The Centurionaut

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THE CENTURIONAUT 

Copyright © Joel Rowan Morgan, May 2013

In response to the ANTA LP, Centurionaut (Thrones & Dominions) – Released June 14th 

The air is wet but it is not raining, nor has it been recently. The cloud cover has trapped the minimal heat of the day, but there is a chill in the air that’s unbecoming of April – it is both hot and cold at the same time. I want it to rain – for freshness, for camaraderie – and I want to be in the city I was born in, walking to the pub, with the weather just the same – on the edge of something – and money burning a hole in my pocket. I want it more than I want to be anywhere, doing anything – more than writing, more than tears, or any other unbridled passion.

Popularity means nothing with a pint under my claw-hand revolving the glass; I haven’t felt that for nearly a year and a half. At the bar with faces around me, or in the corner, watching. Alive – but dead with it – deadened but more alive – dead-end – options decreasing, or increasing – whatever, whichever way – no matter to me – drip-drop goes the money clock.

I keep not drinking because I know I will drink again.

I am Finch – just Finch, forget the Eldon P. I am forty-one years old, I have short brown hair and a feral pointy nervousness about my aspect – especially in my eyes – that only disappears when I smile, which is rare these days. Normally when I write it’s for somebody other than myself, but recently, things have been happening to me that I feel take precedence over the local news. It started with a dream, a dream I couldn’t put my finger on, and now it’s almost real, due to the soundtrack. It’s also complicated, and hard to put in to words, as if life has been glazed over and another world is there in everyday reflection. Whether the music comes from the other world, or has made the other world, I can’t tell – I can’t be sure – but I intend to find out, tonight, now that I’ve finished making the Centurionaut suit. Yes, ok, I think maybe a little more context is called for.

I got hold of the new record by progressive-rock group Anta, named Centurionaut. On the first listen my dream came back to me, as if the two were penned in the same space – opposing and complimentary sides of the same coin. Now, every waking moment has an overlay of figures from the dream – where the doorway is ajar – but if the album is playing then the doorway opens further, and the figures become almost fully formed characters, whom I’ve loosely describe as fictional, not knowing their origin, only their ‘otherness’; they are now real to me, or getting that way – as real as the people in the crowds, the shoppers, the boozers, the faces of past lives – and it’s easy to tell who is who, for the Centurionauts are dressed in a uniform of red and gold, with winged helmets that enhance their collective strength and beauty, yet bely their destructive tendencies. I thought that I’d do anything to avoid relapse, but I know I’m not suffering delusions. I walk with an army of angels, as one plane bisects another.

You see the thing that strikes you about music like this, is that its composers know what all great composers know, that music is a portal – and in the case of Centurionaut, it can also be a map. The rose, water, and the vase, are all collections of atomic particles, whereas music is patterns of material and substance you cannot grab hold of but can manipulate just the same. Music can form in dead patterns like the vase, or in a unique and beautiful rarity, blooming and dying, or it can become another living force, a cyclical ecosystem and a conduit like water, manipulating and creating more life within itself. Why I have been chosen to witness the ethereal powers of Centurionaut made into flesh I do not know, but I know that it is real, for if we cannot trust ourselves to know what is real and what is not, then we are lunatic mad persons, truly, madly, deeply.

*

I, Finch of the earth, prepare to join my band of otherworldly citizens; to do that I know I must first look the part, in order to feel the part, in order to play the part. So, I dress myself in science fiction clothing reminiscent of my TV youth; cutting edge manmade fibres, machine stitched at home, with the record on, and the lights of legion carrying craft passing through the night skies out through the window.

Now I place the helmet on my head – inbuilt communications system and stereo speakers, translucent visor to reveal the nobility of my features but no emotion. I have pockets for documents, a locket of blonde hair, and a weapons belt with easy access to electroshock bolt guns and the pause/play button of my mp3 player; I’m fired up, but holy serene – part of the family, and ready to disembark – ready to be reimbursed for the effort I’ve put in.

I press play, and open the window to climb out onto the fire-escape; the sun is low in the west, and twin vistas overlap to reveal a new urban arcadia. I tread firmly out onto new walkways and begin to walk, in time signatures, across the stepping stones – appearing mathematically in step – that lead on through the airspace above green living; rank and file legionaries, fellow but lesser subjects of the cause, are filtering like me, towards their docking stations, our uniforms all gilded with setting sunshine, beneath the green and purple blues of precursor heavens that lie in wait. The remainder of the burned-off clouds are gilded too; gold and rose-tinted turning silver at the borderland.

I arrive, at a turreted courtyard or khan, underneath a clock tower – not just another number, but part of the winged elite – as we, the Centurionauts, gather and rest, awaiting our orders. The world I have left behind disintegrates in sun-sparkled dust; this used to be parkland, these used to be trees, now they are vine-covered pillars of stone. Here, with these new brothers and sisters, I am an equal, and can move amongst them and speak as one of them, the game-board of our garrison being fully interactive.

