This is something of a followup from yesterday. I was asked if I also did scenes or other bits to help me work out worldbuilding. The answer then was yes, and here's some of the evidence of that
Specifically, this is a scene set in one of those alternate universes -- one where the physics is set to fantasy/exotic instead of 'science fiction.' The high concept is relatively simple -- assume for the moment that the gods of the world were all real and struggled for dominance, and assume that the Greek Pantheon got that dominance around 13 B.C. and never let go. All the other gods are still out there, but they pretty much (happily or not) live under the dominance of the Greeks.
So. Here's a little ditty set in that setting, just to help get a feel for the world. I have to give action Mason Kramer a credit and a thank-you as part of this. And of course I'll stick the whole thing behind a cut lest the world become a dark and forbidding place. Later on, when I set up my writing groups on Dreamwidth so they'll pass through, stuff like this will be stuck on the writing filter and those not interested won't have to see.As for how this differs from... writing with Intent (as in, Intent of Publication) -- well, this is in a way the textual equivalent of sketchbook pages. Before I can actually write about this world, I have to try a few things out, see how they run, feel how the characters feel, explore a few things... it's like doing six different sketches of a character in a sketchbook -- they're all a bit rough, perhaps, but they give the artist a chance to work out what works best visually for the character before drawing him 'for real.'For now, please click through if you actually are interested, and please enjoy the cheese plate.
Alice Charidotes, bearer of charms and the swift wind, wrapped both her hands around the thick coffee mug. She lifted it to her lips, sipping. It was hot and steaming, the mug warm in her hands. Perfect.
"We're having some issues with Interfleet," Andreus was saying. Alice could never remember the young god's lineage -- a British god, she thought, siring a child off one of the Napaeae. Sometimes, lineage could be confused. It didn't matter -- he was a handsome man, with dark hair that smelled of sea air, and the ruddy skin of an outdoorsman. He was known to be strong of body and clever of mind -- not an unusual description for a god, but Alice thought he was special anyway.
"Oh what now?" she asked, setting the now-empty mug down. One of the cup-bearers slid closer to refill it.
"The usual. It's spring, so the armies are on the march. Some of the weaker lilies among Interfleet's elite continue to ask if our membership in the Parauniversal Alliance is legitimate, since we are not 'one world, unified in peace.'" Andreus shook his head. "Honestly, those people."
"Sounds like more United Earth twaddle," Alice said. "I remember when we first signed the Mutliversal Accord. They're a provincial lot -- if everyone doesn't do it the way they do--"
"I know, I know." Andreus sipped his own coffee. "Honestly, it weakens them. Time was they were the ideological core of Interfleet. Now every new generation on their world seems lessened." He shook his head, chuckling. "I was talking to Peter of Bridgeport -- do you know Peter?"
"I don't think so?" Alice considered. "Mm -- he feels familiar, though. He must have sacrificed to me. Feels like a good kid."
"Good kid, you say. He's general of the Armies of Hartford City-State."
"Oh, well, that is impressive." Alice smirked. The entire population of Hartford City-State was half that of Dallas alone. Austin City-State had almost eight times as many people. And Hartford City-State was always in danger of being overwhelmed by the armies of nearby Albany.
"Be nice. That's my home you're impugning."
"All respects to the Lord of Algonquin Forest," Alice said, her smile growing impish. "So what did General Peter of the land of insurance have to say?"
"He says that the armies of Hartford alone could take United Earth -- that between their lack of preparation and their lack of will they'd fall over themselves to surrender lest we actually hurt some of them."
"I think Peter underestimates United Earth," Alice said. "At least, he underestimates their machines. Especially since so many of our resources won't work in their universe."
"I think you're right -- at least about the machines. But that's a question of resources, not resolve." Andreus leaned back. "If there were some kind of attack -- the Harvesters, say -- United Earth wouldn't have the will to repel it."
