Antikythera mechanism

Ithicus watched quietly from the edge of the circle, nervously fidgeting as he waited. When he was growing up, his mother had warned him to be careful of his thoughts — that the priests could hear them and would judge him accordingly. He knew now that the priests could not hear his thoughts — The Philosopher had told him as much — but he still worried in the back of his mind.

They are no more priests than the fictions they worship are gods. Still, he thought as he watched the priests work methodically, their power is great.

The Inner Sanctum of the temple was massive, wide enough in every direction to hold three warships side-by-side and tall enough to stack them twice. Though it had been carved into the mountain, the walls and ceiling had been ground down and made flat, overlaid with with flawless marble. The floor was a single, perfect slab of obsidian that, when the torches were lit, reflected them like they were the stars in the sky above.

But the torches were not lit.

Deep within the mountainside, the floor of the Inner Sanctum shined brightly from within. A series of two dozen intersecting and overlapping circles made of crystal glowed a deep, bright teal — illuminating the room and its occupants. In the exact center of the room, the altar — made of pure, glowing crystal and ringed with a series of bronze bands — stood half as tall as the priests.

Above the altar floated the The Disc.

The Priestess and her acolytes believe themselves vessels for will of unseen gods, orchestrating the world from beyond their sight with omniscient power. They are wrong. Their power is not of this world, but it is not supernatural; their power comes from beings of immense knowledge who have tamed the stars to their own devices, and left their tools behind when they returned to them.

The Priest before the Priestess found these tools and — believing they were gifts from the gods — tried to contact his deities. When the tools came to life he believed the gods were answering his call. He was wrong. He misunderstood the knowledge being gifted to him, and his successor does the same.

Still, there is no misunderstanding the raw power they now possess. It is power enough to allow us true independence, to advance our cause a millennia.

It is power enough to change the world.

From “Liber Assumptorum” by The Philosopher

As he was not a priest of their order, Ithicus was not allowed to step onto the obsidian. Only because he had been chosen by The Priestess, and deemed worthy by her to courier The Disc, was he allowed to witness the ceremony. He watched as they took their positions round the altar. In unison they made motions and a series of designs materialized in the air in front of them, glowing teal that matched the crystal in the floor. The priests moved as one; their gestures appeared to move in slow-motion, blurred colors trailing behind them as they chanted in low, monotone voices.

The crystals on the floor began to fade. The altar pulsed brighter. A low, harmonic tone sounded, as though it came from inside Ithicus’ chest. The Disc became a small Sun. The altar pulsed upward. The tone grew stronger. The Disc shined brighter, until it was the only light in the room. Ithicus covered his eyes and looked away, unable to gaze upon the brightness any longer.

When the tone stopped and the light disappeared, Ithicus felt an emptiness in himself and in the room. The perfect silence and darkness was overwhelming, broken suddenly by the scratch of flints as the torches were relit and the room was bathed in a soft, warm glow.

A priest — perhaps the head of his order, though he looked identical to his brethren — strode to the edge of the obsidian and handed The Disc to Ithicus. He bowed (as he had been told to) and placed it into his sack. Without a word he turned on his heel and strode out of the temple.

When he was out of sight of the temple entrance, Ithicus broke into a sprint. To the north, the Priestess would be awaiting the sacred artifact that had just been created, but his course was due east. A ship was waiting on the coast, filled with supplies for The Philosopher’s Beautiful City.

The Disc, and its powers, was the final supply The Philosopher had asked for. Years of planning would finally pay off, and The Beautiful City could now take its place at the pinnacle of human civilization, a new chapter beginning — shaped by The Philosopher.

Ithicus breathed deeply, willing energy from The Disc into his body. Sooner than he thought possible, he found himself running through the port town and through the docks. Within the hour, the ship was on its way.

The storm had hit them without warning. The sea had become angry. The wind had become engraged. Lightning had struck the mast twice before striking directly on the deck — something no one on the ship had ever seen or even heard of before.

Below deck, Ithicus knew exactly what was happening: The Disc’s power was calling down the wrath of the Gods. The Philosopher was wrong: this was not power from beyond the stars, but the knowledge of Olympus and Athena was not happy it had been stolen.

He fell to his knees and held The Disc in his hands. He prayed to Athena and Zeus and Hera and every God he could remember from childhood. He prayed old prayers he did not remember the words to, hoping that they would be enough.

The Disc began to glow that same teal he had seen in the Inner Sanctum. They answer! He held The Disc to the sky and bowed his head, feeling the gears inside clicking quickly as the moved into position.

Ithicus did not feel the lightning as it struck The Disk through the deck above him, coursed through his body, and broke the ship in half.

This story is part of a personal daily challenge series, with topics pulled randomly from Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.

Today’s topic was the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient computer believed to have been used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes. It was made between 150 and 100 BCE, and found in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean at the beginning of the 20th Century — though it was half a century before historians took a look at it and completely reevaluated their estimates of ancient Greek engineering.