It started out as just another day of making inch-thick rope lift thousand pound rock. Another day of the fires from the depths of the earth blasting through the sun baked ground under the temple floor. Another day the sacrifices of the people of Alexandria might invoke the favor of the goddess Athena, her ‘boss’ Zuez, or perhaps even the most human of all the gods, Prometheus. Another day humanity’s needs perhaps would correspond with the gods’ wants, and whims. Another day Telikos would gather the offerings of livestock, jewels and coin and place it into the temple chest, promising the people that what they would get in return would be worth so much more. Another day that commoner and Priest would bring the best they had to the table of the gods, hoping that something divine would happen, a flicker of wisdom, perhaps. And another day of Athena showing herself to the people below, her body perfectly shaped, her eyes fixed on ‘Constancy’, the goddess of beauty’s hand extended to the common and most often ugly people giving them hope that their outer lives, and inner Souls, may indeed become as Beautiful as she was. And another day Telikos gave thanks to the goddess for coming out of the temple to greet those so dedicated to her.
“Another day, another drachma,” a single man said from a vantage point not visible by the citizenry of Alexandria, the Priests at the Impala Temple or even the goddess herself. “Another day the Priests get to keep their jobs,” the cloistered man below the temple floor said to himself as he saw the offerings from above fall into the chest reserved for ‘temple maintenance’ expenses. “And another day I get to stay…Alive.” Mechanos, as he was called amongst the most private and elevated circles in Alexandria, looked around him at the machinery he had built. Pulleys and wheels to move the temple rocks above him. Water buckets with drip rates timed to operate the chain of machines which released fire from pits visible only to the highest level of Priests at the Impala Temple. Likenesses of the gods in stones which when lighted the right way make them look more human than the people who worshipped them.
Mechanos had built temples like this before, even some for Impala’s biggest rival in Alexandria. The Temple devoted to Ra, the Egyptian sun god, was equally impressive, but in a lower budget sort of way. It was a good gig while it lasted, the secret arrangement to maintain what he built there still kept in confidence, “thank gods” Mechanos thought to himself. “Or thank God,” he continued in soft voice audible to himself, and the statues of the Greek gods around him. “The average life span in Alexandria is still only four decades, if you can call working all of your waking hours to prevent yourself from starving, and your children from dying of something worse ‘life’,” the forty-five year old inventor who was nearly burnt at the stake for being a ‘witch’ several times said to himself. “The basic needs for the human body are food and water. For the human mind, challenge. For the human Soul, which MUST exist…hope. And the gods still offer more hope than anything created by the hand, or mind, or man that I know about,” he said to himself. It was a magnificent show above, reminding Mechanos of the true meaning of that godlike emotion which could be experienced by any man, or woman. Maybe felt by every child until said ‘immature’ person grew up. “Magnificence”, he thought to himself. “The greatest service one can give to anyone is to give them moments of Magnificence, connecting them to and having them serve something greater than themselves.”
That phrase ‘greater than yourself’ echoed in Mechanos’ ear as he looked at the machines around him which he designed on papyrus, and had built for him by slaves who had no idea what they were building, or why. There were of course the ‘wage’ laborers, but at the end of the day, the lot of both ‘free’ laborer and slave was paradoxically the same in Alexandria. Both were ruled by the Ruling Class, a fickle and powerful lot who saw everyone as their servants, even genius inventors who built gadgets for their homes, weapons for their soldiers and any other sort of machines that kept Alexandria powerful to its enemies and sustaining for its residents. Though scholars gathered at the library to discuss and formulate new ideas and ideals for the world, the world outside the library was still dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and often cleverest, where being too dumb, or smart, would get you killed.
Mechanos looked at his robe, still white, clean and upper crust, and the blood-stained floor of the temple which was the final ‘resting place’ for priests, of commoners, who asked the wrong questions about gods, kings, or themselves. The always-shabbily clad Socrates was executed in Athens for being too intelligent, but not clever enough to hide his Insights. Perhaps he should have known the two survival tools for those who chose to use their brains rather than their brawn. Keep the masses technologically hostage with ‘magic’ that they need to stay alive, something which Hippocrates never put in his Oath, but which became known to every physician he trained. And if you can’t keep the masses alive, keep them entertained, a skill learned by musicians with small muscles and, as long as they kept the kings, queens and commoners dancing, intact fingers. With his various inventions, and secret arrangements as to their distribution, Mechanos had learned to do both. Some connected to the world as it was. Some didn’t. Water-powered catapults somehow made it to the building block. Water-powered irrigation systems were ‘under consideration’ for construction. Water converted into steam with the potential for a godlike fuel, not yet linked to a pulley and wheel system for ‘practical’ use, for reasons he had to keep to himself, for idealistic reasons even the tragically cynical genius himself couldn’t understand. But…someday, perhaps, everything would come together into a world that saw and worshipped Truth above all else. Once all the ‘have to’ jobs serving Priests, kings and potentially-destructive commoners were taken care of.
