Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Into the Thousand-Eyed Present"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by conversations with Dreamwidth user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "memories" square in my 8-2-19 card for the End of Summer Bingo fest.  It belongs to the Aquariana thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $0.25/line, so $5 will reveal 20 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
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Into the Thousand-Eyed Present


[Monday, 6 April, 2015]

President Latheef was
working in his office when
a member of his security team
tapped apologetically on the door.

"What is it?" the President said.

"There's a new soup to see you,
but he's brought this box and
won't open it -- he says that
you deserve to see it first,"
the man said. "We've tried
to explain security procedures,
but he's really quite insistent."

President Latheef had seen
the appointment and skimmed
the application, but it had been
more blanks than actual data.

"What kind of box is it?"
the President wondered.

"Wood with metal corners,
covered in dirt -- it looks
ancient," the guard said.

President Latheef thought
about that. It wouldn't be
the first time someone had
brought him treasures in hopes
of buying entry to the country.

"Have you forgotten that our navy
consists of two telepaths?" he said.

The guard looked at his shoes.
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. We should've
called over there before bothering you."

"Never mind, I'll take it from here,"
President Latheef assured him.

It was simple enough to call
Aquariana, though whether
the whales were in range
was anyone's guess.

"Hello, Aquariana,"
he said. "Could you find
Steel or Moderato for me,
please? Preferably Moderato.
I need to ask a telepath for a favor."

"Sure, they're just playing catch
with a tourist boat," said Aquariana.
"We've been trying to teach Steel not
to hit people with the ball on purpose.
It'd be easier if the boys on board
didn't think getting knocked off
the boat was hilarious."

That was probably
on V'you by now.

Other people's navies
didn't do things like this.

Then again, other navies
couldn't peek into a guest's head
to see what was inside the box.

It only took a few minutes for
Aquariana to relay the request,
and then President Latheef
got the answer he sought.

Let him in, let him in!
This is a GOOD surprise,

Moderato assured him.

Who knew whales could giggle?
President Latheef thanked
them and let Aquariana go.

Then he nodded to his guard.
"Show them into the office now.
Do they need help with the box?"

"No, they came with a teleporter,"
the guard said. "There are two men,
a teenaged boy, and a baby girl."

"Understood," said President Latheef.
He came out from behind his desk
to move the guest chairs out of the way.

A moment later, his office got
a lot more crowded than before.

The teleporter had dusky skin
and curly black hair. The other man
was a warm brown with nappy red hair.
The teen was much fairer than them,
while the toddler was nearly black.

The box was more of a trunk,
like a steamer trunk, but rougher,
as if built by someone who had
never seen a real one.

The girl squealed and
waved at the President,
chattering in what sounded
like several languages
all jumbled together.

"Yes, darling, I see,"
her father said, then
turned to the President.
"Please call me Aidan.
I've been meaning to visit,
but some things happened,
and now it's a bit more urgent."

"Is your family safe now?"
the President said. "If not,
we can expedite assistance."

Aidan smiled. "Close enough.
We're working to smooth out
the rest of the details, but you
can see why I'm interested in
the sanctuary that you offer."

"Yes, of course," the President said.
"And your companions are ...?"

"Zipper, my daughter Saraphina,
and Drew Finn, who helps me
take care of her," said Aidan.

So that was why the teen
looked vaguely familiar --
the Finns were everywhere.

"Welcome to the Maldives,"
said President Latheef. "That's
a very interesting box you have.
Moderato tells me it's safe."

"It is safe to handle, but it's
very old, so I brought gloves,"
Aidan said, offering a pair of
white cotton ones. He looked old
and tired. "It's been a long time."

"Since you bought it?" the President said.

Aidan shook his head. "I built the box
to hold these until it was safe for me
to return them to a rightful owner.
I judge that you qualify as that.
The honor of opening it is yours."

President Latheef lifted the lid,
ancient wood creaking at the touch.