“Centurionaut, you will take command of the 5th, but first we drink.” The choice is water or wine, and my new friend raises her visor as she held out the beakers to me, so I do the same, and take the water. “What’s your name, Centurionaut?” She asks; her piercing blue eyes unblinking.

“Finch; like a bird.”

“Take the wine, bird-boy. The 5th will take Celphi and defend the north wall from the Helepolis; I will be on your flank with the 96th. Please, you must drink the wine to cement our bond – and may eagles pick at the flesh of our dead enemies.” With her visor up, her crystalline voice no longer crackles in my ears, on top of precision bludgeoning and swashbuckling finesse, but it is there in the foot of air between us, in the invisible barrier between sun and moonlight.

Leila was her name, and I drank cup after cup of wine with her – relieving myself up against the walls of the khan. I had questions that would have revealed me as an imposter, so I decided to go with the flow – here, the Capitol, was no place for hang-ups or neurosis – I understood what the Helepolis was though, for it was drumming in my ears, laying waste to follicle forests of tiny hairs and microvilli. I could smell the death in the grilled meats that were handed around on silver platters. I ate to hold back drunkenness; spitting olive stones onto the cobbles, and sticking close to Leila, like a gambler to a lucky deck – for the thrill, the danger, and the devices within.

*

“We are the tip of the spearhead defending the spearhead island, Rhodos of the Dodecanese. Celphi, the frontier ship, and you, are the last great defenders of this fair city – if she falls, Rhodos will follow. The Helepolis has come again, and the blaspheming hordes hiding within her, and following in her wake, will stop at nothing to press home their advantage. We must do what comes naturally, and turn defence into attack, and so we send Celphi and the 5th to crush their siege ship before she breaks through the walls, assisted by the 96th foot. For victory! For the empire!”

Our commander wore a thick black cloak and his helmet bore black wings. He was carried away on a floating platform as soon as the speeches were done; we had stayed silent throughout, but we cheered and saluted him in his departing. Leila and I drank ourselves to sleep under the waxing moon, shoulder to shoulder, propped up against stone, and I felt grateful and fully integrated – the fear of the honour bestowed upon me not registering in the drifts of dream-tide.

And Anta played on, as I slept my way to victory – Leila by my side. Every instrument both leading and accompanying; magisterial earth-ripping melody and thunder bass, in sight of the terrible Helepolis, and the arrows and hurtling granite – as I guided the mighty but dwarfed Celphi, out across the shimmering plains of dawn. I, Finch of Earth, heading the army from the foredeck, Celphi’s claw arms spread wide in front of me, her systems and devices in my control. Fear now held at bay by the grounding truth of heavy sound. Eyes down – shields up!

Onwards in flight; the mechanics of their towering war machine in the foreground, above minnow shoals rippling, and thrashing out like cat o’ nine tails at the rigid maniples of the 96th, lying patchwork quilted and pixelated beneath us – My videogame and school-day hand-eye coordination keeping us ahead of the vanguard and making the Celphi a tricky target for the Helepolis’ catapults and spear-guns. Bolstered by wine – my purple-winged Praetorian Guard – I gear our nimble craft for attack; taking her high to release the legion’s parachutists, then into a steep dive, as we take hit after hit from the rock and metal. I unleash the snapping of Celphi’s mechanical claws at the Helepolis’ armour plating, leaving them to wrench and tear through to the structural supports beneath. Then, after one hit to many, Celphi crashes hard into the base of the tower, red and gold spilling from our guts, and into the fray – as I leap and twist, and turn to see the bleached brown of Rhodos’ north wall barely withstanding the assault, but withstanding it nonetheless.

The Macedonian phalanx makes for a formidable opponent, but today it’s no match for Leila’s legionaries. The 96th come to our aid as fast as lightning, surrounding the Helepolis, cordoning off our fight from the rest of the battle. I pause to catch sight of Leila’s gleeful parry and thrust, before I turn my attentions back to the Helepolis tower and my own hand-to-hand combat. I see only weaponry, until I strike down the enemy with spear or dagger or electro-shock bolt, only then do I check their eyes for death. On-and-on until we’ve cleared the level and can climb the ladders to the next. Up-and-up we take the fight, the blood of both sides spilling on the deck, and bodies flying through the air, but I care not, in the throes of bloodlust there is only me and the music; I keep life in my six-foot square, and death on the outside, and I kill all who threaten the balance of my equation.

Then our parachutists come in on wires, and we take the control deck with relative ease, which allows us to use the great Macedonian siege machine against their own army. Though she is close to crippled she still has the means to unload rocks upon them, lifted from out of the piles of damned and consecrated dead. I climb to the top of the tower, and miraculously, Leila is by my side – with a beaker full of wine and an icy smile – as we watch the imperial rain of rocks and spears, and the convulsions of the defeated, as our foot-soldiers get in close with electric charges from their cattle prods and bolt guns. The wine this time serves to hold back my vomit and disgust at the degradation and carnage; I feel I’ve almost had my fill of the fight, for one day at least.

