 3. Battles of the DUBESOR, Vol. 4, Lost Chronicles; Part Two, Unchronicles, Vol. 5, Natal Convergence, Vol. 6, Beyond the Rapture, Vol. 7. Final Wars...Convergence at Orion

A "Letter to Agent, Outlines, and Overview and Marketing Strategy" of the Series":

Agent Letter, Outlines, Strategy

A Last Word Count in ANNO STELLAE 1997: 1,400,000

Outlines for VOLUME I, RETROSTAR:

CHRONICLES 1-24--WHAT'S IN THEM?

CHRONICLE ONE--WHAT'S IN IT?


CHRONICLES TWO TO SIX--WHAT'S IN THEM?


CHRONICLES SEVEN TO NINE--WHAT'S IN THEM?


CHRONICLES TEN TO TWELVE--WHAT'S IN THEM?


CHRONICLES EIGHTEEN TO NINETEEN--WHAT'S IN THEM?


CHRONICLES TWENTY TO TWENTY-THREE--WHAT'S IN THEM?


CHRONICLE TWENTY-FOUR--WHAT'S IN IT?


OUTLINES, CHRONICLES ONE TO FORTY-FIVE


OUTLINES, CHRONICLES FIFTY-EIGHT TO SIXTY TWO


Main Game Players (Earth II):

1. Ever wondered why the "Titanic" was named that? It wasn't the luxury liner's colossal size alone, which is the secondary meaning, since there were colossal-sized vessels built and sailed before this time. Rather, her namesake was the non-human race of Titans (Atlanteans) who built and then lost Atlantis on the twin Earths; then tried repeatedly to re-assert their rule over Earth II; they are a super-powered species that has turned vampire and lives almost indefinitely, as they blend with vigorous animal species and also are able to inhabit hybrids of their own making. With so much going for them, they should be supreme and unbeatable. Yet they have a fatal flaw. Their major downfall, besides arrogance that led to hubris, was constant in-fighting and power struggles as this claimant and that claimant for the throne duked it out, with no gloves and no holds barred. A house divided will fall, and theirs proved no exception. If that isn't apparent, since you may not have known you were looking at an Atlantean, go to the remains of their past human successors, and view the once glorious cities of Lord Chocolate and Smoking Frog--they are now ten feet under the jungle in Guatamala.

2. The Ten Stones of Fire (Starlike, Jeweline, Super-intelligent, Alien Entities), each performing as OP, or, Opposing Player, with the aim of conquering and destroying the Earths, I and II, and their respective universes.

3. Dr. Pikkard's Computer Wargame, represented by Wally, an electronically-created, free-roaming butterly who fights for humanity's survival against the Alien(s)

4. Human "Alphabetic" or A-Z Champions, also a subgroup called DUBESOR, or the Rosebud Champions

5. Yeshua, the A and Z, the Alpha and Omega, and the Aleph and Tau (also known as FC from the 21st Century onward, the so-called "Forbidden Category" that all politically correct societies vehemently rejected.)

LIKE ANY THISTLE OR WEED, EVIL CANNOT ARISE SPONTANEOUSLY FROM NOTHING. EVIL SPRINGS FROM PREPARED, THAT IS, DISTURBED SOIL--AND THE BEST PREPARATION SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL IS SOIL THAT IS RADICALLY TORN UP BY WAR OR HUMAN STRIFE. EVEN BEFORE THE TITANIC'S SPECTACULAR MAIDEN VOYAGE AND DIVE TWO AND A HALF MILES DOWN IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC TO THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS, RECORDED IN CHRONICLE ONE, SOME CLUES ARE GIVEN US. FOR INSTANCE: ON BOTH EARTH I AND EARTH II A CERTAIN CHOICE OF A YOUNG RUSSIAN ARISTOCRAT'S FIANCE (UPPER CLASS, KREMLIN-BORN AND BRED DAUGHTER OF A COURT PHYSICIAN, KNOWN LATER AS ONLY THE "OVERLY POSSESSIVE" WIFE OF THE NOBEL PRIZE-WINNER COUNT LEO TOLSTOY) PREPARED THE WAY OF THE ALIEN ENTITY ON EARTH II AND THE DRAGON ON EARTH I: FOR THIS CHECK OUT SCENARIO I. THEN RETURN FOR SCENARIO II, WHICH REVEALS THE GREAT RECORDER HIMSELF, CHRONICLER GABRIEL TALL CHIEF. FINALLY, SCENARIO III, WHERE A KREMLIN STARETZ (PROPHET) REVEALS YEARS BEFOREHAND WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE ILL-STARRED 20TH CENTURY OF BOTH EARTHS, WHEN SOMETHING WORSE THAN THE H5N 1 STRAIN OF THE BIRD FLU VIRUS IS INFECTING THE TWINS, SO THAT THEIR INTERTWINED FATES ARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO SEPARATE FROM EACH OTHER.

RETROSTAR CHRONICLES:

RETROSTAR CHRONICLES DIRECTORY

Some centers of lost non-human super-civilizations on the Twin Earths:

Earth I's supercontinent, which may have contained all the continents which presently exist:

Earth II's lost first civilization, Mukalia, and its continent:

Earth II's second "Mother Continent," Atlantis II, after the Re-Location of the Planet:

After the secularist, power-mad, self-deifying Atlanteans gained total control of Earth II, world supremacy was not enough, of course, so they turned to fighting amongst themselves in endless dynastic struggles for the imperial throne. That they ultimately destroyed their own future by almost constant battles that bled them low in numbers and technology was not as important to them as who, what particular royal-blooded prince or princess, gained the upperhand over other claimants and temporarily occupied the throne. This was and still is the fatal flaw of the Atlanteans: the fanatical, even sociopathic worship of supreme state power, and no god but themselves to wield it (they really believed they were each individually a god), which meant that each Titan believed he or she alone was entitled to supreme power. Shirley MacLaine, J.Z. Knight, Oprah Winfrey--pathetic caricatures of real Titans, yet claiming the same godhead and powers on basis of their wealth and celebrity! See how these godlings strut and parade! Hordes of them can be seen in the corridors of political venues and the entertainment world today, loaded and larded with impressive honorifics, strutting and posturing to intimidate and impress masses of slaves, beggars and fawning, gushing sychophants, while keeping an eye out for rivals, stalkers, and assassins that are probably lurking in the shadows.

What price epic glory? Aeneas, Founder of Roma, flees burning Troy with his wife and child, carrying his aged father Anchises. The Roman poet Virgil immortalized him in his epic verses, the Aeneid, but Virgil's name will be dust someday, whereas Troy will not be, and Aeneas will not be, as there is something more enduring, more lasting, in a brave man's heroic fight to save his doomed city and country and family than there is in the a victor's circle where kings and their allies celebrate their arms and military triumph.

Eight year old Honorius Urbanus and his distinguished father made a special trip all the way from Glevum in southwestern Britannica to Roma, the ruling capital of the world. It did not start so auspiciously, however, after they crossed the water and traveled through barbarian- ravaged Gaul. Even northern Italia (Cisalpine Gaul) was just as broken up.

Rufus Urbanus was upset, for the sake of his Honorius. Was this to be the memory of it bequeathed by a father to his son? If so, it was a bad journey! Rufus thought, feeling he should have gone alone and faced such things rather than expose his young son to them. Yet further on they found the real borders of the shrunken Western Empire still held firm, for the time being anyway. Beyond was Roman civilization as it had always been--glorious and proud and well-ordered--and they proceeded south on the Roman road directly to the Queen City itself. There young Honorius would see the sights that would forever blaze in his memory: Roma in her full glory and splendor, a city beyond description, the like of which the world had never seen before and would never see again after the barbarians broke through the borders and had their way with her.

Chronicle of the Phoenix of Britannica, Out from the Ashes, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle of the Road to Roma, Vol. IV, Retrostar

UNCHRONICLE OF THE LAST SHIP FOR MASSILIA, VOL. IV, RETROSTAR

The Classical World had a Terminus, in fact, two, one at the end of the Mediterranean and the province of Britannica at Hadrian's Wall, the other set up by Hadrian at the mouth of the Euphrates River. But the most telling Terminus was the end of Roma in the West, with the Fall of Roma to the barbarians in 410, only a few years away from the tour of Rufus Quartus Urbanus and his young son, Honorius. The final collapse took a long time, extending over a hundred or more years. But the signs were everywhere that the whole civilization of the Ancient World was at last unravelling and coming to an end, at last in the Western empire.

Atlantis also had a Terminus. It had seemed too mighty too ever fall, just like the Roman Empire 10,000 years afterwards. But might and power could not save it. Yet it cast some fatal seeds as it gave up life. Though effectively destroyed except for a wandering, fractured, Topaz-bedeviled colony that could never find a lasting home away from home, Atlantis must have left shreds of its soul behind, which is the only explanation for the Roma's spectacular rise to a superpower and world state from its inauspicious beginnings as a cow town at a ford on the Tiber River. Once it achieved greatness and an empire, it became painfully clear that parvenu Roma needed something to cover up its rather smelly, brutish origins, so the best poets and historians were put to the task. The state annalist, Livy, did his best, tying together the threads of musty, rather dubious myths like Romulus and Remus, the orphaned twins, suckling a she-wolf until they were grown and later fighting it out, the wolf milk perhaps activating their rivalry, and Romulus slaying his brother and becoming the founder of Roma. A city founded on fratricide, two brothers who duked it out for the honor? Virgil the poet did a little better in order to attribute glory to Caesar Augustus's throne, person, and reign. A queen city needs a royal or at least a noble ancestor, so he wrote the great verse epic, the Aeneid, connecting Roma's founding with with Prince Aeneas, the noble son of Anchises who had fought for Priam the last king of Troy (Ilios), thus borrowing from the Greeks some of their illustrious past to gild over Roma's humble cow yard and river crossing antecedents. Aeneas, according to the narrative Virgil adapted for his epic, fled from sacked Troy with his father, wife, and little son Ascanius and sailing by way of Carthage (and Queen Dido's loving arms) reached Latium, and became the ancestor of Roma's founders. None but simple-minded people seriously believed these fanciful accounts, but in the hands Livy and Virgil they gained a certain degree of plausibility, and Augustus sanctioned Virgil's epic, did he not? What did he have to lose thereby? And the Romulus and Remus story seemed to explain the city's name. So they stuck fast, some 700 years they reckoned since their founding date, and Roma now thought it possessed a proper and respectable foundation to explain its phenomenal rise to glory and power over all the other nations.

Atlantean soul-shreds never quite left Italia, even if Roma could not monopolize them forever. Other cities in Italia took them up and were catapulted to glory and power--Venetia, Florentia, even Ragusa on the eastern Adriatic and Illyrian coast chief among them, ruling with the scepter and authority and noblesse oblige of ancient Roma. Even at the time of Rutilius in the early 5th century, Roma had first sunk to being one of two capitals in the realm, Constantine's City, New Roma, claiming preeminence. And in Italia itself, Roma could no longer claim to be the capital of the Western Empire at least, for the imperial capital and court had moved to the safer venue of Ravenna near the northeastern coast. Yet for the old and great Roman nobility, there could be no true replacement for Roma--for it continued to represent, if not embody, all the things they honored and held dearer than life itself.

"All the world's people," said a poet, "are entwined under a single name--Romans. They are world citizens who share a common law. All are Roman citizens who share a common law. All are Roman citizens, peers in their world. They are Roman citizens whether they live in Africa or in Hither Asia or if they live on the banks of the Rhine River. All look to Roma. There is a single coinage. There is a single law. There are no frontiers. No major customs barriers or passports or IDs. Travel is open and free. On the Roman roads, police guard against highwaymen, bandits, and raiding barbarians, keeping guard from guard posts, going on mounted patrols, cruising warships on the rivers and seas, lighthouses and watchtowers, forts, fortified border walls with barracks for soldiers, and for the convenience and comfort of travelers, inns, taverns, and halting stations are open to all."

And a Greek poet was just as admiring, for he said, "In every deed, Roma has made real Homer's dictim--that earth is the property of all. You, Roma, have measured the whole world. You have spanned the rivers with bridges...tunneled through mountains to make level roads. You have filled desolate places with farms and made life easier by seeing that two things are supplied: law and order. Everywhere, O Roma, you have erected temples, gateways, schools, factories, aqueducts, fountains, and gymnasiums. It could be said in truth that the world which from the beginning has been working under an illness has now been put in the way of health...Cities are radiant in their splendor and their grace, and the whole world is as trim as a garden..."

Yes, the world owed Roma all this! It was true that other cities had impressive Roman amphitheatres (such as in Leptis Magna, Sarepta, Hippo, the Tripoli cities of Cyrene, Carthage, and others of like splendor on the north African coast) which were almost as big as Roma's, and cities with luxurious baths, aqueducts, and bridges, and culverted, curbed stone-faced roads that fully urbanized the most farflung provinces, but Roma remained the mother city that had given birth to all these wonders. City of the Imperial Topaz, the star-stone of fratracidal conflict, Roma, somehow infused and energized with the soul of lost Atlantis, created a world like unto none other, until, that is, it tore itself apart and the savage hordes of barbarians flooded in to take the spoils.

Somehow, as it often happens on board a crowded ship, word was passed that Rutilius Claudius Numantianus, son of a governor and imperial treasurer of the Capital, a governor himself of the capital and secretary of state, was aboard. Not only bearing these great distinctions, he was working on an important poem. Just as he feared might happen once his work in progress became known, someone came inquiring about it. But he wasn't just a nobody, a commoner. His name was Rufus Quartus Urbanus, and he was a civilized Briton come to tour the grandeur of Italia with his son, and made him the request that he declaim a portion of it to his son and his young friend for the cultivating effect that would have on their tender, unformed minds.

Rutilius was first inclined to turn the provincial Briton flatly down, and even use rather curt words to do so. Son of an imperial capital governor and imperial treasurer, Rutilius was far too noble in blood and had far too much on his busy mind to be concerned about than to take the time to read his work in progress to common people in transit, and thought it might be unsuitable a topic, an elegaic poem on Roma's Decline, to introduce to two mere boys. But the father of one of the boys, a civilized Briton, proved so gentlemanly in his request, insisting that it would educate the boys to the greatness of Roma, that he could not politely refuse. So when the ship touched at Zaelia Magnia, beyond Ostia and Pisa the first port city that possessed a decent enough forum for proclamations, speeches, and official business of state, he spoke to the captain, detaining the ship there. He proved willing enough as they needed more supplies, which had been short in certain necessary items at Ostia, their port of embarkation.

Thinking that he could do worse further up the coast where the barbarians had spread havoc and sacked cities, Rutilius went ashore with his bodyguards and the boys, followed by the father and his two bodyguards. While the father went to see about the pepper business in the spice market (such as it was there), the bodyguards stood watch, seeing to it that no ruffians disturbed them by asking for money or trying to sell something. Rutilius planned to and read them some of his elegy, his swanson for Roma, amidst a proper setting-- the cramped, wooden, somewhat smelly and ratty old grain trade ship being no sort of place for such a reading!

As he looked for just the right place to stand and do his reading, he grew vaguely aware of the rather decayed atmosphere that hung about Z-M. No doubt it had been a very thriving place until lately, he could tell from the size and decoration of building, many of them which were more elegant than most provincial cities could boast. But the markets he could see at a glance were sparse of both shops and patrons even though it should be a busy marketday, with country people crowding in from the farms and villages round about. It didn't help the looks either--those long, sagging lines of graying laundry strung apartment house to apartment house, left there by panicky people who had abandoned the city and fled south with whatever household goods they could cram into wagons. A woman nearby was holding her fussing, colicky baby. What was she doing there, waiting for someone to come and take her south too? She was squatting indecorously at the base of a statue of Flavius Stilicho, imperial commander-in-chief and would-be emperor he resented more than any other Roman general, since, half Lugian, half Roman that he was in blood, since he was fathered by a Lugian with a Roman patrician lady. That Lugian half gave him too much a tie with the barbarians! He had let far too many coarse, evil-smelling Goths and Lugians into Roman lands, Alaric the Goth being the most dangerous of the lot, to serve him or at least be his allies against the most noble Roman families, most of whom could never accept him as Emperor however brilliantly he campaigned with the army, crushing one barbarian horde after another that threatened Italia and Roma.

Statue of Stilicho nothwithstanding, this city would have to do, as he saw no barbarians had gone through here as yet, and there remained at least the appearance that Imperial Roma was in charge and would always be. With Italia's roads in turmoil and a chaos of brigands and refugees and far too few police, and whole areas of the provinces in the north overrun by barbarians, he had to be satisfied with that much--and ignore the woman and child as best he could!

Realizing he couldn't hold the boys' attention for very long, he selected only about a dozen of so lines that he thought best captured the noble spirit of Roma and what she had achieved, and then he chose a spot and stood proudly like a speaker in the Senate giving a speech, his head and shoulders thrown back and his feet firmly planted.

"O Roma!

Listen, fairest queen in all the world.

You are welcomed among the stars of heaven, mother of men

And mother of the gods.

to you we sing praise

And ever shall.

So long as the fates allow,

None can be wholly forgetful of you. Your works

Spread wide as the rays of the sun where curving ocean

Surrounds the world.

Africa has not set you back, with its scorching sands,

Nor the northern climes repulsed you, with its cold;

As far as living nature has stretched toward the poles

So far has earth

Proved accessible to your valor.

You have, O Roma, given the world

A single fatherland;

Even the unjust have found it profitable

To be taken under your dominion.

By offering the vanquished partnership in your own laws

You have made a city

Of once was once the world..."