Dark leather glinted with gold and gems.

"Hoooooly crap, Aidan," the teenager muttered.
"That stuff looks like it belongs in a museum!"

"If he wishes," Aidan said with a nod to
the President. "The choice is his now."

The box was filled entirely with books,
scrolls, and bundled manuscripts.
If they were stolen, it was from
an archaeological dig. But then,
if they were stolen, Moderato
would have warned him.

"How did you get these?"
the President breathed.

Aidan lowered his gaze.
"My paperwork says merely
that I'm older than I look," he said.
"I rescued these from a mosque that was
about to be sacked by crusaders. This is
everything I could fit onto the donkey. When
I saw them come around the bend, we ran."

President Latheef realized that his mouth
had fallen open, and carefully closed it.

He took a moment to think, then said,
"Why give these to me now?"

"They were never mine to own.
I only wanted to keep them safe ...
to save something if I could,"
Aidan said softly. "Their owners
are long dead, so they belong back
in Muslim hands. When I mentioned
coming here, a friend suggested that I
bring a guest gift. This is what I had."

"Does this say Egypt?" the President asked
tracing a gloved finger over a half-familiar word.

"Manetho's Ægyptiaca, a history of Egypt,"
said Aidan. "That was the only volume,
it's the second in a set of three."

"Hazār Afsān, Thousand Tales,"
said Zipper. "Today it is known as
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights."

"De arte aleae, the art of playing dice,"
Aidan said. "Could I get a copy of this one,
when it's scanned for your archives? I'd
like to show those games to Halley."

"By Claudius," said President Latheef.
"I thought all his works were lost?"

Aidan sighed. "They may have been.
So much has been. I save what I can,
but it's never enough. I think that I still
have some of his Etruscan stuff, but
that's in a different cache."

In his arms, the toddler
started to fuss.

Drew scooped her
up and said, "Okay,
sweetie, let's go for
a stroll while Papa and
Mr. President have a chat."

"Zipper, why don't you show her
how to do wudu?" said Aidan.
"There must be ablution rooms
here, and it would help."

"An excellent idea,"
Zipper said. "Which way?"

"Near the prayer room,
any employee can show you
the way," said President Latheef.
He pulled a date brick out of his desk
and waved it at the teleporter. "Here,
you're probably low on calories too."

He had very quickly learned to keep
a drawer full of high-energy snacks,
to prevent people from fainting on him.

"Thank you very much," Zipper said,
and left with the youngsters in tow.

"Are you all right?" the President said,
watching Aidan for further distress.

"I'm getting there," Aidan said.
"It's been a difficult month,
but we're trying to cope."

"You have sanctuary here
if people are threatening you,"
said President Latheef.

"I'm happy to hear that,"
Aidan said, pointing to a row
of books. "Here, you should
like these -- they came from
the Academy of Gondeshapur."

President Latheef brushed
the dust of centuries away from
the spines. "What are they?"

"All sorts of things, whatever
people brought to be translated,"
Aidan said. "Medicine, astronomy,
philosophy, and various crafts.
It was a haven of refugees
at the time, much needed."

"That sounds familiar,"
said President Latheef.

"Come to think of it,
you remind me of him,"
Aidan said with a smile.

"Remind you of whom?"
the President asked.

"Khuzra ... ah, Khosrau I,
a Sasanian emperor and
a great friend to refugees of
all kinds," Aidan said. "Hmm ...
I wonder if he's around now."

The President blinked.
"Was he immortal too?"

"Yes and no," Aidan said.
"They called him Anushirvan,
meaning the Immortal Soul.
He dies, but when he is reborn,
he keeps his old memories."

Carefully the President tugged off
a glove to make notes. "How would
I know him if he came to me?"

"Ask him about the books,"
Aidan suggested. "He probably
still has some favorites memorized.
He used to come to the Academy
sometimes and sit in the courtyard,
reciting poetry in lost languages ... I
and a few scholars were the only ones
who could understand them, even then."

