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14th April
posted by amber

Alabaster City

White as alabaster lay the city of Akhetaten along the eastern bank of the slow-moving Nile. Apartment pyramids stabbed the sky, and towers of the space port rose in the distance. Beyond that, the rocket missiles were arrayed like a deadly forest. In less than a decade they would be deployed.

Clad in sheer cotton kilts, the citizens walked in a leisurely fashion from one high end shop to another, into coffee shops or restaurants or museums. Every one of them was tall and attractive. None of them were alive.

Cloaked in invisibility, lest we pollute the beauty of the city, we tourists scuttled among the perfect ghosts.

I first came to Akhetaten as a student of antiquities, of ancient life in the golden age of Earth, but I returned again and again because of love. I was in love with the ghost princess of this the fairest of all cities. And she was the fairest of all princesses, although she was no longer among the living.

I shadowed her like a small dog, ignored but faithful. She had no privacy from me, but that was all right because everything she did was utterly beautiful to me. I would never have done her any harm.

Yet, I did harm her.

I had to be with her, but science offered no way to restore her to life. I had to join her in death. She’d died more than a hundred years ago, but the Jackson-Korba process could bring forward a perfect day in that pre-catastrophe time. If I could reverse the process, I thought I would be able to send my ghost back.

We live a long time in post-catastrophe Earth, sealed in our radiation-free habitats. I had the time to learn the discipline of time manipulation, and develop a theory for reversal of the Jackson-Korba process. I had to do this surreptitiously – regression tourism is one of the few pleasures we have and tinkering with the process had already broken our access to some of the most popular destinations.

I killed myself in the regression chamber with a simple inhaled toxin. I was so excited when I breathed it in to discover that it smelled like cinnamon, sweet and full of promise.

I woke, as we always do after regression, naked and in an alley, but when I stumbled out of the alley, I knew immediately that I’d been successful. The tall lovely people on the avenue recoiled at the sight of my pale gnarled body. One of them shoved me against a marble column. I felt his hands.

I had arrived.

But something was different. Everyone was running, and a strident siren shattered the city’s normally tranquil atmosphere. I looked to the west and saw the missile array elevated and upright, ready to be sent around the globe to answer a threat that turned out never to have existed.

I knew immediately what I’d done – not 2112 but 2121. Reversing numbers was a bad habit of mine which often returned in times of stress.

I ran, knowing where the first retaliatory strike would land and what the result would be.

I’d thought to have nine glorious years with my princess. Instead, I nursed her in the nine days it took her to die.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first line of this story is the first line of The Lost Queen of Egypt, a novel by Lucile Morrison and a very early favourite of mine.

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