He thought they looked a bit disappointed with his verses, and he was right. It really was unsuitable, and the boys were far too young and uncultivated to appreciate fine sentiments.

"You think it too dull a subject for boys of your age, is that it?" he asked them, somewhat annoyed at them for wasting his valuable time. "Well, then, what other things do you want to hear me tell about? We might as well not waste our outing."

The youngest boy, Honorius Ubanus as his father introduced him, who proved the brightest witted of the pair despite being a Briton with an accent, spoke up.

"Sir, that was good, very good. But do you have anything more, about the orphans Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf their adopted mother? We'd love to hear about them if we could. We don't want you to quit now."

"But that story is just old wives' tales and nonsense, everybody knows that!" Rutilius scoffed, not accepting the Honorius's clumsy flattery. The boys' faces sank, so he quickly added, "But I have something far better. I have just recently returned from a trip of inspection and private research to the imperial libraries and archives in Roma, and I turned up some things you might find most curious..."

He didn't tell them how bitterly disappointed he was there on his latest visit. He had gone specifically to research the Sibylline oracles concerning Roma's destiny and fate--which he knew they spoke specifically about in a number of highly controversial oracles. The Archives, he found on arrival, were in an uproar. Distraught librarians rushed to tell him everything. He found that Flavius Stilicho, just the day before, had sent troops, Roman-armored, Lugian and Gothic barbarians, and confiscated all the Sibylline Oracles and had them burnt in big piles on the Capitoline Hill. The loss was irreparable. The votaresses of Apollo had no other copies but these, put in the Imperials for safe-keeping in perpetuum. No commander, no emperor, no Senate decree, could overturn the ancient rules governing them--they were to be kept inviolate forever, and anyone who disturbed them in anyway incurred the wrath of the gods, in a thousand curses all carved in stone on a wall. Now they were ashes! The visions and prophecies of the Sibyl were gone forever, like the smoke of the incense that wafted up into the rafters above the tall Corinthian pillars! The priests who attended the holy books had tried to stop the desecrators, even at the cost of being slain if that was their fate. But they were dragged aside and some even beaten who blocked the door to the collection, which was the chief treasure of Roma.

This was the greatest outrage ever witnessed there, indeed, since the time of the first Gothic invasion and capture of Roma centuries before the imperial era. Why had he committed this wanton act of destruction of Roma's most valuable, sacred records and relics? Some said the ecstatic prophecies of the Cumaean Sibyl spoke too pointedly of events and even particular persons in his own barbarian-infested administration. Hearing some quotations from the Sibyl was enough to frighten and enrage Stilicho, whose position in Roma among the best families was already tenuous, so he struck at the Archives and wiped out any suggestion he was a monster tearing down the realm by deferring to barbarians over the safety and welfare of Roma. How dare a priestess of Apollo of bygone days name him and his men? He silenced her voice forever.

Deprived so brutally of this primary source, Rutilius had no choice but to consult secondary, non-Roman sources for whatever visions and prophecies he might find, in hopes of finding enough material to write the destiny and future what he sought. Thank the gods, there were plenty secondary sources that the barbarian-spawned Stilicho didn't bother to molest!

The great Historian of Roma, Tacitus, another historian of note, Livy, and Pliny the Younger, and Suetonius, not to mention Thallus, Phlegon, and Lucius, not to mention Flavius Josephus--all mentioned the crucifixion. Lucien the Greek historian told of the death of Jesus, writing, "The Christians continue to worship this great man who was crucified in Palestine because he brought a new religion to the world."

He of course could find their writings voluminously collected in the Archives.

And then this Jew who was a general in the Jewish rebellion yet cast himself on the Roma's mercy in the campaigns of Vespasian and Titus against the revolt, wrote concerning Pilatus Pontius's procuratorship in Judea, "Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works--a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilatus, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him tot he cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things oncerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

And, being a former capital governor and secretary of state as well, he also was free to consult the whole mass of the the Imperial State Annals which included the recorded Senate proceedings, speeches, and acts along with the imperial edicts for the last six hundred years in great detail. There was no duller reading than the records of the Senate, it was commonly believed. But who had ever taken the time to really find out if that was true? Few, indeed! Having thought these would be mainly tedious, business-like accounts as others had characterized them, he found their view was mistaken.

Despite his grief over the burning of the Sibylline oracles, his readings of the imperial and Senate records turned up many curious things about Jesus the Messiah of the Jews.

He could tell the boys about them, too, for some of the Annals described gods that visited Roma in its earliest days, gods that came in flying ships all the way from the stars, it was reported. They used, not sails for propulsion, but powerful crystals that produced far greater speed. Were they Jupiter and the gods of Olympus? They did not call Olympus their home, rather they had a name for it the Greek philosopher Plato had also used: "Atlantis." Wasn't that a lost continent, a motherland of civilization, that had sunk and been utterly destroyed in ages past? Yet if these divine beings had come from there, it couldn't all have been destroyed. Where could he find more light on these beings and their powerful crystals? he wondered, and so he had plunged further into the Annals of Roma, exploring the earliest ones in tier after tier, climbing up and down the gilded ladders to obtain the ancient scrolls, as well as searching the ones written around the time of the gods last appearing, in the reign of Tiberius. That was the same reign when the Jewish claimant-king called the Christos challenged Roma's authority to Jerusalem and all Judaea, and for that he was crucified by the procurator, Pilatus Pontius, only to be found missing from his tomb, which his followers explained was evidence that he had risen from the dead!

Of course, the emperor, receiving the reports of this, was greatly disturbed (and Herod and the Jewish authorities too). Pilatus was recalled, for he had made such a mess of things, he couldn't be endured. He was sent off to Gaul, exiled, but satisfied everybody by committing suicide like a dutiful Roman should who has outlived his usefulness.

But all that was of no interest to mere boys, of course. Once he mentioned the flying boats from the stars, leaving that subject and continuing on to the reign of Tiberius where Christos was crucified, he could see the boys were growing glassy-eyed. So he turned back to the star ships of the Titans, for such the gods clearly were, not the Olympians after all. They said they, not the Olympians named to them, were ruling the earth, or had resided upon and ruled it once upon a time. As for Jupiter and his court, they said they had been overthrown as usurpers, and they were the rightful holders of the throne and its powers. The boys then hung on his words as he told them all about the various things the Titans did while visiting the earth in Tiberius's reign, and saw the boys' mouths hang open breathlessly, so he was very much amused. Their little outing from the tedium of the ship was proving worth the effort after all!

"Did you learn where the gods went after they departed from here, sir?" Honorius asked, as if he sensed that Rutilius had more to offer. "Where is it they live if it isn't Mt. Olympus?"

Yes, he had learned that too, in fact. But he hardly cared about the Titans now, as this had happened long ago, and it was the Christ and his crucifixion and his reputed resurrection that stuck in his mind, and which he could not get rid of. How could he communicate these things to mere boys? They were too private, he felt, as they touched upon certain questions of the soul and its destiny in the after-life, if there was was, that is. This matter of Christos rising from the dead reputedly--even Tiberius believed he had risen after it was reported, meticulously, to him! It was incredible but true, for he had it in the Emperor's own recorded statements and diary. Well, then he was forced to settle in his own mind whether such a thing could really happen. For then it would change absolutely everything! And if this preposterous Jesus of Nazareth was truly what he claimed to be--Son of God, ONLY SON OF GOD, that is, displacing all the Caesars who claimed the same thing--and truly rose from the dead, well, the whole world was turned upside down!

Everything else was mere information: Did Christos really work the stupendous miracles--healing lepers, giving sight to the blind, even raising dead people back to life--that were claimed? Every authority of note in the case attested to their validity. Even his chief enemies--the religious leaders of his own people--accepted these miracles as true events. Nobody had any grounds for questioning them, nor could they, as they were all done so publicly, and countless people were living at the time who witnessed them and were available to attest to them to everybody who asked in courts of law--and did, in fact, ask. So it wasn't the miracles that were germaine to his investigation, it had to be the "Resurrection," which was what the Jews called it.

Nevertheless, Rutilius did speak a bit about the miracles performed by the Christos in Judaea and elsewhere, while avoiding his own feelings and soul-searchings on the subject. His own religion, believing in the gods of Roma, was notoriously sparse in miracle-working gods who walked among men as the Christos was reported to do. He couldn't help that or change that, and so he felt it was best left without discussion. But Honorius, fortunately, was not asking about the gods of Roma and their behavior, which was rather morally questionable, to say the least. Honorius seemed to be just as interested in the details he gave them about the records dealing with Christos' life and miracles.

But then Honorius, like any boy who is too frank with his elders, asked him with childish candor, striking at the heart of the matter: "Don't you believe he rose from the grave, sir? Everybody knows he was crucified, so he had to have died, not just stepped off the stake, and nobody could do that after what they did to him. And then it had to be a real rising from the dead, or all those witnesses were liars and everybody at the time would have said so and hauled them into court and had them punished, right?"

The boy from the provinces was bright for his age, indeed! Perhaps, too bright! thought Rutilius. He hadn't encountered such probing and highly personal questions from noble Roman youth twice his age!

Yet in other respects, he was quite ordinary, being fascinated with the the exciting tale from the Annals of Roma concerning the gods' visit to Roma in ships that could streak through the sky fast as thunderbolt. So he sought to divert him if he could.

When he exhausted this information, however, the boy abruptly shifted back to Christos. Rutilius found himself forced up against a wall by this question, and he actually began to sweat! Again, Honorius put his question to him. "Don't you believe, sir, that Christos rose from the grave? That would change a lot of things in the world, wouldn't it?"

Since he couldn't put the boy off this particular sticking point, he ended the session abruptly and offered to draw the gods' flying ship if he could find a piece of parchment.

Honorius was excited, and so was his friend, and said no more about Christos. So Rutilius, heaving a sigh of relief, looked round for a source of parchment or writing paper, and found a shop selling books. Only the owner had recently pulled out of the business, leaving the door ajar, without even a lock to keep thieves from ransacking what was left inside.

They went in and found the racks virtually empty of books, and yet there were a few old discards, with some pages in them he might use for the purpose. One was a detailed account of the banquets of Nero and Elagabulus, listed with all their enormous menus and recipes! What senseless, vulgar extravagance! One banquet listed a meal started off with the appetizer, 400 brains of nightengales in a mint sauce with contained peas coated with gold! Then there were so many roses cascading upon the guests, that four guests actually suffocated.

Yet another was a poetical work by Commodus, the poetaster and degenerate son of Marcus Aurelius the Philosopher-emperor, praising himself as a god in the most fatuous way. Rutilius dropped this book into a litter of trash on the floor, which it deserved--as this emperor was the cause of the decline of the empire beyond any other bad ruler they had had.

He had read Dio Cassius who had written, "Commodus was a greater plague to the Romans than any pestilence or crime. He wanted to change the name of Roma and call it 'Commodiana' after himself. Melting down a considerable portion of the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem's gold (gold from the sacred utensils) seized as spoils of war by Titus in 79 AD, a statue of gold weighing a thousand pounds representing himself in combat with a bull was cast. He entered the arena to fight gladiators; he was armed with a sword and they only with a woman's wooden weaving batten. He surpassed all others in lust, greed, and cruelty; he kept faith with no one."

And, Rutilius thought, monstrous Commodus met a fitting end. A wrestler whom he had wounded throttled him in his bath!

Finding a more suitable book, that dealt with agrarian matters, he spread it upon the table, found an open space and with a piece of charcoal Honorius picked up in the adjoining room, used to make a warming fire in a brazier, Rutilius sketched the flying ship.

"How does it fly?" "What is its power to fly, sir?" How fast does it go through the sky?" "How did they make it?" "How many gods can ride it at one time?" "Is this the only sky-carriage they have, or do more of them?" "They look like saucers, sir, only they are flying saucers! Do they fight barbarians with these flying saucers?" "Could we ask them to loan us one to fight the barbarians and drive them back to their dens?"

Honorius was literally brimming over with questions, while his friend stood by with wide eyes like a dolt, and Rutilius tried to answer Honorius as best he could, based on his readings of the Annals dealing with the subject. When he finished, he signed his modest effort and handed the entire book to Honorius, who seemed overwhelmed that he should be given it as he stood gazing at it.

Pleased that he had given the boys such a good outing so far, Rutilius next bought the boys each a bag of nice sweet candy. They were fortunate the candy maker was still in town.

While boys were enjoying their marzipan cakes from a Syrian confectioner, Rutilius left the bodyguards to watch over the boys. The captain had still not sent anyone to call them to board, so he knew he had time to look around a bit more, and so he looked in at a jeweler's, Terencio's by name.

He was examining some topazes from India's largest island on the southern tip of the peninsula. Very large and gleaming like lion's eyes, he couldn't resist making an offer for them. He had lately seen the best jewels that Roma's jewelers had to offer, but these surpassed them.

"What arrangements can I make with you if I should be interested in these four?" he asked, keeping his voice devoid of the excitement he felt.

The jeweler was busy with his wife, son, and daughter were packing dozens of valuable things away into cloth-lined boxes and big wicker baskets, and he turned to the patrician, bowing.

"For you, sir, since we need to dispose of everything we can now, any setting you prefer--for only the price of the jem." "Oh, how about a man's ring in white gold, then a matching one in red gold, and the third can be set as the ornament with ebony on a nice gold chain of small links only for a lady's neck, and I wish the fourth to go in a setting of sapphires in gold for a man's fibula. Is that too much to ask?"

Terencio bowed even lower. "Certainly not! I have all I need to do it. My craftsman is the finest who handles the settings. But there is the matter of the, er, payment, sir."

Rutilius started off with a ridiculously low amount.

The jeweler did not even flinch, much less laugh. "Excellent! They are yours, sir! Can you wait for them, they will be ready in a few days, or should I have them sent by special courier to your residence? Where might that be, sir, for I perceive by your speech you are not from this city and are travelling?"

Rutilius told the man who he was, that he was a native of southern Gaul, and there was the problem that, as he was in transit, traveling by ship because the roads were overrun by barbarians, a courier would not be good enough, he would be captured and robbed on the way.

"So to make sure I receive the full consignment of jewelry I am paying for," he told Terencio, "I will gave instructions to a tabellarius escorted by an armed guard that I will send to your shop for the jewelry, and only then will the full payment be turned over. They will be sent to you by ship, so there will be no problem of being accosted on the roads. Agreed?"

This being said, and agreed to by Terencio, Rutilius was still so amazed by the low price he was paying, he had to inquire, even at the risk of the price being raised.

"How is it that so fine a set can be, ah, so modest in price? I have seen what Roma and Ravenna have to offer, and these are just as good, indeed, they surpass the capital's, and yet you ask less. How can that be? Are they truly genuine? I won't be fooled by glass fakes, either for that matter, for I will have them inspected if I have the slightest suspicion about them, and you will have to bear the consequences of defrauding a public official."

Terencio smiled and scraped, fervently assuring Rutilius that the jewels were all they appeared to be. "My reputation is a most established, excellent one, ask anyone around here, as my family has sold fine jewels and jewelry for generations, and I am only leaving..."

"Leaving?" Rutilius interrupted, his tone growing icy cold. "What do you mean by that? Have you given leave of your senses, man? Here you not just agreed to set the stones and to await payment, yet you speak of leaving? What is this all about, shopkeeper? You know the laws of Diocletian are still binding, those concerning your guild, do you not? Surely, you aren't considering fleeing into the mountains and joining vagabonds and robbers? I am empowered to arrest fugitives, and confiscate their possessions too. Surely, you aren't considering leaving your lawful work?"

The shopkeeper paled, bowing, and his brow and cheeks glistened with visible moisture.

"Yes, indeed, sir, I know the sacred laws, but I paid highly for my official permit of release from the Consul in Mediolanum for health reasons, which you can examine if you like. My health has been most badly affected, my bowels are slack, as I worry myself sick day and night how I--and though I love my country as much as anybody I can't afford to remain here a moment longer than I must, since the trade is so greatly diminished in these parts since..."

Rutilius sighed. "But what about our agreement? Aren't you going to honor it, or not?" "Yes, sir! I plan to send my wife and family and goods on ahead, with protection of course, and finish the remaining business I have here, selling the shop and house and several vineyards and a tabernae I have too if I can find buyers, and surely that will take several weeks. You will be able to contact me in that time, will you not?"

"Of course! If not, you shall know I have contacts, so just leave your address and I shall find you and pay you everything you are owed, and we shall conclude the business satisfactorily."

Then they returned to the subject that weighed heavily on both their minds.

"Oh, the barbarians, the barbarians!" sighed Rutilius, shaking his head. "All these odious tribes of unwashed, greedy, violence-loving Goths who constantly pour across our borders looking for the gods know what! They are tearing apart the whole realm, thanks to certain parties among us who seek their own interests and gain over Roma's security and are opening the gates everywhere you look!"

"Yes, indeed, they are ruining everything here in the Western Empire!" the jeweller agreed. "Some people claim they come to do honest work we Romans won't dirty our hands to do--but that isn't true, they are taking the jobs we find so rare these days, and our people are left without work, with these barbarians seizing everything for themselves and sending our Roman gold back to their families across the borders! But I hear things continue still very good over in the Eastern Empire, in Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantine's City particularly, and so we will be going over there, probably to Alexandria, since the ships dealing with the rich India trade touch there first on return. We have only to find a ship, for I hear they are few these days and are very expensive to board. The rates and charges for baggage are extortionate, which is why I must reduce my stock drastically. If a captain should inspect my baggage and find so many jewels, he would demand half of it for me to board, and I would have to give it! Yet I plan to open a new and even bigger shop than we have here on the street in Alexandria they call Golden Mile. We will sew the some of our money into our clothes and also buy letters of credit in the banks of Roma and buy new stones in Alexandria when I arrive there, where they will be cheaper too! If you see anything else you like, the price will be most reasonable!"

