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Theatre of Hades - Land of the Living
The info on the cookie was quite limited. It latched onto the computer at 10:47 pm. It was erased at exactly midnight. The time made him thing some program automatically deleted it come midnight. Under the circumstances there was only at. A private page of a one Orpheus music school in Kavala Greece.
A determination came over Dr. Greek, and left him feeling Kavala was the only place to go to, even though he'd be flying to a foreign country with no money. This determination was fed by the intuition that if he did not act he would never leave the library.
The sun rose and fell at twice its speed, traveling from Minnesota to New York to Lisbon to Greece. Even precision engineered engines and burnt jet fuel could’t change the featurelessness of the unending Atlantic. Dr. Greek attempted to remain awake to watch the Mediterranean from above, but the new speed of the sun left him fast asleep. He awoke to more water, guessing he’d passed over Italy.
It’d been a long time since he’d experienced the jet lag of international travel. His body was convinced it should be night time, completely ignoring his eyes. In any case, he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t coming into the country with much money, and while he could teach, and do that insipid academic forgery, there was no guarantee it would last. Moreover, he didn’t know what to expect at the music school.
What if HADES had nothing to do with the school? He would just show up and have no way to get back to the States… though he wondered how much that mattered. Over the past few weeks he’d begun to refer to the US as the “land of numbers”. He’d lived briefly in a world power center, and everything revolved around some number or another. Budgets, earnings reports, congressional votes, statistics and securities. That’s what made the world go round.
And of course, most people are terrible at math. The math education in the states, as he remembered from his grade school years, seemed designed to maintain a group of number-haves and number-have-nots. Understanding this situation of course made conspiracy hacks a bit obnoxious, when they made big deals about government cover ups but not able enough to follow the money. In any case there was a hope for Greece to be different, where there wasn’t an obsession only for things that were new. To be able to traverse the country and know in any given direction there might be two thousand remains made the country a tad different. It would be nice to live there even he hadn’t come with an objective.
Of course he did have a job to do. He needed to find out what might be going on in the school. He had vague notions of trying to join the staff somehow, though he doubted the school needed an independent English teacher, or any other position. Besides, obtaining any hidden thing or information from legitimate trust between two people might take years, and he didn’t have that time. Lying would do the job much better.
And what better way to go about things then to pretend to be an agent of HADES? He had packed a suit, all he really needed was tinted sunglasses. If the school had agents that went their regularly in the conspiracy uniform he shouldn’t have any trouble fooling anyone, at least until he had to open his mouth.
That would be the fun part.
“Anything unusual happen around here?”
“What do you mean unusual?”
“You know different.”
How knew any chance to impersonate HADES he had would be in his ability to get his targets to open up freely so he could try to elaborate and embellish what he’d already heard.
So simple. Just walk in like nothing was unusual, no matter how many glares from kids and looks from teachers, and people might just get conclude his presence was nothing unusual. He didn’t know how long he could maintain the lifeless expression of an agent. He worried some muscle only an anatomist could name would contract at just the wrong moment. But there was nothing he could do to prepare for that. He could only lie down and try to anticipate questions and answers. He quickly fell back asleep.
Everything was fine until Dr. Greek took his first step until the school. He practiced his expression, worked on Q and A, listened to the local accent in Kavala’s open air cafes. Then he was in the school, and he realized the million things that could go wrong.
First, he had no idea about the school lay out. He was intending to look like he belonged, but there was a fair chance he might have to ask for the location of offices. He didn’t know how fast he should walk. Brisque meant urgent, but too fast indicated fear.
And how many children’s faces could he stand to look at without expression? Remain emotionless in front of gaping youngsters? Children were always been more difficult to ignore than adults. Their demeanor begged at least for reaction if not attention. Avoid eye contact, he thought. Don't engage. Maybe he might make it to the office without too much disturbance if he made himself seem impenetrably in the adult world.
As he entered the building his appearance led him to be helped immediately. The simple response “government business” seem to get him a spot right in front of the administrator's office. He wondered if that would necessarily the best thing. After so much struggle to find HADES it seemed that if any attempt wasn't an ordeal, an information gleaned would not be worth knowing.
Dr. Greek hadn't needed to think to long on this point, after a girl was led to sit next to him, no doubt to see the administrator after him. At first, the girl looked dejected and miserable, he was worry he might have to bear being seated next to a crying child. But the expression was just a game. The girl became greatly animated as soon as was left in the room without school officials.
