Memory of Empire

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InocPrime
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Post by InocPrime » Sat Mar 13, 2004 12:06 pm

Haven't posted anything up in a good while, so I thought I'd include a short story I recently finished:

Spires stretch to surmount the sun, walls rise to guard them, paths expand, rivers stretch, and no rain shall fall upon the rise of empire.
Turrets blot out the sun and pierce the sky, arms march toward conquest, roads roll towards the horizon, and no storm shall deter the majesty of empire.
The sun rises above the great domes, the streets crowd, the rivers clog, risen from majesty is doom, and nothing can avert the demise of empire.
The sun sets upon the abandoned homes of kings, streets are emptied, buildings demolished, and no one shall interfere in the fall of empire.
Darkness enfolds the shattered remains of palaces and royal keeps, the stone walls long since fallen, no great gardens left to grow, and nothing stirs in the ashes of empire.

***

I pulled myself up to the top of what remained of some long dead noble's apartment walls, and proceeded to survey the surrounding lands. Though the nobles that had dispersed themselves across the continent after the empire had crumbled didn't leave much, and this particular estate was not large, it looked relatively untouched save by time.
The best I could realistically hope for was a piece of the of the gaudy glass ornaments that had been the last imperial fad, but even these didn't fetch much price in the markets of the town that had grown outside the crumbling city walls.
I spotted nothing, so I brushed off my tunic, hefted the single bag that held my findings for the day, and searched for a place I could look over the entire estate. I found this in a relatively intact wall, noticeably naked in the estate's gardens without anything connected to it. I jumped up and pulled my head up and over the edge. From there the entire estate in that director was open to me, and I did spot a small trunk, apparently left during its former owner's speedy flight from his home. It was comfortably placed inside a large stone gazebo, in the far rear of the estate.
I tossed my pack down to what I assumed was a soft patch of grass, and quickly followed it to a similar spot. I navigated the fallen masonry that surrounded me upon landing, trying to keep the appropriate path to the trunk in mind. After only a few minutes searching I spotted it. As I began undoing the numerous seals on the trunk, I pictured several possible contents in rapid succession. Pessimism first: some useless bit of buffoonery that the rich had occupied themselves with, hopeful next: some of the luxurious clothing that was so popular among the scavenger aristocracy outside the ruined city, optimistic last: one of the amazing pieces of equipment that were rumored to still exist. It wasn't any of these things. What it was was impossibly more.

***

I ran my fingers across the smooth, seamless surface that filled the trunk, broken only by five old imperial numerals. F-A-U-S-T I spelled out in my head.
"Fay-ost… fa-ust… fowst… Faust," I whispered to myself.
What did it mean? The imperials had written unusual things, verse I'd heard it called, on some of their things… but this was just one word. A designation? I didn't know. I smiled despite my ignorance. This would undoubtedly be valuable.
"Faust!" I said more loudly this time.
I stood up to crack my back, cramped from bending over the trunk, and quickly returned to exploring the surface of the artifact. Finally, I realized that the area inscribed with 'Faust' could be depressed. I pushed down firmly, and the surface slid away in two places, revealing handholds.
I was so curious I didn't debate my options for even a moment; I simply slid my fingers underneath the holds, and pulled it from the trunk. It was surprisingly light and I tossed it easily away into the refuse around me.
Underneath the cover was a single dark screen at least three feet by one foot in diameter. Nothing else, save the grooves were the cover locked itself.
I laughed and repeated the inscription on the cover contemptuously.
No sooner had I said that word had the screen lit up and began throbbing with energy. I leapt backwards and came to rest on a large stone behind me. As I recovered my composure, a voice other than my own pierced the silence.
"What do you desire good citizen?"
I pressed myself flat against the stone and stared dumbly at the screen for several moments before it repeated itself.
"What do you desire good citizen?"
The deep, gurgling voice rolled out of the trunk a third time, and finally I gained the courage to speak.
"Are you… Faust?"
"I have been called many things. My former master saw fit to address me with that name when last he did."
I forced myself to calm down and stepped closer to the screen.
"What are you? Faust?"
"I am a reference. I contain all the knowledge of the empire. I project probabilities using this information. What would you have of me?"
I stared still dumbly at it and wondered. It wants me to ask it a question.
"You want me to ask you a question? Is that what you want?"
"If it serves your purpose. To answer and project is my function."
I blinked and spoke the first question that occurred to me.
"What happened here? Why did this cities people abandon it?"
A soft humming came from the trunk, stopped, and Faust responded.
"I do not possess sufficient data to answer your question or project the likeliest answer. You may bring me to the city square where I can receive data input from the city chronicle computer."
I sighed and threw my arms up for a moment in mild exasperation, "The city was abandoned… destroyed decades before I was born. I don't know where any square is."
The humming resumed and after far less time than before, it responded.
"Irrelevant. The city chronicle computer is three point seven-six kilometers beneath the surface of the square. It is unlikely that any event would have caused damage fatal to its systems."
Even though I didn't know what a kilometer was to those that coined the word, I was curious as to the answer he might provide me should I take him where he directed, but I was painfully aware that the mid-afternoon I'd arrived here during was rapidly changing to evening. To be caught in the ruins after dark was akin to suicide. Though my people restricted ourselves to scavenging, there were dozens of groups that existed deeper in the city that satisfied their needs in ways that would not favor my long time desire for a long, hopefully uneventful life.
"Still, I don't know where this square is… or… and it's getting dark, it's dangerous that deep in the city!"
It took long enough in answering for me to begin feeling odd and exposed there in the twilight, and I began peaking around the few pieces of cover the ruins afforded before it did.
"I can direct you there."
I pulled myself back to the trunk and gave a quick glance back at my day's poor haul before asking the thing a question.
"Is it a long way from here?"
"I cannot accurately estimate a time of arrival or of travel, because I have no way of knowing the coordinates of my current location, but it is not far."
"How am I to carry you?"
"I am constructed of light weight materials. I weigh 40.3 pounds."
"What is a pound?"
The humming began again but only lasted moments before it responded.
"I cannot accurately convey the meaning of pounds as it is a measure of weight unique to those educated in the schools of the empire. I would recommend that you test my weight yourself."
I considered this for a moment and examined the sides of the trunk. There were two metal bars on both sides, so I straightened myself, bent backed down, and lifted the trunk. It wasn't at all heavy and I found that I could position it such a way that made walking easy.
"Which way do I go?"
"Return to the road you used to access the estate."
I turned to comply and began plodding my way through the rocks and ruin.