Rutilius relented, turning more graciously to the bowing, flustered shopkeeper.

"I am sorry to see you have to forsake the Fatherland," Rutilius said, though he no longer thought of this man as a true countryman, since he was running away and not going to deal with the barbarian menace. "What if we all did as this fellow?" Rutilius thought. Yet there was no need to question it, he was going bankrupt in this declining city, no doubt. Best he sell out quickly, even at a loss, and set up new in a better, safer city as far away as he could get from Radagaesus, and now Alaric and his hordes! Who could blame him for wanting to leave as soon as possible, if there really was no future anymore for him and his family and business in that place?

They exchanged some small talk, though the patrician Rutilius was not particularly fond of small talk with inferiors, then Rutilius noticed the two boys had finished their treats and were chasing round Stilicho's statue and making a public spectacle, and he saw it was time to go. His four retainers escorting them, they returned to the ship, and the voyage resumed to southwestern Gaul.

They no sooner returned to the ship then the father of the youngest boy Honorius thanked him for enlightening his son on the greatness of Roma.

Rutilius bowed to the older man. "I tried to do the greatness of Roma honor, sir, and hope it made some lasting impression on the boys."

Rufus Urbanus eyed his son closely, and Honorius had something to say. "What is it, son?" his father said. "We had a great time, pater. He told us some wonderful things, all about Christos and the flying..."

The father turned to Rutilius, brows lifted.

Rutilius groaned inwardly. No, no! he thought. Now he would have to explain everything to the father.

He quickly tried to assure the father that it really wasn't so wild and exciting as all that.

"The boy is overstating what I said to a degree, sir. You see, I was in Roma just before I set sail for our family estates at Nabo Martius, and did research in the State Annals and found some curious things, that is all, which I mentioned to the boys to amuse them if possible after I finished the reading of my poem."

Rufus's brows lifted further. "Oh? What curious things? Could you tell me also? I would be most interested to hear about them.

Since Rutilius did not think this talk between adults would be suitable for boys and they wouldn't understand most of it, he took the older man aside, and they discussed certain matters and questions with him. Since he was dealing with a man of experience and maturity, he could go into much deeper detail when relating what he learned from the Archives about Tiberius and his dealing with Jesus the Nazarene.

Even though Rutilius Claudius Numantianus knew he was dealing with a Christian, and the gentleman had a Christian's perspective on things, there were broad areas where they could talk with mutual understanding, since the two of them were Roman or at least debtors to Roma, its great learning and, philosphy, and its grand heritage. They both deeply cared for Roma's legacy and its welfare and maintenance as the lone civilization standing against the darkness and anarchy of the barbarian world.

Approaching Massilia, with a stiff headwind, the oars had to be used, and then they made slow progress into the harbor. An outbound ship came to their attention before they even saw it clearly. The smell gave it away. A slave ship bound for the marts of Malta and Africa, it carried its cargo of souls in the most foul conditions that no Roman gentleman would have countenanced, but it was something that they could not change--slavery was immemorial, and would always be practiced as long as the strong ruled over the weak and certain men aimed to make a profit in human traffiking. They themselves had many slaves, but always aimed to make their lot as bearable as possible. Roma was built upon slave labor, and it was unthinkable that Roma could exist without their cheap labor.

Honorius was standing by himself and saw the slaveship, and a rain squall caught them just as it was coming in view.

The ship was going no further west, the captain informed Rutilius and the other passengers en route, due to the depredations of the barbarians. They were obliged to find other means to get to Narbo Martius and other points in southern Gaul and in Hispania.

Rutilius went ashore, after giving his last regards to the senator and his wife, who were now transferring to a private ship to take them to the Sardinia and Corsica where they had extensive estates. Forewarned by the captain that the roads were difficult to impassable from Massilia to Narbo Martius his destination, he thought of finding another coastal vessel if possible to avoid the barbarians disrupting the roads. Surely, he thought, Massilia was a big enough port to supply a ship going his way.

He went to the Forum first, where all formal business was conducted, the best place to receive the latest news.

The slave mart was hard by, of course, and his eye was taken by some slaves newly arrived. He had plenty slaves on his estates, but he was always on the lookout for younger ones who were sound of body and mind. These looked good enough for his uses, so he went closer to see if any might prove suitable. He thought he might purchase one or two, if the price seemed fair enough, and take them along with him to his estates, which were always in need of fresh stock of that kind.

His eye fell on three, and then when reading their tituli, his eyes widened with disbelief. They were all three from Narbo Martius-- but that wasn't all. He inquired immediately of the trader, and he said he had gotten them from dealers for the barbarian horde passing through that district.

Feeling somewhat afraid of what he might learn, Rutilius decided to ask the slaves themselves who they were and where they had lived at the time of their capture.

Since he was too exalted to address a slave in the market, Rutilius had the trader act as his intermediary. "Where are you from precisely?" the trader demanded from the first.

"The household of Governor Lonchonius," the youth replied.

"And you?" the trader continued, turning to the bigger fellow. "The cattle yard on the estate of Governor Lonchonius," he replied. "And you?" he finished with the woman. She didn't even raise her head, she was so beaten with her recent experiences. "I served in the household, I was a maid and scullery cook in the house of the Governor," she said.

Rutilius was beside himself. He did not know what to say. These were his slaves, on sale in this public mart! Stolen from the estates of his father and himself! What an outrage!

His mind whirled. He could go get a bailiff and confiscate these "stolen properties" immediately, but that would take some time, with the proper records being filed at the court, etc., and local officials would have to be present to ratify the seizure.

All this bother--and he had so little time if he were to find and hire a vessel to take him the remaining distance to Narbo Martius.

But what would he find once he got there? If his estates had been overrun, weren't the residences and outbuildings all burnt and their valuables all seized and carried off by the barbarians? He had to find out at once.

Too anxious to get the news, which he feared would give him a worse picture than he wished to see, he forgot his manners and dignity and interviewed the slaves directly, something unheard of.

"I will have you lashed if you are lying to me. Again, are you three the property of Lonchonius the Governor of Roma and Ravenna? Say!"

All three declared they were, and the trader grinned, exposing big gaps between his teeth. "They speak the truth, sir, look what fine-bodied slaves they are too--the barbarians were good to let me have them, so they could be restored to you--at a certain fair price of course, for I already paid for them with my good money, sire!"

"Yes, yes! You shall have your money. But I must have what they know first."

He turned back to the slaves. "What about the estates? What do you know happened to them? Are they unharmed?"

The youth shook his head. "They burned everything to the ground, sire."

Rutilius's face took on a sickly hue, like ash from a dead fire. He went over to lean against a pedestal without a statue (knocked down by some barbarian perhaps), and pondered the disasters to his family and fortune.

His father and he had spent millions on the new villa, and it had been years in building, and only was finished in the last few monthsw--only to be sacked, burnt and destroyed!

He felt faint, but he dared not show weakness and forced his knees to bear up, and he kept a dignified expression, concealing his true state of mind. When the worst of the shock had passed, he returned to the business at hand. He gave orders to his attendant to pay the trader for the slaves, then get a writ from the city prefect setting them free, and handed him some money to put in their hands to see them back to wherever they might still have homes and relatives. That was all he could do, as he wouldn't put them on any of his cattle ranches south of Roma, not after what they had experienced. The ranches would work them to death and ruin the woman too beyond description. Then they would frighten the other slaves into running away if they told what had happened up north.

Just as he finished this business with his attendant, his eye alighted on another slave, more fair, a barbarian from the north eastern tribal nations evidently.

He went over to examine the titilus, and he was right--this was a captured Lugi, the worst of the tribes attacking and invading the empire. How did he fall into Roman hands? It hardly mattered, not for him anyway. He was going to the quarries no doubt for his remaining savage, hellish existence, thrust deep under the ground in hot tunnels to hack at the rock with an ax and shovel up the ore into baskets to be carried by other slaves up to the surface he would never see again. No wonder the slave looked so downcast--he sensed his doom and had lost all hope!

Just then Rutilius felt a surge of feeling for the barbarian savage. Why? He had no reason to feel any such thing. After all, this man and his race were destroying the empire, ransacking and burning his own estates that were the flower of Gallia. He deserved every bit of the hell he was going to experience very soon now after he was bought and transported with a hundred others like him to the Spanish or North African mines. Yet he felt the same powerful feeling he would feel for a brother! He couldn't resist it, though it went against all his Roman instincts, being akin to mercy.

He turned to his attendant. "Buy him also. But I don't want him in my employ! Free him also, and send him on his way. I don't want to see him ever again!"

He turned away, more disgusted at himself than at the Lugian. How could he treat such an animal with compassion? It was utterly wasted! He might as well try to tame a brute lion or boar than this creature of violence and destruction!

Rutilius went to a place aside from the busy market where he was a bit more alone, where he tried to clear his mind enough to think clearly what to do next.

With the roads in chaos, with no doubt brigands preying upon all who yet ventured to pass on them, and his estates burnt, what was there worth visiting? His whole trip was jeopardized. Perhaps they could be rebuilt, but without Roman law and order restored in the region, the effort would be useless. Was Narbo Martius yet another district and city Roma was abandoning to barbarism?

He had to make sure--that it really was as bad as reported. He decided he could find out, not just depend on people's word, but the evidence of his own eyes. The condition of the road, the Via Aurelia, would tell him all he needed to know one way or the other.

He went to hire a conveyance and found all manner of carriages, from raedas and caraccas to sedan chairs. There was a great variety, he found. The proprieter told him that the previous owners were glad to get rid of them, since they were leaving their estates for good and wouldn't need them anymore. Some needed the money too to get away, since they had lost most everything when the barbarians first swept through and burned many of the villas and sacked the towns and cities as well in many parts of Cisalpine Gaul.

But Rutilius did not need anything elaborate, just a means to get to the main road where he could observe the traffic and tell from that what chance he might have of going westward with reasonable safety.

He could marshall a small army and fund it himself if need be, if he gave himself time to apply for troops, that is, for being a former governor of the imperial capitals and secretary of state, and being the son of the famed Lonchonius, he had access to imperial troops and boyguards. But that took time, and he didn't want to wait.

So he hired a simple sedan chair, and the rental agency provided the slaves to carry him for that day's excursion.

Soon he was on his way out of the city and heading for the main thoroughfare that took the main east-west traffic along the coast, the part of the famed Via Aurelia that led along the coasts of southern Gaul and down into Hispania, all the way to Cartegena on the midpoint of the eastern coast.

Just a few miles out from Massilia he saw what he had feared--the traffic was like a stampede, a chaotic multitude of pedestrians, wagons, carriages, horses, oxens mostly all heading east and south as fast as this motley mob could. His heart sank. How could he make it through such a mass? There was not room on the road to spare, people were filling the ditches as well, and he would be pushing against the tide of humanity that was fleeing the barbarians and heading toward Roma and other southern points of the peninsula where it was thought there was safety and law and order.

Rutilius gave the order for the chair to be set down, and he got out and stood watching the refugees. Every class was represented. Slaves, nobility, rich and poor-- the entire society of Roman Gaul was in flight! It was the most amazing spectacle. He tried to get someone to pause to give him some news of Narbo Martius and its environs.

But nobody wanted to stop, they only wanted to make it as far away from the northern barbarians as possible in the remaining daylight hours. Who could blame them? The terror the barbarians inspired was plain on all their faces!

Rutilius saw how completely hopeless it was regarding any journey westward. He would need an army to escort him to Narbo Martius and to his various estates--if he wished to return from there alive, that is. He returned to the chair, sat down, his head in his hands. Then he roused himself, and gave the command to return him to the city. He had seen what he had come for, and it was more than he could bear to look at any longer. Disintegration had set in too deep to patch over or stop, and the ground was cracking and falling away in huge wedges, all the way toward the heartland of imperial Roma, Latium. Obviously, even with Priscus Attalus as "emperor" sitting on the throne in Ravenna, and the dire Flavius Stilicho, magistum militum and the real emperor in the realm except in title, things would not get any better, no matter how many barbarian armies Stilicho hurled back toward the frontiers or bribed off with the last reserves of the imperial treasury.

What should he do? Where should he go? Return to Roma, or go to Ravenna bearing the bad news to his aged father and kill him with it?

Needing to sleep on it before he made any decision, Rutilius had the porters take him to a villa just outside Massilia in a nice suburb of the wealthy, where a former consul and praetor and a for-life senator, Secundus Sylvanus Fabio, resided. His father being a patrician and peer of Secundus Fabio, both speaking often and well of each other, he knew he would be most welcome even with no prior notice, if the family were in residence, that is, and not seeking rest or recreation at their various other villas in the south of Italia and elsewhere. As for the Urbanii, they would have to chance it if they continued on to Narbo Martius, he thought. He could only send word back by courier and warn them of the real risks, and advise them to seek some other route back to Britannica, by ship, not by land if they could find a ship. As for himself, he couldn't go home. He would send an agent in his place, who wouldn't be so conspicuous as the former governor of the Capital coming in state with bodyguards.

His ancestral home and estate no longer existed, thanks to Stilicho's policies admitting so many of the rapacious Gothic barbarians into his home province--only for them to break treaty and destroy everything in sight like bulls set loose in a pottery shop!

What a harrowing scene he had just witnessed out on the Via Aurelia! It gave him the chills. Carts losing a wheel or the wheel broken from being run too long and hard on the roads, their goods tumbling onto the roadstead, then masses of wagons and people and horses rolling right over the poor owner's possessions, even trampling him as he sought to keep his possesions from being destroyed!

Rutilius could do nothing for such wretches. No doubt that had happened to hundreds, as the stampede continued, drawing tens of thousands of frantic people to the roads, all trying to get out at the same time if they could.

Roma was literally falling apart, piece by piece, before his eyes! he thought. He had not dreamed he would see this catastrophe in his lifetime, as Roma possessed the greatest power and an invincible army and used to have the vast funds to put legions into the field against anybody who dared to defy the empire. But now the treasury was virtually drained, and so there wasn't the gold and silver to fund the legions or keep them where theyt were stationed to hold the borders against all the barbarians pressing against them. Yes, Roma was never able to match man to man the numbers of barbarians, but it didn't need to. Roma's reputation terrorized the barbarians and that terror kept them out and at bay, until recently that is! When they Goths and other savage tribes heard that Roma's leaders were at last losing their grip, unable to field a legion or more against them, well, they started flooding over the borders in Gallia, Hispania, and Africa--and once the barbarians lost their fear of Roman reprisal, it was all over, even though Stilicho still won battles against them when he could catch a mass of them together organized in an army.

Carried to the Senator Fabio's estate, Rutilius came to the imposing but scarcely defended gate, and his credentials were clear enough to the Lugian guards, which were the abominable Goths again hired as mercenaries for such needed posts!--would he ever be able to see Romans or Italians again in such positions? It disgusted him no end that even the Senator would hire the ruffians, but he thought maybe there were no suitable Italian coherts or even Syrians or Britons available and he had to turn to the huge masses of barbarians who gave Roma so much manpower nowadays.

At the entrance, he got down and was escorted by family servants into the hall, and there he waited, and presently word came to him to proceed to his suite of rooms that the wife of the Senator had opened for him. She sent a note, that she would be seeing him as soon as he was refreshed in his quarters, as she had some important things to convey to him, as the Senator was not disposed to admit guests at that time of day, being ill and keeping to his bed.

"Ill?" Rutilius thought, as he was led to his rooms on the second floor. "Was the Senator so indisposed that he couldn't be seen at all? This jeopardized his plans, and perhaps he might have forget about a restful interlude at Fabio's and strike out at once to Ravenna to see his father, without giving him time to send any letters to him, breaking the bad news more gently about their Gallic estates after he had time to compose what he would tell him?

When he had bathed, dressed, and felt much better, he was brought a solid meal served with the best of the estate wines, chilled, and every other possible need was seen to by the household servants. Only then was the Lady Fulvia announced by a lady attendant. He left his chambers and out of respect for her went into the hall to see her, and without after nod of her intricately coifed head she turned without a word and led him to a more private chamber to speak to him, in a room she used for a chapel, as she was seeking solace in the Christian faith (which he had heard rumor of in Roma), though her husband the Senator was not, being of Rutilius's beliefs about the gods, that they were good enough, as long as they refrained from meddling in men's affairs. Besides, like so many Romans, he favored Epictetus the Stoic, and with a touch or two of Epicurus where he was addressing the fitting end to take for the close of a life of pleasure and cultivated refinement.

"Welcome, Governor, to our home, such as it is these days!" she said to him, after taking the chair brought to her. Rutilius was waved to a chair across her, and the servants withdrew so they might talk without distraction.

Lady Fulvia smiled, a beautiful woman still in her later years, showing traces of beauty she was renowned for in her youth.

"How is your father, is he well?" she first inquired.

Rutilius told her that he was well enough for his age, and still able to attend to some of his duties at the court and in the capital.

Lady Fulvia continued, this time her look changing from the gracious hostess to one of concern and sadness.

"I am afraid, Rutilius, we cannot provide you with much amusement and diversion here, as Secundus is ill and in great pain for days now at a stretch and must keep to his bed, which he utterly loathes, of course, being so active all his life. That to him is the worst pain, being deprived of his active life and reduced to helplessness!"

