Resurrecting the Drowned
As she walked along the narrow bridge, her sodden hair hanging in wiry knots around her neck, she became aware with a faint irritation behind her eyes that a handful of consoles across the metropolis were already tuning into Medusa’s widecast channel. She blinked, trying to hold it down; a peak-time ratings spike could lead to full-on migraine disorientation, but she’d deal with that if it came.
The few pedestrians rushing past as the rain intensified paid her little heed, maybe visibly shivered at the most, cocooned as they were in high boots, transparent overcoats, and bell-shaped Japanese umbrellas. A girl in a skin-tight suit and no waterproofs may have been unusual to the point of bizarre a few years ago, but now rainpunks were just unsettling, embarrassing, and slightly pitiful.
By the time Medusa was standing on the bridge overlooking the park, the Thames Wetlands were almost entirely deserted of human traffic. Shuttles still carved their wedge-like wakes on the river, but the water reflected the shadows of the heavy sky. It was early afternoon, but as she stood on the edge, she pulled on night-vision goggles along with breathing gear.
An unassuming sight on the bridge: slender, dark, limp, alone. Once she hit the river the transformation was immediate. Her powerful swimmer’s body cut through the water with practiced, effortless strokes, streamlined and hydrodynamic. She stood out against the glistening, rippling surface, bubbles of light sparkling behind her. Water-plants waved as she passed, her hair spiralling about her in response, the fibres woven into her sea-snake locks coming to vibrant life. And she was not alone: thousands of sparks raced through her head as console after console joined the show.
She struggled to retain focus. The connection to the exo-net was strong. She swam onward.
The old sculpture park was now beneath the wetlands; too shallow to be troubled by shuttle traffic, too far from land to be visited by tourists. Swimming between statues like overgrown graves, cracked by the roots of black weeds, monuments to the long-forgotten dead. The show was starting. Yet more consoles tuned in. She picked a figure.
A black basalt bust, reproduction of a famous Egyptian king, his head as high as she was tall. She caressed his surface, still smooth and cool after so long under the water. Her eyes saw almost nothing now, her vision overtaken by the darkness of his eyes, the cut of his jaw, the curve of his cheekbones. Her snakes probed his edges and his shadows. She breathed his air. His heat filled her head.
Behind the scenes, invisible to the audience and almost unconscious to herself, software was at work, analysing images, collating data, mining through names, attestations, relationships, regal decrees, and tomb inscriptions. The long-dead statue was starting to come to life.
“Speak to us!” she whispered, and a ripple of excitement built up behind the consoles tuned into her channel. “Speak to us!” she begged, and viewers gasped at the sensuality in her voice. “Speak to us…” followed the echo of Medusa’s cry.
The ghost’s voice was widecast to all subscribers on her channel.
“Hesebet a’ibtet shemew ne net pr-atew ptiwemys a’irm glewpteret tetyif senet net hertewen. Tet pishten pet wereh pet’awy net-a’iw netyf tedyew a’ha’ net-a’iw wen metew sehemet ta-meneh.” His voice was cool, firm, and arrogant. She almost panicked when she could not understand his words, but held it down, searching for an answer.
His pitch rose as his temper frayed, until he was bellowing in rage at the lack of response or respect he was receiving from his audience.
“Ptiwemys a’irm glewpteret netnetrew net prew a’irm pet wehb ne tigesnetrewes a’irm netnetrew…!”
Medusa shut him down, dizzy with fright at his sudden anger. She reeled, trying to still the spinning of the dead sculptures around her. She had to regain control. Several consoles were tuning out every second, her audience share plummeting.
She darted blindly across the park, laid her hands on the first statue she met. A rough-finished bronze figure, green with crystals, but his boyish face, curly hair, snub nose and sad eyes all clear. Medusa touched him. Her snakes entered his eyes and mouth and found his voice. She asked him to speak.
“Where the hell am I?” he slurred, spitting faintly. “How much did I drink last night?”
“Tell us about you,” Medusa urged, pulling back to give him space, one hand keeping a grip on his open collar.
“I like the taste of whiskey,” he said with a charming, crooked voice. “But I must have drunk eighteen last night. Anything can happen when a man gets that stupid.”
“What do you dream?” She tried again, hoping that a philosophical question might elicit a more useful response.
“Dead men naked,” he laughed, maybe mumbled some more words; he was indistinct. “Sinking through the sea. Good God my head hurts.”
Medusa felt listeners leaving her again. Whoever this drunk ghost was he wasn’t helping, and she was losing interest. She gently shut him down, blinking sparks from her eyes and silently apologising to her audience. She scudded through the aisles of dead figures, looking for someone who might have something to say.
The curves of a red rock form caught her eye, and she circled it once. A proud female figure sat, hair flowing, face raised to the heavens; voluminous skirts ballooned formlessly all around her, but bare breasts were pert like ripe fruit. Medusa smiled at the woman’s natural beauty. Using a sexy image to sell the show might be cheap, but after two failures she was desperate. She laid her hands on the statue.
She felt the face, traced the proud chin, slender nose, ran her fingers through the wavy, auburn hair. Felt the sinews in the strong neck, the hollow of her breastbone, the plaits of the open robe. Held the weight of the preraphaelite breasts, experienced a hot stirring inside herself as the nipples firmed beneath her palms, lingered a few moments longer perhaps than was decent. Her snakes explored the shadows at the edge of the robes, under the flowing hair.
“Speak to me,” she whispered into the woman’s lips, stealing a kiss that was not for the audience. Her snakes caressed like a jealous lover.
“Will you listen, if I speak?” the woman asked sadly. Medusa leaned back, heart racing. She was listening.
Tens of thousands were listening. Word was spreading, and sparks were appearing all over the board.
“You didn’t listen when I told you I couldn’t breathe,” she chided gently. “You were cutting down my forests, and burning the black blood of my earth, until my air was so hot with soot that you barely knew me. My children suffered. You, my beloved children, suffered. But I am still here.
“I may burst the banks of my rivers. I may batter your homes with the fury of my seas. I may weep perpetually upon your bloated metropolis. I may confound your every effort to understand and control me. But I am still here.
“You may blister my skin and kill my children. You may drown in my tears or starve in my fertile crescents. You may choke in my mountains or fall before my breath. But you will not kill me; I am so much more than that which gives you life. When they say that I have a fever, they mean you have a fever. I am fine. I shall still be here in a million years, but you will be a dirty stripe in a layer of rock. I shall be breathing and producing offspring of devastating beauty, but you will have burned yourselves out of my pores and fallen to the side like Autumn leaves.
“I do not hate you, my young lovely.” And her voice was a gentle touch that made Medusa’s heart leap.
“You have hurt yourselves more than you can ever hurt me. It is not too late to make things worse for yourselves, you know. More half-hearted treaties and well-meaning campaigns and grand-sounding words not backed-up with radical action, and the next fifty years will hurt you more than the last.
“But it is not too late to make it better. If you are serious about changing the way you treat me, I can still become a home that nurtures and supports you again. Tipping points have not been reached. Remember you can only blame yourselves if you fail, and only you can heal me. But you still can. I am still here.
“Now stop listening to me, and talk to each other. You can only do this together. Go, my lovelies. You are all beautiful children.”
Medusa was as still as the petrified monuments that surrounded her. In the silence broken only by her own breathing, she noted only distantly the record audience of consoles not tuning out to find entertainment elsewhere, but still watching, listening, digesting the words of the most wonderful ghost she had ever raised.