Baseball Bush Style
What a Blooming Language
The Rocking Horse
Tour de Farce
I am Passionate About
Seed Banks
Trees in the forest
Wedding of the summer
A Passionate Interest
Future Visions
I Know a Man
Left Hand Glove mystery
The Slouch Hat
Christmas at Uncle Bertie's

List of 2010 stories

Future Visions

43 AD
Southern Britain

Marcus:  How long have we been in this wild, god-forsaken country, Sextus? Seems like years but my reckoning says it's only three or four months.
Sextus: You probably work things out more carefully than I do, Marcus. Tribune officer rank means you have more thinking to do, eh? More strategic planning than I do as a Centurion.
Marcus: That's true, but doesn't change the fact that these Cantii Britons have fought harder than most tribes do. And while that rugged leader, Caractacus, wills them to fight we'll need all the skills we've got. But eight legions will be enough.
Sextus: I, for one, didn't expect them to destroy the bridge over the river at . . . What do they call the place?
Marcus: Durobrivae.         [Rochester = "bridge of the stronghold"]
Sextus: Yes, the cavalry swam across with their horses. But our infantry had to find the ford further south. All in the day's slog for a Roman legion.
Marcus: Of course, there'll come a time, Sextus, when armies won't have to march everywhere.
Sextus: Not march! How else will we get to places?
Marcus: Oh there'll come a time when chariots will get bigger, stronger and move by themselves. And you know how we form the testudo - the tortoise - when our shields make a solid five-sided barrier as we move in to attack: there will come a time when an iron-clad machine looking like that will move forward by itself. A big box made of iron. Can't you imagine how good that will be? It might even have a very long javelin spear mounted on top. Of course, we'll have to put chariot wheels on it. I can also foresee spears shooting into the enemy ranks by themselves from a single firing point.
Sextus: You're joking. You might be a good soldier but you've been dreaming again.
Marcus: Maybe. Same with the galleys. Imagine a trireme, three banks of oars all moving by themselves, no slave rowers required.
Sextus: How d'you work that out?
Marcus: Well, think of a fish. It doesn't need anyone to move it. It just swims by itself - fins and a good tail. Our ships will do that one day.
Sextus: Hard to believe, Marcus. I like your jokes.
Marcus: In fact I can even imagine a fish-like machine swimming under the water.
Sextus: A machine that swims! You've been drinking too much of this cheap British ale.
Marcus: I also happen to think that the legionaries won't always have to dig the trenches for the forts and the roads. No, there'll be a huge iron digging machine. You'll just point it and it'll dig by itself.
Sextus: And I suppose the legionaries will just stand around and watch. Some hopes!
Marcus: I'm afraid it won't be in our time, Sextus.
Sextus: Where do you get these mad ideas from? No one else talks and thinks like you.
Marcus: Perhaps I just observe the natural world more carefully. Take those great bolts of fire and light the gods throw down at us when there's a storm. Now everyone says it's the power of the gods but I think there's a special sort of magic happening there. Have you seen how those bolts sometimes bring down huge forest trees?
Sextus: Yes, they crash mightily.
Marcus: So what if we could use that sort of power to drive machines.
Sextus: Good idea, but how?
Marcus: I'm not sure yet but I'm thinking about it.
Sextus: The gods would get angry, wouldn't they, if you tried taking away their power?
Marcus: Maybe, but it's a chance you have to take. Courage, you know. I got to tribune rank because I'm courageous.
Sextus: That's true but who gave you such ideas?
Marcus: When I was young in Rome I went to the forum and listened to the speakers and philosophers. They talked about ideas, and living, getting an education, thinking about things, what the Greeks had thought. Seneca was one I remember. A wise man, I thought. And another thing. About ten or eleven years ago when I was a young legionary I was in Jerusalem with the Tenth Legion. The Jews were always making trouble but there was a teacher there named Jesus. His followers also called him Christos. They thought he was a god. But he caused such a stir, the governor, Pontius Pilate, sentenced him to be crucified. I was one of the guards on duty at the time. I watched him die. His death was different from all the others I'd seen. Hard to put a finger on it. Just a different person. Even in death he seemed very powerful. And afterwards they said he'd risen from death. I don't know if that happened, of course. We were moved on soon after. But it's just made me curious about gods and power, that's all.
Sextus: You mentioned the Greeks. They had some bright ideas, didn't they? I remember hearing a story about Icarus who stuck feathers on his arms and tried to fly. He came to grief when he flew too near the sun. Or so the story says.
Marcus: Exactly my point, Sextus. It should be possible to fly like the birds. Really fly. Once the gods tell us their secrets. It will happen you know. But I see you're not convinced.
Sextus: A machine made of iron - flying! It would be much too heavy. Anyone knows that. How would you get it into the air? Don't be stupid, Marcus:.
Marcus: Maybe it won't be made of iron. Wood is lighter. And while we're talking about big heavy things I've heard that our divine Emperor, Claudius, has arrived from Gaul. And guess what he's brought with him: elephants.
Sextus: Really. Why would he bring elephants to the back end of the Empire?
Marcus: For show, perhaps.
Sextus: Now that's a creature so big and strong it could never be replaced by a machine. You must agree with that, Marcus.
Marcus: I'm thinking about it.

Colin October 2010

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