"So I have heard, and you have my condolences," Rutilius replied, with as much feeling as he could muster, as he too had an aged parent on his mind to consider, which could not be much different from an aged, ailing spouse to this woman.

Her hand went up to her emerald necklace and pearls, and played with it distractedly, and then she leaned toward him.

"You can reside here as long here as you like, be assured, and we will make it as comfortable for you as we can--in the circumstances."

"Yes, I have heard the region is in turmoil these days," he said. "In fact my familial estates in Narbo Martius--

But the lady seemed not to have heard and continued, cutting him off.

"Servants are running away from here, one or more every day, would you believe? We offered them freedom if they would stay on longer, but it doesn't seem to have helped, they are so frightened of the--"

She broke off, and Rutilius knew what she was reluctant to say, naming the barbarians that were ravaging Gallia east to west, and north to south.

"Yes, I understand," was all Rutilius could say, as sympathetically as he could.

She looked at him with bewilderment, even shock, as if the unspeakable were beating on the very doors of the house.

"This can't be happening! How can it be happening? Why, all our friends from this area have run away--for good! We are about the only ones left, and... well, you see what condition we are in. The whole estate is falling into disrepair."

What could Rutilius say to that admission, it was evident that the lady was most distressed by the current state of things. All her life she had lived in luxury, Roman peace and safety, with every need and whim taken care of by well-trained slaves--but that was all crumbling and vanishing before her eyes. Roman civilization--well-run, with laws enforced, strictly and without fail, and no nonsense mixed in either--was all she knew, and only barbarism was left to take its place, and where could she find a place without Roma? How could this happen to Romans?

Rutilius could not explain the many causes, nor name the chief malefactors, such as Flavius Stilicho, as he knew the Fabios were of a pragmatic group of solid, republican-spirited Romans, both Christians and some holding to Roma's old gods and emperor worship too, that believed in the virtue of sheer expediency in times of emergency, with some of his younger class too, that even with Stilicho's clear ties to Alaric and other Lugians, he was just too good a military commander to be put away right now. He had to disagree past a certain point with the Pragmatists. Principles were important too, even while holding to expediency. Sheer expediency wasn't everything, when dealing with the likes of a Stilicho! That dark horse, however strong and impressive, could provide a most disastrous upset when you least expected or could sustain one. Even with Flavius Stilicho still winning major battles and crushing barbarians wherever he could get them to stand in a massed army he could attack, things were not improving, but rather they were falling apart all the quicker ever since he was given full powers to operate with the remaining resources of the Imperial State military and treasury! Was the trade-off worth it? He, Rutilius, didn't think so!

"Can't you remove from here in the north, Lady Fulvia, if things become too, er, uncertain in this area? You have some villas and estates in Sicilia, I hear, and surely they would be safe and pleasant enough to reside in during the interim."

She seemed to come back to reality with a jolt. Her pride restored her clear Roman thinking. "No, we cannot move--not at this time! We have a raeda of course, and a cisium if we must go faster, and some postillians and guards enough to accompany us, but the Senator is far too ill. He could never take the journey. So we must remain here, and try to make the best of it."

Rutilius looked at her with misgiving. How could they put off the inevitable? The barbarians were pressing in all around--soon the villas in the environs of Massilia would be sacked and put to the torch, occupied or not. When they finished with those, they might be emboldened to attack Massilia itself. If the Fabios didn't get out now, wouldn't it be too late at another time? It could be a few weeks, or even days, from the looks of things, before law and order disappeared completely from the region. What then? He himself had to leave the Fabios soon. He was planning to stay only the night and leave in the morning, in fact, so he tried to think of a polite way to say his visit would be unceremoniously brief.

But he did not have a chance to say anything about his leave-taking, as the Lady Fulvia saw a maidservant approaching and took the whispered message.

Lady Fulvia brightened, as she glanced at Rutilius.

"I was hoping for this. The Senator sends word that he is feeling a bit better, and wishes that his guest come to his bedside for a proper welcome. Would you? It would mean much to him, as we receive so few guests these days, it will break up the tedium of his day."

"Of course, I will go with you at once, Madame!" Rutilius smiled, and rose with the lady, and she then went ahead of him, a maidservant holding her arm.

They reached the Senator's sick-chamber at the end of the long corridor, with the rooms facing south to catch the cooling sea breezes.

He found the Senator lying back on his couch, but his eyes were open and his mind as sharp (and his tongue no less acute) as ever. And that deep, growling voice, who could forget it once you heard it?

"Come closer, my boy, I won't bite," he growled. "Let me look at you!" was the Senator's blunt greeting when Rutilius was announced to him.

"Well, your father could do worse in a son!" was his reaction. "I've heard you are just too fastidious in affairs and haven't taken a wife or mistress, nor have fathered any offspring to bear the family name and patrimony onwards--but that's your business, not mine. Now, what do you think? Are we finished or what? From the looks of things I hear about but don't see any longer, being tied to this confounded couch, the Lugii will soon be here hacking off our buttocks and sacking the whole country, including this house of mine, right?

Rutilius couldn't deny it. But he tried to comfort the old, dying man of renown, just to ease his last thoughts a bit. "Well, sire, things may still turn around. Roma has faced many strong foes in the past. A leader always arose in a calamity and victory came, and our dogs lapped our enemies' blood. After all, sore calamities have always confronted us, and often it seemed Roma was finished. Remember the Goths when they sacked Roma, then later Hannibal and Carthage, and Pyrrhus and...!"

The old man shook his fist, weakly, but it was clear he was angry. "Oh, stuff and nonsense! Don't speak such drivel to me, boy! I'm not a schoolboy to be taught such things. I won't hear it. My wife--yes, use those patriotic sentiments with her, as women can't bear rough and sensible man's talk. But the world of men, now, there we must speak as true men. Now what do you think we should do? I don't have time to indulge in sophistries! I don't believe in the gods, they are nothing but tales told by fools, but I do know there is a time appointed for every mortal man, as I feel mine coming soon, in my very bones! I do not know the day, but I can tell the hour approaches closer with every breath I take!"

Challenged man-to-man like that, Rutilius had to forget about humoring an old, dying and yet impressively dignified man and decided he had to get down to business. He discussed strategy and possible commanders and resources that still remained, and there as even the exceptional option of calling for help from the Eastern Emperor--massive aid which he knew they were capable of giving along with first-class armies. Western Roman needn't fight alone against all the barbarian hordes. It was unthinkable, that the Eastern Empire would let the Western perish while it watched on the sideline!

After a full hour of intensive strategizing, the Senator had enough and sank back speechless, and his wife came and Rutilius left to return, himself drained and tired, to his rooms for the night.

He sank gratefully into bed, but the night was not a good one for him at all. The shuttered windows shook and banged in a fierce wind blowing up from the south--wind off the vast red and yellow continent, from howling storms of the deserts of Africa, carrying heat and choking red dust and an alien scent.

He couldn't sleep and tossed on his couch for hours. Then, exhausted, he sank into sleep and a dream came. It was so vivid and powerful it was like he was really living it, and it seemed a matter of life and death what he did in it.

He found himself walking past Roman milestones, a row of them, and like some tombstones (which they also resembled) they carried dates, the one next to the last carrying the present year. He saw etched on them events too, so he knew the years from those events, even if some dates were well before his time. But each milestone seemed to mark some critical juncture in the progress (or decline, it seemed to him) of Roma's fortunes.

The last milestone was blank. He stared at it, wondering what it might contain if the events were etched there as they were on the others.

"Is this one standing for what will happen? Is this our future? Is this our end? Which is it?

As if in answer, he next saw a cloud appear on the stony path before him. It was a dark little cloud, and then he realized the path was not on level ground but there was a sheer rock wall to the left and a sheer dropoff to the right. He had to go through that cloud if he continued on the path. Truly, there was no turning back for him, for he saw, with a shudder, the ground fall away behind him, leaving an abyss that was seemingly eating the path with each step he took forward!

He moved forward and met the the ugly, dark cloud. The moment it enveloped him, he found himself assailed with every sort of thought and wild fancy. He thought he was going mad. He could not control the assaulting thoughts.

The cloud was full of whirling dark shapes, that seemed to threaten him with huge teeth like knives and swords. He reared back from them, but not too far, mindful of the chasm to his right and the one opening at his back.

"Woe to you, Roman!" he heard a voice greet him in the cloud. "You will rise again, but the Son of Majesty will arise to strike you down a final time, though you have exalted yourself to the heavens! Your glory he will cast down to the depths and trample upon. You will rise no more, and your oppressions will cease forever in the earth, which my own Great King, not yours, will rule forever and ever! Yet you, son of Lonchonius, I will separate from you people and nation for My own service. You I will cause to write on the last milestone the things I want there. Seek me, and you will be my servant and not perish utterly with your people, nor rise again with the Man of Sin and fight with him against Me and my glory in the latter days."

Rutilius reeled out of the cloud, which retired with its swarm of horrid, flying monsters, but it was that Voice that tormented him most. He "would rise no more"? What did that mean? He hadn't fallen, so how could it mean him? It made no sense to him. And who was this "Son of Majesty" the Voice spoke of? He would be chosen out of his people, the Romans, to be a servant, and write on the last milestone the things the Speaker desired to be there? He would not be raised to fight against the Speaker in the 'latter days'?

The arch and the declarations did not make any more sense to him than the fateful Voice. He found himself walking beneath it, and it was beautiful, but what could it possibly mean, particularly after he had just been told in the cloud of a wretched end for himself, that he would be cast down from his place of eminence and would rise no more, yet would be 'separated out' and used to write on the Terminus stone?

His experience of the Arch was incomprehensible--what else could it be to hi? After the unpleasant, almost terrifying struggle in the dark cloud, he felt an overwhelming peace coming to him from the Arch, such as he had never experienced before.

This wasn't the pax of Roma or the Pax of Caesar Augustus--it was utterly different, it was seated deep in his heart and soul. What could it mean?

Crash! He fell abruptly from the dream into reality, and lay in the darkness of his bedchamber, wondering what had happened and wondering for a few moments where he was. Then he heard more sounds, as if glass were breaking outside his door.

He had to find out what was going on, and rose. His bodyguards were in the slave quarters retired for the light, and the moment he opened his door and moved into the hallway, he sorely missed them, for he saw who was making the noise.

A Lugian guard from the gate was grabbing valuable things he wanted from the walls and niches and putting them into a bag, while dropping the unwanted items to smash on the tiled floor.

"Thief, put those things back!" Rutilius commanded the Lugian.

The Lugian saw him, and grunted, as if he were laughing.

He turned back to what he had been doing before, ignoring Rutilius.

Angry, Rutilius gave him a second command to stop, but the guard this time was annoyed enough to walk right up to Rutilius, staring at him with his cold blue eyes.

Rutilius's next words of rebuke and threat of capital punishment for looting died, choked off in his throat. He could see the Lugian was fully armed and wouldn't mind killing him like he probably killed a fly, if he was annoyed enough.

"I'll inform the Senator and you will be whipped and imprisoned for this!" Rutilius wanted to say, but he didn't dare say it.

The Lugian's expressionless face took on an emotion for the first time that was recognizably human, for it registered sneering, but still indifference and contempt as if he were speaking to a dog. "Go back to your room and leave me alone to my business, Roman!" he commanded Rutilius.

Rutilius had never been spoken to like this in his life. He had always spoken down to inferiors, never had inferiors spoken down to him! What more shocking thing could happen to a Roman, and a patrician from the best family! He could hardly believe any man would dare to say such a thing to him, much less a savage barbarian! But times had changed! Changed utterly! Now the barbarians were issuing orders to Roman nobles of the highest class, and what could he do?

Feeling all his strength drain out of him, Rutilius never did reach for his sword and defend Roman dignity, as that would have been a mere gesture and cost him his life, he thought. Why die here at the hands of a nameless thug of a Lugian?

He turned and slunk back into his room and shut the door. Never in his life had he felt so crushed in dignity, and absolutely powerless in his own country too! It was an effront to his pride and his very sense of manhood, not to mention his Roman lineage and heritage extending back hundreds of years into the days of the grand lost Republic, and even beyond that to Oscan and Etruscan kings and overlords of the most ancient Roma. It was still being said in his family he had Tarquin's nose!

Inside his quarters, he went to his bed and sat down, and he felt ghastly and wondered what earth he should and could do. Sweat covered him. He had been reduced to powerlessness and lost a major battle with the barbarians, it seemed to him. He had been beaten and disgraced beyond anything he had ever imagined could happen to a noble Roman on his own home soil.

But there was nothing to do, he realized. They had no fear of the Romans anymore, and had thrown off every last restraint fear had put on them. The barbarians had the upper hand, even in the house of the great statesman, Secundus Fabio!

It was best to let it pass, not even say anything. After all, Lady Fulvia had already told him that she knew of the servants' pilfering household things, and allowed it to go uncontested, lest she lose all vital personal service at a time when her ailing husband needed it most.

The next day, instead of departing, he remained with the Fabios, as the news broke early in the morning that the Senator had passed away in his sleep and never awoken.

He could not abruptly take leave now, not even thinkable with Lady Fulvia left alone in the house with barbarians lounging at her very gates and even beginning to ransack the house!

Surely, he thought, he must do whatever she wished to maintain her personal safety, until she could make it to one of her estates in the south or go into a holy place of seclusion, as he heard it was her wish once her husband was gone and she was a widow.

So he waited in his rooms, tense but quietly, and the word came presently later on in the day for him to come once the Senator was buried. He was not going to be cremated and his ashes set in an urn, as first he had intended. The arrangements were too difficult to be made in the troubled circumstances on the estate, so he had chosen common burial instead on his own ground, without a mausoleum of any kind, a simple headstone instead marking his grave site.

This was quickly arranged, with even a workman found on the estate who carved the Senator's name on a suitable headstone. The burial took place the next day, as bodies did not keep in the African heat and winds assailing the coast. Lady Fulvia sent word to Rutilius to accompany her, if he would, to the grave site where she would tender her last sympathies. She said there would be no priests of any kind, as the Senator was no a believer in any religion or rite, and wished only stoical simplicity. So she would honor him in this last will of his. But she could pray for him, she said. She believed he still had a soul, though he said many times before he did not. If he had a soul, he once remarked to her, it had to be a donkey's, not a man's, for he had bourne the weighty affairs of estate on his broad back many a year without murmur or complaint, so he must have a donkey's soul, to have done that long a service uncomplainedly, as any mere mortal man would have broken down long before him and pitied himself!

Lady Fulvia did not allow even her own female attendants to go with her to the grave site itself. They followed her only into the back of the garden, where it was mere untended grass and unclipped trees, not cultivated borders of junipers, cyprus, and rare imported trees, along with flowers. The Senator preferred the wild state of that part of the garden, he said, for his last repose. There he would feel the winds sweep in upon the coastlands from off the backside of the Africa desert--and he would feel free like the big-winged griffons of Africa coming to roost in Gallia--that is, if he had a soul and could feel any such "fowl" thing, he always quipped.

So Rutilius accompanied the widow. She waved him aside, however, and continued the last few feet alone to the grave site, and there she stood, without flowers, for several long moments. Whether she was weeping, no one could say. Then she turned back toward the house, her head bent, and silently they all followed. At the door of the entrance, she paused to speak to Rutilius. "I am ready to leave here. Can we leave here as soon as possible? We can take the raeda or even the carucca, whichever you think best suits the journey.

Rutilius would have like to recite an elegy of his own there, or something from Martial or perhaps a Greek elegy, but she gave him no such opportunity--and he did not want to press her for it, respecting her intention to maintain stark simplicity for the obsequies.

So they departed, at her word, the next day! Rutilius, on second thought, chose the larger, slower, more luxurious carucca with the bed-chamber aboard. Lady Fulvia needed seclusion as a widow, with only her attendants to take care of her, while travelling the long road back to Roma and the south.

He preferred to ride along with the guards and his own bodyguards, and he could reside in any taverna and inn along the way or in lodges in any town or city they came upon that proved convenient and decent enough.

This arrangement worked well, except that they were caught in a rainstorm after several days on the road. It was particularly unpleasant too, as it mixed wtih all the red dust still flying about from the African winds, producing a red mud everywhere.

In the downpour, he held up his cape to keep off the worst of the wet sludge, but he wasn't doing himself much good. Then he heard his name called from the caracca, which had stopped on the road.

He dismounted, tethered his horse at the back of the wagon, and went to the door. A maid called him in, and he was glad of the invitation.

He was a mess! His clothes, his hair, his arms and legs and shoes-- all muddy and wet! She asked him to take the towels and blankets they had for him to dry himself and make himself warm and comfortable while Lady Fulvia prepared to see him.

She had given him a mirror, and he was shocked at what he saw. Red streaks on his head, his arms, his legs and feet--red as blood! He worked hard, rubbing the African red clay off himself, and ruined the towels, but he had to make himself presentable, and would buy new towels at the next city to replace the ruined ones, he decided.

Working furiously, he got himself dry and reasonably clean, and combed his hair and smoothed his clothes as best he could, but kept the blanket, which he needed for warmth.

The younger maid had brought him the towels and blanket. Now the older maid came, and beckoned to him, saying the lady would see him now.

Presently, the widow came out alone from her private sleeping and bathing chamber. He was somewhat shocked at her changed appearance, though he had expected some alteration after the great loss she had suffered with Secundus's passing. She wore no jewels or gold jewelry, and her silk gown had been replaced with a dark widow's shawl and gown of some common, practical cloth for travel reaching to her feet. Her eyes showed darker than usual, without makeup of any kind, but somehow she looked older and wiser and a different woman altogether. Genuine grief had put its indelible mark on the somewhat supercilious, pampered darling of an aged wealthy spouse he had found performing as his hostess just a few days before.