***
I steadied myself and dropped the trunk down on a small section of exposed tiles when it ordered me to do so.
The gurgling voice continued, "I am receiving an automatic information upload from the city chronicle computer. I will have uploaded sufficient data to respond to your question in a few moments."
I sat down next to it and rested against an immense pillar, broken at the middle, supporting nothing in particular. My reverie lasted only as long as the thing said, a few moments.
"I have analyzed the new data and have prepared a response to your question."
I scrambled back onto my feet, "Well?"
"This city was abandoned as a result of the death of the last Emperor and much of the royal family. The death of the entire Imperial Family apparently triggered a series of civil wars that left much of the city destroyed and more than half of the resident aristocracy dead. I cannot accurately report on the effect this had on the rest of the empire."
I understood the words, but I couldn't guess their meaning. I could only try and think as much like the old imperials as I could.
"What was the last question they asked you?"
After a short humming it answered, "The last question put to me for consideration was as follows: "when will I die?"
I lowered myself to one knee and almost pressed my face to the thing.
"What was your response?"
"3 years, 46 days, 5 hours, 32 seconds from the second you began your question by a 7th class citizen on the Imperial Bridge in a small artillery explosion. You will be charred alive."
Could the imperials have been so advanced that they could predict death?
"Can you tell me when I'll die Faust?"
"Yes."
"When will I die?"
"You will be killed in 27 seconds from the second you began your question by a falling piece of marble. Your head will be crushed."
I froze in place for a few moments and turned to run. I tripped and nearly collapsed onto the pillar I'd previously reclined on. I looked up as I heard a thin grating noise, and a piece of marble slipped from the pillar and fell towards me.

[ 13. March 2004, 11:07 AM: Message edited by: InocPrime ]

Calavan
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Post by Calavan » Wed Mar 17, 2004 2:54 am

sweet. I really liked the begginning, that first little poem-intro at the beginning was really good. I also liked how you used first person narrative, I'm not usually a big fan of it but as I got into the story it was defineately the way to go.

You've got a real skill with the descriptive stuff too, and the end was great. It was ironic and had a little dark humor in it too (maybe unintentional, but for some reason i almost laughed, probably more because of the bluntness of Faust than the narrator's death)

InocPrime
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Post by InocPrime » Wed Mar 17, 2004 5:19 am

I'm glad you enjoyed it [img]smile.gif[/img] I've always, always been a stickler for detail, and I'm never satisfied with what I've got. And I'm almost mad that I couldn't make Faust seem more easily imaginable. The bubbling voice helped in my opinion, but in reading the story he still seems to me to much like just some voice.

Xiggy
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Post by Xiggy » Wed Mar 24, 2004 7:08 am

Nice story. Everything seemed to blend just right in that story. I was figuring I'd be reading a lot of exposition in that story, and I sure as hell wasn't expecting what FAUST would be able to do.

InocPrime
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Post by InocPrime » Wed Mar 24, 2004 9:32 pm

Glad you enjoyed it [img]smile.gif[/img] I struggled with a name for the computer actually, and Faust was the only thing that seemed literarily appropriate... the old story is that FAUST sold his soul for knowledge, so it seemed relatively appropriate [img]smile.gif[/img]

Xiggy
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Post by Xiggy » Thu Mar 25, 2004 3:08 am

That and the fact it sounds Ancient Roman.. So that fits will within the fallen empire theme.
EDIT:Talk about saying something redundant.. lmao.

[ 25. March 2004, 02:13 AM: Message edited by: Xiggy ]

InocPrime
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Post by InocPrime » Fri Mar 26, 2004 11:57 am

That was one thing that went through my mind when I was writing, the image of a guy picking through Rome as it is today, or worse. It's an image I personally really liked, and I tried to put it all on a big scale to make it clear.

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