The burning of the Helepolis starts from within, the Celphi’s fried engine sparking at the primitive wooden struts of stairs and ladders. Leila grabs the cord of an unfurled parachute, and together we let it catch the wind before we leap into the ash-flake snow sky. I can feel the firmness of her flesh, lean and muscular, as we float through the heat of morning, down into the heart of the battle. Back-to-back, the target for the Antigonid elite, we fight for ourselves, and for each other, which makes us doubly hard to defeat; and as the dead pile up around us, we become increasingly vocal, as we know the day is finally ours.

“We shall not lay down our arms before such forces of malevolence. General Finch, on your order, call up the 5th, to that cypress ridge – then we will push them back into the canyon. Hold; the 96th have planted their eagle.”

“The field is ours; let them flee . . . enough killing, enough. The city is safe, and every deserter carries the legend of our names on their tongue. Let them flee, and I’ll have the 5th sound the victory horn.”

But I hear only a harsh whistling noise; then inside deep black I smell iron and blood and dry earth, and there is just me and the music again, and the fading and flickering impression of a pair of blue eyes.

*

I wake between cotton sheets, in a battlement dome; summer weather leaking in from the balcony, and a pair of blue eyes.

“Can you stand yet, General?”

“Leila! Yes, I think so. What happened?”

“You’re soft. You took your eye off the game, and got a spear in the shoulder for your troubles. Come outside, you have to see this.”

I stand – naked, exposed – between the tracks; a new theme growing in the back of my head, feeding from the residue of war. Wrapped in a sheet, I let Leila walk me to the balcony – my internal throbbing and aching making a musical reference point, as riffs attach themselves to my very being like vascular vine strands – with my bathed skin and bare head free to breathe, we approach the new vista side-by-side.

“They’re building on the spot of the fallen Helepolis. A great monument to the gods, and to you, Finch.”

“And to you, General; the victory was yours also. This is fast work, or have I been out for weeks?”

“No, five moons, that is all. In seven, the Dolmen will be complete, and we will lead a procession of unveiling, as they mount the Celphi claws at the very top. Then, our work here will be done. With good news from around the frontier, it could mean an early retirement for celebrated generals, though I doubt it.”

The Dolmen was a living monument; the construction force crawling over it, frenetic termites on a mound. In time, it would stand defiant, neither dead or alive, but representative of our time. In morning’s clarity though, it was a mast, projecting my head music – my private imperialism – and lifting another veil. The music was everywhere, and required no voice – in recognition of its presence – it was every particle of life and death come together in morning.

The battlefield was part campground and part pageant, and empty of death; green cypress trees dotting the rolling hills gave way to lush forests and cliffs and ocean mists, and the Dolmen was the centre of it all. The distance and scale of the scene was frightening, and I laughed to feel fear after the battle, but not before or during – and it forced me to raise my eyes to the sky, where the chittering of invisible sparrows living in the wall was a clear voice within the music – yet the bluest scene, stolen from the surrounding sea, was one of circling eagles; eagles fed full to the beak, and now left playing with the air itself – coasting and kingly – triangular wings circling.

And had my femoral artery been cut by wire or glass, or my feminist heart potato print and scholarship to schools of schools of thought caught fire in the suns of youth, I would not have lived to stand at this junction. Hard folk that brought me to this, they never knew loneliness, and now I stand above a universe amplified, and still I am cradled by another mother sphere, and her representative, the commissary, raven-haired Leila, one sky eye, and one sea – her gait is simple melody, her arm is harmonised support. A Dolmen, self-serving, but bowing before us both, made to do so by the simple elegant curve of earth, and life on earth.

*

Parade day comes, and with it, inevitable sorrow. Every celebration has in it its share of the dark; every commemoration its share of joy. I feel it, and mark out the Dolmen as a future cenotaph. Crawling race winners, bronze-medallists, what does it even matter? Every victory is the same to these people; and Leila is an owl, swooping in and pinning me down in breathy silence. There is no grass greener than grass fed on the death of battle, and by extremes of weather within a spectrum, and balanced. I ride out in cavalcades just the same – my eyes glued to rabbits between the looping frames of bridles – in full battle dress, which means closeness to the radio; but, on or off, the music is threaded through the fabric of this place, like the zoom of electricity and the high stepping of horses. I remove my helmet to honour the crowds; I could be Laurence Olivier in William Shakespeare’s “Henry V” on hyper-real 3D stage-set Technicolor TV replay, manifested in my own bold-on-bold double reality; I need Leila more than ever – I hope never-ending riffs like these end, repeat, and never end.

We are emblems of broken chains, mere badge collectors – and mine are pinned, through feather and cartilage, to bone. I must learn to believe that these affecting chemicals are natural things, aimed to subtly bend the shape of all I touch, all I see, all I smell, all I taste, and all I hear – and I have recourse to tell you what Leila said to me, on one fair and fluttering spring morning, between the iron sheets of private warfare; she said, “there, you missed it, that was the sound of another star dying.”

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