President Latheef felt a bit overwhelmed,
but that was nothing new. "So noted,"
he said as he typed a few lines.

"Thank you for taking this
seriously," Aidan said.

"You have brought me
rather convincing evidence,"
the President said, waving
a hand at the treasures.

Something caught his eye,
a book with a grand building
tooled into the front cover,
still holding a few gold flecks.

"Oh, make sure Alicia sees
that," Aidan said. "I think
the world's first surge plan
is in that volume."

"What does that mean?"
asked President Latheef.

"The Academy of Gondeshapur
introduced a number of innovations,
among them requiring medical students
to learn from the whole faculty of physicians,
instead of just one apprentice to one master,"
said Aidan. "In the event of an emergency,
someone would go wake all the students
in the dormitory to come and help."

President Latheef put his glove
back on so that he could take
a closer look at the indicated book.

Then he realized it was nestled
against a copy of the Holy Quran.

Most of the books, like the Quran
and the Thousand Tales, were
familiar to him in some form.

Others were likely lost before
Aidan unearthed his cache.

It was precious beyond price.

"I'm so grateful that people
wrote down these things, and
that you saved them," he said.

"It seems to be a rule of wisdom
never to rely on your memory alone,
scarcely even in acts of pure memory,
but to bring the past for judgment into
the thousand-eyed present, and live
ever in a new day," Aidan said.
"It's the only way to stay sane."

President Latheef thought about
how much this man must have lost.

He could not bring back the past,
but he could help in the present.

"What do you need?" he said gently.
"What would help you feel safer today?"

"We need a bolthole," Aidan said.
"I was hoping to buy property here,
if you don't mind some holes in
my paperwork. It is ... difficult for
me to trust, after my experiences."

"I can well imagine," the President said.
"I ask that immigrants avoid breaking
Maldivian laws in Maldivian territory.
Beyond that, we can be flexible."

"Then I'd like to look at properties
for sale, and discuss what we could
do for each other," Aidan said.

The President stared at him.
"What you've given us is priceless."

"It was never mine," Aidan repeated.

"The risk you took to save it from
the crusaders was certainly yours!"
President Latheef retorted.

"I suppose I can't argue with
that one," Aidan said ruefully.

"You want safety, and I can offer
that to you," said President Latheef.
"I have plenty of islands available.
Tell me what you seek, and I'll
show you some possibilities."

"I want something out of the way,
undeveloped ... easily overlooked,"
Aidan said. "Something that others
would not want even if they saw it.
I can build my own villa out of view."

"Simple," the President said. He
took off the gloves and brought up
a list. "We have many islands that
are little more than a spot of sand
and perhaps a few palm trees."

Aidan looked at the screen,
deftly flicking through the choices.

"I'll take this one, please," he said,
pointing to a speck of island just north
of Medhafushi in the Haa Alifu Atoll.

"Done," said President Latheef.
"That's very far away from most of
our attractions, and places to shop --
would you like a villa or apartment
somewhere closer to the center too?"

"I had thought the offer was for
one island per person," Aidan said.

"Your daughter will be living with you,
but I could give her a villa of her own
without even bending the rules,"
President Latheef said. He
gestured to the books again.
"Let me balance the gift, please."

Aidan opened his mouth, hesitated,
then said, "For Saraphina's sake,
I will consider a modest villa."

"Well, these things were built for
rich tourists," the President said.
"Few of them have more than
a bedroom and a bathroom --
though it's easy to add a kitchen
if you want one -- but they're not
what I'd call 'modest' in style."

"Let me see," Aidan said.

"Here, look at some options in
Kurumba Village," said the President.
"Vihamanaafushi Island started out
as a resort but has been converted
to residential space, mostly for soups."

"Oh, that's not so bad," Aidan said
as he browsed the images. "I was afraid
that it would have gold leaf everywhere."