She seated herself, then waved him to a couch across from her.

She spoke first, fortunately, as he was at a loss how to begin as a man of his unmarried state with a grieving widow.

"I can tell what you are still thinking! A woman can read a man, being less comlicated than any woman. And you think I am a silly thing, and now that I lost my husband and master, I am useless to everything proper and Roman, not to mention the whole society, and it will be hard, if not impossible, to find a new place for me--that is what you are thinking, are you not?"

Rutilius was taken aback. She was absolutely right, though he hadn't yet put all his thoughts into regular order like that. But she was correct, particularly in how difficult it would be, finding her a place where she might be happy again--if that could ever be the fate of the gods for her, that is.

Nevertheless, he had to put a proper face on things, his thoughts were just too nakedly exposed for comfort. "Yes, I was thinking such things, Lady Fulvia, which I must confess to, now that you have made them known," he began. "But I beg your pardon, I don't think you are silly, I just wonder how a woman of your class and breeding will fit wherever you are going--and whether there is a society of the kind you will want to mix in waiting for you. Those are natural questions, I would think."

"No," she objected, "I prefer the plain truth, as my husband always did, not social decorum and good manners over above truth. We were never society people in that respect. Secundus was just too forthright to tolerate any form of humbug in his presence. What I said is true. You do think me a silly creature, and useless too, and so you are concerned. I don't mind what you think, I think it myself. I was born and bred this way, but that doesn't mean I like myself. My two sons died in infancy, so I provided the Senator no heirs. That was is the worst I have experienced, and everything else has been comfortable. And the Senator was far too kind in his heart to seek another wife or complain to me of his lack of heirs. For that I could not help but be devoted to him. I knew I could never find another, finer man like that, even if I sought him among younger, more attractive men than him."

"Yet I was wondering how this pretty and young a woman could hold a man who could have his pick of most of the beauties of the realm," he was thinking as he looked at her. "What was her secret."

She paused, then surprised him with a quote from Ovid, "That load becomes light which is cheerfully borne."

"Ovid was wise when he said that, and I always kept it as my guiding principle. You see, Governor, and I don't know why I am telling you this now, but bear with me. Despite all the increasing care Secundus needed (though he did not demand it), I never appeared before him right out of my bed. I first went to prepared myself with all my beauty aids. I bathed. My hair was done the most becoming way, I wore my powders and perfumes and jewels, and put on a fresh new gown--only then did I go to him, with smiles, not an expression of concern or fear of what I might find, some alteration toward the worse with him and his health. No, I followed Ovid's wise principle always. Secundus always saw his wife at her best, and I treated him this way to the end. That way I knew I always would keep his heart, and it would never stray. Even when the gout in his feet and legs grew worse and he was became bound to his couch, I continued as I had trained myself when he was still in full active public life, surrounded by the court society and the imperial officials and their wives. It became no onerous duty to me toward the end, even on the most difficult days, when his pains drove him to utter a complaint or two, or to be short with the doctors and maids who attended him."

This changed his view of her somewhat, but Rutilius could not believe she would go so far as to bare such private thoughts with him. But it was too late. She had said these things, and he must deal with the revelation. But how to handle a woman who was proving outspoken and all too blunt, while in mourning? This was getting rather awkward to him who knew how to handle the other kind of social animal, the woman who thought too highly of herself and her station to be admit what she really was. Evenso, acquainted with nobility as he was, he hadn't been his best in the company of noble women and their sophisticated talk, and he wasn't doing any better now, he observed. She very much had taken the upper hand, and how was he going to direct the conversation back into less sensitive channels? Did she want to hear any of his poetry, or some other poet's? Did she want to discuss affairs of state? He could furnish both to fill the long tedium of travel down to Roma and the Southern ports.

Seeing his discomfort, Lady Fulvia tried another tack, as if to render their visit more pleasant, though not more meaningful to herself.

"I hear you are working on a notable poem, Governor. Is it finished? What is it about?"

Rutilius did not want to talk about it now, for some reason. The events of the last few days had unsettled, to to a degree, unnerved him. He felt as if he had lost his compass in life. What had been his compass anyway? Wasn't it Roma and her fortunes? Now that they seemed sinking into the morass of barbarism, he felt he was sinking with her--unable to help himself or escape. Where would he go? Where could he find another life? What kind of life could it be without his estates? Many other such questions crowded his mind, once he opened up to his anxiety boiling beneath his surface thoughts.

Why doesn't she just content herself with her loss of the Senator, rather than inquire into my life? he wondered, somewhat annoyed. But he was stuck for the time being, until he could get her to wherever she felt she wanted to reside. He owed that much to the Senator, and it was his Roman duty, as he was obliged by his training and breeding to see it.

He tried to temporize. "It isn't quite finished, Madame. I don't consider it worthy to be made public as yet. I--"

"Stuff and nonsense!" she said, her eyes showing some annoyance of her own. "You are just trying to put me off. I really want to know something about it. After all, it must be important as a subject for you to take time from your busy official life to compose one. Everyone knows a long poem demands a lot of work and preparation too, if it is to command an audience among the educated people these days. They are already over-entertained. Any poet worthy of the name has to do better or at least as well as our poetic masters, though no one could equal Virgilius, of course, and nobody would expect you to try. Secundus preferred Statius, of course, with all his talk about roads and road buiilding suited his temperament better than Virgilius's fine sentiments about the Trojans' foundation of Roma. How he loved it when she learned some of his verses by heart, and she could always soothe him to sleep by reciting them.

"First comes the task of preparing the ditches,

marking the borders, and,

as deep as needed, cutting into the earth.

Then, second, with other stuff,

making a base for the crown of the highway

so that the soil does not sink

on weakly made foundations

that give the flagstones a false base.

Thirdly, they secure it with cobblestones

closely packed..."

He never tied of hearing it, though he slept soon and well whenever I recited Statius!" she said. "Do you yourself believe those tales of Virgilius, the ones that give Roma such grandeur when tied to Troy's heroes?"

Rutilius was impressed by her observations! Clearly, she had done some thinking of her own, and her remarks proved it. Perhaps, this trip wouldn't be as dull as he had feared. He turned to her with real interest for the first time and not just pity.

"Well, since you really do seem interested, I would be most happy to tell you about it, even share as many verses as you would like to hear..."

As he shared the poem with Lady Fulvia, the miles seemed to speed faster, and they arrived at a large city this time, and drove directly to the home of a nobleman they both knew, where they found the residence open to callers of their class, and Rutilius presented their names to the butler in the vestabule, who went immediately to the master and mistress of the house. Within minutes, they were escorted into the mansion, and were assigned rooms for the night. But dinner was laid out for them, which Lady Fulvia declined but which Rutilius was very glad of. He was so hungry for educated male companionship and good food, and he hoped for some this evening.

The Trebonii were a Knightly class family, as Rutilius knew from his private blue book he had kept in his library, meaning they were not patricians and nobles. Despite this, Rutilius could see they were most anxious to at least appear noble, straining to be something they were not with all the extravagances of their mansion on conspicuous display. Only it was all just too gaudy and ostentatious--all that inlaid gold and semi-precious stones in the marble columns, for example, and the ivory seats in the chairs and couches, just like the Senate's, and the heavy draperies hung between the columns encrusted with gold thread, etc., and roses, golden mesh baskets of them hanging above the dining area, for scenting the air! It was all too heavy and rich, and betrayed the Trebonii's vulgarity and tastelessness.

Yet they were hospitable and generous to a fault, and his plate was piled with plenty of everything through all the six or seven courses-- so he was kept busy trying to keep up with the servers, which all came heavily garnished with the Treboni garum sauce, their concoction of shellfish and fish of all kinds which had generated the larger part of their fortune of millions, for they had many factories producing it not only for most of Italia but shipped it to Constantine's City as well!

The conversation was also as plentiful as the garum sauce, but also tended to vulgarity, and not much discrimination. Rutilius had to make do with these poorer intellects he found at table, the master and mistress and their various guests. It was hard not to notice the lack of manners, and the coarse expressions used, and the too-loud laughter at some rather off-color jokes. He was glad Lady Fulvia declined to come down to dinner, as it would have been very offensive to her. But for himself, he had know army camp talk in his day, and this approached it but was no worse, so he could suffer it for the sake of a good meal.

Afterwards, he excused himself, thanked his bowing hosts, who were much to obsequious to him in their bows and smiles he thought, and went up gratefully to his rooms to rest.

Later the next day, out on the road, Lady Fulvia brought out a family keepsake, a necklace. The emeralds were unusually large, and he had not seen any that large before. Were did she get them? Why was she showing them to him.

Lady Fulvia explained. "I want you to have them, when this journey is over, and your task is ended. I am so grateful to you, and Secundus would want you to have these too as a little reward for your doing such a gracious service to his widow.

Rutilius was ovewhelmed and tried to protest. But she would not hear of it.

She smiled for the first time openly. "Secundus said there is a story attacked to the emeralds. He didn't believe it, but thought it might amuse me. He said the Senate had conferred them on them as a reward for years of service for something or other, and he had taken them, thrown them in a strongbox and forgot them until he was having his things sorted and disposed of, and these jems turned up. Then he told me about them.

"He said that the king of the Berbers, the Africans, who fought Roma so long and bravely, had a wife whom he doted on especially. He gave her this necklace, as she preferred emeralds above all other precious stones, despising even gold and pearls.

"But then the king of the Berbers went to war, to drive the foreigners, the Romans, out of his ancestral country, for he wanted no part in the empire that was running its boundaries out to include his own domains. It finally went against him when he could no longer bribe the various Roman generals sent against him. Roma sent an honest general who only did his duty, and that was enough to destroy the king's forces in bitterly fought campaigns. King Jugurtha, for that was his name, was hard pressed for even strings for his men's bows, and the Queen, Immadatha, even cut her long hair to make strings for him. But to no avail! Their mountain fortress was taken, and they died in the flaming ruins, but as a last desperate attempt, the necklace was sent out as a bribe to the general, to allow them to go free into the desert. The general refused, and they perished, and this necklace was found. But it is said to have a curse on it, for the general gave it to his wife, and she died in a sudden fall, and the general took sick too soon after and died, and his villa caught fire and all was destroyed, killing the rest of his family. The necklace somehow survived all this. The Senate took possession of his remaining effect, and the necklace was awarded to several other generals in various triumphs as rewards for their victories--but they all too suffered untoward calamities and early death, and the necklace again reverted to the State. So it came to Secundus in turn, but he laughed at the story and took it anyway. Until now it has lain in dust amongst other forgotten jems and old jewelry in the strongbox of the estate. But now I no longer need it, and it is yours--unless you feel you would rather have something else, which I will then give you. But this is yours, if you do not fear the tale about it."

Rutilius was fascinated by now. He really did like the story. He picked up the necklace from her hands, and the moment he held it a thrill passed through him, his entire body.

Why should the emerald necklace affect him so strongly? he wondered. He was a conoisseur of fine jems, but somehow this set of emeralds was different, affecting him most profoundly. Could it be tied to some old spell, of African witchdoctors, for he had heard they had many such spell-casters using stick-men and rag effigies to even kill a man, after reciting various incantations of doom and pestilence over them.

But he was a man of clear, sane, practical reason and good sense! he reminded himself. As a Roman of the original stamp, he didn't believe in such things! Yes, common people were very superstitious and believed in spells and magic, but he was above such absurd fancies and misty idiocies. He believed, for the sake of Roma's solemn religious ceremonies and the panoply of state that required the emperor to bear the title of Pontiff, in the distinguished state gods of Roma's pantheon, but not the earthy old spirits of the hearth and which also inhabited every rock, tree, and brook--spirits that people invoked in the Saturnalia's orgies and all sorts of nasty deeds done in secret and in the dark. That kind of earthy, vulgar, religion of the Italian and Latin folk cultures never appealed to him. It was supposed to predate the Osci and the Volscians, the earliest primitive peoples it was thought to have inhabited the great, rocky boot of the Italic peninsula. Because of his personal distaste for folk religion, he kept no lararium in his villas either--it wasn't necessary for a man of his education and degree of enlightenment, he decided. That was all so backward and primitive--he had received the best that Roma's pedagogues and philosophers and teachers, foreign and native born, could give a young man of his class--and so he had been liberated from superstition.

Secundus, he thought, was correct, and though he was godless, they agreed on this point: the gods, if they existed, exercised no public role any longer, and there were no interventions or "miracles", suspensions of natural laws effected by them. Magic and witchcraft thought they did--but they were wrong. Man controlled the world, and the gods had retired to wherever gods resided, and left the operation of the world to mankind, and the Romans of course, who ruled mankind best!

Yet even these thoughts couldn't dispell the strange influence of the emeralds. Rather disturbed, he put them away, after thanking the lady for her gracious and extremely generous gift. Since it was the gift of the Fabios, he accepted them for the Numantianii.

It was a relief to be back on the road, on their way again to the south. The north was still very much within the range of the rampaging northern barbarians. They might be stopped in the mass, but they still could send numerous bands out on raids deep into Italia. You never knew what you might encounter on the roads--foes or friends. He was glad they had their bodyguards along, but really they wouldn't be enough to stop a determined band of raiders. No, it was best to put as many miles as possible between the barbarians and themselves.

They bypassed Roma by eighty miles, which was in a state of chaos these days, he knew. Better not get involved in its turmoil of politics and chaos--the plebeians rioting because grain shipments were being diverted or lost and they were going without their free wheat. On the Via Latinum they came to the important municipality of Casinum.

Rising 1,700 feet above Casinum, the dark, heavily forested, cypressed mount was the site of the ancient acropolis of the aboriginal Volscians, and the Greek era Temple of Apollo stood there on the crown, though he knew it was abandoned and perhaps being used as a church. Yet Casinum was still a thriving place, its temples still well-attended and maintained with plenty endowments from wealthy patrons, famed for its fine olive oil which was commended by Strabo, and the fine amphitheatre was still being used that was built the year of the death of Ummidia Quadratilla, a wealthy patrician of the city whose grandson was a friend of Pliny the Younger's, and very rich one indeed, since when she died at age 80 she left him two thirds of her immense fortune.

With the gods no longer cultivated and worshipped on the sacred mount as in ages past, the high place that could ber seen from miles away in every direction was now drawing certain holy orders and convents and monasteries of Christians, who had gone up there for refuge from the world. The mount also come to Lady Fulvia's attention. Her maid, the eldest one, had told her some things about it--that widows and orphans were welcome there to find refuge and residence--no matter how poor, or rich, they came--they were all treated with kindness and love and could remain as long as they wished--since they were accorded the privileges of the "least of these" spoken of by the Christos himself when defining the duty of man to take care of the poor and the weak.

"So the elder maid is a Christian, just as I suspected!" Rutilius thought, not that impressed by the alms houses and charities of the Christians, as pagan temples did the same thing, though they claimed full public recognition for it in the various pageants, parades, and processions, and Christians rigorously avoided such braggart displays of their acts of philanthropy.

"They are everywhere these days, like confounded fleas on a scurvy street dog! Thanks to Constantine, they can't be kept out of even the highest circles--not that they are such bad individuals, it is the group that I don't like becoming too numerous to control. Why, even one of my bodyguards is a Christian, I do believe! He used to frequent the brothels in the towns nearest wherever we resided, and I caught him a number times with a blond-haired woman on his arm as he went to play on his hour or so I let him go free of his duties. Now he acts like a chaste virgin--and won't even look at them in the streets! Prays for them too! He must have caught the contagion of Christos while I was in Roma visiting the library!"

It was while they were still out on the road leading to the mount that they were caught up with by an imperial courier, riding alone in the pants and round hat of a postman.

Calling out the name of Governor Rutilius, the postillions stopped the carruca and the guards and attendants also reined in. Rutilius stepped out on the road and awaited for the message. Dressed as an ordinary tabellarius who carried post mail (perhaps to attract less attention to his mission), the man bowed and saluted, then handed Rutilius the wax tablet message which was sealed with an imperial seal his father, not only the emperor, was entitled to use.

Rutilius stepped aside to read it, and was surprised to find it was his father, calling him immediately to Ravenna. He had something very important, apparently, to detain him like this. But he must go. Only he had the responsibility of Lady Fulvia to discharge.

He went to her and told her that his father had summoned him to court in Ravenna.

"Of course, you must leave us at once and go to him! It may be the emperor has something important to say to you or command you to do! You can't keep the emperor waiting."

"Some 'emperor,' Rutilius thought, "this Attalus Priscus the usurper--yet he did have some little power in his hand and topaz-studded scepter, and the title was his too, which people said Stilicho had allowed him to bear for the time being until he decided whether he might better wear it than this fellow he told what to do and when to do it. Was that true? Would the ghostly hand of the satyr Stilicho be directing him through the emperor to some venture he would loathe? If he valued his head, he had to go and find out. It was useless to speculate. Besides, he wanted to see his father, since his health was failing, and no doubt the bad news about the Gallic estates would reach him soon, if they had not already done so.

"And I have thought on it and find I am content to stop here," Lady Fulvia said. "Why should I go any further, Governor, if this place proves suitable, which I feel it will be, from the reports I have heard about it? I can inquire myself at the holy orders on the mount, and surely one will take an honest woman in. My maids and I will go, the two who have chosen to remain with me, and you need not escort us. So you are free, Governor. And I thank you for your service to Secundus and me--it has been a pleasure to be in your care these days on the road. But before you go, could we speak most privately? I have a concern for you I wish you might consider."

