Out Of The Waters — Snippet 07

I wonder if I’m going mad? Hedia thought. The idea caused her to bleat a laugh. Would that be a good thing or a bad one? Something that can be treated with a dose of hellebore would be better than what it means if I’m seeing what’s really there.

“Isn’t it wonderful!” Saxa said, more excited than Hedia remembered him ever being during sex. “Why, Meoetes didn’t suggest he was going to do this! Look at how clear the walls of Olisipo are! Marvelous!”

Hedia glanced at her husband, wondering if he were prattling nonsense to mask his fear. He wasn’t. Saxa thought he would see a painting of the capital of Lusitania. He saw what he expected, stagecraft, and he was delighted that it was so good.

She patted the back of his hand with a wry smile; he gripped her fingers in excitement. Obviously, he’s seeing the same thing I am, so I’m not mad. Well, hellebore probably doesn’t cure madness anyway.

The city was becoming more distinct and spreading to fill…. To fill her field of view, Hedia had thought at first, but it was more than that: she was becoming a part of the city. She could see and touch Saxa and–she reached to her left and squeezed Alphena’s elbow just to be sure–her daughter, but the unfamiliar towers and gleaming walls were equally real, equally present.

Men looked out to sea from the battlements. Most wore fringed tunics of unfamiliar cut, but a few were in flaring armor of the same fiery metal as the walls themselves. They didn’t disturb Hedia: Carce was full of foreigners, barbarians–people who, instead of speaking in Latin or Greek, thundered words that sounded like bar-bar-bar to civilized folk.

Among the humans were glittering figures, manlike but not men. They were the glass men which Hedia had seen in her nightmare, them or their close kin.

The audience here in the Theater of Pompey was as delighted with the spectacle as their patron was. They stamped their feet and waved scarves and capes to signify their approval.

The demonstrations had started at the highest levels of the theater. Hedia suspected the spectators there had been seeing detail beyond what they had thought was possible, causing them to react even more quickly than the folk in better seats.

Hedia’s brief smile was as cold as the emperor’s charity. The spectators had been correct: this detail was impossible to achieve–by human efforts.

If the vision on stage is real, Hedia thought, then what I saw in my dream was real also.

Varus would probably tell her that her logic was flawed. She wasn’t a philosopher, but she was correct. This is real, and the nightmare is real; and the nightmare isn’t over.

Hedia touched her dry lips with the tip of her tongue, then reformed them into her aristocratic smile. Any observer would think that she was as pleased as her husband by the drama being acted on stage.

The present audience had lost all sense of decorum in its delighted amazement, but even whispers would be loud when multiplied by tens of thousands. Nonetheless, Hedia heard screams of terror over the applause.

She couldn’t see the actors and technicians on the other side of the stage where now another world was spreading. If they were alive, they knew that what was happening was more than theatrical trickery.

They must be terrified, Hedia thought. They must be as frightened as I am.

She smiled calmly as she watched and waited. She had no better choice than to behave like a lady; and perhaps that was always the best choice anyway.

The city before her was as clear as coral viewed through the waters of the Bay of Puteoli. Hedia–the whole audience, she supposed–saw more than mere eyesight would have allowed if the place had been as close as the stone stage front. It wasn’t huge, certainly not as big as Carce. It seemed more the size of Herculaneum on the slopes of Vesuvius, where a sometime friend of Hedia’s had a vacation villa.

I should make a point of seeing Maternus again when I next visit Baiae, she thought. The pleasant memory helped calm her, though no one looking on would have realized the Patron’s wife was in the least disturbed.

The buildings were shining towers, much higher than anything in Carce. The tallest of the lot was a smooth spire with no steps or stages, rising from the plaza which faced the seafront. Hedia had heard of the pyramids of Egypt, but those were described as being of stone and as broad as they were tall. This was a slender crystalline cone topped with a ball of the same blazing metal as had been used in the walls.

The city had been built on a bay, and the shore curved outward in both directions. In the corner of her eye Hedia thought she saw the glint of water inland as well, but that could have been another crystal building.

She couldn’t look away from the moving statues on the walls. In dreams the most innocent flower or vista can terrify because it is terrifying, not from any property which the waking mind can recognize. The glass men frightened her only because they were frightening in her dream; and even there, they radiated doom only because of the nightmare ambiance,

Ships floated in the harbor at the foot of the city walls. They were larger than the barges which rowed pleasure seekers on the Bay of Puteoli to the Isle of Capri but no bigger than the fifty-oared liburnians of the naval detachment at Misenum, adjacent to Baiae. One ship moved, then a second.

Hedia gasped with surprise. Instead of moving out to sea on crawling oar strokes, what she had thought were sails were beating up and down. The ships lifted from the water like heavily laden gulls.

“Hurrah!” Saxa cried. “All honor to Meoetes!”

Hedia’s smile became wry. She knew that her husband was cheering his impresario, but it must seem strange to the audience to hear the Patron applauding his own spectacle. Except–

Her face became briefly expressionless before resuming its look of bland acceptance.

–that no one in the vast audience was paying attention to Saxa. Wonder at the performance had overwhelmed every other interest and speculation.

There were six ships in the air now, moving with increasing speed and agility as they rose. A few glass figures were on deck, generally standing at the tubular equipment in the bow. Each of these ships had a figure in gleaming armor in the stern where the helmsman of a normal vessel would grip the steering oar. A few ordinary human beings in tunics were scattered among the squadron, working at undecipherable tasks.

Though the sky was bright, the sun had begun to flatten and turn crimson on the western horizon. When the sea began to roil, Hedia thought at first that it was a trick of the light on the wave tops.

The flying ships curved toward the disturbance, continuing to climb. The water was suddenly as bright as blood. Something started to rise from it.

The thing was huge beyond all living measure.