"Not there, although some others do,"
said President Latheef. "I encourage
you to visit Kurumba, at least. I think
that you would like the café there.
It's called Memories Castle."

"What's so special about
a café?" Aidan wondered.

"Some immigrants love it,"
the President said. "It seems
like a good place to catch up
with some ... old friends."

He wouldn't give any more
hints than that, though.

"It's very kind of you
to make such a sanctuary
for other soups," Aidan said.
"So many of us focus
only on ourselves."

"Excuse me, did you
say ... other soups?"
President Latheef asked.

"Oh, I am so sorry! I thought
you knew about your abilities,
I thought it was why you were
doing this --" Aidan babbled.

The President leaned forward
and rested his head in his hands.

He had done it because his country
needed help and superpowers seemed
like the more promising way to keep it
from sinking beneath the waves.

But he'd also done it because
it was the right thing to do.

"I didn't know," he whispered.
"What -- can you tell me, what is it?"

"I don't know," Aidan said, spreading
his hands. "I don't really think about
these things in the same way as
most people do now. I'm no reader.
I can only tell if someone has abilities
that are compatible with mine -- as
yours are -- or much more rarely,
if theirs are completely incompatible."

"Ah well," the President said. "I would
have liked to know, and I'm afraid that
asking anyone else would be ... fraught,
at least for now. I shall have to think
about it before making any decisions."

"That's usually wise," Aidan said.
"Please forgive my carelessness.
I should not have spoken of it."

"You didn't know," the President said.
"Plenty of people have claimed that
I must be a soup, the way I treat them.
But I don't feel any different, even
with you right here in the room."

"I usually keep my abilities ... hmm,
folded away, like a bird's wings,"
Aidan said. "Yours are not the same,
but I can feel them fluttering around me.
Something to do with other people, I think."
He offered a hand. "Shall we see if
skin contact strengthens them?"

The President reached out
and took his hand. It felt
warm and dry, with ridges
of callous from hard work.

"I don't feel any different,"
President Latheef said.
"Maybe we're both just
imagining things."

"How about now?"
Aidan said softly.

Sun-baked sand and
the smell of camels.
The sound of water
splashing in a fountain,
and an old man's voice
trilling the call to prayer.

Something like silk,
like lace, strands of a web
that stretched out and out ...


The President shook himself
awake. "All right, that time
was ... very different. I
thought that you said
you weren't Muslim?"

"I have been many things,"
Aidan said gently. "I am
comfortable enough with
Islam, as long as it's not
waging war at the moment."

"Would you ever consider
converting?" the President said.

Aidan shook his head. "No. I have
not converted because the religion I
grew up with is one of the very few things
that I have left of my people, and
so I cannot bear to give it up."

"I understand," the President said.
"I had to ask. There is no requirement.
We are trying to become a mixed nation
without losing our Muslim identity."

"I think you are doing very well at that,"
Aidan said. "What I see here reminds me
a great deal of Islam in its early days.
You are taking what good things others
bring to you, yet finding your own path."

"I hope that we can find our way
together," said President Latheef.

Aidan smiled. "I hope that too.
I will do what I can to help, so that
this place grows strong as it should."

"If you would, of your kindness,
share your memories with us
of times past, that would be
a great gift," the President said.

"I am happy to tell stories,"
Aidan said, "but I do not wish
my true age to be known."

"Yes, of course. We will
both be discreet about
each other's secrets,"
said President Latheef.

"There is the matter of zakat,"
said Aidan. "I cannot begin
to calculate it precisely, so much
of what I have is hidden, cached away
in case of emergency or for safekeeping.
Perhaps we could simply take whatever
I have in the open and multiply that
fourfold or so, as a very crude guess .."

"No, no," said President Latheef.
"Zakat is about wealth in use, in
circulation. Recall that coins are
counted but jewelry is not. I am no
Imam, but we must be discreet, so I
say that you should pay zakat only on
what you use, not what you have hidden.
If you dig it up, then it can be counted."

