irrational, a. 3. (Math.) Not capable of being exactly expressed by an integral number, or by a vulgar fraction. — Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
All entries © 2004-2005 by David Moles.

Monday, January 24, 2005

9th baktun, 9th katun, 2nd tun (AD 615)

Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.

PALENQUE, YUCATAN — Breaking with centuries of tradition, the Mayan emperor Pacal declines to mate with the gray-skinned, inky-eyed consort selected for him by Earth’s alien masters. The emperor instead has her, and all of her people within reach, cast into the cenotes, or sacrificial wells.

Convinced by this incident that humanity is less suitable for their purposes than they had previously supposed, the aliens leave Earth to its own devices and return to the Crab Nebula. The remainder of Pacal’s reign is spent working to eradicate all traces of humanity’s subordination to alien overlords. Statues as far away as Easter Island are pulled down; documents are burned; stone inscriptions, some dating back to the time of the Olmecs of Teotihuacan, are sanded down and recarved. The campaign is largely succesful, and by the middle of the tenth baktun, what folk memory of the alien overlords remains is indistinguishable from the ordinary run of creation-myths, tribal legends, and fables of the gods. To the rationalist philosophers of the fifteenth katun, tales of aliens are mere superstition. A few, the most daring, speculate about conquerors from overseas — Africa, perhaps, or China.

By the eleventh baktun the empire Pacal founded has spread by land and sea: south to the Amazon, north to the Mississippi. Fleets of green-painted Mayan trimarans, their jaguar standards trimmed with the feathres of tropical birds, are a familiar sight from Cadíz to Madagascar, Sulawesi to Hangchow. In the sixteenth katun of the eleventh baktun, an expedition commanded by Ninan Vicaquirao, an Incan in the Mayan service, becomes the first to circumnavigate the globe. Among Vicaquirao’s pilots and navigators are not only Mayans but Polynesians, Chinese, Arabs and Dyaks.

The cold, brutal, impoverished nations of Christian Europe have little to offer the Mayan traders. When, in the third katun of the twelfth baktun, the green trimarans finally enter the Mediterranean, they find a continent depopulated by famine, pestilence and war, where barefoot peasants in low thatched huts toil in the shadow of Gothic cathedrals whose buttresses are stained with the smoke of tallow candles.

The “god-towers,” as they are called, are a continual source of amazement to credulous Mayans, who find it difficult to believe that a people as backward as the Christians could produce such monumental structures, the equal of anything in the Western Hemisphere up to the end of the Stone Age.

In the seventeenth katun of the twelfth baktun, Ekchuah Canul, a hydraulic engineer and part-time historian from Acancéh, visits Paris, Brussels, and Bruges. Canul is particularly fascinated by the god-towers’ painted icons and stained-glass windows, with their images of humanoid figures wearing luminous bubble-helmets. On his return Canul publishes a book outlining his theory of the god-towers’ origin, and gains instant notoriety. The central claim of the book, titled Palanquins of the Gods, is that the images are incontrovertible evidence that the prehistoric Christians had commerce with “ancient astronauts.”¤

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

13th year of the reign of Alexander (324 BC)

Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.

ECBATANA, MEDIA — Overcome with grief at the death of his lover, Alexander — Shahjahan of Persia, King of Macedonia, and Hegemon of the Corinthian League — invades the land of the dead. To reach this goal, Alexander’s soldiers, following the route laid down by Homer, march north-east across the breadth of Europe — the woods and swamps of the Germans, the fields and pastures of the Gauls, the mist-haunted, rain-drenched isles of the Cimmerians. Alexandrias are built on the banks of the Danube, the Oder, the Meuse, the Thames, the Styx. The conscript forces of Hades, faced with an army of eighty thousand cavalry, two hundred thousand infantry, eight thousand chariots and six thousand fighting elephants, are swiftly routed. The land of the dead is added to Alexander’s empire, and Alexander’s trusted general Antigonus installed as satrap.

Through a clever ruse, however, orchestrated by the shade of Odysseus at the behest of Hera (jealous of Alexander as she is jealous of all her husband’s natural children) Alexander himself is killed less than a year later, poisoned. With his shade constrained never to wander again beyond the bounds of his empire’s newest and gloomiest province, the order he established in the land of the living quickly collapses into chaos.

Though the legacy of Greco-Persian culture planted by Alexander’s expeditions can never fully be eradicated, within a few centuries the clearest traces of it are not the cities, shrines, and monuments — cast down, most of them, by later conquerors, and rebuilt in those conquerors’ images — but the trampled tracks of the feral elephants that infest Europe’s dark forests. Later empires look not to Alexander for inspiration but to his predecessors in Athens and Sparta, his successors in Rome; and, Christopher Marlowe’s Alexander and Hephaestion notwithstanding, so do later artists and chroniclers.

Elephants are not tamed again in Europe until the reign of the Angevin king Henry II. His son, Geoffrey I, uses them with great effect at the battle of Chinon in 1189, decisively establishing the dominance of the elephant-mounted longbowman over the horse-borne knight and the armored man-at-arms. Though the military effectiveness of the elephant is diminished by the advent of gunpowder, it remains both a useful beast of burden and a potent symbol of Anglo-French courage, determination, and stubbornness, and the Order of the Goad, established by Edward III in 1348 (motto: Piétiné soit qui mal y pense) remains the highest order of English chivalry.

