The archeological dig she had undertaken on a site near the Ocean seemed to back up her theory that the mysterious civilisation of which the legends spoke had actually existed, and disappeared more than thirty centuries ago. Some of the rumors said it was only twenty centuries before, others ten. In reality, no one knew, exactly.
She sent me a letter via courier to invite me to dinner at her place. She wanted to ask my opinion and show me the ‘extraordinary object’ she had unearthed from the soil. She didn’t dare speak of it to the authorities. But she would confide in me, as I was one of her childhood friends. At the time, I was a judge at the tribunal of family litigation, and I was very well respected throughout the diocese, up to and including the Imperial Court. My husband was in charge of running our plantation, but he said he would accompany me. I wanted him to be there, because Giana had a reputation as a bit of an eccentric, and sometimes a bit delirious. As a man of good sense, he would know how to tease out what was true and what was false in her supposed discovery.
Pulled by two good horses, our carriage only took a few hours to the city of Misvo, capital of the province of Neuiorka, where my friend lived. She welcomed us into her beautiful house, adorned with a shady garden. After a succulent dinner of seafood, served under the veranda by a young slave who most likely enchanted her nights, our hostess asked us to follow her into the wine cellar, where she stored the finds from her digs.
‘As you know,’ she began, ‘the archaeological team that I direct focuses on the marshlands in the north of the province, two days from here by horseback. I’ve always felt certain, boating around those wooded swamps along the River Udson, that once, tens of centuries ago, rose an enormous city of a lost civilisation.’
Giana Vortt had written several publications on this subject, all of them sharply criticised; my husband asked her to tell us exactly why she was so sure.
‘I’ve noticed, along a very large section of the earth’s surface, these sort of lumps that mar the terrain, and which rise above the stagnant water and the trees. One of them measures more than one hundred cubits high. It can’t be a natural hill; that’s geologically impossible. Anyway, one of the girls studying under me made a sketch of one of the lumps; have a look.’
The drawing, done in charcoal on parchment, showed, rising from a mess of water and vegetation, an enormous, skewed, but regularly shaped block, covered with plants and parasitic vines. My husband admitted that it didn’t look like anything in nature: ‘Indeed, there’s no hill or mound that would be shaped like that.’ His remark delighted Giana.
‘Yes!’ she went on; ‘It must be an artificial construction. And there are hundreds of others like it, masqued by the vegetation. So I asked my team to dig and clear to get at one of whatever these mounds really are. And when we dug in, imagine our surprise when we discovered an opening. The first thing we found, at the bottom of a diagonal hole, was a human skull and some superior vertebrae; then we found the really strange objects. There they are — take a look, they’re on that shelf. They’re relatively well preserved.’
Carefully cleaned and labeled, they didn’t remind me of anything that I knew. My husband looked them over. Here is the list of strange objects: 1.) A sort of little plank made of a material that was neither wood, nor iron, nor bronze; it was quite lightweight, covered with a very pitted and cracked transparent facing that seemed to be of glass or something resembling it. Turning the board about, one saw a multitude of little squares attached to tiny wires. 2.) A little, flat, rectangular object, also made of some strange substance. 3.) A disc about an inch and a half across, very thin, almost sharp, with a hole in the centre; after a good wash, it reflected light (my husband entertained the hypothesis that it might be a throwing weapon). 4.) An object of about a half-cubit, made of rusty metal, a sort of hollow tube slotted into a perpendicular handle, with a ring and a little tongue at the junction of the two (no doubt a musical instrument, my husband suggested).
He remarked: ‘These objects most certainly come from human hands, but you’ll have to prove it. After all, they could be some sort of vegetable matter or unknown mineral. As for the human skull, it could belong to someone who got lost in the swamps and drowned just a few years ago. It doesn’t suffice to convince the Imperial Academy that this ancient, fabulous civilisation existed.’
‘Your skepticism, my dear Iurgo, will be belied — because look at what we found near the skull, still attached to one of the superior vertebrae.’