Now that the ‘show’ was over upstairs, and the daily ‘rationalization’ drill was done with, he helped himself to some refreshment. Goat cheese for his stomach, grape juice for his parched throat, and gold that he could use any way he saw fit.
Mechanos kept his biological wants close to his needs, as he needed all the money for an even greater endeavor. As well, he needed as much ‘luck’ as possible, a ‘god’ he still thought, or hoped, existed. The plans lay in front of him, in his fingers, coming out onto the papyrus from his head, down to his hands, and into the ink. A magnificent plan, which he had put into effect before, but on a limited scale.
“Theatre”, a voice echoed from behind. “Bigger than any you have devised. More entertaining than any you have built or shown to the public. A spectacle of entertainment that also teaches. Bigger than any play you have produced, or had produced for you.”
“Yes” Mechanos replied. He hid the plans in front of him. He listened to the intruder. The footsteps were not those of his boss, Priest Telikos. Nor of Blestis, the brains and economic power behind the King. Nor of the raspy-voiced Elena, sold to him to sooth his weary mind and, in moments of weakness or extreme pain, satisfy his manly needs.
“You’ve done well, in my service, and those who I am in service of,” the voice continued, its tenor now distinctively female, its tone painfully familiar. As it if was from all the women, and men, he had ever known.
The intruder stopped, casting a shadow that was both cold and warm on Mechanos’ Herculean shoulders. Her breaths made his brow sweat, drenching his blue eyes. Her ‘electricity’ could be felt by his fingertips, a tingling sensation which sent lightening bolts through his body, an appendage to his mind which now felt like it weighed less than a feather.
“An explanation,” Mechanos muttered. “There is always an explanation for everything. If mind works hard enough, it cannot be deceived by ‘Soul’”. He purses his lips, the tongue giving clue as to the workings of the phenonoma at hand. “Moldy cheese,” he smiled. “I should have suspected that the discoloration was not due to oregano and basil leaves. Maybe a potion made up by…well, I have many allies, which makes for the inevitability of a few enemies.”
“Or pranksters?” the visitor interjected, appending it by an echoing, yet gentle, laugh. And making herself known on Mechanos’ terms. In front of his eyes.
“You aren’t real,” he told the image in front of him.
“But I must,” she said. “I am the goddess Athena.”
“No,” he continued, entertaining the three-dimensional image which was part Athena, part his mother, part Elena, and part himself when he secretly imagined himself as female. “You are a mirage.” Mechanos took pen back into hand, focusing his mind and eye back on papyrus sheet. “And I am working.”
“So am I,” ‘Athena’ smiled, moving herself into a place where she could not be ignored.
“By God, no!” Mechanos screamed. Superimposed on his drawing of yet another attempt to link the steam powered devise to pulleys and wheels to something on stage which would elevate the stage and the audience seats sat an image of Athena, smiling with something which the brilliant Mechanos so seldom experienced.
“It’s called being happy,” Athena said with a lilt in her voice, tipping her head and revealing the sunshine in her hair, the glow of ‘gentle’ in her eyes.
“You are an illusion,” Mechanos protested.
“So are you, to Me,” she asserted, materializing in the flesh and more human than any illusion he had helped orchestrate, either on the stage for entertainment or in the temples so he could go on making stage productions. “Man is an illusion to God,” she said.
“The gods don’t exist, therefore how can God exist?” the Master Inventor countered.
“Which is why you said, ‘By God, no!’ when I appeared to you?” the Mistress ‘deity’ replied.
Mechanos took a breath of air into his lungs, confirming all body systems intact. To confirm inner sensors, he took a drink of water from the bowl which he KNEW was not altered by the Priests, or leaking specs from the metal of which they were made. “’By God, no!’ is an expression. From Socrates.”
“Who was a god, or a man?”
“Something beyond both,” Mechanos affirmed. He offered his guest a cup of water. Reason said that is she took it, she was real. Logic said that if she drank from it, she should be listened to. Intuition said that though she was probably an illusion, something could be learned from her, to apply either to the mechanical devises on the stage or the words and story built around the play. “What do I call you?” he asked, challenging her with a toast.
“We’ll talk about that, in time,” she commented.
To Mechanos’ shock, she lifted the cup from his hand, and it didn’t fall to the ground. To his pleasure, she smiled as she drank. To his delight, he found himself drinking with her, feeling the water to taste like wine. “An interesting magician’s trick. But, as all magicians know, there is no such thing as magic. Just deception.”
“And Truth,” her reply, hitting Mechanos between the eyes.
Those portholes saw something flat, open and frightening with regard to its possibilities.
“It’s called a stage,” Athena smiled. Her fingertips laid each of the stones into the ground, if indeed ‘ground’ was the name for the platform which felt to be as much air as rock to Mechanos’ feet. Though he had lost sense of the Four Directions, that aspect of orientation was being set up in front of him. To his right, the Eastern lands of Persia, likenesses of their trees and sands amidst the jewels which adorned the foliage that looked real, and if the imagination let one, smell so as well. To the left, the dense forests of Italy with strange images of rocks arranged on stone, an ocean surrounding the last set of islands before the end of the oceans. To his back, the jungles of what some said lay beyond the Nile, blacker than black faces on the masks connotating the humans who made a home in such a dense and humid place. Ahead, presumably designating North, likenesses of large mountains whose peaks merged into fog, snow and cloud, a place where Winter was so cold, wind was frozen within the frigid Silence.