"That's why they have allies, and Interfleet to coordinate," Alice said. "And that's why no matter how much they complain about our way of life, they're not about to seriously push. United Earth may have utopia, but they need some good old fashioned barbarians backing it up."
"Utopia." Andreus snorted. "I spent three years there, studying. A fascinating place, but it has its problems like any."
"Be that as it may, I've got to get home," Alice said, handing her mug to the cup bearer and nodding. "If Interfleet or the Parauniversal Alliance gives us real trouble, let me know."
"But they won't?"
"But they won't." Alice stood, stretching. She was grace incarnate, of course, and her movement was enough to attract the glance of almost everyone in the room, male or female, man or god. Even Andreus's eyes flicked over Alice's sleek form. Alice smiled just a touch, adjusting the train of her tunic. It was a golden yellow, with the red, white and blue hem embroidery of Austin, and it was if anything slightly short. But then, Alice liked to draw attention to her legs.
Andreus stood, leaning to kiss her -- the warm, dry kiss of equals. "Be well, sister," he said. They weren't relatives, of course. But there are things gods said to one another.
"And you. Try to restrain your general's cross-universal military ambitions."
"I don't know why I even try to talk to you."
Alice's smile turned impish, and then she stepped away and was gone, darting along the columns of the League building, and out the open gates into the spread of the Philadelphia Acropolis. Once upon a time Philadelphia had been the City-State for the region, but wars and time had weakened it. Still, tradition placed the home of the League of the Americas here, which let it call itself the Capital of the Americas whether or not any of the other City-States paid it any mind. That was enough to keep the Philadelphians happy even under Harrisburg rule.
Alice's movements were too fast for any man or most God to see, of course, as she darted through the Acropolis and stepped into the sky. The winds shifted as she did so, her run taking her over the edge of the horizon, her footfalls leaving light clouds in their wake. She swept past the forests and over the river and onto the fields and plains, following the curve of a path only she could sense. She swept past city and prairie and desert, down south now into her native lands.
She circled Mount Bonnell, where the Austin Acropolis gleamed. It was open and inviting -- the usual ancient flourishes combining nicely with the Southwestern and Native flair -- and in the full flush of the morning's business. She touched down just inside the gates, still at a run as she entered the broad center court, but slowing now. Nearby, Stanley Ben-Navon was conducting lessons on the solarium steps, his students somewhere between intrigued and bored. One of them -- a young man of fourteen years with sandy hair, braced on one side by a girl with light grey skin and a black chiton and on the other with an olive skinned girl with yellow eyes and a yellow chiton -- met Alice's glance as she walked by, and gave a slightly weak smile. Timothy was the youngest of the politicians in the Austin Parthenon, but he still needed his lessons.
Alice had mostly set the Salon's students out of her thoughts when she felt a caress over her spirit. "Mistress Alice?" she heard whisper -- a voice in her thoughts, without sound.
Yes, Timothy? she thought back, pushing slightly. Timothy's gift, besides the memories and wisdom of his progenitors, let him hear even a goddess's thoughts, when she allowed.
"Your.... your train. I mean, your skirt's train, in back...." the boy's mental whisper sounded strained and uncomfortable.
Alice smoothly slid a hand behind her, feeling. The tunic's short skirt had flipped during her run across the continent, and had gotten tucked into the golden cord she used as a girdle. Smoothly she untucked it and settled it back into place. So, should I ask why you happened to be looking, or just ask your opinion? she thought back, amusement coloring her thoughts.
She felt Timothy's embarrassment palpably. "Tiger-print?" he asked, sheepishly.
Alice giggled audibly. It's a swimsuit bottom, she sent back. I did a morning swim at Dover.
"I understand, but... tiger-print?"
Pay attention to your lesson. Scamp. Alice ascended the pink marble steps up to her Temple. She absently acknowledged the obeisances that visitors, supplicants and acolytes alike made as she passed through. It was well known that beseeching the goddess for a boon without invitation was a sure path to her displeasure, so Alice passed through the outer temple without hassle.