She went to a locked cabinet and pulled out a very fine chain to which was attached a jewel. Without a doubt, it was gold. I looked closely at the artifact, which was smaller than an inch long: It was a cross, whose top horizontal bar was shorter than the vertical bar, and placed near the top of it. A nearly naked man, with a simple cloth covering his pelvis, seemed to be nailed or hung to the two ends of the horizontal bar, his head tilted slightly to the side and topped with a sort of crown of branches. On the man’s flank was a wound. The entire thing was carefully crafted, the work of a skilled artist.
‘What strange metalwork!’ my husband murmured. ‘What delicacy! I’ve never seen anything like it!’
‘According to my lab work, it isn’t mere decorative jewelry. It’s an ancient cult object.’
‘How do you know that, may I ask? It could be a slightly weird pendant from someone who died in this swamp maybe a century or two ago. In any case, it’s gold, and we can’t date gold.’
Giana shook her head. ‘No, it’s a clue to that ancient civilisation and its religion. The bones around which we found the gold chain and this object were so decayed they must have been there for tens of centuries. Gold is inalterable; it’s normal that its surface hasn’t changed.’
Now we were seated under the veranda, drinking our aperitif before dinner in the cool of the evening that fell on this summer solstice. Then the dishes and alcohol were served by a young and pretty slave, smiling and obliging.
‘But how,’ I asked, ‘can you be sure this figure is a symbol of an ancient religious belief?’
‘Because one of my slaves — the very one who’s serving us, Zven — wears the exact same symbol at her throat, but smaller, and without the man nailed to the lopsided cross. She’s always told me it was the representation of her god. I made the connection.’
‘An audacious deduction,’ said my spouse.
‘No, it’s a serious hypothesis,’ Giana retorted. ‘Zven is one of the captives that I bought in the slave market in Bost’n. I treat her very well and she talks to me. She comes from a lot of civilian prisoners who were spared in the course of the last Imperial expedition to put down the barbarian tribes of the West. These savage peoples must have kept a few shreds — particularly religious ones, as they’re more durable — of an ancient civilisation, which seems to have existed before ours.’
As a magistrate, I’m used to the arcana of power, so I counseled Giana not to make too much noise about her discovery, her ancient civilisation with its religion founded on a man nailed to a cross. ‘Keep it to yourself,’ my husband advised her. With his common sense, he was right. One must never vex the Imperial cult of the North Star and the Emperor, her descendant. To claim that an ancient religion had adored a human martyr, that was too dangerous. According to the Dogma, which all children learned in school, there was never another advanced civilisation, nor any true religion other than our own. The idea that, in past centuries, there could have been a superior civilisation with a religion other than the polar-Imperial cult was inadmissible at Court and very dangerous for Gianna’s career, even for her life.
Iurgo and I tried to persuade my friend to abandon this reseach.
Giana asked the pretty Zven, who was serving us:
‘Tell me, Zven, what was the religion of your people, of your parents, from what you remember as a young girl — from before the war, when you were sold as a slave?’
The girl responded with a smile, depositing a plate of wild oysters before my husband: ‘I don’t remember very well, Mistress; my people spoke of a god who had a son who was tortured to death on two planks of wood made into a cross.’ She served us a raspberry liqueur and returned to the kitchen.
Gianna pointed out: ‘It’s not a coincidence! This ancient religion must have stayed alive among these barbaric peoples. So I must research this question.’
But she wasn’t permitted. The Imperial Academy ordered her to cease all inquiry on that particular subject. To be prudent, she ordered her slave Zven to be sure to avoid wearing her asymmetrical cross. On the other hand, as she continued to dig at the swamp site, she made other interesting discoveries which she attributed to this lost society. Most notably she found — well preserved in a patch of clay that was impervious to the moisture — a very large piece of fabric on which she could distinguish, or rather reconstitute, a decorative motif: horizontal red bands and a blue rectangle, sprinkled with white stars, in the upper left-hand corner. The Imperial Academy concluded that it was a woman’s wrap-style outer garment, forgotten there in the recent past.
But Giana was intrigued, and she asked her slave Zven about it. She drew her a reconstitution of the motif found on the cloth and asked her if she’d seen it before, among her tribe, before the tribes were destroyed by the Imperial legions. I was there, on another visit, with my husband. Zven seemed to be a bit frightened.
