These excerpts from the novel 391 translated by the author.
Copyright © 2004, 2005, 2011 by J. Pekka Mäkelä. All rights reserved.
Excerpt from Chapter Two
I was shaken awake, violently; feeling of falling. Miss Murray's shoulders were no longer relaxed; she held the stick tautly, reaching levers and switches with her other hand. I looked around: the sea was gone. The African coast was gone. The horizon was gone. The Mosquito, our plane, was plunging into an abyss, a bottomless abyss. Something floated towards me through the air. Headphones. I tried to reach them, but couldn't. Then I got hold of them; clumsily, I put them on. I heard static; I heard Miss Murray breathing, almost panting.
What happened, I said.
No idea, she answered.
I have never, she started, then fell silent.
There's nothing I can do right now, she said.
The plane won't react to controls, she said.
The engines won't pull, she said.
We go where this thing takes us, she said.
Listen now, she said. The air is getting thinner. Better take the oxygen masks. Here.
She put on her mask and then helped me with mine. That didn't do much to my vertigo. We were still plunging into the abyss.
The abyss that went on and on.
On and on.
On and on. I don't know, for how long, since I didn't remember to look at the time. The climb and fall indicator rocked up and down, as did the artificial horizon. The altimeter was completely unreadable.
Various things flitted past us. Too fast to see what they were. I had a feeling there was something underneath us. Underneath our plane, I mean. I tried to reach the bubble window on the side pane, but everything was difficult. And there was the wing, obstructing any good view of the underside. The wing flapped violently up and down, just like the other one. The floor door under my feet had a small, round window. I tried to see something through it, but couldn't. The cabin air was full of floating dust and scrap that made my eyes hurt.
The abyss went on and on.
Miss Murray had her hand on the stick, making small movements to and fro; apparently she was feeling if the plane's control surfaces had any effect.
The engines don't pull, she said.
I could feather them, she said, but I don't now how long this thing lasts. We might need them before being able to start them again, she explained.
And the abyss went on and on. I don't know for how long.
For a while I thought I was going to throw up in my oxygen mask. In my mind I saw drips of vomit floating all over the cockpit. Luckily, I'd had no time for breakfast that morning.
The abyss went on and on. Something flitted past us, and there was something underneath our plane; something I couldn't figure out.
I saw how Miss Murray tensed up.
Something's happening, she said.
Now I noticed it, too. Now the abyss had an end, a red-and-tan speckled end. It drew closer. We plunged towards it.
And then we were out from the abyss, in the air, diving straight toward the ground: the ground rushed toward us, a rugged hillside flashed past us. I was squeezed against my seat, I saw stony ground, bushes, trees and rocks fly past.
Then we were flying level, gaining some height. The pressure forces eased up.
Phew, she said, more to herself than to me.
Her fingers started to work on the radio controller. She glanced at the control panel gauges, then the landscape, then the gauges, then the map strapped on her thigh. She called on the radio, listened for a moment, changed the frequency, called again, listened, changed the frequency. Nothing.
We gained more height.
A desert opened underneath us. I tried to see the compass, but it was attached near her left knee, too far away from my seat.She went on checking the controls.
Nothing, she said.
Nothing on the radio.
No signal for the nav system, she said.
I could see a glimpse of the sea on the northern horizon. Miss Murray piloted us in that direction.
Do you happen to recognize the landscape, she said.
No, I did not.
I've never seen this place, she explained. I have no idea where we are. I can't reach anybody by the radio.
We need to land, she said.
It's getting dark soon, she said.
What? The sun rose just a few hours ago.
That was before that abyss, she said.
Now the sun will soon be setting westwards.
Try to be useful, she said. Search for a place to land.
I tried, peeking at the sunset red landscape.
Rocky hills, bushes. Barren, deserted. No roads. I asked myself how long a landing strip the Mosquito would need. What would happen if it crashed upside down?
There was nothing smooth in sight. The sun, hanging low, made all the landscape look very uneven.
We were still flying seawards.
There's a road, she said.
Now I noticed it, too. Thin, pale line between the bushes.
We did circles over the road.
The road looked strange, somehow. I don't know why.
