The people of Atlantis followed new gods like new fashions. They’d worshipped a crusty, old god of the sea, an animal god in the form of a goat, a vulgar fertility goddess with distended belly and swollen breasts. The latest was a god with no name, a god who said he was not a god but a traveler from another world, a god who did not live in the sky or atop some distant mountain but made his home among his worshippers. The Atlantians had never known a god like him.
Spiro and the other acolytes of the nameless god sat on cushions in the temple’s main hall. Golden ornaments representing the stars and planets dangled above them. The High Priest paced back and forth, his angular face cast in shadow by the pale, blue lights. Spiro dared not even breathe as the High Priest began to speak.
“In mainland Greece, they practice a superstitious religion. They tell stories of Zeus and Heracles and Aphrodite. They pray to statues as if these statues might come to life and grant all their wishes.
“But on this island, we lead a privileged existence. Our god may not tell us his name, but we can see he is no statue. We know he is real, not some fanciful story. And we do not wait in vain for his help.
“The nameless god brought us technology thousands of years ahead of its time. He taught us of electricity, the same electricity that powers these lights. He gave us new ointments and elixirs and medicines. I am an old man. I am almost forty, but thanks to the medicines of the nameless god I can expect to live another forty years yet. And he gave us weapons. The barbarians who once plundered our shores and ravished our women now steer clear of us. They speak of Atlantis only in hushed and fearful whispers.”
The other acolytes nodded with understanding, but Spiro remained troubled. Earlier that day, he’d seen something in the market that shook his faith in the nameless god and the god’s scientific teachings. Spiro raised his hand.
“High Priest Boreas,” he said, “the nameless god promised us new weapons even better than the ones he gave us before.”
“That is true,” Boreas said. “He calls them lasers. Where the old guns fired lead bullets, these will fire beams of deadly light. They are incredible, but we must be patient. He will give us the lasers when the time is right. So says the nameless god.”
“So says the nameless god,” the acolytes repeated.
Boreas glanced again at Spiro. The young man fidgeted under the High Priest’s stare.
“We may need those weapons soon,” Spiro said. “I saw an omen today. I fear all of Atlantis is in peril.”
Boreas smiled. “You sound like the foolish Greeks on the mainland. What omen did you see? Did a mirror fall and crack? Did an eagle drop its prey? Did lightning strike the same tree twice? Spiro, you are the wisest of my students. I never expected to hear you speak of omens.”
“But what about the legendary harbinger of doom?” Spiro said. “What about Talie Tappler?”
“The nameless god forbids us from speaking of her!” Boreas snapped.
“But the nameless god speaks of her himself,” Spiro said, trembling. “He mutters her name like a curse word. He whispers it when he sleeps…”
“He is a god,” Boreas said. “He may do as he likes. We are mortal men, and we must obey his commands. More so because we serve as his priests. Do not invoke the harbinger’s name in this temple again.”
“Yes, High Priest,” Spiro said, lowering his face in shame. The other acolytes stared at him. Though Spiro could not sense their thoughts as the nameless god did, he could guess their minds. They’d be full of scorn and mockery for “wise” Spiro.
Boreas continued his lecture. Gradually, the acolytes turned their attention back to the High Priest.
Like other Atlantians, Spiro laughed at the old gods and the old stories, and until today he’d laughed at the story of Talie Tappler as well. In mainland Greece, they called her the muse of time and compared her to Cassandra of Troy. Both women, they said, could foresee the future and all the horror and destruction it would bring; but unlike Cassandra, Talie never tried to stop it, never warned even one person of their impending demise.
Stories like that had no place in a world governed by science, yet today in the market, as Spiro went about preaching in the name of the nameless god, he’d met a strange woman. She wore a blue-trimmed toga shorter even than a harlot’s dress and had hair like burnished gold hanging in sassy curls. The servant attending her was more than a man, like a cross between a man and one of the nameless god’s machines. When the two of them saw Spiro, it was as though they’d been waiting for him, as though they’d known the exact instant when he would arrive.
The woman approached Spiro first. She greeted him with a coy smile and introduced herself. “Hello,” she said, “I’m Talie Tappler.”