‘Yes, Mistress, I’ve seen that before. One of the priests of my tribe, one of the Youesses, kept a big cloth decorated with this design in her hut. When we had our ceremonies, he would display it and say it was the sacred symbol of our ancient people, who disappeared thousands of moons ago, and whom we needed to remember. He also said that the people from whom we descended had reigned over all the planet, and they could even fly in the air like birds, and made carriages with no horses that rolled along all by themselves, and machines that let you speak to each other and see each other at a distance. He said we had even gone to the moon!’
‘So what did he say the name of that ancient people was, Zven, the one the tribe descended from?’
‘I can’t remember very well anymore… Amr ’kans, I think. That’s what the priest said.’
She answered the questions while she served us a decoction of plum tea, there on the sunny terrace. Though she was a slave, Zven — a pretty, kinky-haired brunette with green eyes and copper skin — was always smiling, and seemed happy in the service of my friend Giana. An intelligent girl as well, she had managed to become cultivated and escape her barbarism. Her aim was probably to become a freedwoman and escape her servile condition.
Giana concluded: ‘The feeling I get is that there indeed was, dozens of centuries ago — maybe more — a very great civilisation here, which surpassed ours at least as far as technical accomplishments go. Zven’s tribe had preserved a trace of its memory, confused and embellished. That’s how myths are engendered — through exaggeration. But still, it’s interesting. I’m guessing this ancient civilisation, the Amr ‘kans, might have invented writing. I’m going to continue my research to see.’
My husband, Iurgo, seemed doubtful. ‘My dear Giana, snap out of it. Flying vehicles, others that move all by themselves, machines that let you speak to and see people at a distance — you’re talking fairytales, but hey, why not? But going to the Moon? Please be serious. We’re simply looking at mythical metaphors, which are quite common among savage tribes.’
Giana continued her excavation, but in secret, due to the restrictions of the authorities, who had developed a suspicious anxiety around her investigation of this legend of an ‘ancient civilisation,’ as though any mention thereof were hexed. As though certain things must, above all, never be rediscovered, for reasons that only the priests could know. Giana must certainly have found other objects in the swamps of the province of Neuiorka.
She became close friends with one of the young men studying under her, who, like herself, didn’t believe in the official ‘truth’ that our civilisation was superior to all others in all times. He went even further and claimed that the ‘myths’ were not myths, and that this civilisation had indeed accomplished the feats that the young slave Zven had described. This brilliant student was called Arkonesime Memor. And I suspect that he became Giana’s lover, though she was twenty years his senior.
But then she fell gravely ill and confided, before her death, all of the objects she had dug up and all of her notes to Arkonesime. He hid them on the large property that he had inherited from his parents, near Vashton. As he was of the aristocratic caste, he was protected from any search by the authorities; he continued to question the slave Zven, whom he took into his service when Giana died. He succeeded in liberating her and made her his assistant — and certainly his mistress as well, as was customary. Young Arkonesime, remaining silent about his convictions, made a brilliant career in the Imperial Academy, rising in the ranks quickly thanks to his contacts in the Court.
As I write this, I am now an old woman, an old widow, who yet feels that Motus, the God of the hereafter, is weary of her being alive. I will die peacefully. Last week, my slaves helped me get myself to the reception that Arkonesime was giving on his property to celebrate his nomination — at only thirty years of age, a real feat — to the professorship of History at the Imperial Academy. Taking my hand affectionately, he confided to me in a whisper:
‘My good and dear friend, I’m patient, I’m biding my time. I’m going to continue Giana Vortt’s research. And when I’m older, when that idiot autocrat of an Emperor Umbilt XIII finally dies, the prince-consort Zabilt will take the reins. He has modern, new ideas, and I’m a bit of a favorite. I’ll bring this ancient civilisation to light. I’m sure that the priestly caste knows something, that they’re holding secret documents and hiding some truth from us.’
‘You’ll have to wait a long time.’
‘So I’ll wait.’
I wish the best of luck to this young, rich, and brilliant Arkonesime Memor. It would be terrible for him if this marvellous civilisation of the Golden Age turns out to have never existed, with its flying machines, its horseless carriages, and its mirrors that let you see and speak to other people at a distance. Who will ever know?
This short story is an excerpt from Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism 2.0 (Arktos, 2016). If you liked this text, be sure to check out the whole book.