Miss Murray set our course to the east, following the road. At least I think it was east, with the sun behind us. We were flying low, and the road looked like it was paved with big, amorphous stones.
I heard a hollow noise. There was a change in the plane's attitude; it slowed down a bit.
Miss Murray had lowered the flaps and the landing gear.
No choice, she said.
There's a pretty long, straight stretch, she said.
Let's hope it's long enough, she said.
I crouched instinctively. Should the plane crash upside down, there would only be the cockpit window frames for protection. Thin pieces of aluminium.
Miss Murray seemed to know what she was doing. I could see through the Perspex nose. I saw the paving get closer. The road looked awfully narrow, which made me wonder if the landing gear would fit. And then the paving seemed to rush onto us: I head a crash, noises, rattle. Then the plane shook, the paving flitted past, the plane swung, shook, rattled, clanked.
Our speed decreased.
After some time, the plane came to a halt.
All of a sudden, it was all-quiet. Miss Murray had switched the engines off.
We sat there for a long time, without a word.
She moved at last, unhooked her seat belt and parachute straps. She removed her phones and unbuckled the strap on her helmet. She took the helmet off; sticky red curls stuck to the inside for a moment and then fell free. She shook her head, brushed her sweaty hair. She noticed me.
She smiled at me. For the first time.
We survived, she said.
Excerpt from Chapter Five
You wait by the door and then you walk a couple of steps ahead of me towards the darkened and quiet dining room and the nurses' office. I'm not sure if you're doing it on purpose, but I can't help noticing how you swing your hips when your walk. On a second thought, I think it's unintentional, considering how relaxed is your step and your posture. I you just knew how I look at you, your back, your buttocks, your legs, you'd probably walk in a very different manner.
You take a seat by the office desk, browse through a few patient files, then glance your watch. Close to three thirty AM. A few hours to kill before it's time to go through the wardrooms and change patients' diapers. After that, reporting for the morning shift people. Then homeward to catch some sleep.
There you're sitting, stretching like a cat, I just try to look like I wasn't looking; I don't know what I should think about you. This is one of those moments I feel so clumsy around women, not knowing if I can read any signs right or wrong, or if there are any signs to read. Please, if you'd like things to go somewhere, please make it clear. Anyway, we're at work, so just to not make things awkward I try not to read too much at things. There's so much strange intimacy between people during these night shifts even without any erotic tensions going on. Like there's between us, at least from my side, and has been even before tonight. You keep on stretching, glance at me with half closed eyes, ask to see the scroll again. I fetch it from my bag for you. You open the scroll, study the old Greek lettering, the tough papyrus sheet. You tell about your friend who brought paintings from Egypt, as souvenirs, and how the paper was like this. Yes, but this is much thicker, has more layers, better quality. Much less brittle. More professionally made. Did you know, a king Ptolemy of Egypt was so jealous of his library he prohibited the export of papyrus? He wanted to make sure no other king has such a library like his in Alexandria. His worst rival was at Pergamon, on the modern Turkish coast. Without papyrus, the pergamonians make do with very thin slices of leather. They invented parchment.
You throw a smile at me, politely.
But that was long before we came there, I tell you. Last ruler from the house of Ptolemy had died more than four hundred years before. She was called Cleopatra VII, the Cleopatra. She was the last ruler of independent Egypt for a long time. And she wasn't even Egyptian but Macedonian, a descendant of a general of Alexander the Great. And, as the family had adopted the Egyptian custom of incestuous marriages, she probably had hardly any Egyptian blood in her veins. The last Egyptian pharaoh had died some five hundred years before Cleopatra, who had at least had decency to learn some Egyptian unlike her predecessors, who just used their Macedonian dialect. Even all the Roman officials and clergy - keeping Egypt under control by the time we were there - spoke only Greek. Egypt wasn't ruled by Egyptians again until the 20th century.
So much about my awkward lecturing about history; you don't seem to have much interest in these things. Who would, at this time at night? You look at the open scroll; I look at you.
After a while, you raise your face, look at me with your half closed eyes. I can't tell if you're amused, dreamy or aroused. Probably mostly amused. You start to roll your tongue around the words, with languor, with a draw: A time machine. T-t-time machine. Ti. Me. Machine.
