by Leo David Orionis

It was the custom of a number of us, all friends of the same great man, to gather at his vija, in the country outside Alba the City, for an evening of drinks, dinner, and above all, stimulating conversation about all that went on in the Empire, and the world beyond the Empire.

The great man, M. Longinos by name, was the common center of our group. Some of us had been privileged to serve with him in the Tank Corps, in border actions in the west, against the Babylonians; others were Senators, members of the same Party as he. Still others were merchants, with business enterprises that spanned the globe, who came to him when some tin-mining in Prydain needed more financing than they could otherwise raise, to name one example, or seeking opals in the interior desert of the Chin continent, for another. For my part, I was a philologist at the University of the Yellow River, and shared scientific interests with him, as did my close friend T. Pareda, the astronomer, and L. Calvegio, the synthesist at the Imperial Bibliotech.

Sr. Longinos' acquaintance was numerous and catholic, and we were all busy men, with careers of our own, and many demands on our time. Thus, the attendance at these reconveniences varied greatly, as did their frequency. A particular general, home on leave from the northeastern borders of the Empire, might be seen every time we got together for half a year; then turkic raiders, fleeing pursuit by the transpacific Republic, might encroach on Mongolia, and he'd be called back to duty. Similarly, an ambassador to Hatti, just south of the Empire, might attend once a month for a while, then he'd be posted to Eolessea, or one of the great African states like Mali, too far for frequent visits home.

One afternoon, late in September of the year 3000 since the Founding of Alba the City, I took the great western highway from the City to my friend's estate. Even that far in advance, preparations for the New Year to come were under way, that would mark the end of the thirtieth century of our calendar, as well as the end of the third millenium. Secret wars were being fought for tickets to the gallery of the Senate, where the Emperor would address the combined Senate and House, and the Imperial officers would renew their vows to their lord and master.

So perhaps I should have remained in the City, but I had a ticket for myself, and even one for my wife, thanks to Maacos. With no need to bite and claw for the precious token, I could afford to drive my little green electric carros the sixty miles to his estate. Turning off the highway at the sixty-mile marker, I followed a country road over rolling green hills until I arrived at my destination. The gates, as usual in a generation of peace, stood wide open. I parked in front of the garages, which in earlier times had been stables, and got out of the carros, leaving the keys in the ignition so that one of Maacos' clients could put the vehicle away and hook it up to the recharger in the stall.

It was only the fourth hour, and there were few people around except clients who lived and worked on the estate. Sr. Longinos himself was still in the City, perhaps attending a meeting about the worsening situation between the Chin, Xong, and Shi, which seemed the most pressing item of foreign policy at the moment. I spent some time in the garden, where the Gardener himself showed me the new breed of chrysanthemum he'd developed, that would bloom later in the year, and even survive the first snows of the winter to come. I congratulated him on his achievement, and accepted the gift of a cutting in a pot for Lavinia, assuring him that I wouldn't forget to pick it up when I left, as my wife would be vastly delighted to receive it.

After that, I stopped in the great kitchen of the vija, to kiss the cheek of the head Cook, a plump testimony to her own work, and old enough to be my mother, or perhaps my grandmother; it's hard to tell with the lower class, who get bigger around, and whose black hair turns to gray, and then to white, but who otherwise seem to go on forever. Lusia crinkled her slanted eyes at me, and gave me a plate of buns, fresh from an oven and drenched in butter, to tide me over until dinner, still some hours away.

Maacos found me in his Library in the sixth hour, when the clients went around the vija and turned on the electric lights on the front of the house, the halls, and any rooms in use. I was engrossed in a carta from an earlier era, five feet square, showing language families around the world. The information on it was somewhat out of date, but the scholarship was, for its time, quite solid, and the insight into past philological disputes very interesting. I was tracing Semitic languages on the eastern coast of the Inland Sea, across northern Africa, and down the Nile, when the door opened. I assumed, in my study, that it was a client, who, seeing that the lights were already on, would close the door again. When that didn't happen, I looked up.