"Lady," Elizabeth said smoothly as Alice crossed into the inner Temple. "I trust your trip was pleasant?"
"The swimming was wonderful," Alice said, leaning to kiss the cheeks of her High Priestess. A formal greeting between a goddess and even her High Priestess demanded proskynesis, but Alice and Elizabeth were close, and Alice had long chosen to favor the mortal with the more intimate greeting. In private, at least. "You should have come with me."
"And spend hours at the League of the Americas bantering with Egotistians and Traditionalists? No thank you." Elizabeth's thoughts were clear and warm -- the priestess had been a trained physician and a sibyl certified as a therapist before meeting Alice, who had been in disguise at the time. She still possessed her gifts, enhanced by the goddess's favor, and her devotion and their mutual friendship had opened Elizabeth's heart and mind to Alice's sight.
"It wasn't so bad. Antonie wasn't even there, bless his Gallic charms."
"It's not the god. It's his followers."
"Good devotion is so hard to cultivate." Alice turned back-to Elizabeth, who began to undo the goddess's tunic and remove it. "What's on tap."
Elizabeth's thoughts shifted, annoyed slightly. "Master Brutus Worth is waiting in the Receptory. I told him you might be some time but--"
Alice giggled. "But he said he would wait. Don't try to out-will Bruce, Lil. It never works."
"My Lady is wise," Elizabeth said, slightly coolly, kneeling to peel the bikini bottoms off of Alice, and unwind the cords from her sandals.
"Besides, Robert is supposed to arrive soon. Wouldn't you expect Bruce--"
"Brutus has perfectly acceptable apartments in the Assemblyman's Hall. If Robert wants to see him--"
"We don't play that game, Lil," Alice said. Not for the first time, either. Well, nothing said that the High Priestess had to approve of all her goddess's decisions. She just had to abide by them.
"Dallas isn't playing games of any kind, Lady. They say they've added another two hundred thousand soldiers to their rolls."
"Really? Two hundred thousand? Hm. I wonder if we should invade Oklahoma."
"I don't think they're looking outside the City-State, Lady."
"Do you have statistics on sacrifices and obeisance by the Dallas armies and nobility?"
"I... haven't checked lately."
Alice's lips quirked into a smile, even as two handmaids applied scented oil to her skin. "Well, I don't really need to check, do I. They're showing me great respect. I have little reason to be offended by their ambitions."
Elizabeth bit her lip. "My Lady is wise," she said again. The polite way of showing disapproval.
"Then have faith in that. I'll see Bruce, of course."
"Of course." She nodded to one of the handmaids, to bring a more formal chiton.
"Not that one," Alice said, smiling slightly. "The purple doric."
Elizabeth paused. "You might want to consider the message you might be sending--"
"I might at that. The purple doric."
Elizabeth glanced at the handmaid, who had frozen in place. It wasn't the girl's place to disagree with either the goddess or her High Priestess if she could help it. She relaxed at Elizabeth's curt nod, selecting the purple silk chiton and bringing it over.
Elizabeth took it from the handmaid and began to drape it around Alice, affixing it at the shoulders with golden fibulae. As with all doric chitons it was sleeveless, but it was cut to highlight Alice's bare sides and legs. She bound the golden girdle around Alice's waist, to (barely) preserve her modesty, then added a faux girdle below Alice's breasts, not binding around but merely accenting. The handmaids arranged the goddess's hair and added her necklace and earrings as well.
Alice glanced in the mirror. She posed slightly, and made a slight adjustment, then nodded approval. "When Robert gets here, please greet him and bring him back to the arboretum," she said to Elizabeth.
"Of course." She smiled, slightly sardonically. "Have fun."
"Whether you approve or not?"
"I always approve of your having fun, Lady."
Alice giggled. "Diplomatically said, Lil." She headed through the rear entrance, and up the back stairs.
