ROMAN BRITAIN COMES TO EARTH
The following story is based on a short story written years ago by the "Young J"; JRS has created this updated version. It is assumed that readers will be experienced enough to understand that the beliefs and perspectives of a character and an author may differ widely. See "When Good Guys Talk Nasty" in "For Us And About Us: Articles On Creators and Creation" in "Creative Safehouse."
It was a good class, thought Professor Reginald Hartford. A very good class. Those naive students, spoon-fed on politically correct, liberal bullcrap; shaped like clay by the overeducated refugees from the real world who were his colleagues. Oh, how well they knew to love the victimized and defeated of history, whose only recourse was to fight back with guilt, to rewrite the chronicle of mankind from the bottom, from the point of view of the losers; to snipe at the triumphant world with impossible moral standards; to poison the great achievements with slave ships and dead Indians. Well, he had taught them a thing or two today, hadn’t he? Especially when Alexy, that Russian immigrant lady’s man in the back row had dared to call his lecture "retrogressive." As Professor Hartford had then explained, " ‘Retro’ means ‘backward’ in Latin; ‘gradi’ means ‘to step.’ ‘Retrogressus’ is the past participle of ‘retrogradi.’ If England had not been conquered by the Romans, you would not have that word to throw in my direction." Anna, the girl who Alexy seemed to be trying to impress with his audacity, let out a sigh of admiration at the professor’s comeback, as if he had just performed a spectacular magic trick; as Professor Hartford went on to explain: "Were it not for the Roman conquest of Britain, begun by Caesar, and perfected by Claudius and his successors, the language of Shakespeare and Dickens would not exist; the wealth of Latin would never have entered our vocabulary, we would be speaking an ancient tongue as flat as paper, our imaginations shackled. Without the roads and aqueducts of Rome, we would be centuries behind, not ahead; stragglers in the race to civilize. We would have been the Africa of Europe. Without the input of Roman laws, we would never have developed the legal consciousness that has become the basis of our modern political system, nor the ingrained commitment to human rights without which we might well have gone the way of the Nazis whenever danger knocked upon our door, or else become merely a more muscular form of banana republic. Likewise, Roman concepts of organization, military and civil, laid the foundations for the creation of the complicated administrative systems which insured our national success; just as Roman concepts of Citizenship and Empire have laid the foundations for the construction of our own rapidly growing European Union, as well as the most idealistic visions of international cooperation and human brotherhood." Reginald Hartford’s eternally recurring point was that it made no sense to kidnap historical realities to use against the world one lived in; no sense to demand that progress dance lightly like a ballerina across the world map, or that the past join hands with Gandhi and banish its kings and generals, hurl its makers and shakers into the abyss. Why whip the back of time with liberal fantasies? "As bees help to cross-pollinate the fields and enrich the flowers which delight our eyes and the crops which give us life, so strife and conquest fertilize the fields of history. Alexander did not only conquer Persia and India. He impregnated them with Greek culture, and in turn, they expanded the Greek mind. Rome did not merely subdue Britain, it raised Britain out of a pit of darkness, and gave it new means and a new horizon. Britain, in turn, rescued Africa from primitiveness and utter obsolescence. Oh, certainly, slavery got mixed up with it: a terrible injustice which was ultimately paved with gold. And then colonialism. Hard to see how it could become such a dirty word in a continent which practiced cannibalism."
Professor Hartford no longer had any fear to speak his mind, he had recently published two books which were well-reviewed by the "Conservative Culture Review": Tools of Envy: Liliput’s Unending War To Conquer History’s Winners Through Guilt; and The Procreative Power Of Conquest: Cultural Progress As A Product Of Strife. Powerful figures now backed Professor Hartford’s right to enjoy the same level of intellectual freedom as those liberal pseudo-scholars who got away with all kinds of outrages against the truth: like Professor Jenkins who insisted that the ancient Egyptians were actually black rather than Hamitic, and talked about the Songhai Empire as though it were the equal of ancient Greece or Rome; or that crazy feminist teacher, Ms. Cousins, who called God "Goddess" and believed that everything wrong with the world could be explained in terms of patriarchy, her own particular form of the devil. Privately, Professor Hartford referred to her as an "intellectual Lorena Bobbitt."