How does a time machine work, you ask.
I don't know, really. Kaarina and Joel tried to find out by eavesdropping Tuileq and Ansuyl. But they didn't learn much. Of course they didn't even intend that some ancient barbarians - that's us - might learn about something that was something new and secret even at their own time. This whole thing seemed to be some kind of private project for Ansuyl. The other three were just paid workers. Anyway, their talk became usually incomprehensible if it was something out of the ordinary routines. You see, they were using these automatic translation devices in their left ears. The device seemed to listen to the thoughts of speaking and then whisper to the ear how to pronounce it in the foreign language. I think. It sure looked like that. They gave us simpler devices that only translated other people's speech to an earpiece. But neither model worked very well. I'm not sure which was more difficult, learning their language or learning to understand what the device thought was English. In any case, Kaarina and Joel tried to catch something, from the asides and things like that, about how the time jumps were accomplished.
On the hills to the north from the oasis, there were three discrete devices forming an equilateral triangle. Kaarina called them abyss generators. At the camp there was a larger device Kaarina called a control unit. For a time jump, a kind of oscillating time-space abyss was generated in the midst of the three generators. On the other end of the abyss, there was the time and the place you wanted to jump into.
Have you ever played guitar? Then you know that a vibrating string has many other frequencies than the basic note. You can hear these harmonics better by playing flageolets, where there's no basic frequency. Anyway, with this basic frequency, all of the string vibrates, and it's strongest at the middle. With the first harmonic, the vibration is the strongest at the quarter length from both ends. There's a non-vibrating node at the center. With the second harmonic, there are two nodes at equal distances. If Joel and Kaarina understood it right, this time abyss is somewhat similar, with a basic frequency and harmonics. What's important for us is, that there's a node exactly at the halfway in the abyss. Halfway in time between the beginning and the end. Apparently, the time abyss has an opening to the outside world at this node. Are you following this any better than I was?
You have that mischievous smile again. You say: Don't know, but go on.
Okay. Apparently, there's an opening at the halfway point of this time abyss - an opening for something to fall into the abyss and end up to the same point in time and space as the real time travelers. And it seems that this middle opening is big enough for an...
... an airplane, you say.
Right. The four of them had apparently known about this opening and made calculations to ensure it didn't happen, say, inside Earth. They didn't want to get rock or molten magma into the abyss. They had the opening a few thousands of feet over the surface of the earth, where there's still enough oxygen. But they didn't consider airplanes. And it seems they had a very bad luck, as with two out of three time jumps an airplane just happened to fall into the abyss.
You look absently through the office windows.
I have to admit, this is all I know or understand about the matter.
Excerpt from Chapter Seventeen
One hundred steps.
It was just a short walk from the house of Ismenias to Serapeum temple gates. But the hardest part was after the gates. One hundred steps of stairs in the scorching July of Alexandria. One hundred steep marble steps.
Practice of religion is not supposed to be easy. But I wasn't here to worship Serapis the City God. I was here to steal some books. Or to rescue some books. Early every morning, before the scorching heat of the mid-day, I stepped through the temple gates, passed the believers guarding the place against any Christian desecration attempts. At the beginning, Ismenias accompanied me to explain to the guards, that this tall fellow with a weird accent and a long, desert style cloak had legitimate business around here. After that, he gave me a letter describing my features and guaranteeing a free pass. The guardians had arms; they were alert, and frightened. Not long before the Christians had unearthed votive offerings from the Caesarium, put them on display as examples of pagan stupidity. The desecration had led to an argument, argument had led to a fight, a fight had led to deaths. The followers of Serapis were anticipating revenge.
Past the Ptolemy faced sphinx statues, past the tasteless pillar of Diocletian, past the peddlers selling Serapis statues, cheap votive stuff and souvenirs, towards the hundred steps. Almost every morning I saved a moment to behold the view. At the top of the stairs surrounded by Apis bull statues, there was the actual temple bathing in the morning sunlight. The Greek style marble painted Egyptian style, pillars ornamented with glyphs and pictures that seemed to glow with light. During festivals, the priests moved the great Serapis statue to the front of the temple, with magnets, apparently without a touch. It was said the system was designed by Archimedes himself.