Though an average man would have been in awe at finding himself in the center of the ‘world’, laid out for him by a goddess, Mechanos’ orientation seemed to be on something else. “The metal on my sandals. They all seem to point to the Wintry mountains, which I am assuming is North.”
“In this world, yes,” Athena said. “The laws of Nature rule everyone here.”
“Even though this is a stage?” Mechanos countered. He noticed all of his machines in place. The ones which made a wall look like an ocean, the ripples within it look like water, and the figures coming up from that water like men, women or gods, depending on their arc of arrival and the way the candles or sunlight illuminated them. The ‘reality’ machine which actually moved as well, with what Mechanos knew as the laws of Nature.
“Your best entertainment unit,” she said of the unit that moved around the world
‘stage’, showing off its images to unseen audiences in all corners. “A machine made by man that thinks like a woman,” she smirked as the devise seemed to go off course, frustrating its builder.
Mechanos went into a frenzy, a panic more accurately, running around the stage to keep the ‘beast’ driven by the power of falling water to keep going. Thankfully, or maybe not so thankfully, rain from the ceiling above kept falling into the collection chambers, creating what the exhausted Mechanos finally names.
“A perpetual motion machine,” he boasted of his ‘servant’, who finally kept on course, ‘bowing’ to the four corners of the ‘world’ with each showing of its various puppet erring images. “It can go on forever.”
“As long as the rain keeps coming down from the sky,” Athena countered. She snapped her fingers. The rain stopped, as did Mechanos’ marvel.
The air felt dense again to the Inventor. Dry also. The worse of all opposing perceptions. Cold and heat emanated through his chest, then behind his eyes, but he let it stop as it tried to enter his fingers, noting that there was one constant which even this ‘goddess’ and some rotten cheese couldn’t change.
“My metal needle still faces North,” he noted. “And if you try to change the cold mountains into hot deserts, I will find a way to turn them back again.”
“Exactly why we are having this conversation,” she said. Athena sat in the middle of the stage and shook with something man was not supposed to see in a god, or goddess.
“Fear?” Mechanos noted. “Of what? A higher god? Or maybe The God beyond all of you gods? What is a god or goddess like you afraid of?”
“Man.” Her lips clammed up tighter than a valve on Mechanos’ ‘marvel’ machines. Her eyes seemed vacant, vulnerable. Her tears were very real. “We need you to…to…”
Athena’s words were drowned by her tears. Mechanos found his hand moving toward her, with an emotion he didn’t think possible of himself. Not pity, not paternalism, not even duty for a ‘lesser’ creature in need.
“Yes!” he said to himself. The steam from water put into pulleys and wheels. It can make rocks move like feathers. Move boulders like they were sacs of grain. And move people anywhere they wanted or needed to go. To move them across continents, across oceans, or even into the sky. “Yes! Steam merged with the wheels. It could work. It WILL work. No need to use slaves to build houses from kings, or free men. No need for free men to have to live in one place. No need for people to never go more than 20 miles from where they were born. No need for man to be servants to the gods. No need to get their aspirations from images of gods. No need to be anything but their OWN masters. And all I need to do with my designs and machines is to—“
Mechanos never got a chance to complete the thought, or the plan on paper. He recalled scribbling it down, celebrating its brilliance and practicality. Calling it the steam engine. Giving it wheels, rudders and even wings. Then recalling nothing at all except an offering from his OWN Soul to the Divinity who greeted him at the last breath after he called upon Him, or Her, with his last thought.
When Telikos the Priest came into the ‘laboratory’, the Inventor was no more. Mechanos lay lifeless in a pool of blood. History would never record if it was his own, or the slaves and slaughtered animals who were part of the rituals he helped to maintain. But history would record a somber smile on the statue of Athena in Alexandra, which when looked at in the honesty of daylight, seemed to want something for the world than what she had offered. A seed, perhaps, for the next Mechanos, whenever he would arise, to pick up on from the gentleness and wisdom of her smile. Whatever, or Whoever she really was.
“Empathy,” he noted as his hand touched her shoulder. “I seem to care about this…this…” But before he could decide if the visitor to his hallucinating mind was goddess, lover, or friend, she vanished.
Mechanos found himself in front of the Papyrus, back in the Temple of Impala. Back at his ‘post’ between ‘shows’. By sunset he would be required to invoke the gods again, for Priests who were less than men. To earn enough money to mount a stage production which would transform all the men and women in the audience to levels beyond gods. To gain enough power to perhaps make a machine which would turn sunlight into food, or move water where it would grow crops instead of spectacles. To merge fog, sunlight and water into something godlike, or beyond.