Rutilius nodded, and followed here, though he was at a loss to think what the matter might be. Yet a gentleman of his class could not refuse a fellow patrician, even if it were a lady!

Seated in her private compartment, her maids retiring to leave them, he waited to see what she would say.

She had been quietly observing him, she said. And since he must leave her company now, perhaps for a long time they would not meet again, so she asked his patience with him, if she misstated herself to any degree on a delicate subject.

His heart began to beat quicker. What could it be? What was it>

"Governor, I perceive that you have a sorely divided heart. You are troubled inwardly, and like any man of public affairs you push it down and will not speak of it, since you are strong as a man is strong that way. But we weak women divine such things easily, and can't keep the heart matters so silent, and so I have seen this in you. Do you know what it is?"

He shook his head, totally at a loss.

"Well," she continued, "it has to do with a matter of the heart and faith, I believe. I dealt with my husband quite a long time on this very thing. I found out he could not be moved to make a decision similar to mine, and saw that I had to accept that, though it saddened me, and still saddens me. However, God is this one thing, if he is anything, he will not force the human heart to love and serve him, it is free to believe or not to believe, and the Creator values only a love and a service that is freely offered. Howso with you, sir? Have you given yourself that freedom? Or do you deny it, by ignoring the call to make a decision one way or the other. That is what I see, you are divided in heart, but cannot deal with it. So I urge you to come to a decision. Otherwise, it will gnaw and eat away at your soul at its very roots, and you may sicken and grow old before your time--for the decision will not be denied or ignored. I know, for I had to make my decision, once I knew enough to make an informed one, that is, thanks to my chief maid.

Rutilius stared at her. He was now very disturbed. But he couldn't deny that she was on to something very true about him. Ever since his trip to the Imperial Library and Archives of Roma, after finding the Sybilline Oracles taken and burnt by the dire villain, Stilicho, his soul had been in turmoil, for on the scene of that sacrilege he had learnt some things about Roma's condition and possible end, and some things too about Christos, and yet he couldn't bring himself to accept what Christos was claimed to be--which would change everything, how he saw Roma's fortunes and destiny, and his own part in them and his duty to the mother and protectress of civilization.

"The emeralds were far too small a gift. They cost me nothing, in fact. So I have something else for you as a parting gift that a man of letters might appreciate more than mere baubles of an African queen," she said, realizing that he was too disturbed to comment.

She handed him an old fashioned scroll of the type favored by the preceding generations. His eyes widened at once. He unrolled it, and found a Sybilline oracle!

"How is the world? Where did you get this?" he exclaimed. First the emeralds of king and queen of the Berbers, which seemed to bring bad fortune to all who possessed them. Now a contraband Sibylline oracle, something Stilicho, highly offended by their unflattering references to a great destroyer of Roma who would unleash the barbarians hordes under the guise of his friends and alies, would no doubt give someone's life to seize and destroy!

He could not resist reading it on the spot, and Lady Fulvia sat watching him, as his expressions changed, registering things of the heart that he would normally never expose to someone's gaze.

"ORACLE XIX--

You! You the transgressor, hear Me! I raised you up from your people to crush and burn My city and My holy House that was corrupted when they rebelled against Me" saith the One Who suffered mortal hurt to His breast, and was pierced cruelly in His hands and Feet and brow.

"You were My instrument of wrath, but upon you and your people your own evil and folly falls, as your punishment for destroying My people and My House so cruelly, without pity for the young mother with her first-born at her breast, putting your swords through the aged and sick, young and old alike, slaying children before parents, parents before their children, daughters before fathers, sons before mothers!

You committed these deeds so grevious to Me, so I will repay you with the lives of your own tender children when I destroy you off the earth, root and branch, young and old alike, taking them away suddenly, when the bread is still baking in the oven. Flee if you can, the firebrand I sent against you from the bowels of the earth, the earth that you worship in your temples!"

As Rutilius read, Lady Fulvia's eyes widened as she watched his hands begin to shake, and his breath nearly stop as his face lost its color and his cheeks turned waxen and pale.

"ORACLE XXX--

And after a time I will bring a full end to the residue of your people.

Your great houses will be taken and burnt and leveled to the earth by brutal beasts from the north and east, which I will drive down upon you with my goad."

"ORACLE XXXI--

At that time your fortresses and palaces will fall, and all your borders overrun and swept aside like windrows of autumn leaves in the blasting winter winds by hordes of beasts of the barbarian nations, and you will stagger back toward the center of your ancestral domains, and yet can hold nothing together--and the Jewels of Wrath will be there, casting a strong delusion upon you and the leaders of the people thoser few who are left to lead all of you, the remnant of your proud crown and realm, down into the Pit--"

The last Oracle was broken off in mid sentence.

"What is wrong, Governor?" Lady Fulvia cried out, alarmed. Rutilius's shoulders were shaking now, not just his hands.

He was thinking one terrible thought--SO THERE IS A CONNECTION, BETWEEN WHAT VESPASIAN AND TITUS DID TO JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE OF THE JEWS? HORRORS! A CONNECTION BETWEEN THOSE EVENTS AND NINE YEARS LATER THE DESTRUCTION OF POMPEII AND VESPASIAN'S VILLA BY VESUVIUS, THE FIREBRAND THROWN FROM THE EARTH?

"Could it be? Could it be?" he muttered, unaware of Lady Fulvia's voice, as she tried to break through the fog of bewilderment, shock, and horror that had engulfed him since he first began reading the Sibyl.

Gradually, his eyes began to show he was returning to the world of men. He saw Lady Fulvia, her eyes enormous with dark concern fixed on his face.

He had fightened her. He felt so ashamed, and sprang up, letting the scroll fall. She bent and picked it up and handed it to him, but the moment he saw what she was giving him he snatched his hand back from it, as if from fire.

He backed away, his eyes rigid with terror. "No, nonnnooooo! I won't be needing it," he stammered. "Please keep it, won't you?" He was beside himself, and wanted to go, and let her go on her way.

He turned to the door, but he realized how unkindly, how unmannerly he had been acting, and he tried to make amends.

He bowed to her. "Please forgive my rude behavior, Lady! I forgot myself, in the surprise I felt naturally at reading in these oracles how there might be a connection--"

What a fatal slip that was!

She caught it at once. "A 'connection', you say, Governor? What connection?"

He couldn't elude her question now, he had to answer, if he was going to tell the truth. Couldn't he put her off somehow, but he saw by her eyes that were flashing at him that he better not try. She meant to hear exactly what he had learned.

"Well, it appears from this that the Sibyl speaks of Jerusalem and Pompeii, you know, the destroyed city burnt and covered by the mountain that threw up so much fire and ash back in the days of Vespasian and Titus?

"Yes, I heard of that event, but no one speaks of it anymore. Why does that mean something to you today?"

"I wish it didn't! But these oracles concern a judgment upon us, if I understand them rightly, a judgment by God (whoever is God) upon Roma herself, for how we treated Jerusalem and His House the Temple of King Herod who built it for the Jews his subjects. This God says we committed this deed against him and His People, he calls the Jews, and He is now going to wreak similar destruction upon us, starting with, of course, Pompeii, as it has to be Pompeii that answers the description. Then it passes to the borders and fortresses of the realm, which are overswept by our enemies, pushing us to the Center, which cannot hold, the oracle says! And our leaders--they are powerless and useless to save both the failing state and the people alike, since they are caught in a strong delusion cast on them by...cast on them by..."

He faltered, unable to continue to speak.

But Lady Fulvia would not be put off now, at the very end of the account.

"Yes, Governor, hold not back! I can bear it, I think!"

"Those 'jewels of wrath' it speaks of, well, could they be the very ones you have given me-- they seem to answer the description, but maybe I am losing my mind--how can this be so? None of this is rational!"

Lady Fulvia seemed taken aback, and speechless. She shook her head. "I too don't believe they have any such power to hurt like that. The old Sibyl and votaress must have been delusional herself, the vapors had confused her aged mind prophetic powers. Cast delusion on Roma's leaders so they lead us astray? Lead us into the Pit instead of safety?"

Rutilius stared at her. "But I didn't tell you what they would do--how did you know what they will do to us, to our leaders and commanders? Who told you?"

She seemed to be amazed, as amazed as he was to hear her. "I didn't know, but then it just came to me what the oracles said about the jewels. I couldn't know that, for I never read the oracles. And Secundus never bothered, though he bought them from a commander who came selling what he had retrieved secretly from the fires Stilicho had ordered. Ordinarily, Secundus would have had the insubordinate man flogged and perhaps executed for going purposely contrary to his own superior like that, merely for the money he sought, but Stilicho--well, Secundus, though he saw he was still useful to the preservation of the State, nevertheless did not think him full Roman (which he certainly isn't!), so that other Romans must be destroyed for his sake--so he bought the oracles and sent the man on his way, charged to never let out a word about them, on pain of death. That was Secundus, he did the best thing, and kept the matter from public knowledge, as it would serve Roma no good at all to expose and humiliate the officer. Besides, Stilicho might be endangered by such a manuscript, and Secundus knew that he might yet need it--if Stilicho ever really got out of hand and needed reining in, and in that case he had the means in hand to do it, without striking with a sword!"

Rutilius thought this was most reasonable, even coming from a woman, and a grieving widow at that. But he needed to give his farewell, and make a quick run up the roads to Ravenna. Horseback would be best, even if it would be the most most tiring, with the usual halting stations for exchange of mounts and an inn or two filled with rough company and perhaps bedbugs to try to take rest in. He would take only his personal bodyguards, as he could always pick up more attendants from the pretoria, if he wanted them, at Classus and Ravenna.

So after giving his proper farewell to Lady Fulvia, and instructing the postillions to take her directly to the holy orders' houses on the mount, else they be punished on his return to the area, he took leave with his men.

Three days later of travel, and Rutilius reached the port of Classus. There the prefect informed him that his father would meet him presently, as he too had just arrived in order to speak to him before he retired to bathe, dine and rest.

Rutilius was escorted into the chamber where his father was waiting.

His father came forward at the first glimpse of him, and Rutilius could not help himself and threw his arms around his aged parent, relieved to see him still alive and even walking unassisted on his own. Lonchonius stood ramrod stiff, of course, and did not return the embrace--so like this old soldier of the realm, Rutilius took no offense, though it had given him a secret pain, that his father could never express to his sole son any emotion of feeling or fatherly tenderness.

But Rutilius was nevertheless relieved, and somewhat glad. He had not thought he might see this grand old father again--rather, might have to come and find a cenotaph, an inscription, and his father's form reduced to ashes within a noble urn--as the reports had been so painful to read how his father was failing day by day, so it seemed irreversible and inevitable that his father would expire soon--alone except for his personal attendants and an imperial doctor or two.

But his father cleared his through, reminding Rutilius this was an official meeting first, and the parental tie was secondary.

Rutilius let his father go and stood back, to let his father have space to be the official. Yet he had a question he had to ask first.

"Am I not summoned to the emperor's presence?" he began, still surprised to be be met at Classis by his father.

Lonchonius nodded, smiling thinly. "Yes, yes, you are indeed summoned, but when I heard of it, I went to him, and he put the matter entirely in my hands, as was most reasonable. And he was glad to do it, being distracted by...by many things these days."

No more explanation than this? Rutilius thought. Well, he would let it go then and listen. "What is it, father, he wants of me?"

Lonchonius shook his grizzled head. He began rather slowly, with some disdain evident in his face and voice. "He is emperor, so to speak, but between you and me solely, he seems to be clutching at straws."

Lonchonius looked about, then motioned some attendants to remove themselves further away, so as to have Rutilius in a more private conversation.

Lonchonius then continued. "He may sense his time is short. He has doubled the guards at the palace and doesn't go out anymore. He has very little official business anyway to attend to--Flavius Stilicho has taken almost all into his hands these days and throws the emperor inconsequental things to busy himself with. But here is the emperor's command."

Lonchonius then took a closer step toward Rutilius, and laid his hand on his shoulder and peered into his eyes. Rutilius was so surprised, he just stood and saw his father's own soul bared to him, and it was one of pity and concern for him, which he had not suspected.

Yet the voice continued strong, though quavering in pitch. "You are to sail directly from here to Caesarea, stopping at various ports for shelter of course as need be. But take no one aboard, friend or foe--as this is a special mission, and you are the only passenger. She is your ship to command--remember that. No one--not even Stilicho himself--take aboard to countermand the emperor's instructions. I will give you the proper documents, all sealed with the emperor's seal, on your departure. No questions please, there is no time for that, you must depart at once. It isn't safe here to speak further. Ask me the specifics on our way to the ship, will you?"

Rutilius was dumfounded, but he held his peace as a good Roman son should dealing with his father who was also his superior for the moment in power.

Lonchonius waved and his attendants came. "Escort us to the ship at once!" he told them. "Get our carriage to the door immediately, for we are going now!"

He turned to Rutilius as the attendants scurried away. "Do you have any personal things you must bring? Send for them now to be brought, or leave them here--they will be safe enough and you can retrieve them on your return."

As this was said, Lonchonius was hobbling toward the entrance to the house, with Rutilius holding his arm to support him.

Meanwhile Rutilius's mind was whirling with suppressed questions. "Who does this pathetic puppet of Stilicho think he is? Was he sending him on a wild goose chase to the end of the world for nothing apparently? Should he refuse now to go along with it? How could he refuse--as that kind of refusal was insubordination of officials inferior to the emperor's authority, and entailed death, strangling at the very least with a bowstring, as Romans were never crucified, and it had been outlawed a hundred years previously as barbaric by a Christian emperor."

They stepped out into the pillared entrance, and a cisium was drawn up, pulled by two horses, waiting for them.

Imperial envoy that he was, Lonchonius handed Rutilius a sealed scroll.

When Rutilius started to open it, Lonchonius shook his head. "Later, son," he said.

Lonchonius got in the cisium, with Rutilius assisting him, as the old man would not permit servants to help him, thinking it impaired his dignity and made him look foolish and feeble if he had to depend on servants to get around on his own two feet.

The cisium moved off at Lonchonius's wave of the hand.

Rutilius took it reluctantly, his eyes fixed on his father's face, who seemed to want to avert his own gaze but could not.

Lonchonius tapped the scroll in his son's hand.

"Break this open after you board your ship and speak to the captain, Firmus by name. I don't have time for explanations of this now, except to say about it that the emperor wishes to find out if the Christos--you know the one, the so-called Messiah, or the Son of God the Christians worship--surely you are versed in his life and deeds by now, having gone so frequently to the Imperial Archives--well, you are to go and find the facts and determine whether the Christos actually rose from the dead! That is the heart of the quest he has set you on. Interview anyone you choose, with discretion of course, take their words down in writing, inspect the sites of Christos wherever he was known to frequent his friends and followers, write up your conclusions, whether or not it really was the case, that he rose from the dead. This is a simple thing a Roman should be able to accomplish, even in this complicated day and age. To the emperor, this decides everything for him. If risen, then this man was God's Son as he claimed. Oh, our emperors claimed the same thing, but we all know it was just words, mere puffs of vanity, that they were other than flesh and blood. We all knew that they were born, lived, and died as we common men do. Vespasian laughed at his divinity right up to the moment of death! Would a true God do that? Of course not! But if he weren't a god, he knew he could at least die nobly as a Roman, standing on his own two feet, so as his last moments approached he struggled to his feet from off his deathbed and then expired, dropping into the arms of his attendants.

So we know perfectly well, my son, as the honest, less conceited emperors averred, these gods we have reigning on the throne had all our human frailties--all too well attested by their own failures and mistakes and follies. Our lusts and foibles, weaknesses of the flesh and spirit, our "sins" in all their variety and detestable, rank vigor, as the Christians would phrase it. We are all mortal men in that respect, but the emperor has heard enough to wonder about this man Christos being somehow different, as his own followers claimed, even choosing the pain of crosses and violent deaths to recanting and confessing that they were promoting a mere lie. What is your opinion, son, of this question? I--I--but there is no time for this discussion.

Here is the ship, a fine man of war, fully armed, with galley slaves, soldiers and weaponry sufficient for a battle, an able, time-tested captain-- no one should be able to molest you or keep you from gaining your destination. You must board at once and be off! I will return to Ravenna, and await a letter from you how you are faring, when you find time, that is."

But Rutilius could not be sent off on such an important mission, tongue-tied and gagged. "So I'm to go to Syria Major, to the port of Caesarea, and thence to the sites of this Christos's birth, life and ministry, along with his death and...and so-called Resurrection? Is that it, father? I am to go there and write what I find, yea or nay, about this matter, whether the claim is true or not?" His father nodded, as Rutilius got out and stood with a last word or two possible, as the captain was hailing him aboard and the wind was taking the unfurled sails of the anchored ship.

"What more can I say about it? It is madness, surely, but maybe not all madness, as life has some strange twists in it, if you live long enough, son. Perhaps you will learn something I have not been favored to learn. Learn it in my stead, then. But go in peace. You are doing your emperor's will, and your duty to Roma and to our family honor and name. Do it cheerfully, for as the poet said...'bear a duty cheerfully and it becomes light.' You should know the poet, whom I cannot name at the moment, my memory retiring earlier than I to its sleeping chamber.

Rutilius smiled, despite the turmoil inside him. "Yes, I recall, it was that old womanizer, Ovid, who could yet say a golden thing or two about life when he was not drowning in his cups and while servants were picking his pockets! Farewell, father!" "Farewell!" replied his father, and Rutilius hurried to the ship. His personal belongings were just then brought and went on board with a mariner taking them to his private stateroom.