“Hey mister,” she came to him, without being elicited at all. “Why do archaeologists love rocks?”
Dr. Greek assumed the girl had made some conclusion based on his dress and so followed along.
“Archaeologists don't really care about rocks, they care about the old things that people used to use. Artifacts.”
“Achaeologists don't really care about rocks, they care about the old things that people used to use. Artifacts.” the brat mimicked. Dr. Greek was now acutely aware that to everyone around him would perceive an accent in his voice. It was fortunate that he'd sound like Athens when talking to school officials, but for now he had to avoid turning red faced at this little girl.
“If you look closely at artifacts, they can tell you how people used to live.”
“How did people used to play music?”
Dr. Greek glanced around the room just a bit, and no one was watching. It seemed a natural thing for a child of a music school to ask, and it was easy for him to go on quite a bit about ancient Greek instruments.
“And what songs did they play?”
He looked down at this little girl. Her eyes had the same look he recalled of a woman he'd defended his thesis in front of.
“The old songs have been forgotten.”
“But then how do they know the instruments?”
“Well the instruments survive longer. You've got to write a song down, and paper disappears quicker.”
“But couldn't people teach each other the songs. Why do they need to be written down?”
Dr. Greek didn't quite know how he'd been lured into this. This problem with oral storytelling and hard document copies was exactly the thing that had caused so much fuss in his life. It bothered him a little as a teacher to be able to answer her question, but he worried if she'd damaged to much of his composure for his charade to continue.
“I don't know.” he answered. The girl seemed to like the response and smiled. Then she started whistling loudly. The range of pitch and punchy rhythm indicated solid practice, most likely in class. He knew with this ruckus he wouldn't be able to concentrate, so he tried to identify the tune.
The girl was whistling softly at first, so this proved difficult. Then the whistling grew louder and he felt like he had heard it before, but he wasn't sure. The girl kept getting louder and louder like she wanted him to guess the tune. Soon she was terribly out of breath. Dr. Greek looked over at her, confused.
Then the administrator walked in the door and looked down for two seconds. “You're a patient man. Have you not grown weary of Cora trying to drive you crazy?”
“Kids are kids.”
“You must have some of your own.” He responded, chuckling. Cora's antics had caught his target off guard, creating a great first impression.
“May we step in your office? The situation is delicate.”
“Certainly, I must say I didn't expect such a quick response. The government is usually a little less responsive and strapped for cash.”
“Well, this is an urgent issue for us.”
“Oh? Then I'm sure you'd like to see it.”
“Left me get it out of the safe. The administrator bent over his desk and fiddled with the combination. He pulled out an old wooden lyre, the wood falling apart and with only three strings left. “When I called your office I couldn't tell if it was a more recent addition in bad shape or in remarkable condition for a particularly ancient find.”
Dr. Greek looked at it rather carefully. He wasn't an archaeologist and didn't know the first damn thing about how wood might age. But he insisted it only gently be touched and maintained a sharp focus on one the wood's minor blemishes.
“As you can you from the...” the administrator began.
“Oh I'm sorry.”
“This is an intriguing find. Worthwhile for acquisition. Where might I send an invoice?”
“Invoice?” The administrator looked a tad confused. Dr. Greek had obviously not impersonated procedure. There wasn't any way of explaining out of it, right off the top of his head.
“You know, an invoice.”
“Oh... is that how your department does it?” The administrator fiddled with some papers on his desk until he got a small information street. He circled his address. We can talk here, maybe?”
“Excellent. Everything is in order. I must ask, how was it found?”
“By the nuisance you met outside my door. Little Cora, The class goes off to visit a cave and guess who just happens to run off. Big surprise. We spend half the day looking for her. Lucky that thing still has a few strings, we found her playing music.”
“It still plays. Most fortunate.”
“Thank you for your time.” Dr. Greek walked out the door. With a sudden dash back to her seat it was obvious Cora had been eavesdropping.
“Hey, you came to take my lyre. No fair! No fair!” she began screaming. It was odd. She seemed to old to be having temper tantrums. Dr. Greek walked out and pretended to close the door. Suddenly Cora stopped making any fuss whatsoever, like everything was an act. She was a rather odd child.
In any case, now Dr. Greek was stuck trying to figure out how to carry his new ancient lyre around the streets without much notice. He didn't really expect a clunky ancient artifact so he'd only brought a brief case. He didn't feel particularly hot about leaving it at a hotel either, the help perhaps thinking to pick it up. There was a hotel safe, but he didn't think he could leave it alone with someone else. Besides, at his savings he needed a dwelling space cheap enough that a hotel safe wouldn't be a luxury.
