Cronos, p.2Robert Silverberg
Well, I’m not likely to discover what he would make of that. The last thing I’m going to do is tap the Prince on the shoulder and say, “Hi, Prince, guess who’s here!”
I hope that everything is fine for you out in the frozen hinterlands. I think of you all the time and miss you more than is really good for me. Write to me, if you can. Tell me everything that’s happening to you. Everything!
Four days have gone by since my last.I mean four of our 24-hour days, not the half-day “days” that the Athilantans use. We’re still here on this barren, frosty coast. The Athilantan ships are waiting in Thibarak harbor to take us to the island, but there are all sorts of rites and rituals that have to be performed first. Mainlander people in startling numbers—there must be thousands of them—have turned up to bid farewell to the Prince as he makes ready to set out for home. I suppose it isn’t a common thing to have a prince of the royal blood visiting here. And so every day we have bonfires blazing, bulls being sacrificed, chanting going on and on. Prince Ram presides over it with terrific aplomb. It’s plain that he’s been raised from childhood to rule the empire, and he knows exactly what needs to be done.
But though I haven’t been able to budge yet from my starting point, this place, provincial as it is, has plenty of fascination of its own. Maybe it isn’t glittering wonderfulAtlantis, but it’s the past, Lora, the remote and weird prehistoric past!
It’s astonishing just being here. Every minute brings something new. I want to turn to you and say, “Look at that, Lora! Isn’t that incredible?” But of course you aren’t here. You’re way over there in eastern Europe. If only we could have made this trip together! (I know, I know, we are together, sort of. But I’m here and you’re there, instead of our both being in the same place. And don’t bother telling me that it would be unnecessary duplication of resources to send two observers to the same place as well as the same time. I know all that. I still wish you were here, close enough for me to talk to every day.)
But since you aren’t, I’ll tell you what I’m learning. And one of these days maybe I’ll be lucky enough to hear what you’ve been up to, too.
The difference between the Athilantans and the mainlanders is enormous. I don’t just mean the cultural difference, which is even wider than the gap, say, between the Romans of Caesar’s day and the savages who lived in the forests of Germany and France. That was Iron Age versus Bronze Age; this is Iron Age versus Stone Age. But I mean the physical difference. You must be seeing it, too. They’re two different types of people altogether.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that the mainlanders here at Thibarak are the people that archaeologists call the Solutreans, who lived in this part of Europe a couple of thousand years after Cro-Magnon times. These Solutreans are tall, slender, fair-haired people with a sort of Viking look about them. They wear leather clothes very finely stitched together, and they use stone tools that look pretty elegant to me, long and thin and tapering, with a lot of fine little chip-strokes around the edges. Mostly theymake their homes in shallow caves or beneath shelters of overhanging rock, though I see from Prince Ram’s mind that in the warmer seasons they also build little flimsy wickerwork huts for themselves.
The Athilantans are nothing remotely like them in any way.
The island folk tend to be much shorter and stockier than the mainlanders, with dark hair and somewhat swarthy skins. Their eyes are brown or black, never blue. It’s basically a Mediterranean look, Greek or Spanish, and yet there’s something not quite convincingly Greek or Spanish about them that I can’t put my finger on. Their cheekbones have an oddly slanted look, their mouths are a little too wide, the shape of their heads is a little strange. Maybe you’ve noticed it too, even though there are only five or six Athilantans out there in Naz Glesim, and I have hundreds to observe here.
My theory, for what it’s worth, is that the Athilantans actually are the ancestors of the Mediterranean folk of our Home Era, but modern Mediterranean people look a little different from Athilantans because of the changes that have taken place during all the thousands of years of evolution and interbreeding since the destruction of Athilan. I realize, though, that that’s only a guess and may be very wide of the mark.