Rutilius stood at the rail and watched as the ship moved away, catching the river current as well as the winds which bore them into mid channel toward the open sea beyond the harbor.

He thought he saw his father's hand raised in rigid salute, not waving, as he disappeared from view.

Rutilius turned his face away. He felt terrible, being wrenched away from his former life, all he knew and wanted to know, for what? for what? Yet he held clenched in his hand the imperial scroll, still sealed! He was just about to go below to his private stateroom, reserved for imperial envoys and commanders of fleets, when the captain, Firmus, came and saluted him.

"Sir, please step over here where we can talk," he said, his eyes fixed on Rutilius's. "I think you should hear me before you open your instructions."

This seemed most strange to Rutilius, but he saw the captain's serious eyes and expression, and he did as he suggested.

They went over to the opposite rail, where no soldiers were standing, and then the captain spoke in a low voice.

"This ship is under the aegis of Emperor Honorius, sir, you should know that."

Rutilius's thoughts whirled. What? Had it been seized by Honorius from the control of Priscus Attalus? What was going on? Was he now a captive?

Firmus smiled grimly. "You need not fear for yourself and your safety. You are the commander here. It is just that your father, the Governor and Envoy from the Court, was forced to employ a subterfuge to get you and this ship away from Classis safely. Otherwise, it would have been seized, and everyone, including yourself, seized and put under guard."

"Explain this, captain!" Rutilius ordered. "How can you dare to implicate my father in this ridiculous plot! I won't be party to it!"

"It is no plot, sir, it is the Emperor Honorius's express will. Your own father devised the manner to accomplish it for your own sake and the sake of the Emperor. You see, Classis is really under the control, along with the prefect, of Senator Priscus Attalus and his Visigoth supporters. They would never permit Honorius to send out a warship and envoy like this. We would be seized on sight, along with your father. So your father came with forged documents for the Prefect, bearing Attalus's seal. But it all had to be done quickly, the same day, lest Attalus hear of the warship he had not sent and have us quarantined and arrested. Hence the haste of launching you onward!"

As the captain explained, Rutilius's began to see that his first impression was wrong, that it had some sense, and perhaps this was really his father's will. After all, he had been surprised that his father had crossed over to supporting Attalus, after serving Honorius so faithfully. But one ineffectual ruler was the same as the other! Attalus or Honorius, it hardly mattered these days, he knew. It was the dire Stilicho who held the reins of power, and these two were but mere puppets fighting over the scraps of power that fell from Stilicho's banquet table!

Rutilius decided that the captain was telling the truth, but he would check it by reading the still sealed instructions.

"But the seals are those of Imperator Priscus Attalus!" he objected, just to see how Capt. Firmus would respond.

The captain smiled. "So were the documents for the Prefect sealed. But the orders, you will find, are from Emperor Honorius, our true emperor! See for yourself!"

"No wonder Father did not want me to open them in the carriage! But I will see for myself!"

He left the captain where he was and went immediately down to his own cabin and stateroom. He tore off the seals and read it the moment he checked and saw he was alone, where he let no one enter while he was reading it, several times just to make sure he understood it right.

It was Honorius speaking! Priscus Attalus-- it could not be! he saw, before he had finished even the first part of the instructions.

PLEASE RETURN FOR MORE OF THIS EPISODE, THAT IS, IF YOU DARE. THIS IS NO CHRONICLE, OR UNCHRONICLE, FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED AND THOSE WHOSE BRAINS, ORIGINALLY NEVER REGISTERING MUCH OF A BRAIN-WAVE, ARE HALF-FRIED BY THEIR CELLPHONES.

UNCHRONICLE OF THE HEAVENLY RUNEBOOK

How much of you, friend, is that middle-of-the-roader, Larry Prufrockski, Esquire? The Larry Prufrockskis of the world are everywhere, operating high and low in human society. If they have their way (and it seems they soon shall), humankind would still be contentedly gnawing the gristle off mammoth bones in a dark cave somewhere and sometime in the New Ice Age (see the recent neww on MSN that they have just found dinosaur bones gnawed by mammals? MSN and science have just caught up with Retrostar). That is what self-centered mediocrity ultimately brings. This is the fate that is now yawning, promising to engulf all humanity once again, as the world slips back from real diversity into the numbing mediocrity of socialized, equally structured, crystaline ice, ice, ice.

Chronicle of the Unfurled Sail, Unquest of Larry Prufrockski, the Man Who Never Launched, A. S. 1986, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle, The Man Who Never Launched, Unchronicle of the Unfurled Sail, The Unquest of Larry Prufrockski, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle of the Man Who Never Launched," Part II, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Unchronicle Conclusion, "The Man Who Never Launched," Vol. IV, RETROSTAR

The 22nd Century, the Crystal Age, just before the final crack-up of the infrastructure due to the Greek pandemic, a hitech, nano-cultured disease that attacked the latest state of the art technology and architecture:

In the 23rd Century, Olson and Hodgkins, aboard the Atlantis II dirigible flying from Holland America to the Holy Land, with a stop-off at London, at one point could look straight down at the Bank of England, the treasure chest that held most of the world's gold reserves even while most of the Northern Hemisphere was sinking rapidly back into the Stone Age due to Global Cooling.

For Chronicle Sixty-Two's Unchronicle I, in which Ero flies the Wally-programmed copper dome of the City of Destiny's old Union Train Station to 19th century Chicago just as the Uproarious Hog Butcher of the World erupts in the Great Chicago Fire, and next to the 21st century's dramatic debut with Puppet Master Osama bin Ladin's Muslim terrorists wreaking destruction on the World Trade Center, then a direct hit on the Pentagon, followed by a near take out of the White House, go to Unchronicle I.

CHRONICLE SIXTY-TWO, ANNO STELLAE 10,999, QUEST OF THE CYBERNAUTS

CHRONICLE SIXTY-TWO, PART II, Ero in Never-Never Land

Each ship is allowed three turbo thrusts in the Cybernaut game. To escape the pirates, who were waiting just on the other side of the Clashing Rocks, Captain Pikkard chose his option to escape with only the loss of his tail feathers. The White Ship reappeared in the South Sound, just off Point Defiance, Tacoma, or what was Tacoma in the 1970's before it was hit by a 9.7 killer quake that dropped the whole peninsula and outlying areas into a hole that nearly reached China.

Sent ashore to provision the ship and have a look around, the crew dispersed. Ero went walking along the Ruston village beachfront, which had been a scene of liveliness decades earlier with lumberyards, boat-building, a fising fleet marina, and busy docks lined with ships from all over.

Now it was deserted--as this city was stuck in virtual reality, with scarcely an inhabitant to hold down Fort Nisqually that had been moved up to be the centerpiece of Point Defiance Park. He wandered around in the Park and looked in Never Never Land, which included both Mother Goose Land (a children's area with nursery rhyme characters) and the old, reconstructed fort.

The fort was his first stop. There weren't any Indians or fort soldiers and officers, of course, not even in virtual reality (unless he arrived at the wrong time for a performance of a full-scale attack of Indians on the fort!), so he did not linger long.

It was Mother Goose Land that was populated with characters he had only read about in his Childcraft Books (even Greek families had their translated versions of the famous nursery tales drawn from England, France, and Germany, and Holland, and his own homeland's Aesop's Tales) when he was a little boy.

He found and turned in at the bookish entrance to Mother Goose's enchanted territory.

Here he encounters a whole menagerie of Nursery rhyme book characters, which have been altered in some cases by Wally and even passing time and its vagaries. Some were good and worthy, others not so admirable. Crows, spiders, even worse things, moved in early on to the Works Projects Administration brainstorm, and when Wally got ahold of it, it had slightly exceeded expectations already in creating a fantasy children would never forget.

The reason Miss Muffett screams and runs off is apparent by the looks of her uninvited guest, who happened to be a governor of the area, Garry Locke, when it was a state of the country called America. The governor's particularly odious, grasping, blook-sucking character and corrupt administration carried over into cyberspace--just as stains linger long after something dark and indelible is spilled on white linen cloth.

After viewing the conceited little Jack Horner make a pig of himself with his plum pie, Ero walked on and saw how wretched the crows made life for the Gingerbread Man. They literally pecked him to pieces, and by the time Ero got to him, it was too late, he had been completely devoured by the flock.

It had been one surprise and adventure after another for him in Never- Never-Land and Mother Goose's colony of oddities. He had much to remember, his meeting with Abraham Lincoln, his climb to the top of the giant beanstock and his flight back to the ground, followed by his disastrous collision with the flying cow and an equally unexpected view of the Red Star, but he never wanted to leave solid ground again!

Loving the feel of the earth beneath his feet, he retraced his path on the steep streets to the waterfront, which suited him more, being a sea-loving Greek.

UNCHRONICLE OF THE MILLENNIAL AGE WORLD WAR IV, A. D. 3002, CONVERGENCE AT Tel Basel

Deep in the eye of the Vampire, the Spirit-Form of the fallen evil Carbuncle, Ero wended his way from photo-file to photo-file. The Vampire itself resided deep in the heart of the Star-Stone corrupted by Lucifer in the long ago war in Heaven-- its counterpart on the Twin Earths being the strange jemstone, the Carbune, traded by the nomadic tribes of North Africa since earliest ages. Ero wings his wayon the fading but still faithfully, Wally-programmed mast-bot from the Union Train Depot station of the City of Destiny. The mast itself has faded away, but the base still remains to transport him to world after world. What was he going to see now in this new world emerging out of the photo-file?

Leaving the fragment of hell that was the Western Front of the Great War, Ero no sooner entered the new photo-file than something streaked blazing and starlike by him, and the mast-bot immediately followed in hot pursuit.

A cosmic Carbuncle, the Vampire-Stone, moved from Earth II to Earth I, as things get too hot for it in its old haunts. The Time Portal serves to give it entrance, as it answers the call, not of distressed cells resident in Marty Yeager, freshly killed and hidden in the forepeak where they kept the anchor chains of the Titanic, but of unbelief and faithlessness residing in the statue of Karl Barth (which contained some timecapsuled papers and writings by the author), the famed theologian of the mid-20th century. Vampire-Stone and Karl Barth, it was a passionate same-sex marriage from the first. These two malevolences were meant for each other. Zeroing in on the emanations from the statue and its nearly decayed but lucite-encased writings, the Vampire-Stone found a habitat it could use as a base for exploiting and overwhelming billions of people during the Millennial Reign of Yeshua.

The Alien Entity invaded Earth II in the dead of night, and no one saw it. But there was an explosion at the point of impact with the surface of Tell Basel, the mound that was all that survived of a once great, thriving, cultured, cosmopolitan Swiss city. The ground was so disturbed that it drew attention, and from the looks of bones of ancient peoples strewn about the crater, it seemed to be a prime site for excavation, and archeologists were called in. What they found soon revolutionized people's knowledge of the world's development. All they had known was the Millennial Reign, but here were evidences that people had lived quite differently, and even served other "gods" or things. And this statue of some great god of the pagan past, it spoke most eloquently even in its cracked, somewhat dissolute condition, of a most civilized culture that held very different values and beliefs than were permitted in the Jerusalem-Centered, Messiah-Ruled Millennial Age. Anthropologists, though they were not called that in the Millennial New World Order, were called in to make what sense they could of the find, and write them down for others to read and talk about. The statue itself of the god was worked on meticulously, so that it wouldn't suffer any more cracking, as it was extremely brittle, liable to shatter into a pile of little pebbles and shards. Slowly, painstakingly, the head and shoulders were unearthed, down to the waist.

What kind of god was he? The titanium-encased writings were found in an exploratory penetration, and they gave a most complete answer, though it was hard for the Millennialists to comprehend, as the concepts were so foreign and new. That it was all written down in a dead language was difficult and slowed the process, so it was good the Millennium was just that: there was a lot of time to spend on such questions, and the researches themselves lived indefinitely, so they weren't impelled by sickness, age, or other considerations, but could and did spend more than a century on the project. Just as slowly, the meanings were deciphered as the entire text was reviewed by many scholars, and then a translation was made that could be shared with the public that was eager to find out about the discovery.

Rowena Plantagenet Llwys-fsyladdamoryayy Gladonneyhhw undid and removed the gold and garnet clasps of her arm bracelets and various neck and hair ornaments, then moved up her sleeves to free her arms and wrists so she could work more expansively at her writing table. Working alone as she preferred to do, she need not then be concerned about the opposite sex looking at her bared arms, as men would be apt to do with still young looking unmarried women, she knew from experience. After all, she had to be careful, being only four hundred years old, and her abundant, curley red hair and green eyes hadn't helped either to keep the men away--and leave her in peace to do her work at the site. So she had brought by wagon her own portable office and could be safe there from staring site workmen and many others who wandered up to the site to take a look.

She had been translating the ancient script into her modern Welsh language, spoken over virtually the whole continent formerly called Europa and once divided, in Karl Barth's time, into France, Spain, Britain (U.K.), Germany, etc. Those nations and the godless empire that had bound them together under the Anti-Christ in one last violent effort to overthrow the rule of the Lord God had long ceased to exist, of course, and their names buried and forgotten hundreds of years ago, beginning at the time when the Messiah returned to rule the Earth at His Second Coming.

But Rowena was not thinking of these dead nations or the Anti-Christ and his prophet who had been cast into hell, so much as this remnant of tidy, ancient script before her, speaking of a defunct but once flourishing "Switzerland", a tiny mountainous country that prized its isolation and freedom among the snow and glacier- capped crags once called the Alps. But the ancient wiseman did not spend much time describing the land of the Swiss, though he lived and wrote there for many years, producing his greatest works. He was called by his own people and times a "theologian." Theologians were a special kind of scholar devoted exclusively to the study of holy books and the Bible in particular, both Old and New Testaments. Karl Barth was one such Bible-scholar, and his writings were focused on certain questions he asked and attempted to answer in many volumes on the general theme of how he thought it was best to approach understand the Word of God, called the Bible. The right perspective, in other words, was what he aimed to lay out in detail, in books that numbered 4 million words in total.

Rowena found all of this intense study and highly nuanced and detailed "theological" argumentation so amazing! That they were so rich in those times that certain men could devote all their time and energy to studying the Word of God--when it was readily available to every one in society, being the most disseminated and published book in those early societies. What drove particular men to become life-long Bible scholars? Was it love of the Word of God, coupled with a driving passion to discover all of its riches of meaning and truth?

She saw little such men, or evidence of such a love for the Bible and a desire to inquire into its meaning and truth in the society around her, indeed, as far as she travelled, which was to the world center and Messianic capital, Jerusalem, every year to attend the prescribed Festival and Feast of Tabernacles.

It was regarded as a tiresome duty by most people nowadays she knew to attend the Festival, as they did it only to escape the well-known penalties for not honoring it--poor harvests, scanty rainfall, disease among the flocks and herds, miscarriages among women and animals, etc. Of course, many authorities now explained such things as purely natural things, a sign of the deteriorating natural order under the iron scepter and rule of the world's overlord and king of kings, Yeshua the Messiah. But she wasn't so sure--her parents had instilled in her an old-fashioned reverence for God and the Bible, and even now, as a graduate from a secularist-leaning School of Exhumation (as digging up the ancient pre-Millennial past cultures was called), she tended to handle any artifact relating to the Bible and divinity with trembling in her hands and a certain awe deep in her heart.

She kept such things to herself of course, as she had written her thesis on subhumation in the acceptable secularist mode, without a single reference to God being the origin of life and the center of civilization on earth, whatever names it was called in its various divisions, or "nation states."

What unnerved her, however, and increasingly made her both excited and feeling as if she had stolen and eaten forbidden non-kosher candy, was the unbridled spirit and voice of post-Christian secularism she found in Barth's writings. It was so much like the secularism that dominated her own time and society, that she felt a kinship, a certain identification, with Barth, even though he was definitely of an alien culture and a dead, condemned, anathematized society and nation--one representing a proscribed, fallen, anti-Messiah civilization that met its total destruction and eradication when Christ set foot the second time on the Mount of Olives just outside the eastern Golden Gate of Jerusalem. Imagine, such cultures had practiced infanticide for profit, while killing elderly people to save the health care costs! How barbaric and inhumane and cruel they were, while constantly calling themselves civilized people of the highest order! It was clear they were beasts in human bodies--but with technology they had risen to heights that made them imagine themselves to be gods! That pride and arrogance caused them to defy Almighty God and the Son, the Messiah of the Jews, precipitating their greatest folly, declaring war on God to the bitter end, their own utter destruction.

So why was she so drawn to them, when they were clearly so depraved and misguided and self-destructive a race and civilization? Why did it excite her and unsettle her at the same time? She was looking at forbidden things, she knew instinctively and also by her childhood training showing her the whites and blacks of rights and wrongs. But yet she identified somehow, feeling and seeing at the same time a likeness to what they said and felt and thought in Barth's time to what people were now daring to feel and think and even speak about openly in society. Jerusalem's hold was weakening, and the powers emanating from the Davidic throne on Mt. Zion had been waning for many years in fact; people were becoming more and more liberated and gradually shaking off Messianic Rule from Jerusalem, it was clearly apparent to all who lived in the Welsh-speaking regions. Someone even had lately suggested people ought not to put so much value on the "slaughterhouse religion" being practiced in Jerusalem and particular in the Messianic Temple! It was a most daring thing to say, and Rowena, like most of her class who heard it, were shocked almost speechless. But once said, it became common currency in an amazingly short time. "Slaughterhouse Religion," that stuck fast to all that signified the Messianic Temple and everything that Jerusalem represented. The sacrifices of animals that went on there, all supposedly depicting for the Millennial Generations the Atonement achieved by the Substitutional Sacrifice in the Death and Crucifixion of the Messiah in 33 A.D. of the previous world order? Well, they--along with the Messianic Atonement for mankind's sin and rebellion of the past world--were now viewd by an ever growing number of the world's peoples and empires as products of a backward, retrogressive, messy "slaughterhouse religion." It was all rather poor taste, in other words, and beneath their refined sensibilities--and they increasingly resented being forced by severe consequences and penalties to take part in them as a civic duty under Messianic World Rule.

