May 19, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: Exeligmos Part 3

Here it is just in time for eclipse day: the final chapter of our time-spanning eclipse adventure Exeligmos. We’ve got lots more original sci-fi, eclipse-based and otherwise, on our Amazon author page… don’t forget to start this three-part tale back on Chapter 1.

Exeligmos Chapter 3

by

David A. Dickinson

Ever watch those the old vids made as the shadow of the Moon swung across the old United States for the first time in decades on August 21st, 2017? If you look hard, you’ll see me. I look a little out of place for the sweltering day but stand gazing in awe at the spectacle that many people of that irrational time were certain would bring the latest apocalypse of the day.  I had a special interest in this eclipse as it was one of the last recorded ones leading up to the Great Collapse, and I had argued (quite successfully, I felt) that the eclipse had been the last straw leading up to an ultimate social meltdown in that paranoid and superstitious time. Why eclipses are always seen as bad omens is beyond me. Are we truly that fearful of stepping out of our mundane day-to-day lives, no matter how briefly? For all of their enlightened technology, the people from the 31st century are really no different than the 21st; they are just as smug in their rejection of reality and their ability to quell it. Eclipses always warn us that in the end we all have little control over the cold shoulder of the cosmos. We’re little better than the ancient villagers banging on pots and pans, and hoping that the heavens will return to normalcy. You figure that in the minds of our ancestors, the gods must have heard them, as the Sun and Moon always came back, every time.

Unable to contain myself with my new found toy, I ditched plans for a time-travelling Exeligmos and journeyed solo further back in time. I was there when Arthur Eddington caught his first great proof of relativity in 1919. I stood upon the island of Principe, although at a respectful distance like the good time-travelling anthropologist that I hoped to become. I resisted the urge to gamble on sporting games, play the indigenous stock market or have sex with anyone’s grandmother, as was the undoing of every fictional time traveler that I had ever heard of.  Use of Proper’s heisted time machine was addictive, and I knew that the time line would soon be flooded by gawking tourists. Why I never met any I’ll never know.

The journey was all about the eclipse for me. Is that guy or gal standing next to you with cheap cardboard eclipse viewers a ‘native’ or actually a citizen of the 82nd century, trying to complete a favorite personal saros? I have no idea. I couldn’t even tell you if time was a linear river or a simultaneous branching of infinities. If you decide to have sugar with that coffee this morning is there another universe in which you decided not to? I’ll leave those vagaries to the late night philosophers and the quantum physicists, because we eclipse chasers KNOW there’s a smug truth to the celestial clockwork overhead. No matter what timeline, eclipses happen in ALL of them, every time, on time. You could almost call the slender cone of the umbra the ultimate lover, a date that will never let you down.

Not that I wasn’t above some occasional temporal mischief. Ever wonder who suggested to Columbus to use a total lunar eclipse to save his white man’s butt from the angry natives in 1504? Or what the defeat of the same pompous European colonials looked like under the inkblot shadow of the Sun at the battle of Isandlwana during the Zulu Wars? I’m here to tell you that the silhouette of Terra and Luna can be a set of harsh mistresses and have laid witness to the bloodlust of many demented exploits. The frenzy that they can drive men into is proof that the universe has a perverse sense of justice that for a brief second, you’re not only privy to, but somehow complicit in.

One of the most chilling scenes I witnessed was the lunar eclipse that preceded the fall of the city of Constantinople in 1453. The city had already been under siege by the Turks for a good month. It was no mean feat for the Ottoman Turks to breech those fortified walls, believe you me. The eclipse occurred just days prior to the final capitulation. One could hear the starved and frightened cries of those who remained in the embattled city drift up to meet the indifferent Moon. It rose partially eclipsed in the Earth’s shadow over the dim rampart walls, its lopsided rictus taunting the terrified citizens of the doomed city as if it took a perverse delight in fulfilling the ancient Byzantine prophecy. Hey, hang around long enough, and a prophetic eclipse is bound to happen sooner or later, right? A slim consolation for these poor bastards, who were about to see a grim change of management…

And I can happily report firsthand that yes, Guillaume Le Gentil was genuinely pissed at having missed not one, but two transits of Venus in a row in 1769, after having survived war, dysentery and the fickle whims of the Indian monsoon weather. He was truly broken in a way that only the universe can deliver, with a kind of sinking that dissolves the very center of the soul. I almost (that’s almost!) was moved to offer him a jaunt forward a hundred and five years to the next transit of Venus in ye’ ole year of our Lord 1874, but the last thing I needed was being cited for “transporting live sentient cargo across the timeline.” It never fails with any new technology. First comes the fun then comes the bureaucrats with an eye towards profits and a penchant towards silly rules.

But in the end, perhaps it is the quest for returning to that first “taste” of standing along the eclipse centerline that gets to us all. Oh, how I had dreams to go even further back, to some of the earliest moments of Earth’s history, before even the first dim phototrophs were barely able to sense the change in the light as the shadow slid overhead… but such was not to be, for my own hubris set me on a quest that was to be my own undoing. Perhaps, if any time tourists come back to this fabled and historic moment, they will see my final act. What a grand show, to see me strung up as a common criminal, caught up in an accidental instant that so many of us eclipse chasers have wondered and argued about, so long ago. Could that be you in the crowd, an idle time-traveling tourist wondering why this hot and dusty stop to witness a grisly execution was put on the tour?

“On this day, you will be with me in my father’s kingdom,” I would have heard a voice say from nearby, if only my mastery of ancient Aramaic had been a little better. Slowly I turned my sunburned head skyward to witness a deep partial solar eclipse as the shadow of the Moon over Golgotha came to greet me, one last time.

The End

Next week: As eclipse season continues, we ponder eclipses of the distant future with our tale Shadowfall. Read Exeligmos and more over on our Amazon author store.

Enjoying these weekly science fiction tales? Criticism and feedback are always welcome!

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