What amazes me most is how advanced the Athilantans are, technologically speaking, over the mainlanders. Atlantis really was a magical kingdom! It’s almost unbelievable, when you stop to think about it—a wealthy and far-flung maritime empire that understands the use of iron and bronze, a civilization at least as advanced as those of Greece and Rome, way back here in the Upper Paleolithic Era!
How strange that archaeologists have never found any of their artifacts. No bronze swords or daggers mixed inwith Cro-Magnon stone tools, none of their sculpture, no fragments of the buildings they erected on the mainland of Europe at outposts such as the ones you and I are currently at. Part of the answer, I guess, is that even though modernworld archaeologists have been digging up ancient ruins in a serious way for the past few hundred years they’ve still only scratched the surface of the buried remains of the ancient cultures and simply haven’t had the good luck to come across any Athilantan artifacts so far. And maybe bronze daggers will rust beyond discovery in twenty thousand years, whereas stone tools last forever. But that can’t be the whole explanation.
Well, I have a theory about that, too, Lora.
What if—after the fall of Athilan—the oppressed people of mainland Europe arose and systematically rounded up every last trace of their Athilantan masters, every weapon and tool and bit of sculpture they could find, and carried the whole business out to sea and dumped it all? Every scrap. Out of some tremendous vindictive urge they blotted the Athilantans from the face of the Earth. And twenty thousand years of ocean silt did the rest.
What do you think?
Sooner or later, time research will give us the answer. We can be pretty certain of that. We’ll pinpoint the exact date of the destruction of Athilan and send observers into Europe to see what happened after that. But for the moment, I think my idea’s as good as anything that’s been suggested.
I have a lot of time to sit here thinking up these theories, right now. And I have to confess, despite what I said a little earlier, that I really am getting tired of this place. I want to get moving. I want to see Atlantis.
How tremendously frustrating it is to know that the royal ships are waiting in the harbor, ready to carry us off to that warm and beautiful and fabulous land out in theocean, and instead I’m stuck in this chilly miserable place somewhere on the coast of France while the endless rituals and sacrifices are performed and rivers of bulls’ blood run along the rocky ground. Prince Ram stands on top of a wickerwork tower, smiling and waving and scattering handfuls of grain to the groveling mainlanders. Imagine it, grain, in Paleolithic Europe, where farming isn’t supposed to have been invented for another ten or fifteen thousand years! As the prince tosses the grain, long lines of the local folks keep coming on and on to snatch it up, more people than I ever would have guessed there were in the whole world at this time.
I really don’t want to be here in this two-bit provincial trading post any longer. Yes, it’s fascinating in its way, I suppose. But it’s also cold and raw and primitive, and it isn’t Atlantis. I want to see Atlantis. Lord, do I want to see Atlantis! It’ll be just my luck if the whole place sinks into the sea before I get there. We aren’t sure, after all, precisely when the final cataclysm is due to happen. It could even be next week, though I like to think there’s more time than that. Nevertheless here I sit. Here I wait.
Miss you so very much.
Until next time—
Written at sea. I’m embarrassed to report that I’ve already lost count of the days, but I’m sure that we are just past the turning of the year—going by the Home Era calendar, that is. By the Athilantan calendar too, for that
Anyway, I’ll assume that by our own calendar today is January 3, 18, 861B.C.I can’t be more than a day or two off.So: Happy New Year, Lora! (Give or take a day or two. . . . ) Happy New Year! But it’s really difficult to keep converting Athilantan days into our days, and really dumb to use a calendar that has no relevance whatever back here. I suspect that you’re using the Athilantan calendar now, although you’ve most likely been keeping track of the Home Era time as well. Since I can’t really be sure of the right Home Era date any more, I might as well switch over to the local system. And—well—by Athilantan reckoning, I see by Prince Ram’s mind, this is Day 13 of the Month of New Light in the year of the Great River. So be it.
Starting over, then—
Day 13, New Light, Great River. Aboard the imperial Athilantan vessel Lord of Day, bound from Brittany toward the isle of Athilan!