* * *
Spiro waited until the other acolytes left before speaking to the High Priest again. “I must ask about the harbinger…” he began.
“This discussion is over!” Boreas shouted. “Go to your chambers. I will hear no more superstition from my own pupil!”
Spiro obeyed, stumbling in his haste. He hurried down the narrow passageway leading to the temple’s east wing, to the small room that served as his quarters. “No more superstition,” he told himself. “No more superstition. No more superstition.”
But the memory of Talie plagued him. He could still see her in the shadows of his mind. She played with her hair. The breeze caught her perfume. Her lips smirked, her voice rang like music, and her violet eyes flashed brighter than fire, brighter than electric light bulbs, brighter even than the eyes of the nameless god himself.
The hour was late. Spiro collapsed in his bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He sat on the floor, trying to calm himself with thoughts of the nameless god… to no avail. He began absent-mindedly fingering the collection of tiny animal bones he kept by his bed. He’d found them in the catacombs beneath the temple, probably part of some long forgotten ritual. Spiro rolled the bones across the floor, listening to the sounds they made as they clattered against each other. He gathered them up and rolled them again, wondering what insight the ancient priests gleaned from this practice. What secrets did the bones reveal?
“I must not wander into superstitious thoughts,” Spiro reminded himself. He stood, leaving the bones where they lay.
Cool air blew in from the window. The moon rose through the sky, the city glowed in neon colors, and Spiro heard the chirping song of a turtledove outside. “Harmonia?” he said. Another chirp came in answer. Rushing to the window, Spiro saw a dark figure huddled in the bushes below.
“Harmonia,” Spiro whispered, “I’m so sorry. I forgot you were coming.”
“Never mind that,” Harmonia answered. “Just let me up!”
Spiro grabbed the rope he kept hidden under his bed and lowered it out the window. Soon, Harmonia climbed inside.
“Oh, Spiro,” she said, flinging her arms around him. “I hid in the temple gardens all day waiting for you, and I overheard the High Priest shouting. What happened? Are you in trouble?”
Spiro opened his mouth then quickly shut it. He had already embarrassed himself in front of the other acolytes. He would not further humiliate himself by giving voice to superstition yet again… not in front of Harmonia.
Harmonia touched Spiro’s chest. She tried to straighten his rumpled tunic.
“Why won’t you say anything?” she asked. “Are you in trouble because of me? Because of what I asked you to do for me?”
Spiro blinked. “No. I forgot about that.”
“You forgot?” Harmonia said. She took a step back, the sorrow on her face deepening. “You forgot?”
“Three times I asked you to speak to the High Priest on my behalf,” Harmonia said, “and three times you’ve ‘forgotten.’ Why won’t you help me? Are you angry with me? Have I done something wrong? I know I cannot be with you as we once were, but if you ever loved me please help me now.”
“Harmonia,” Spiro said, “even if the High Priest granted you an audience with the nameless god, I do not believe the nameless god seeks… female entertainment. He is not like mortal men.”
“Of course not,” Harmonia said. “He is immortal.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. He is not like mortal men. He’s so different than us I don’t know how to describe him, but if he has any desire for sexual companionship, surely he’d prefer a woman of his own kind.”
Harmonia glared at Spiro. “I am not some common whore,” she said. “I have a highly exclusive client list and provide companionship in many ways. I sing. I play the flute and the lyre. I write poetry. I am educated in history and philosophy. Many of my clients enjoy a healthy philosophical debate. I even understand some of that–what do you call it?–science.
“I am among the most accomplished women in all of Atlantis, second only to Lady Electra. Do you think I could have achieved so much if I’d stayed in my father’s house, ever the dutiful daughter? Do you think I could have done what I’ve done if I’d become some man’s wife, obedient to my husband unto death? No. I’d rather be a slave.
“I am proud of the life I chose for myself, but now Lady Electra grows jealous. I am younger than she. I can better entertain the men, and she fears I will surpass her fame. She’s spreading vicious rumors about me, and I’m starting to lose customers.
“Spiro, if I became consort to the nameless god, no one would listen to Electra’s lies. No one would doubt my worth. Please, Spiro. Please help me.”