Of course, the sanctuary which Professor Hartford now enjoyed was not unchallenged. Every once in a while, an irate colleague would give him a piece of his or her mind, or an overconfident student would attempt to pit his strident ignorance against the professor’s seasoned and overwhelmingly erudite replies. Edna, an Irish girl who was nearly as irritating as Alexy, had come back with some Celtic-glorification response to Professor Hartford’s lecture on the benefits of the Roman conquest of Europe. There were actually some concrete facts in there, she must have read some books on the Druids to match the prominent Celtic cross which she always wore hanging down by that most distracting cleavage of hers. How titillating, to be able to utterly refute the arguments of a woman who had such provocative breasts. Poor Edna, after he had gotten through with her, she just stammered a few angry words which did nothing more than to prove her helplessness, and began doodling furiously in her notebook. Art school material, nothing more. By the time the bell had rung, Professor Hartford was the complete master of the terrain, presiding over a room of the converted or the silenced. He did not mind that divide, nor the smoldering residues of bitterness which would be confirmed in the low exam grades which habitually reflect the disengagement of the proud. He was influencing the modern generation, winning some over to his side and driving others into shells of pure emotion. From now on, they would do nothing more than rant impotently without facts.
The drive home, after class, was always pleasant, so long as he had been in control; and he had been. Smiling, cheerful in spite of the violence which filled his subject, Professor Hartford slipped a cassette of his lecture into the tape deck, and listened to himself once more. He was amused by Alexy’s coughing in the background, too much vodka last night, he imagined. Or was he merely choking on his own words? Suddenly, in the midst of Professor Hartford’s self-congratulatory thoughts, a car came out of nowhere, it seemed, hurtling around him from behind and roaring past his, nearly flying off the road as it continued onwards in the same direction he was going. "Speaking of vodka", the professor chuckled, trying to relax his nerves with humor. But then, suddenly, he heard a skid and a crash. The car in front of him had been driven off the road by two more coming in the opposite direction, driven just as impetuously.
The professor, stunned, pulled his car over to the side of the road to come to the aid of the wounded motorist. For Hartford was, of course, a civilized man whose only irremediable vice was that he did not like to feel guilty about the past; and civilized men come to one another’s aid. "Say there, are you all right?" he asked the motorist, who staggered bloody and confused from his badly dented car. The professor kept his distance at first, you never know who you are dealing with: England is such a different country these days. "Mister, are you all right? Do you need an ambulance?"
"Need a f**king miracle," the man gasped, wrenching at his hair. "That’s what I need. A bloody, f**ng miracle." And he fell to his knees and began praying to God, and crying at the same time.
"He must have a concussion," concluded the professor, edging closer to determine whether he ought to try to help. From the injured man’s car, he heard a radio report trickling out from behind a shattered window. There is not yet any clear information concerning the source of the attack, but it is massive, and appears to be directed from the air. We are receiving conflicting reports of cruise missiles, ICBMs, space-based lasers, and aircraft. The Soviet Union has denied any involvement. London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow have already received substantial damage, there are fires everywhere, and continuing explosions. The firepower involved is said to utterly dwarf what the old-timers remember during the Battle of Britain.
"We’re being invaded!" the injured motorist wept. "My God, Ruthie! She’s not answering the cell phone!"
"This is impossible!" Professor Hartford exclaimed. "No one would dare. This is a big leap from some half-brained suicide bomber!"
Large numbers of wingless craft have been sighted the radio announcer continued; reports describe them as being saucer-shaped, the classic image of the UFO. This latest report is now being compared to earlier reports which described aircraft consistent with the profile of stealth bombers, which admittedly have an otherworldly appearance. The Defense Ministry has thus far issued no clarifying statements.