You ought to see these ships, Lora! You wouldn’t believe them for a moment.
What I expected, considering the general cultural level of these Athilantans as I’ve come to know it in the short while I’ve been here, was something along the lines of the Greek or Roman galley, with two or three banks of oars and maybe a sail. Or, maybe, a vessel more like a merchantman—you know, a pure sailing ship, square-rigged or possibly with a lateen sail.
Lora, this is some kind of steamship. I’m not kidding. A steamship. In the Paleolithic!
I said last time that the Athilantans were an Iron Age people living in Stone Age times. That was an understatement, by plenty. I hadn’t had a chance yet to study my surroundings carefully enough. These people aren’t simply on a cultural par with the Greeks or the Romans, as I used to think—no, they’ve got at least a nineteenth-century technology, and maybe something even more advanced than that. Iwasn’t able to see that on the mainland, and you probably can’t see it out where you are. But this ship is an eye-opener.
I’m not sure that there are actual steam engines down below. For all I really know, the engine room is staffed by a team of sorcerers who keep giant turbines going round and round by uttering spells. Truth is, I don’t know what’s down there, and neither does Prince Ram. Princes don’t need to bother with such technological details, apparently. I’d like to sleepwalk him down belowdecks so that I could have a look around, but I don’t dare. Not until I’m completely sure that my control over his mind is good enough to keep him asleep as long as I want. I don’t want him suddenly waking up and finding himself down in the engine room, where somebody of his high rank ordinarily has no reason to go. And then starting to wonder if there’s something funny going on inside his brain.
This much I can tell you, though. The ship is big, as large as a good-sized yacht, long and tapering, with a flat stern and a very high keel. The hull is of metal: iron, probably, but for all I know these people may be capable of fabricating steel. You may balk at that idea, but just keep on reading.
There’s a mast, a big one, but no sign of any rigging or lines. Either the mast has some sacred purpose or it’s some kind of antenna, but it isn’t used to support sails. There are also two funnels, or smokestacks. I never see any smoke coming out of them. I can feel a very light but steady vibration, as though engines of some sort are at work. That’s all I know.
Oh, one other thing. These people use electricity.
I know, I know, I know. It sounds nutty. The first time I saw the lights coming on, I thought the Prince was hallucinating. Or else that I must be misreading the data, coming up with false sensory equivalents for what was passingthrough his mind. Or maybe I was the one who was hallucinating. I tell you, Lora, it hit me like an earthquake. I was rocked by it. Flustered, bewildered, disoriented. For a moment I wondered whether I could believe anything that I was perceiving. Maybe it was all equally cockeyed. Paleolithic electricity?
But I checked and doublechecked, and the signal was coming through clear and true from him to me. What I was perceiving was what Prince Ram was seeing, to the last decimal place. So it wasn’t any fever dream. It was electric lighting, Lora. However incredible that sounds.
Where I was on the mainland, everything was lit by properly prehistoric-looking oil lamps, smelly and smoky, and no doubt it’s the same out your way. But every corridor of this ship that I’ve seen so far, and every stateroom too, I suspect, has electric lights. I suppose they simply haven’t bothered to set up generators in the mainland outposts, or maybe there’s no ready supply of fuel for them there. But they must have some kind of generator aboard ship, cranking out the kilowatts just like at home.
The light-globes are big and awkward, and the light they give is harsh and glaring, but there’s no question that it’s electrical. I’ve seen Prince Ram turn the light in his cabin on and off by touching a plate in the wall.
With no effort whatsoever I could make myself believe that I’m aboard a twentieth-century vessel—a peculiar one, true, designed by someone from an obscure country who has invented the whole concept of the oceangoing ship from scratch without ever having seen one from Europe or the United States, but corresponding to them in all the important details. And yet I know that I’m back here at the tail end of the Ice Age, with woolly mammoths and shaggy rhinoceroses still wandering around where Paris and London will someday be.