He ended up bartering for a rather stretched blanket from a street vendor which he wrapped around the lyre. There he inquired about a hostel of other cheap accommodations for traveling Americans. His previous study of travel literature gave him a fair idea as to how to follow the directions he was given.
The lyre and his brief case began to grow heavy. His suit was stuffy and uncomfortable. He put his things down to find a place to sit and was rudely bumped. He thought nothing of it for a little while, only to note it was strange for the offending party to not trip over his things, which was a relief.
He tried to collect his thoughts. This lyre was from HADES alright. An ancient lyre in a cave in Thrace? Dr. Greek had been trying to connect dots for months, this seemed a tad obvious. Could it have some special property? It didn't look particularly special. But someone had led him here. It seemed his tracking cookie had performed its duties. It brought him to this place. It hadn't brought him here unannounced.
A fat old Greek lady came be to sit where Dr. Greek was sitting.
“American?” she asked.
“Excellent. I run some accommodations for travelers. So few Americans come here... they only want to look at the famous stuff, or take some adventures in all of Greece's little isles. I'd love to put you up for a few nights, though if you're a businessman looking for upscale...”
“No, I'm fine. What are your rates?” Dr. Greece went to check his wallet. He wanted to calculate how long he might last before picking up the independent plagarized papers business again. Only his wallet wasn't there.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“No. Umm... he checked his pockets. His passport had been in the brief case, but in his hurry he'd left his wallet in an outer pocket. I'm just tired from walking all day. Actually I'm a professor on sabbatical. I prefer to live where I'm staying, if you understand.”
“Yes, I understand. A professor you say? I suppose that's why you sound like such a high Athenian. You must come and stay at my hostel. Travelers always love company. A run a cafe as well. If you would consider giving lessons I might be able to put you up for free.”
“That's quite kind of you, though I'd like to give some recompense,” he lied. His prospects seemed to be a free stay and trying to sell the very thing he'd come to seek in the first place. He just didn't want the woman to know he was penniless.
“Don't concern yourself too much.”
“Thank you for your generosity,” he responded. He could not believe he had been so careless. He checked his pockets again and found only a business card, blank on one side. You have something which does not belong to you, it read.
Dr. Greek found his new lodging much to his liking. Travelers from east and southern Europe seemed to come and go with unusual tales and exotic locales. From the 16 year old French run away to the 51 year old Syrian refuge people come and went, often quite interested in a life Dr. Greek himself found generally uninteresting. But people wanted him to tell the tale and listened with interest—something a tad overwhelming to a professor of college freshman. It was an enjoying experience, a least superficially, but what really concerned him all this time was the lyre.
So while Dr. Greek rested and remembered real meals and conversations that made him feel like a person he also spent a great time scheming about his new artifact, and fretting about who, exactly, might be keeping in an eye out for him. It seemed odd that someone would wait to let him walk out the school with this priceless object and keep it on his person without approaching him in any way. Almost as if he had been an unwitting smuggler, who makes it across borders without knowing he is abetting anything.
Now Dr. Greek considered looking up some of the names of the antiquities dealers he had read about in the papers, but he was convinced he could never get them to take him seriously. The government would like to abscond it with only a modest procurement on a good day and a deportation on another. Really his only trace for information was Cora. She'd found the thing. Perhaps there were details from its resting place she could recall, some important piece of information.
It wasn't with the greatest air of confidence that Dr. Greek observed Cora, waiting for her to leave school like a stalker. But he had no ill intent, he reminded himself, so it shouldn't have mattered how his actions might appear to anyone else.
Cora was not easy to track. She had a tendency to bob and weave as if always anxious to get home. If she were the behavior problems child she seemed to be Dr. Greek imagined she loved playing music at home and merely hated school. In any case she had several routes home from school and seemed to take them at her whimsy. There was little practical way to cut her off, except near her home, which, after this whole embarrassing before seemed like a risk worth taking.
The sun was beating hard and Dr. Greek couldn't help feeling a tad conspicuous waiting around in a three piece suit and reflective shades in Kavala's narrow streets. There weren't many places to hide. At last Cora approached her house and Dr. Greek moved towards her with obvious interest. Then she spotted him and now the game seemed up. She would know he was following her if he just happened to approach her twice, and frustratingly after acknowledging his presence she kept going towards her house. Dr. Greek had to pursue.