"That would be a great deal less,"
Aidan pointed out. "You don't even
know how much you're giving up."

"I already have more zakat
than I know what to do with,"
the President said. "Too much,
too fast, can do as much harm
as too little, too late can."

"I can see that," Aidan said
with a nod. "Zakat only on
my current holdings, then.
That is still ... considerable."

"Please tell me that you have
a pet project or worthy causes
you support," the President begged.
"We really are running over, and
more funds without a chosen theme
would just add to the chaos here."

"Give it to the refugees, especially
the children," Aidan said. "If that
goes over what you can handle,
then split it and put some toward
building up the medical system
to accommodate superpowers.
The poor always need care."

"Agreed," the President said,
making a note of the plans.

"If you need help spreading out
the bounty, I can have my -- oh."
Aidan looked up suddenly, as if
startled by a distant noise, but
the President heard nothing.
"I'm afraid we're out of time for
private discussion. Saraphina
gets anxious away from me."

A knock on the door had
Aidan hurrying to open it.

Saraphina launched herself
from Drew's hip to Aidan's arms.

The President caught his breath,
worried that she might slip and fall,
but Saraphina wound herself around
her father so tightly that he could
have let go and she wouldn't budge.

"Don't worry about anyone dropping her,"
Drew said dryly. "You can't drop a burr."

Saraphina chattered at him in something
that sounded almost like French. Then
she squirmed toward the President.

"Softly and slowly, petite," said Aidan.
"Shall we try shaking hands now?"

The President reached out, and
her tiny brown hand wrapped
around his first two fingers.

Something in the air dimpled,
rippled, then smoothed away,
as if held back from doing more.

"Baby gates," Aidan whispered,
his voice barely more than breath.

So the little one held abilities
similar to those of her father.
That was a wonderful gift.

It still felt strange to think
of himself as having powers.

He hadn't sensed more than
hints from anyone else, except
those who abilities let them
reach out toward him.

You really didn't know?
Moderato was back in his head.

I had no idea, the President sent.
You knew? You might have told me!

We thought you knew, Moderato said.
How could you not know yourself?

Well then, can you tell me what
my superpower is? Aidan can't. I
don't know either,
the President sent.

You sing and others listen.  Steel's voice
was brusque as always, but not rough.
Even I could hear the pull in your song.
It told me that you are not like the landers
I have fought before, that you wished
to make peace just as you said
.

Evidently whales didn't think about
superpowers the usual way either.

President Latheef would either
have to ask a reader, or accept
that, insha Allah, God knew what
his superpowers were and would
tell him if he really needed to know.

"So, did you manage to work out
an agreement?" Zipper asked Aidan.

"Yes, we have a deal," Aidan said.
"Go ahead and ask, it's safe here."

Zipper turned to the President
and said, "I would like sanctuary, too.
I don't need a permanent place, but
after some recent events, I absolutely
need a safe route of retreat, just in case."

"We can always use another teleporter,"
the President said. "As an island nation,
we must spend a great deal to ship supplies.
What kind of teleporting work do you do?"

"Mostly I transport people, but I can carry
some cargo too," Zipper said. "I don't work
in dangerous places, though. I would
really rather not go in or near anything
that looks like a bunker again."

"We can work with that,"
the President said. "Do you
like the idea of an island, or
would you prefer something else
like an apartment or a houseboat?"

"Not a boat," Zipper said, shuddering.
Aidan put a hand on his shoulder and
murmured reassurance. "Maybe one of
those beach villas, somewhere quiet?
I don't think I want to be in a city."

"Fill out the paperwork as best you can,
and take your pick," the President said.

"Thank you," Zipper said, leaning against
Aidan for support. Saraphina squirmed over
to climb onto him, and even Drew came in
from the other side. "I guess that change
can seem a little scary sometimes."