Who are these Athilantans, anyway? How could they possibly have achieved all this, tens of thousands of years out of the normal human sequence of cultural evolution? It doesn’t make any sense. Suddenly, in the midst of a world that still uses flint axes and choppers, for a society to spring up that has mastered metals, engineering, architecture, even electricity—it’s crazy, Lora. I don’t get it. The old myths said that the Atlanteans were a great people, but not that they were miracle-workers.
Well, let that be for now. I have plenty of other things to tell you.
I’m pretty sure now that the place we set out from was the coast of Brittany. We all knew in advance back at Home Era, when we began focusing on members of the ruling caste as my target, that important members of the royal family made regular inspection tours of the coastal provinces and that if they aimed me at the mind of one of the high princes I was just likely to come down in ancient France as in Athilan itself.
Certainly the stone tools that the mainlanders were using were the sort of things used in France at this time. And the harbor was a good one. Whether Thibarak was Cherbourg or Le Havre, I can’t say; but unless I have my geography all cockeyed we have just sailed out through the English Channel—on the clear days it seemed to me I could see the English shore to the north—and now we are running far into the Atlantic, curving down past Portugal toward the mouth of the Mediterranean. Which is just where our archaeologists had decided was the most likely place for Atlantis to have been, of course—somewhere between the Canary Islands and the Azores.
The weather gets milder and warmer every day. Birds, soft breezes (even in the middle of an Ice Age winter!), drifting masses of seaweed. There is a lot of rain, virtually daily,but it’s a gentle kind of rain and when the sun comes out afterward the rainbows are heartbreaking. Especially when I stop to think that Atlantis lies at the end of them.
Life aboard ship is—
Six or seven hours later, same day.
A narrow escape. I was using the Prince to write this letter, and I almost got caught.
Ram was in his stateroom, sitting in one of the hammocklike things that they use on this ship. I had him under trance, and I was telling you all about the weather at sea when suddenly his personal steward came in. To tidy up the room, I suppose.
It isn’t the custom among the Athilantans to knock on doors. They make a kind of high whistling noise when they want to enter a room. I was so preoccupied with dictating my letter that I didn’t even notice. So in walks the steward, and he sees the heir to the imperial throne sitting bolt upright in his hammock with a weird trance look on his face.
“Your Highness!” he says. And then, in real terror, “Your Highness?!?”
He rushes over, seizes the Prince, shakes him hard. Well, you can bet I broke contact with the Prince’s mind right away. He snapped out of it and looked around in confusion and got angry with the steward for bothering him while he was trying to take a nap. That part went all right.
But I couldn’t put the Prince back into trance until the steward had left the cabin. And the steward took just long enough to get out of there so that the Prince had time to look down at the sheet of vellum he was holding, and stare at the nonsensical marks scribbled all over it.
So when the steward finally was gone, there was Prince Ram sitting there, wide awake, holding a sheet of vellum inone hand and an ink-stylus in the other, and the vellum was covered with strange marks. Marks that were, in fact, a script that nobody on Earth is going to be able to understand for another good many thousands of years.
He was absolutely mystified. He held it up close to his eyes, turned it upside down, shook his head in bewilderment. And I heard his thought loud and clear:
—What in the name of all the gods is THIS?
Well, I put him back to sleep and tried to get down into his mind and eradicate all memory of what he had just seen. As you know, that isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. You poke around in your carrier’s short-term memory, trying to blot out a particular incident, and if you’re not really careful, you can blot out half a day of other stuff, or a whole week, or even start ripping up the basic memory framework before you realize what you’re doing. I didn’t want to leave him feeling like an amnesia victim. So I tiptoed around in his memory bank, slicing here and there, doing my best. I think I did the job as nicely as anybody could have; but when I was done, I wasn’t entirely confident that I had completely cleaned things up.
Cronos by Robert Silverberg / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes