This is the fifth and final part of my science fiction adventure. This is an early draft of a second narrative strand not taking place in Alexandria but in Babylon. Both narratives would later come together.
The young Queen sighed and took off her golden crown. It was a heavy one, set with rubies, stiff on the head but she had always admired its intricate carvings. The engravings on the gold showed two streams, the river Euphrates and Tigris, and the surrounding plants represented the fruitful kingdom of Mesopotamia. It was her kingdom, her father’s kingdom, her grandmother’s kingdom, a family that, if you wanted to believe the legends, dated back to Alexander the Great. She was the protector of Euphrates and Tigris, the crown of Babylon. It was a duty, a weight that should not have been imposed on a twenty-nine-year-old woman but here she was.
She upheld a kingdom over two thousand and five hundred years old, its history dating back even longer, back to the dawn of civilisation itself. And she was the epitome of its culture, its traditions and the state. She represented order and science. She was Queen Tiamat and she had to embody all of this and much more.
Tiamat felt a pain in her neck and it came from wearing that fucking crown all morning, she thought. If only two thousand five hundred years ago these idiotic Babylonians would have decided to become a democracy, as the Republic of Europe and the Republic of Alexandria did one thousand eight hundred years ago. Then she would not be feeling this annoying pain. But here she was, stuck in a constitutional monarchy with an economy dwindling and scientists, who, for the first time in her country’s history, appeared to be behind the scientists of Europe and Alexandria.
She knew from experience that this pain might develop into a full-blown headache later today, which annoyed her even more, as she had more royal appointments in the afternoon. With all these problems in front of her, she wondered what her father would have done in this situation. She wondered what her older sister would have done. Afterall, Tiamat had never been trained for this. She was never supposed to be Queen. But one malfunctioning EM- egg in the sky, crashing into the sea had changed everything.
The young Queen tried to focus on something else. She could not be sad and have a headache today. She wondered about this morning’s meeting with her state- ministers. She had made a joke about Babylonian scientists. She thought it was really funny. She had said that after five thousand years you could give the Babylonian scientists just a little break: ‘I mean we have invented the wheel, surgery, poetry, the first alphabet, language so to say, just to name a few. Not to mention that Babylon was also the birthplace of civilisation itself and about one thousand years ago the Babylonians invented the EM- orb and later the EM- egg. Our scientists, our people have been very busy for thousands of years. Let them chill a bit.’
But her state- ministers had little sense for humour, especially the Assyrian and Sumerian state- ministers. These two were as old as Babylon itself, collecting more dust than any antique of the palace.
‘Your majesty, we need more funding for time travel experiments with the Alexandrians. Our Babylonian scientists are so far behind. We cannot let this go. We cannot let Alexandria surpass us in this.’ Her Assyrian state- minister had implored.
‘But whatever they do with certain sciences they can never truly surpass us. The wealth of this kingdom has always thrived on open borders, trade and most of all on languages, on communication with Alexandria, Europe and the rest of the world. Not on some secret science project Professor Marewood is doing in Alexandria. If the TOL party finds out about this, we might be caught up in a debate war. And with the current state of our economy, we cannot afford one. That’s the last thing we need right now. We have had some bad years of unemployment and bad harvest. We all know that our kingdom is set within an unpredictable climate, politically and environmentally. Our first priority must be to focus on our balance with our natural world. Besides, we are still in debt and we don’t need to spend more money on a project so risky.’
This is what Queen Tiamat had said this morning, putting on her most royal and most serious look. Her Babylonian and Persian state- ministers had agreed with her. However, the other three were not convinced at all. This debate with her five state- ministers would have to continue.
She sighed again and tried to stretch her arms but in her flower silk dress this was near impossible. It was a dress made for a Queen to remind parliament who she was. The dress was of a deep sapphire blue with strings of green grass woven within. It was grass from the river Euphrates and the rose and red water tulips which decorated her shoulders along her arms flowed like streams down her dress. It made her look divine. It was a dress that was alive. The fabric was of Babylonian silk, a texture that had to be watered overnight so that the plants and the flowers embroidered within the dress would appear radiant the next morning. Babylonian silk dresses were like delicate flowers. They always had to be taken care of. They were divine but vulnerable. And sometimes, Queen Tiamat suspected that her state- ministers and a lot of other people at court thought about her in this way too.
Maybe she should wear bronze armour in future state appointments. Tell the smiths of Babylon to replicate armours of ancient times, like the armour of Alexander the Great or his wife’s Roxana. Show her state- ministers that she would not stand for secret projects with the SAM party and Alexandria. Her father would have known how to handle this situation. So would her sister. She and Tiamat’s father had always worn all the Babylonian silk dresses with such power and such grace. Tiamat just looked delicate and beautiful in them, but not at all strong and decisive.
She moved her dark hands through the curly black hair that had been flattened by her heavy crown.
‘Zana, please bring me a pot of herbal tea. I think I am getting a headache.’ Tiamat said.
The silver bee- phone next to her, a little metal cube, glowed green and she knew the message was sent. Her handmaiden would be with her in ten minutes.