Maacos stood in the door, smiling, a typical Alban in all respects; just under six feet tall, slender, with light brown skin and hair, and dark brown eyes. His hair was cut short, and beginning to recede in front, and he was clean shaven, without beard or mustache, as was the fashion in the Senate, whatever the commoners wore. He'd stopped to change after leaving the Senate for the day, since he was wearing ordinary upper-class robes with a belt, rather than the elaborate and archaic toga and mantle of a Senator. Modern shoes were on his feet, too, rather than the sandals prescribed by Senatorial custom.

"I'm glad you're here tonight, Gaie," he said, walking up to me in front of the map-case. The archaic vocative case, rather than the modern Gaios, showed what close friends we were, as did the embrace, and the kiss on both cheeks. I returned them, and said in turn, "Thank you, Marce, always happy to be here."

Maacos laughed, holding me at arm's length. "Oh, it's bookcase-love, I know. You only love me for my library!"

"Not only," I protested weakly, in the face of the evidence of the old carta, or mappa as some would say, spread over the top of his map case.

He laughed again. Many wealthy collectors have great libraries from their forefathers, or assembled by clients paid to compile books and scrolls, yet their collections are for show, and the owners have never read them. Maacos showed that he wasn't one of those by waving one hand at the carta I'd been studying, and saying, "As a philologist, have you considered what a mappa like that shows you about times past?"

I cocked my head at him. "As a philologist, amicos, I think of little else. The distribution of languages on Earth is a record of migrations in pre-historic times. Only the oldest nations, as Egypt and Eolessea, record some of those migrations in their written records; for the most part, archaeology and philology are the fields which explore those times."

"Of course," he said. Turning to the old carta, he laid one delicate forefinger east of the Caspian Sea. "So, proto-Indo-Asian, the ancestor of all the Indo-Asian languages, came from here."

"You're a little out of date, senior," I told him. "These days we believe the proto-Indo-Asian. or PIA, homeland was here," I said, placing my own forefinger north and west of the Caspian, rather than east of the Caspian and south of the Aral.

"You're the expert," the Senator assented. "In either case, the proto-Indo-Asian speakers migrated east and south, pushed by the Babylonians on the west, and the Finnic speakers in the north. Some spread east until they reached the Pacific Ocean, subduing the natives, while other natives fled to the islands south of Asia, and the small continent there. Other proto-Indo-Asian speakers climbed onto the vast plateau north of the Himalayan Mountains, eventually becoming Hittites; others went around the Himalayas and conquered all of India."

"A little sparse, but essentially correct," I said. "So today we have the modern Alban Empire across the middle of Asia, Hatti to the south, and India beyond that. Ancient history, amicos, quite literally."

"Suppose the speakers of proto-Indo-Asian had gone west, instead of east," he said. "Imagine a world in which all of Europe, and maybe Asia Minor, was full of nations speaking modern languages descended from proto-Indo-Asian. I suppose we'd call it proto-European, in that case; PE, not PIA."

"West?!!" I exclaimed. "How? Due west is Eolessea, a going concern even then, and north and northwest are the Finnic speakers—Suomainet, Ladogan, Sami, Yakutian, fierce and unconquerable. As for Asia Minor, south of the proto-Indo-Asian homeland is the great nation of Babylon, civilized and powerful even then. How could they possibly go west?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," Maacos said. "What if Eolessea wasn't there to block the way west?"

I threw up my hands. "Suppose the Moon wasn't in the sky, then sailors wouldn't have to deal with tides! Certainly, if Europe were uninhabited, or inhabited only by people as primitive as our own distant ancestors, they could have migrated to the west. That's an enormous if, my friend, and who could guess what the world would look like today?"

"I suppose no one could," he said disconsolately.

I put an arm around his shoulders. "Cheer up, my good friend. What made you think about such a bizarre situation, anyway?"

The great man looked at me out of the corners of his eyes. "Promise you won't speak of this to anyone?"

I was wounded. Releasing him, I took a step back. "Marce! After all these years, don't you know that you can trust me with anything? I will swear to keep it under the chrysanthemum, if you like, but I'm hurt that you would ask."