Master Brutus Worth was, by any measure, a remarkable man. He had followed the path of the hero, forging himself in battle and seeking his fortune in adventure, but he had also been a success in business. Often the First Citizen of Dallas and more than once considered as Archon of all of Austin City-State, despite his not coming from Austin proper, Brutus had wealth, position and family, coupled with strength of will and an idealistic core. And unlike most noblemen, Brutus did not claim divine blood -- most noble families tied their lines back to some god or other as a matter of course, and more than one Assemblyman with ambition implied some god or other may have even cuckolded his father. Not so Brutus.
He turned to face Alice as she entered the Receptory. He smoothly went through the ritual of proskynesis, prostrating himself before the goddess and murmuring a formal greeting. As with Elizabeth, Alice would have favored him with a higher standing formal obeisance, but Brutus Worth would not hear of it.
Alice acknowledged it, and bade him rise silently. "Elizabeth's even less polite about you than usual," she said, smiling slightly.
"She used to like me more," Brutus said. "A little more, anyway."
"Your armies weren't massing for an attack against Austin then."
The Assemblyman's lips quirked. "They're not my armies," he said. "I don't have a current commission, and the city Boule doesn't answer to me."
"Don't kid a kidder, Bruce." Alice moved closer, tracing the man's chest with her fingertip. He wore a formal tunic, white with gold. His family had always affected Roman styles. "They wouldn't begin to move without your word."
Bruce shifted, sliding a hand behind Alice, slipping it between the folds of her chiton to cup the small of her bare back. She slid against him, her smile soft and intimate. "Perhaps not," he said quietly. "But if they believe I'm not looking out for their best interests, I'll lose any influence over them. Believe that, Alice."
"So it's to be a war? You know we've cemented an alliance with Antonio -- their armies will stand with ours. We have Round Rock behind us too, and Christ's Bay--"
"And we have Houston, Galveston, Lubbock and Angelo. On paper Austin can't hold out."
"Battles aren't won on paper," Alice said. "And do not forget -- Lee Hephaistos, Samantha Phantasos and Efialtis Phobetor all support and favor Austin." Alice paused. "As do I."
Bruce smiled slightly, leaning to kiss her hair. "I give all honor and respect to the Tinker, the Mask and the Dark Horse," he murmured. "But Shadowed Drake, Ariel Hecata and mad Trudi support us -- and their aspects are far more warlike."
"Beautiful Lady of the Wind... the armies salute and sacrifice to you. Your temples in Dallas and Houston are laden heavy with gifts. And I can already tell you that should things come to war, your Temple and the Austin Acropolis would be sacrosanct. Indeed, should Dallas become ascendent, then Austin could become what it truly should be -- the city of Alice Charidotes, bringer of charm." He kissed the side of her head. "Maker of music." He kissed again. "Healer of--"
"That's enough," Alice said, stepping back. She was slightly flushed. Even years later, Bruce could still make her feel like that. "You're assuming I won't be willful and petulant and decide to support Austin anyway."
"Yes, I am." Bruce smiled a bit. "Your first love isn't this city, Alice. It's this land. If you felt that Dallas would do it justice -- and do you honor -- there's only so much you'll stand behind Austin."
"My first love is the land," she agreed. "But my second is my city."
"Then I should think you'd want to avoid bloodshed, Lady. After all, if the Assembly were to declare Dallas ascendent, and the Parthenon agree--"
"How many Austinian Assemblymen would be out of position if they did that?" Alice asked. "Dallas already has as many Assemblymen as we have."
"Dallas has millions more citizens. One Dallasian complaint is that the Assembly doesn't reflect the will of the populace."
Alice smiled a bit more. "Perhaps. But does Austin stand for the good of the populace, Master Brutus?"
Bruce looked at Alice, then looked away. "Yes," he said, simply.
"Then why do you press me on this, Bruce?" Alice stepped closer again, sliding against the man. "You say my first love is the land, and that's true. But your first love is the people -- all the people. Not just Dallasians. Why would you endanger governance you know is already to the good."
