The Pulse: Rome
During their holiday in Rome, Lucia hadn’t suffered the same fever she had experienced in Parma and Florence. Tommaso’s explanation — that she suffered from Stendhal’s Syndrome, an overdose of celestial art — seemed to explain things. Yet both of them knew that didn’t really make any sense. Nevertheless, to be safe they decided to avoid churches and art museums — with their dangerous golden-spoked Madonnas and their angel wings that swept into the Empyrean. They didn’t dare step into Basilica Sant’Andrea della Valle, with its cherubs and angels driving the viewer into the heavens.
Avoiding the Middle Ages and Renaissance altogether, Lucia and Tommaso wandered among the ruins of the Roman forum and the Caracalla baths. They played the tourist and the amateur historian, from Trastevere to Piazza del Popolo. They made a pilgrimage to the Jewish cemetery in Ostia Antica, almost two thousand years old and on the far edge of an enormous field. And they spent grey afternoons thinking about the meaning of life along the swollen banks of the Tiber.
Instead of going into the Borghese Gallery, with its golden-haloed angels of the exosphere, they loitered about the surrounding lawns by day, and stared up into the strange mushroom trees by night.
After dinner they ate gelato on the Piazza Navona, like all the other tourists. Life was returning to normal, a double nocciola in her hand and a limone and cioccolato in his.
Lucia felt that everything in her life was settling into place. The only odd feeling she had came from a memory triggered by eating ice-cream in the Piazza Navona. Several years ago she was on a school trip and had snuck away from the endless procession of archaeological wonders. Alone, she breathed in the air breathed by Roman senators and Renaissance artists. Happily, she sat by herself in front of Neptune’s Fountain eating an ice-cream. She saw the playful cherubs, sporting in the water.
But then she heard the grating sound of an American tourist, with a voice like a screeching harpy. Astounded, she watched as the harridan scolded her husband for buying their kids ice-cream. She watched as the boy gobbled his down in minutes, guiltily avoiding his mother’s gruelling frown. The girl stood under the shadow of her father, completely indifferent to the anger of her mother. She nonchalantly swirled the smooth ice and cherry flavours with the tip of her light pink tongue.
Lucia tried to put the woman’s voice out of her mind as she strolled, her hand firmly settled in Tommaso’s strong hand, toward Piazza di Minerva. The woman’s voice was just a bad memory, it didn’t mean anything. Everything was fine now. It seemed that she lived in the best of all possible worlds.
From Piazza di Minerva, they found themselves wandering into that rare building, the Pantheon.
The Catholic Church had for centuries tried to claim this building as its own, yet none of the Church’s comforting doctrines could erase the terrifying notion of an endless sky, of space deep and black, and of the hole at the very top of the dome which pointed to the changing heavens.
One could imagine that God sat in his majesty amid the bright stars. But one couldn’t quite escape the idea that before Jehovah was Jupiter. And before Jupiter, Chronos. And before Chronos, An the sky and Ki the earth. And before An and Ki, Nammu the primeval sea. And before that, what? The only answer Lucia could come up with was the Sky, the infinite sky.
Whether the sky contained many gods or a single God or no deity at all was speculation. Lucia couldn’t get the voice of the harpy out of her head. Thinking of the little girl with her ice-cream only made it worse.
The first time Lucia looked up at the hole in the apex of the dome, all she saw was deep blue. The second time she looked up she saw an orange beam pulsing from above. The beam made her coronal suture glow incandescently like a halo on fire.
Tommaso realized that he was no longer holding Lucia’s soft and pulsing hand. And yet he didn’t feel her hand slide out of his. He was puzzled to see that she had disappeared.
His puzzlement was short-lived, as his body reached 3000 degrees celsius and proceeded into a Nothing so complete that any concept he had ever entertained of The Void seemed like a book-sized exegesis in comparison.
When Tommaso was alive and thought about Nothing, it remained a concept or series of integrated thoughts, neither of which had even the ghost of a chance among the abstract No-Where that was his fate. Even the notion of Fate was ridiculous, itself blown like a leaf into a hurricane. Even the notion of a hurricane...
Lucia, on the other hand, entered a Something.
Next: Alien Extraction