"It's only," he said apologetically, "that I've been having strange dreams of late, and I'm afraid that my reputation as a sensible man would suffer if word of them got around."

"No one will hear it from me," I said.

"No, of course not," he answered, shaking his head. "Well… night after night, for a couple of months now, I've been having these dreams… You know that some of my distant ancestors were native shamans? No modern man gives any credence to such abra cadabra, of course, but still I've been having these dreams."

"Dreams about the PIA speakers going west, rather than east?"

"No, dreams of the modern world," he said. "Only, it's a modern world that results from that turn of events. Most of the languages of Europe, on the dream Earth, are what we would call Indo-Asian languages, and the nations there mostly speak languages descended from proto-Indo-Asian. There's no Eolessea, and the Finnic speakers live only in three small nations, Suomi, Eesti, and Magyaroszag."

"There's a mouthful for you," I said. "So they don't have an Alban Empire, in these dreams of yours?"

"They used to," said the Senator, "only it was called the Roman Empire. and its capital, Roma, was located here." He put a finger in the center of the boot-shaped peninsula south of Eolessea.

"In Rashna? What did they do with the Rashnae? Although Roma, come to that, sounds like a Rashnian place name."

"The dreams aren't about their Roman Empire, either," Maacos said. "That's long gone in their world. When they went west instead of east, they didn't conquer the barbarian steppe people of Asia, and over time, wave after wave of barbarians rode into Europe, looting and killing—Cumans, Huns, Vandals, Goths, Slavs, Turks. Eventually they broke that world's Empire, and set up their own barbarian kingdoms. Their modern nations, in western and southern Europe at least, were formed when those kingdoms became modern nations. In northern Europe, their nations are descended from kingdoms where Eolessea and the finnic states would be, speaking other Indo-Asian languages."

"Quite an imagination you have, Marce. I'm glad I don't live there; it sounds messy."

"I don't have a reputation for imagination," he replied. "Sense, yes; foresight, yes. Imagination? Not so much. Also, these don't feel like things I imagined. They feel like a look at something real, in some other time or space."

"When we sleep, a lot of our conscious judgment goes away," I said. "I wouldn't worry about whether a dream, even a recurring one, feels real."

"I haven't told you how they end," he said softly.

I made a gesture, inviting him to continue.

"In the dreams, it feels like something is coming," Maacos told me. "I don't dream about ancient times; all that is background knowledge, as if I'd always known it. I see their modern world, with all their strange, barbarian nations in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, and the transpacific continents, which they call North America and South America. There are five billion people in their world!"

"Messy and crowded," I commented.

"Not for long," he said, and a shiver went down my spine, at the mournful way he said it.

"Why, what happens?"

"They don't use any of our calendars," he said. "Oh, the most common one is descended from the ones their Romans used, and most of the months have the same names as ours. But they don't count the days the way we do, and their years are numbered from some event 1.967 years in the past. But I get the sense, or feeling, that their year 1967 corresponds to our year 3000."

"So what happens in 1967 of their calendar, on their world?"

"Nothing too significant, as far as I can tell," he replied. "But in 1968, in June, their Iunios, the sky bursts."

He said it so quietly that it took me a moment to understand what he was saying. Then I wondered what he meant. "What? The sky bursts? I hear the words, but what do they signify?"

"One summer night, over their Commonwealth of Australia, the sky turns white for an instant," Maacos said. "Just for an instant—but in that instant, every man, woman, and child on the continent can see nothing but whiteness. In that same instant, according to scientists later, the white light, if light it is, passes through the earth and bursts out of the other side. Fortunately, only a few nations on their world have atomic bombs, and no leader assumes his nation has just been attacked. So all seems well, at first."

"Then the dying begins. Millions upon millions of people, animals, and plants die, apparently at random, all over the world. Millions of others are changed so much, that they also die, but it takes a lot longer. Some living things are changed, but don't die; and that's even worse."