"Because people become restless," Bruce said, holding Alice more tightly. "Because they make bad decisions when they perceive inequity. Because most men do not consider the needs of all the people when they make their decisions -- they consider their own needs. And because I would rather see what is to come happen without bloodshed."
"People fight, Bruce. Soldiers fight. They do it for honor, they do it for bounty, and they do it because they enjoy it. If you don't like that, you can always move to United Earth."
"I couldn't do that," Bruce murmured.
"Because the people of United Earth do not know the name of Alice Charidotes, and I will not go among such unenlightened people."
Alice smiled a bit. "You'll stay a while? Robert will be here at any time. He may be here already."
"I can't," Bruce said. "I have a delegation that's waiting for me. If I tarry too long here, they may make a decision without me. As it is, I can tell them that right now the goddess's favor is still firmly with Austin, and that may give us some leeway moving forward."
"I thought you said my favor wasn't that firm." Alice smiled a touch.
Bruce shrugged. "What I say to my delegation may not quite match what I would say to my goddess, much less to the mother of my son."
Alice smiled a bit more. "Well said. But you should still see him."
"Send him to me before he leaves. Unless he ships out too quickly."
Alice arched an eyebrow. "So what do you think of his decision?"
"To join Interfleet? I am proud of his spirit and his ambition."
"You're not bothered? He won't be pursuing the hero's path or making something of himself here, as soldier or anything else."
"That's exactly right, my Lady."
Alice looked at Bruce sidelong.
"If he were here, and war came, he would take up arms for Austin," Bruce said, quietly. "If war comes, you know I will take up arms for Dallas. I have seen any number of plays where a father and son meet on opposite sides of a battlefield. You will forgive me if I do not want to live one of them."
Alice smiled a bit more. "That, I think, I can forgive readily.
Alice was not a fan of Interfleet's uniforms.
Oh, she supposed they were snappy enough. But they were essentially coveralls or jumpsuits, and they just looked so common, like the kind of thing a laborer would wear to work. She knew that Interfleet had a form of the formal tunics for their officers who wanted to fit in socially when on 'Olympus Nikiforosh' -- or what Alice thought of as 'the real world.' However, Robert had elected to wear his duty uniform. The uniform was very dark green with accents in kind of a mustard yellow. It had leg pouches, trouser pockets below the belt -- which itself had various machines on it, and a high collar. Robert's golden insignia -- a lieutenancy -- was on the collar, and the whole thing seemed somewhat immodestly tight.
But then, Alice was never overly concerned with modesty. "I thought you were going to be wearing the purple," she said by way of greeting.
Robert sighed. "I'm in operations," he said. "Operators wear myrtle. Scouts wear burgundy. Technicians wear tyrian purple. We've been over this."
"Well, it's ridiculous. Officers should be in purple."
"There are officers in all three active duty divisions, Mother."
"What color does the Captain wear?"
"It depends on the ship."
"And your ship? What is it called again?"
"The Evening Song. Captain Davis wears green, just like I do."
"See? Absurd." She smiled a bit more. "You look good in that."
"Thank you." He smiled a bit, sardonically. "And you hope I'm not seen in it?"
"I didn't say that! I have nothing but respect for Interfleet and its officers. If I didn't, would I have agreed to let my son--"
"Is that what we're calling it now, Mother? Agreement?"
Alice pursed her lips. "That's as good a word as any."
Robert looked away. "I didn't do this to hurt you, Mother."
Robert looked back. "No. Mother... Interfleet means something to me. They're exploring infinity. Moving between universes. Seeing and learning--"
"And that sounds like better adventure than you could get here, as a soldier or a philosopher or--"
Robert bit his lip, looking down. "Mother?"
"Are there any shores left unlanded, here? Are there any mountains left unclimbed? Are there any peoples left unmet?"
"There are always mysteries," Alice murmured.