Not to raise any attention, I ascended step by step as any believer would, slowly, humbly, praying. During the one hundred steps I moved slightly sideways to the right side of the stairs. After the one hundred steps, before the actual temple building, there was a wing of smaller buildings circling the temple mound. At the staircase end of the wing, there was a door with a guardian acolyte. After recognizing me, he opened the door just enough for me to slip inside, to the cool shady vaulted corridor. Then the door was closed behind me.
In this wing of the temple complex, in these corridors carved in rock, I spend the most of my days of summer 391 A.D. This place was called the Daughter Library. Initially, the Serapeum Library was used only for the more unimportant material to make more room in the actual palace library. Later on, they started making copies of the better stuff to be stored here. I think the idea was to prevent catastrophes like what had happened, when Caesar's troops had burned down the Egyptian Navy with several Grand Harbor storehouses filled with books. And lately a lot of stuff had been moved here from the Museum, books the ruling bishop considered pagan, heretic or otherwise harmful. They were moved here or to the water boilers of the city baths. But Serapeum's cool, dusky wings had still people copying unique manuscripts. I passed their chambers walking deeper into library stores area. There was a corridor to the left, leading to underground chambers, where the sacrificial Apis bull mummies were waiting for the eternity. Only light there came with torches, so it was no place for books. The book storerooms had beveled holes for skylights.
Here all the storage rooms were numbered Greek style, with letters: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon...
All the wall cabinets in storage rooms were numbered Greek style, with letters: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon...
At the right corridor I tried to look innocent enough glancing around. Then I took from under my gown a very un-papyrus list of instructions, written by Kihnipei, who had consulted Ismenias and his bookkeeping.
Following the instructions, I stepped nonchalantly into the storeroom kappa-eta, to the wall cabinet iota-theta. Usually I stayed there a while, quiet and listening. Nothing. I took another look at the instructions. Among the scroll containers of the cabinet there should be one with these markings. Here. I opened the container and looked at the beginning of the scroll. The first words matched what the instructions said. That's the one.
Again, I spent a moment listening. Very quiet here. I heard distant steps getting closer for a moment, then returning back to distance. I put the scroll back into its container. Still quiet. I slipped the container under my cloak. I had a fastener on my backside hips to hang the container so it was kept relatively unseen under my long, desert-style cloak. I stepped from the kappa-eta chamber back to the corridor. Nobody in sight. I retraced my steps to the storage room across the corridor from the gamma chamber, filled with miscellaneous junk. Half by touch, half by the dim light from the corridor, I found a large, woven basket with a lid. I took the scroll container from under my cloak. I opened the lid. I heard steps from the corridor. I froze. Whoever made the steps continued without noticing my presence. I put the container into the basket and closed the lid. Back to the corridor from the storage room. Again, nothing to hear or see. In the dim light of the corridor I checked the very un-papyrus list of instructions. Next, the chamber number epsilon, the wall cabinet kappa-gamma. Not far from here. I opened the container, checked the scroll, closed the container, put it under my gown and took it to the basket in the storage room.
I never could fathom out, what kind of criteria they had used to organize the library collection. Not by author, not by subject. The Greek letters of the chambers or wall cabinets were just numbers that had nothing to do with the initials of the authors or the books. Neither could I fathom why Kihnipei and Ismenias had selected the particular books they wanted us to collect: On Moderation by Speusippos, son of Erymedon. Alchyon by Aristokles, son of Ariston, better known as Plato. On Wealth, Love and Revenge by Dionysios, son of Theophantos. Silli by Timon of Phlius. Against the Rescripts of Alexinus by Ariston of Chios. The Stable Boy by Menander.
It was not uncommon to find the wall cabinet lacking the scroll the list said should be there. It was not uncommon to find the container lacking the scroll the markings indicated. We were not the first thieves to hit this library. No, not the first ones at all.
These excerpts from the novel 391 translated by the author.
Copyright © 2004, 2005, 2011 by J. Pekka Mäkelä. All rights reserved.