"That's life, man," said Drew.
"But that's what friends are for."

"Yes," said the President. "We shall
step into the thousand-eyed present
together, and face whatever it brings."

* * *

Notes:

"It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Haa Alifu is the northernmost atoll in the Maldives.

Medhafushi is in the middle of the atoll. Just above that is an unmarked rise with a few specks of island in it. Aidan takes the northernmost of those.

This picture shows the southern view of Aidan's island where the water is shallower and turquoise. The northern end has a steeper dropoff with deep blue water. From the south you can see a dark patch under the palm trees, in the midst of which is a small villa, not visible from here. The northern side has a pontoon dock than can be rolled out when needed, but is not left out to attract attention.

Memories Castle has a courtyard outside.  The interior has tables and chairs for diners.

Aidan and Saraphina take a Deluxe Beachfront Bungalow, #112 which is the first one on the bottom left side of the island Vihamanaafushi. The wardrobe is converted to a kitchen. Aidan sleeps in the big bed. Saraphina sleeps in the couch bed.

The front has a terrace.  The bedroom looks out the door and has a side seat.  Here is the bathroom.

Hypatia of Alexandria was a Pagan librarian and scholar. In Terramagne, the Order of Hypatia rescues threatened manuscripts during troubled times, and later returns them. This is why they have many volumes that did not survive here.

A partial list of the treasures which Aidan rescued from a doomed mosque and then returned to Muslim hands:
Augustus
Sicily (a work in verse)

Callinicus
To Cleopatra, On the History of Alexandria, most likely dedicated to Zenobia, who claimed descent from Cleopatra

Claudius
De arte aleae ("the art of playing dice", a book on dice games)
• an Etruscan dictionary [in another cache]
• an Etruscan history [in another cache]

Ctesias
Persica, a history of Assyria and Persia in 23 books [vol. 1-10]

Manetho
Ægyptiaca (History of Egypt) in 3 books. Only few fragments survive.
[vol. 2]

Old-Persian texts
Avesta, the holy book of Zoroaster. After Alexander's conquest, the greater avesta was fragmented and only third of it survives.

Pahlavi & Middle-Persian texts
Khwātay-Nāmag: Book of kings and princes, from Archaic kings and warlords to the end of the Sasanian dynasty. This book was most important reference for Post-Sasanian and Islamic historians as well as epic poets such as Ferdowsi, known for his masterpiece Shahnameh.
Hazār Afsān or Thousand Tales: Early version of One Thousand and One Nights. [variation of extant texts]
Jāvidan Khrad or Immortal wisdom: Quotations of the ancient Iranian sages.
• Works of Academy of Gondishapur's scholars: Many survived texts of Gondishapur's scientists on Greek, Indian and Iranian medicine, astrology and philosophy were translated to Arabic at the time of Translation Movement, but today only mentions can be found in Islamic sources. [12 volumes]

• The Quran. [early variation of extant texts]

[T]o a very large extent, the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia.
— Cyril Elgood, A Medical History of Persia
In addition to systemizing medical treatment and knowledge, the scholars of the academy also transformed medical education; rather than apprenticing with just one physician, medical students were required to work in the hospital under the supervision of the whole medical faculty. There is even evidence that graduates had to pass exams in order to practice as accredited Gondeshapur physicians (as recorded in an Arabic text, the Tārīkh al-ḥukamā). Gondeshapur also had a pivotal role in the history of mathematics.
-- Academy of Gondishapur


Khosrow I, also known as Anushirvan ("the Immortal Soul"), served as Sasanian king of kings of Iran from 531 to 579.

Reincarnation and Zoroastrian beliefs have conflicts and complexities.

The history of the Quran spans various editions.

Ziyad Pitted Baking Dates, 13 oz (1080 calories total)
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 40 G
Servings Per Container 9
Amount Per Serving
Calories 120 cal
Calories From Fat 0 cal

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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