"Mother, the Evening Song is an exploratory craft. When we transvert, it will be to a land none of our people have ever seen. When we meet new nations or new peoples, I'll be the first Austinian to do it." He laughed, almost helplessly. "Don't you see? I could strive with men and Gods here. I could be a great thinker or a hero or a businessman, and maybe even forge a legend for myself as something more than 'Son of Alice.' But I wouldn't be the first. I'd just be the latest."
Alice smiled, sadly. "You're not the first of our world to join Interfleet by a long shot. There were even two Austinians commissioned last year."
"But they won't have gone where the Evening Song goes. There's always more to explore, mother. The multiverse really is infinite."
"Yes. Yes it really is."
Robert took a deep breath. "I... it would mean a lot to me if I had your blessing, Mother."
"You have my consent already."
Alice turned and looked out the window. This part of the temple was part of the outer wall of the Austin Acropolis. She could see the lake and river below her, and the sprawl of the city proper beyond that. If she concentrated, she could feel the residents -- thousands upon thousands of them, with their own hopes and dreams and beliefs. She could feel every time one of them took her name in vain, or beseeched her for help, or gave a few drachmas to a begger in her honor. Every one of them had a greatness in them.
But none of them were Robert. And she couldn't blame him for wanting a different life than that.
"You have my blessing, Robert. You and your ship." She reached out, touching his forehead with the tips of her fingers. There was a slight tingle between the two of them.
"My Lady of Lake Austin and the Swift Wind is generous," Robert murmured, bowing down in a form of proskynesis, appropriate to the mortal child of a goddess.
"Rise, Robert Alicios, Lieutenant of Interfleet, and look me in the eye," Alice said, her voice soft, but strong.
They embraced, then. And for a moment, Alice could pretend the man she was hugging -- the man who already looked older than she did -- was her little boy.
"Are you crying?" he asked then.
"Not hardly," Alice said, snuffling slightly and wiping her eyes with her fingertips.
"You are. You're entirely crying."
"Don't contradict me. Besides, aren't you on a schedule?"
"You're changing the subject."
"Well, that's my right. You're in my Temple." She squeezed and let you. "You should visit your father."
"Mama Lil said he was here."
"He couldn't stay. And you should see him before you go. He's proud of you, you know."
"I'm proud of him. He's not too bad. You know. For a Dallasian."
Alice swatted Robert's shoulder lightly. "Don't be crass."
"Is it going to be war?" Robert asked, quieter now.
Alice shrugged. "Probably."
Robert shook his head. "Insane."
"Well, yes. Anyway. You should visit your father. Really, we should have a celebration -- something to send you off properly."
"You know that's not my--" There was a chirruping sound. "Excuse me please, Mother." Robert slid out what looked like a small glass box, lightly tinted gold. In his hand, images seemed to play over its surface. "Alicios here."
"Alicios, this is Evening Song. Confirm receiving, over?"
"Confirmed and locked, Evening Song. Go ahead."
"General recall, Lieutenant. Please convey our respects to the Lady of Lake Austin and return to ship as quickly as possibly -- as always by her leave." Alice half-smiled at that. Interfleet officers didn't often worship the gods, but they knew how to show them their due.
"Understood. Alicios out." Robert cleared the display and put the machine away. "By your leave, Mother -- it sounds like I won't have time to visit my father."
"Of course. I'll send your respects."
"And my love, please."
Alice smiled a bit more at that. "Of course.
"Mother..." he squeezed her hands. "I know I've been away at the academy and all but--"
"But this really is goodbye. I know." She squeezed his hands back. "You and your ship have my blessings. Couple those blessings with prudence, and make sure you come back in one piece."
"We'll do our best."
They embraced once more.
"By your leave, Lady?"
Robert backed slowly away, to the proper distance, then turned on his heel and marched out. It was more formal than he had ever been in leaving her presence, but Alice understood. He wasn't just her son, now. He was an officer in Interfleet. He was responsible for their reputation on this world like all other Interfleet officers.
"And dress warmly!" she called after him. "Some of those universes are having an ice age!"