He went after her with as much gusto as not to seem suspicious, but Cora was running, not in apparent fear, but likely she was just impatient to get home. Dr. Greek followed her but she made it into her small dwelling place and closed the door before he could initiate conversation. If there were some adult on the other end of the door, it seemed he would have to try the secret government agency hook that worked so well at the school.
He knocked, and hoped Cora would answer, but the door was answered by a Greek woman. Her black hair was thick and her skin almost burnished. There hadn't been many Mediterranean women and Minnesota and he couldn't help loose composure as he looked over her body, which was in evening ware.
“Yes?” she responded.
“If you wouldn't mind I'd like to talk to your daughter. She found an important artifact and my agency would like me to follow up on her discovery.”
“And what agency might that be?” the woman asked bluntly.
“Is she here? It's quite important that I talk to her.”
“Which agency sent you on this inquiry?” the woman wouldn't budge on this point.
“There's been talk of grave-robbing and artifact smuggling and if I could only.”
“You a deaf one. What agency are you working for?”
The phrase HADES almost passed through his lips.
“Fine. I don't work with an agency.”
“But,” the woman continued, “You have the lyre. However did you manage that?”
“Well,” he looked into the woman's dark eyes. “The administrator I saw didn't know a damn thing about it. You obviously do. Now that I think of it, I only wished to talk to your daughter because she was the only one that seemed to know anything. I needn't trick the pair of you if we might have a chat.”
“What do want to talk about professor and make it quick. No time for lying.”
“Professor? I... this sounds stupid... does the lyre belong in this world?”
“Come in,” the woman beckoned. “My name's Electra, database programmer extraordinaire. “
“A computer programmer in this little provincial city?”
“It does grant me a certain degree of anonymity.”
“How did you know I was a professor? I mean, have you hacked my email or something?”
“No, didn't really need anything digital to find that out. A traveler just pick pocketed finds free accommodations rather than beg on the streets.”
“You set me up.”
“You're the one that sent me the essay.”
“Hmm. You're perceptive when you're paying attention.”
“Why did you do it?”
“You can't trust anyone in this business. Bringing in an innocent...”
“You didn't want to take the lyre out yourself.”
“I thought it was under surveillance. But I seem to be mistaken.”
Then Dr. Greek pulled out his business card. You have something that does not belong to you. HADES.
“Son of a bitch,” Electra responded. “Here. Cora, Dr. Greek brought you your lute back. Play it,” she looked down as if ready to scold, “for a few minutes.”
Within moments of her plucking the strings Electra and Greek fell into a deep sorrow and began weeping. The embraced and tried to comfort each other, but they were both inconsolable against some sense of universal despair.
“You can stop...” Electra tried being cross with her daughter, “any time now.” Cora had an impish little grin. It seemed to suit her fancy to play when she wanted to and stop when she wanted to.
“It's Orpheus' lyre,” Dr. Greek responded.
“That was my sentiment as well.”
“It's the closest thing any human has ever used to bring back someone from the land of the dead. But nothing escapes the land of the dead.”
“You're a hacker too, aren't you?”
“You're a computer hacker?”
“Oh, I thought you had guessed. Yes, I'm a hacker.”
“Why would you assume me a hacker. A tracking cookie? You think that was a brilliant idea.”
“Yeah, I saw the tracking cookie. It was too simple. I thought you might be baiting me, she I responded in turn. 'Nothing escapes the land of the dead is occasionally used in my hacker circles to indicate something of major importance.”
“Generally a high security database being compromised. It's usually a wonderful phrase to here, since after all I can program information retrieval programs for databases. It usually indicates a field day.”
“So, I database, like some vault where information, supposedly hidden, cracks open. It's not impenetrable...”
“Nothing escapes the land of the dead. So the database, while hidden, still remains a part of the land of the living.”
“That's the meaning behind the phrase. The information is no longer underground. I imagine anyone ruling the land of the dead, would not enjoy having the lyre of Orpheus in circulation amongst the land of the living.”
“No, and yet it lay in a cave, still waiting to be discovered. That thing should have been deep in the bowels of Hades. Maybe someone brought it back up.”
“Who would do such a thing?” Electra asked before the sound of the lyre rose up again and she and Dr. Greek went back to their profound weeping. When Cora stopped playing the lyre Electra grabbed it, not really capable of anger but out of a desperate exhaustion.