"The most numerous living beings on Earth—their Earth, our Earth, any Earth— are viruses and bacteria. If millions of them are changed, and don't die, you suddenly have millions of new illnesses."

"Oof!" I said, as if I'd been punched in the gut. It's been almost a century since the last big influenza epidemic, thanks to modern medicine. A million new diseases, with no vaccines or medicines tailored to them? I could imagine it, and felt ill already.

"So what happens, in your dreams?" I asked. "Everyone dies?"

"No, because a goddess descends to Earth, and starts curing the world," he said. "Not just of the new diseases, but of social ills such as war, greed, and institutionalized evils we don't have names for, because our ancestors took a different path. They call her the Star Woman."

"So all's well in the end, in your dreams?"

"I don't know," he said. "I can't see past a year in the future, September of their year 1968, or 3001 by our calendar."

"Well, I can understand why you look so worn out, and why you don't want people to hear about your dreams. But, you know, they're only dreams."

"Are they?" he said, gripping my arm. "Are they really?"

"What do you mean? Of course they are! What else could they be?"

"When the sky burst, in the dreams (that's what they call that moment when everything went white), everyone on their Earth saw it at the exact same instant, with no lapse while it passed through the world. I talked to a physicist, without telling him about the dreams, and he confirmed that in modern physics, there's no such thing as instantaneous, or simultaneous. Everything is relative, depending on the point of view of the observer."

"If he says so," I said uncomfortably. "I'm a philologist; I don't claim to understand Relativity."

"Suppose there are parallel universes," said the Senator. "Parallel worlds, for instance where one set of PIA speakers goes east, and their analogues on another world go west, are part of modern physics. If the skyburst truly was instantaneous, perhaps the information about it goes across universes, and back in time? Perhaps I'm getting these dreams because it's going to happen here, on our Earth, Iunios next?"

"I'm a modern man, and I don't believe in the literal existence of the gods," I said. "Still, I'd rather believe that Jove sent you a vision, than what you just said. It sounds unscientific."

"A vision from Father Jove? Would that be a blessing, or a curse?" he said, smiling weakly.

Who says it can't be both? I thought, but didn't say so aloud. "And either way, whether it's a message from the gods or the future, why just you? Why isn't everyone having these dreams?"

"Who says they aren't?" he said. "I haven't spoken about them to anyone but you, but perhaps everyone else is keeping quiet, too."

"I'm not keeping quiet, and I'm not having these dreams of yours, either, gratias Iovi!"

"Well, good," Maacos said. "It's a small sample indeed, but I'm glad someone is free of them!"

"Why don't I put this carta away, and then let's go see who else is here? Your factotos can make us some drinks, and we can have some good conversation before dinner, which is already smelling terrific, by the way!"

On the stairs down to the ground floor, I told my friend, "What you really need is a wife, to keep you too busy to spend your nights dreaming."

"You married men!" he said. "You're never happy until all your friends are married, and then you complain that wedding crowns are breaking up your old gang of buddies."

"Marriage can be a great thing," I said. "Have you met Lavinia's sister? If the gods permitted multiple wives, I'd marry Laura myself."

A shadow seemed to pass over his face, just for an instant. "After Iunios," he said quietly.

"They're only dreams," I reminded him, and we left it at that.

After interesting conversation with the other dozen friends who showed up that night, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner, cooked by Lusia and her minions, and served by clients under the direction of Tertio, Maacos' factotos. As the eighth hour was announced by the great clock of the vija, I begged leave of my host to return to the City that night.

"So soon?" he said; for it had been my custom to spend the night in a guest bedroom, returning to Alba in the morning. I just embraced him without words, kissed him on both cheeks, and left, being sure to pick up the potted chrysanthemum for Lavinia. In truth, my host had unsettled me with his talk, and I yearned for my wife's bed.

Just dreams, I thought, as the lights of my carros speared through the night ahread of me. Just dreams, and nothing more.

I was wrong, as it happens, but I wouldn't discover it until the following Iunios.

Copyright © 2020 by Green Sky Press. All rights reserved.