Billions of people now thought and felt unashamably and even outspokenly in the same way, that the Slaughter-House Religion centered at Jerusalem was oppressive and out of step with the times, though she, a more timid, old-fashioned sort of person, was gradually learning how to think and feel the same way while fighting a deep-seated tug in the opposite direction.

Why had she volunteered to work on Barth's artifacts? After all, if it didn't suit her, she could have chosen any of a hundred other exhumed periods of pre-Millennial cultures and nations. Why did she center on the Karl Barth find?

Something in the night, perhaps, coming from far stretches of space and stars, had bewitched her and drawn her to Barth? Wild tales of her ancient Welsh culture told of such things--and were passed on from one generation to the next in children's nursery tales.

An educated soul, even so old-fashioned as she was, so "traditionalist", with so much residual respect and reverence for the Messianic customs and Festivals, not to mention the Word of God, the Bible, still ought to be above childish, nursery-tale "bewitchment" or subject to the influences of similarly non-rational things. Or maybe she wasn't as educated and fact-centered as she thought she swast? She had to wonder about this. Perhaps, she ought to have stuck to animal husbandry, her natural gift, which led her to cultivating very fine, highly prized flocks of wool producing sheep, goats, chamois, and eveb some mountain-bred varieties of llama too. Weavers, merchants, and buyers from all over the world all knew her from her various, highly sought after woolens, which she wove herself on her specially hand-crafted looms of her own design. Why then did she leave her trade, which she found so satisfying and akin to her quiet-living disposition, for the vigorous, intellectual pursuit of Exhumation and Study of Ancient Pre-Millennial Cultures?

She couldn't settle on a satisfactory answer. She simply followed where she felt impelled to go. There was a drive in her that weaving and animal husbandry could not fulfil, and she thought it might be in mental development, study of ancient texts, and discovering just what the dead, ancient civilization had to teach those who followed.

Well, she ought to be happy then, at her work translating the ancient German of the Barthian texts into modern Welsh--correct? No, she was not happier. She was excited, even tantalized, but not happier. It was unnerving, unsettling, the further she delved into the meanings Barth was attempting to convey. Yet she couldn't stop, though her instincts all cried to her increasingly to stop and put the work away, let someone else have it who wanted it more than she did, but who would that be? She herself was more passionate about Barth than anybody else in the field at present. The circle of fellow Exhumers and Studiers was small and select, and she was ideal for the task--and so the Chief Exhumer had given her what she requested: the main body of work on the writings to translate, as much and as long as she wished to do the work. Others could come in to follow wherever she chose to leave off, it was understood, but she found she could not leave off. The writing was gripping her very soul-- tighter and tighter! She felt a Greater Power reaching out and the long, ghostly, pale, bluish fingers of the past, the Deadman's own bloodless hands, were digging into her and squeezing the very life out of her--yet she could not get free or drop the work, she was forced to continue, though she was growing very frightened, feeling it might well kill her before long if she didn't make a violent effort and somehow wriggle out of its vise-like grip and escape.

Was this what the ancients of the lost, dead civilizations before the Millennial Kingdom Reign called "addiction" or even "psychotic fixation" or the more vernacular "madness"? Whatever it was, she was helpless in its clutches, she found, and sensed it was too late to get free. Strangely, she no longer cared very much about her freedom. This attraction had turned into an intoxication, even to the point of rapture. In other words, Rowena was "hooked bad."

Realizing the hold her work had her, she tried to gain some rational control back, and tore herself away and went on a walk one day. She had often walked in the past along the lakeshore, just to smell the flowers and the many different palms' fragrances. She liked the cinnamon most of all, and there were thousands of cinnamon palms along the shore and climbing up into the hills. Ahead of her she saw one big cinnamon palm thrust about one way and the next, and knew that the Cinnamon Grazer was the cause. Placid as cows, the huge beasts always moved away when she approached, if they noticed her at all. This beast, far as she knew, fed only on the Cinnamon Palm, hence its name, and would never run out of food. There were many others of this species, but there was no danger of depleting the palms, as they covered the slopes everywhere around the great mountain lake.

Rowena observed the Cinnamon Grazer for a while, as she thought how strange it was in the previous world, when Barth lived, a time without such grazers, though there were some large land mammals called elephants, giraffes, and rhinosauros, while in the sea swam even larger mammals called whales of one kind or another. Still, Barth's world did not contain anything on land to equal the Grazers. It was a good thing, being so huge, they were so gentle and cared only about eating their favorite plants and trees! Some people she knew tamed certain species, the winged varieties, and flew them, taking passengers from place to place. Others employed the giant ox for logging, stump removal, and plowing new ground. But most were left alone to do what they naturally did: control the subtropical vegetation that covered the whole earth. It was too big a job for human beings. They couldn't have found one open spot in the forests and jungles if it weren't for the Grazers. Thanks to them, there were even large plains that the Grass-Eaters kept treeless, where the animals of the plains could thrive. The whole world benefited from them, and people were grateful. They could lead them like docile pets with a thin rope for a leash if they wished, right into town and they wouldn't harm anything deliberately--but being so immense, one little swing of a tail could knock over a house and so it was seldom attempted.

She knew children loved to climb their backs, and the beasts wouldn't shake them off, or grow annoyed and put their big feet on them. But still, it was not safe to do so, as the beasts uually had small heads for their immense body size, and that meant their eyes were small and their vision limited. Try and explain that to fun-loving little boys! She knew they would always be playing with the Grazers, no matter what their parents said--and take their chances one day the poor beast wouldn't see what he put his foot on. It was tragic when that happened, but it wasn't the beast's fault, and so they just had to be more careful to warn the children not to take such chances and hope they obeyed.

She herself was glad she hadn't children, and remained unmarried so long. What would she do with children? He loved her animals and now her work as an Exhumer. Everything she had done previously to Exhuming seemed inconsequental in fact. Barth was everything to her! Everything! She couldn't get enough of his wonderful philosophy! It was so liberating to her mind and soul. What puzzled her was how this spiritual giant could be writing so many books, and yet the world he lived in took such little notice. If only they had given him the attention he deserved! Wouldn't their world have been much better for it, and possibly have escaped destruction? Now it remained for her to bring him forth for people to read and learn all the things he taught.

What things? a voice seemed to ask her as she turned her feet toward the site of the diggings.

"Why, for instance, that God is infinitely transcendent, infinitely beyond human grasp and understanding. That thought alone could be the subject for an entire volume! It was a most revolutionary thought. It was earth-shaking, in fact. Imagine such a God as Barth conceived Him-- it would liberate the whole population of earth from the idea that God could be touched and spoken to and whom they needed to deal with on a human level. All that was quite impossible, and unnecessary. God was infinitely removed from humanity, being infinite being. Man was limited being, and therefore that was all he could possibly know--finitude and the humanly knowable world. There was a gap between God and man that nothing could bridge--nothing! Even God could not bridge it--as then he would cease to be less than Infinite Deity.

This thrilling thought took her all the way back to her quarters. She paused before going in her private office to touch the face of Barth, and the coolness of the stone made her tingle with joy. How much she owed this great man! He was setting her free from centuries and centuries of shackled thought and bondage to a knowable, personal, demanding Godhead. Now she could exist on her mundane human plane, and God would exist on his infinite plane, and she could contemplate Him, while remaining absolutely free, without being forced to worship and praise and give offerings and make the yearly pilgrimage to the Messianic Temple in Jerusalem at the the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Free as she now was, could she refuse to go? What would happen if she didn't? She had always gone out of duty and fear, but now she wanted to exercise her newfound freedom. After all, her intellectual integrity demanded that she not compromised what she discovered: man is a free agent in the universe, created so by God.

Coming episodes:

What was this incredible Bridge? Why did it mean so much to Yeshua? They soon saw it, for the bridge appeared in sight, as they were instantly transported to Orion the Hunter.

How beautiful! There was nothing else like it in the entire Universe. It was blue, it was crystal, and was strung across the shining depths of Orion, in the Cavern of the Great Nebula. But what was its significance, meaning, and purpose? They would have to wait a bit more before they could find out. At any rate, they knew their purpose: defending it against any assailants.

The Knights, closer in, saw the gap in the Crystal Bridge for the first time. What had caused that? How could it be mended? They would soon learn what Yeshua had described to them, as each Reconciler, each Champion of some special kind appeared to take his or her place on either side of the breech, in preparation for the final repair and the drawing together of the severed halves.

The Blue Bridge Wars, Star Annals, Vol. IV, Retrostar

Star and Twin Worlds Timelines


Brief Account of the Twin Earths

What is in Orion, specificially the cloudy walled Nebula that is about midpoint in Orion's sword, that contains the largest cavern perhaps in the Univese? Britain's Poet Laureate to be and most popular poet of the 19th century, young Tennison (spelled that way on Earth II, although spelling in the 17th century until the late 19th was anybody's choice and so his ancestral name could be "Tennyson," "Tennison," "Tenniesonn," you get the picture. However you spell him, the brilliant young poet by that name(s) was on his way to guessing or intuiting something HUGE about Orion that astronomers hadn't even guessed at in the 19th century, though Orion was much admired for its arrays of spectacular stars, and the ancient Egyptians were first and foremost Orion's fans. We all have heard how the Giza pyramids were aligned with Orion, haven't we? But why? What was so vital about Orion to them? Since Alfred's time astronomers got hold of wonderful telescopes like Hubble and have revealed the spectacular splendors of Orion and the Nebula, discovering that it is the teeming with newly formed and forming stars. It is a "star nursery." But there is much more to it than that even. Well, let Alfred Tennison speak for himself, as he was always well able to do just that:

A single misty star

Which is the second in a line of stars

That seem a sword beneath

a belt of three,

I never gazed upon it but I dreamt

Of some vast charm concluded

in that star

To make fame nothing. . . .

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson,

“Merlin and Vivien”

Now this is not exactly the "Merlin and Vivien" the twin earth to Earth II knew, as there was more about Orion that Tennison somehow divined, and divined correctly as it would much later be discovered, through his immense imagination. Should we give you now Earth II's version? Are you ready for that much revelation? Return and see if we would hazard a guess whether you are, or give you the benefit of a doubt.

Bridges of Destiny


Star Map of the Re-Located Earth, Twin Earth Atlas, Stellar and Terrestrial


Argo, Ships of the Line


Volume IV, Appendix, Part I


Volume IV, Appendix, Part II


On both Earths, diminutive Holland has always prospered like a little scarlet rock rose on a hard place. Where her predecessors and contemporaries gave up in despair, she reaps bountifully where others cannot scratch a bare subsistence living. Hollanders developed their expertise in turning adversity to prosperity and learned how by first cultivating their wretched patches of high-sodium tidal flats in northern Europe to produce the best creameries and flower businesses in the world--and continued to thrive on up to the collapse of the World Government of Chillingsworth's in the 22nd Century of Earth II. But the deepening New Ice Age tested the mettle of the Dutch in America beyond even their supreme ability to cope, and slowly, inch by inch, they were forced south, though they did not give up willingly and fought like savages for every blessed Dutch inch.

Map of Holland America


Extraterrestrials and Terrestrials


The Algol Invasion & Client Species


The Star-Stones, the Evil, Scheming, Destroying Jewels of Fire, & Other Fatal Jems:

Universe Terminator: The Sardius, or Carnelian, Red Star, Stone of Fire, Fiery Stone, the First Alien Entity, Wormwood, Wormstar, Retrostar


Curses attached to certain diamonds and other precious jems--are they fiction or real space and time things? The late Vera Boch beautifully illustrated the malevolence and deadliness that lurked in the most alluring and costly jewels known and valued by man since the earliest ages:

The Topaz


The Sapphire also came to rule during the Dire Night, the Era of the superintelligent but polluting Arachnid species, the Algol's Dominance on Earth II:

Changing colors with during each second of entry into Earth II's atomosphere, the fiery star-stone sought out a convenient hiding place where it might temporarily cool itself while it was hatching out plans for the utter subjugation of the unsuspecting, utterly defenseless, new world around it.

around it.

Peter van de Wordt's downward spiral ultimately ended in the crystalization of his stubborn heart and will--a black as night jetstone was the result, which contained all he was in essence. When you turn against and resist the light as often and completely as he did, you harden at heart, you become like concrete inside, and the aggregate grows, until it encases everything that you are in life--right up to the moment when you crystalize into your final hell of petrification.

The Black Crystal and the White Ship

During Homer's odyssey, seeking his identity in Atlantis II, Homer's path crosses with Topaz-doomed individuals such as this one--a bar-hopping Publicatexan who drank something that wasn't particularly good for health perhaps, from the looks of him.

The Constellations of Earth II are quite different, before and after Re-Location. This Planisphere gives some indication of the differences and also the shape of a different but still recognizable parallel journey of planetary destiny:

The stars that rule Hollywood are not necessarily human. Some of them may even be Alien Entities. Purity was the essence of the Fiery Stone of Heaven, before its corruption. Something quite the opposite grew into the frog that became its guiding spirit-form, and this toxic, slimey Frog-Spirit began croaking out detailed instructions to the various movie moguls and via them to the entire industry.

Analogies, metaphors, literary allusions, parables, and such devices can only go so far with certain dense mentalities who have everything figured out, they suppose, so here are a few basic applications of certain principles of life for these beetle-browed folks that speak more matter-of-factly and mundanely to them on their level.

If star-stones possess enormous powers, so do statues of certain stellar like individuals in the development of the Twin Earths. One such individual was Winston Churchill. When he became angry over something, the whole terrain began to shake around him, or seemed to shake. Dead or alive, you soon learned to be careful not to offend him, or you might find yourself sailing headfirst through a thick, plate-glass window--emotionally, of course, since the great one would never think to put his meaty hands on you and throw you out bodily. He accomplished the same feat with his tongue, with a mere word or two, and sometimes a glance would suffice. Obama would not be able to sustain one glance of this real man. You need not throw your money down and bet on it. You'd lose.

Ever since Emperor Obama banished Churchill's statue from the Oval Office, finding the comparison with true greatness too much for his insecure, thuggish ego to endure, a certain angry spook has been haunting the corridors of the White House, and it looks pretty much like this formidable personage--the same who stood up against the juggernaut of Nazidom assaulting all free Europe--and won! His antagonist, the mighty Hitler, was driven into a hole in the ground, a bunker in Berlin, and died there with a bullet by his own weapon rather than face the victor, Winston Churchill, while dressed in an orange jumper suit. How long exactly would the likes of Obama last in the presence of Winston Churchill? No wonder that statue, a mere representation that it was in harmless stone, had to go!

Given enough rope, the current "administration" in the White House is hanging itself with its own wanton abuses of power. The best solution to the hijacking of the U.S. government, economy, the states, and society by a Karl Marx-loving group of displaced Windy City politicos is not to shorten the rope now, but to give them all the rope they want and they will make a big enough noose to hang them all themselves!

Beginning with outrages to human dignity, continuing with outrages to human dignity, the Obama Administration proceeds true to form, its minions exhibiting not the least shred of dignity and self-respect. "Respect yourself," went a popular song, a good popular song. To Ron Emmanuel: Respect yourself! If you did, you would respect the Jewish people wherever they are, wherever they seek to maintain their own well being and pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Anyone who fails to respect himself, commits outrages against humanity, which includes the Jews, which includes the Israelis, despite all their detractors say (who are hardly moral exemplers, justified in using a self-righteous tone when discussing or attacking Israel and the Jews!). Once you disrespect yourself on a regular basis, any outrage is possible, and you will even pride yourself in the range and ferocity of your outrages--such as those Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin (oops, "Stalin" wasn't really his name) prided themselves in, who together were probably accountable for the enslavement, torture, starvation, and brutal deaths of forty or fifty or maybe even sixty million human beings.

Chief Counsel to the Obama, he stands next to the God of Hope and Change, and his name means, "God With Us." How appropriate is that, except for one small hitch, this is no God by any stretch of the imagination. Their latest power grab is to take over the Internet services so they can suppress free speech on it and regulate the content as they please! Such hope and change they are bringing us--it is beyond description.

We have a rather impressive idol now in the White House, do we not? If it doesn't sing, it does talk a lot. But there is something to consider. However big and grand you make an idol, know that it is gonna fall someday! The bigger they are, the harder they fall, they say. This one, engineered for Michael Jayson, the Pop-King of the World Government, did not exactly fall, it was blown apart on impact with the nuclear rocket left over from the Soviet Era, a runaway museum piece commandeered by the hapless Larry Prufrockski on an optional trip of a tour that went badly awry (away from his job in the railways, everything he touched ran off the tracks!). Whatever the agency, there is a divine working in the scheme of things that will get round to the evil of this world, sooner or later. You have two earths, Twins, to work with in this series, that can answer most any question you have concerning how Evil makes its own comeuppance. Take your pick! Which one do you live on, and which comeuppance is coming for you, do you suppose? Which world do you prefer? Wherever you live, the Twin Earths have something to say to your situation, or you are probably residing on some other planet than Earth(s), in which case there will be nothing further to worry about, since there is no air on the other planets, so we have heard from the scientists anyway.

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