Tiamat walked over to the grand balcony and looked over her city. It was midday and the temperature had climbed up to 38 degrees. Below her, the Queen’s gardens, the hanging gardens of Babylon unfolded in all imaginable green shades. There were ancient conifer trees and beautiful light green ferns, growing along the yellow and white marble. There were her beloved date palms and other palm trees growing strong. In their shade stood pistachio and olive trees. All of them would soon bear their sweet and salty fruits. Among the taller trees stood dark-leaved berry bushes. And then there were all the flowers. Lavender grew everywhere along the walls. Purple and blue crocuses, the rare dark red roses of Babylon, tulips shining in bright blue, pink and blood- orange spread the sweet scent of nature from the palace to the rest of the city. Birds filled the air with their songs and bumblebees and bees hummed while they were pollinating. And on the highest parts of the palace, when the Queen looked up, there grew the famous snowdrops with their deep green leaves. It appeared as if white and green snow had settled on the roofs of the marble palace.
Queen Tiamat breathed in the scent of nature, the cool air that came from all that green. It was her scent for she was not only Queen of Babylon but also Queen of Nature. She embodied the alliance between humans and nature, a bond forged thousands of years ago. This was why her people had been living and succeeding as a peaceful civilisation for so long.
When Alexandria and Europe came out of their bloody wars and created their republics, the Kingdom of Mesopotamia, Babylon had already stood strong for over one thousand years. Back then Babylon had lent Alexandria and Europe a lot of money to build their republics. Now, it was the other way around. Now, Babylon owed money to Alexandria and Europe.
With her honey eyes Tiamat looked to her right, beyond her garden, towards the city. There stood the great tower of Babel, the tower of language. It was her favourite place in the city, a giant edifice, completely built of light- brown and white marble. Every linguist, every writer came here, as every scientist would eventually visit the library of Alexandria. The tower of Babel, even higher than the palace, scratching the clouds, was the world’s centre of words. Over fifteen thousand linguists worked there, studying over seven thousand languages and their cultures. And another five thousand translingual biologists explored the more than two thousand languages of mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and invertebrates here.
Tiamat was looking forward to the annual Babel celebration of new translingual discoveries in two weeks’ time. Professor Cassiopeia would present her latest discovery of the elephant and hippo dialect to the international committee of translingual biologists and the royal society of Babel. She could not wait!
Tiamat herself was fluent in thirteen languages, which was slightly above the average of languages a Mesopotamian citizen usually spoke. Her father and her sister used to be better in this department as well. Her father spoke twenty-four languages when he was alive, and her sister spoke sixteen. How could she ever fill their shoes?
Languages, the beating heart of cultures, were the pride of the kingdom of Mesopotamia. For thousands of years, Babylon had been the stronghold for languages. Their economy, their trade, their finances, their diplomacy all circled around languages, the written word. And then again, she wondered, why would three of her state- ministers want to move away from the centre of their tradition and invest in time travel? She did not understand.
Tiamat looked on, beyond her gardens, her Babel and the city, all the houses shining white in the midday sun, their splendid gardens sparkling green and blue. In the distance, she could see the glittering river Euphrates and behind it, the EM- egg port of Babylon. Two EM- eggs had just taken off and she watched them go, disappearing on the horizon, their shell reflecting the blue sky.
The scent of the plants and the flowers had cleared her head and she could feel the pain in her neck was ebbing away. Why would her state ministers be so insistent about this Professor Marewood? She could not let this go.
She thought about something she could do. She knew her own Professor Marewood. As it was tradition for every Babylonian royal to study at the University of Alexandria, she had become best friends with Helios Marewood and Phoebe Delacroix. Back then she was just a student, a princess of course, but with hardly any duties upon her. It was a different life, lived by a young girl she did not recognise anymore. She had not seen her university friends since her coronation. How could she? She had all the duties of a Queen to fulfil. She had talked to Phoebe once via Bee- phone but that was almost three years ago.
She wondered if her state- ministers knew about her university life. They had only begun to show interest in her on the night her father and her sister had died. She wondered if they knew that she used to be best friends with a Marewood. If they did not, she would have an advantage by reaching out to Helios first. If his mother and his ex- boyfriend had been working on this time travel project, he surely must know something about this. But if her ministers knew about her old friends then they might have already reached out to them. Who knows, maybe even threatened them not to get into contact with the Queen of Babylon. Maybe they wanted to keep her in the dark, using her as so many former kings and queens had been used. Royal puppets, their strings moved in the dark by the state- ministers. Her father was not one of these. In his lifetime he had invested so much effort and so much money in the tower of Babel and the conservation and protection of the nature of Mesopotamia.
‘No.’ she said and walked back into the golden hall.
She had made her decision.
‘Bee- phone, find me a secure connection line to Helios Marewood and Phoebe Delacroix.’
The silver instrument rose from the dark brown counsel table, hovered in front of her and worked on her request. The Queen could hear it humming, working like a bee and then a green hologram popped up and glowed in front of her face. She read, Secure connection, Calling Helios Marewood…