In 1883 a full-grown bull elephant called Mazumbo, belonging to the Household Cavalry, runs wild in Hyde Park. Among the twenty-seven dead is the investigative journalist W.T. Stead, whose newspaper, the Pall Mall Gazette, is forced to close. Stead’s sensational article on child prostitution, “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”, which would have lead to the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, goes unpublished, and indeed unwritten.

No criminal charges, therefore, follow the failure of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry. Indeed, the only permanent result of that unfortunate episode is that Wilde breaks once and for all with the Marquess’ son, Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, and moves to New York, where he enjoys a number of successes on the musical stage. He dies in 1957, in his apartments at the Dakota, at the age of 103 — having lived to see the Broadway revival of Hephaestion, his famous collaboration with Cole Porter, win six Tony awards.¤

Monday, January 10, 2005

4 Bunji (AD 1189)

Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.

AKITA, JAPAN — The accepted accounts of the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune state that in the spring of 1189, brought to bay by the agents of his treacherous brother Yoritomo, he took his own life. On a hillside in Tohoku prefecture, there is a stone monument, erected to mark the occasion.

Certainly a severed head, said to be Yoshitsune’s, was brought back to the capital that summer; but the head, though preserved in spirits, had by the time it arrived deteriorated so far as to be unrecognizable. Taking this fact into account — and also taking into account the Sino-Japanese reading, gen gi-kyo, of the characters comprising Yoshitsune’s name — popular legend has always maintained that the hero did not in fact die in 1189, but rather escaped to Mongolia. There, the inhabitants gave him a new name: Genghis Khan.

Alas, it is not to be.

Yoshitsune does escape Yoritomo’s men, bribing a coastal pirate to carry him across the Sea of Japan. Mere hours from safety, however, he spots a mermaid off the starboard bow and immediately becomes infatuated with her. Ignoring the warning cries of his companions, Yoshitsune leaps into the waves, and is never seen again.

Deprived of their Khan, the Mongols never unite, never become the ruthless, blood-drinking horde that conquered China, threatened Japan and Sumatra, and sacked Russia, Poland and Hungary. Without the memory of Genghis’ armies to inspire fear, later khans — Subedei, Uzbek, Timur — are only local terrors. No Osmanli Turks sweep across the Byzantine lands into the West; no Golden Horde comes to invest the Kievan Rus and reduce the Russian princes to the status of Mongol tax collectors.

In 1426 Grand Duke Fyodor of Vladimir-Suzdal marries his daughter and sole heir to King Charles Olaf of Sweden. Within a century three-fourths of Europe, from Reykjavík to the Volga, Tallinn to the Danube, is united under the Swedish crown. Christendom under the three-crowned riksbanér is peaceful, clean, sober, honest, good-humored, and industrious. Jews, Magyars, Slavs, Poles, Finns and Lithuanians are honored minorities. Every child can read, and most can sing. Art, music and architecture flower as never before. Envoys from Ethiopia, China, Persia, the Islamic caliphates, come to Stockholm to negotiate treaties, and send home instead volumes of awe-struck poetry.

In 1742 the mer-people, rising from the depths to conquer the surface world, are rendered speechless by the beauty of the cities of the Baltic. Seeing the towers of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Adrianople in Riga, the prince of the mer-people converts to Christianity on the spot.¤

Monday, January 03, 2005

Anno Hegirae 446 (AD 1054)

Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.

Near Sijilmassa, Morocco — En route to the sacking of Audaghost, the army of the Almoravids wakes from a night of lascivious dreams to find itself surrounded, not by some enemy, or by the sands of the desert, but by a garden of soft grasses, broadleaved trees, perfumed flowers, whispering brooks. Their faqih, Abdullah ibn Yasin, believing he has found the Earthly Paradise, succumbs to a cerebral hemorrhage. His men, oblivious, have already wandered away, each man alone, each man thinking he has heard the crystal voice of a naiad or glimpsed the gamine limbs of a nymph.

The black kingdoms of Ghana and Mali go unconquered; their cities remain standing. Islam spreads there, but slowly: a tolerant, uniquely West African Islam, laced with syncretic elements of animism. When Vasco da Gama enters the Bight of Benin, he is met by gold-trimmed royal galleys, their indigo-dyed sails embroidered with verses from the Koran. The grandsons of Mansa Musa, the king who da Gama knows from legend as Prester John, feast him and his crew for forty days and nights before sending him on his way provisioned with yams, plantains, rice, the salted flesh of antelopes and giraffes.

The European view of the world is forever shaped by this encounter with an African nation at the height of its power, instilling a humility that is never fully lost. When Christian ships come to African and Asian ports it is as traders, not conquerors; even in the New World, where smallpox and other diseases still take their toll of the native population and create for the colonizers the illusion of empty lands, there is little taste for dominion.

The kingdoms of West Africa have no surplus of slaves. Without that source of manual labor the English colonies of North America and the Caribbean remain small and tenuously held, inhabited only by fishermen, tobacco traders, and nonconformist Christians. The agricultural potential of the American South goes unrealized until 1826, when an enterprising Cherokee plantation owner, taking advantage of a depression in the indigo market, begins to import landless laborers from Bengal and Bihar. After seven years’ indenture these ‘Indians’ are free to buy land of their own, or start businesses in the coastal cities.

The cross-pollination of cultures creates a new dynamism. The Anglo-Indian-Cherokee society of the colonies spreads west to the Mississippi, north to Hudson Bay. In 1854, an Act of Parliament grants the colonies independence in all but name. In 1923, Eleanor Marie Abji, of Charleston, South Carolina, becomes the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, for her novel The Dream Forest