"Oh Jesus!" cried the injured driver, "it’s a f**ng invasion from outer space!"
"It’s a hoax!" Professor Hartford cried out, in relief. "It must be! Mister, don’t worry-"
"Don’t touch me!"
"Sorry! But I have to tell you, it’s a hoax. It’s obvious. Don’t you remember the story from Halloween – 1930-something? Orson Welles putting on a radio version of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds? In a realistic format, complete with ‘interrupted programming’? Thousands of Americans fell for it, thought it was something real, were scared out of their wits, and all it was was a radio drama, by God! Come on, mister, an invasion from outer space? Get real!"
But just then, the radio connection fizzled out.
"They’ve been burned alive there, in the studio!" the kneeling motorist exclaimed. "Burned by some kind of laser!"
"How do you know?" demanded Professor Hartford. "The connection was lost, that’s all."
"I could hear the crackle of the heat. I could almost feel it! The building was melted by some kind of laser! They’re all dead! "
"You’re imagining it!" protested the professor.
Suddenly the motorist’s eyes filled with the awe of a pilgrim beholding an apparition. Who was it? Mary? Jesus?
Professor Hartford looked away from the motorist towards what he was looking at. "My – my God!" he gasped. There, in the distance, was a formation of seven spinning wheels, flying on their sides it seemed, with their rims pointed towards the ground.
"Flying saucers!" the man screamed.
"Experimental aircraft," Hartford blurted out, hopeful.
Three more cars hurtled past them, fleeing from the stretch of road which Hartford and the disabled motorist had been approaching. In the direction the cars had come from, over the tops of some trees, they saw a sudden pillar of flame rise up, they heard frightening roars, and saw billows of smoke begin to pour into the sky, as though the whole world were bleeding upwards. There was a town over there. The professor had stopped there sometimes, on the way home, to do buy presents for his wife, a kindly woman who had no quarrel with patriarchy and avoided her husband’s infatuation with controversy by knitting constantly. Suddenly, two more disks appeared from the direction of the flames, flying rapidly to join the formation which had now come to a standstill, hovering some two hundred meters away.
Shaking, Professor Hartford extracted a cell phone from his pocket, and dialed home. There was no answer. "Please, Jane, answer! Please, answer!" He got the voicemail. "Jane, please, you must call me as soon as you are able! I am on my way home!"
"God, no! They’re headed our way!" screamed the motorist. He wrenched himself up from his knees to try to run, then, seeing that it was impossible, he fell once more to the ground to pray, hoping God would not notice his momentary lapse of faith.
"Christ! It’s the end!" gasped Professor Hartford.
But the formation suddenly changed gears and flew past them in a split second.
"They may have coated us with radiation!" the motorist wept, tears streaming down his face. "We’ll die like those poor suckers from Hiroshima, in two or three weeks, or maybe a year."
"There’s no reason to believe that," snapped Hartford.
Without warning, one of the disks stopped on the horizon, and in a single second bolted back to them and was directly overhead. The motorist collapsed to the ground, sobbing, unable to utter a single intelligible word. Professor Hartford, for his part, stood paralyzed, looking up at it. For a moment, the disk seemed to be studying him, staring at him, judging him. He imagined some terrible weapon aimed at his heart, a giant laser on the verge of burning him to a crisp, or evaporating him without a trace. He wished he could look inside the window of the disk to see who it was who was aiming the weapon at him, to see the eyes that were about to watch him die. But he saw nothing. And suddenly, the disk was gone, and he was still alive, staggering towards his vehicle. To hell with the other man, he had to try to get home, to find Jane!
As he struggled to crawl back inside his car, Professor Hartford noted that the cassette inside his tape deck was still playing. The last thing he remembered hearing, just before he gunned on the engines to try to reach home, was: "The best thing that ever happened to Britain was to be conquered by the Romans."
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