Author : Lucas Atkinson

In my dream I am wandering through Babylon. Prostitutes linger on every street, thieves wait at every corner. Barefoot children look at me as I pass; shopkeepers watch me too, from shadowed doorways, behind flags and tables piled with weapons and fruit. In the distance buildings rise – the courts, full of judges with grins and thick expensive robes; their eyes narrow as they smile, the markets with a subtle finger cheating every scale , the temples with their rows and rows of idols shaped like writhing snakes or women with many breasts or birds with teeth and human hands. The Babylon of my dream is also the New York of my childhood – the pickpockets dressed in rags mingle with gangs implanted with flashing fluorescent tattoos. As I pass them, their smiles are them same.

Every night, I wander through those streets again. On the ship, the narrow corridors seem lonely, and I am afraid the next turn will lead me there, to that place, and the scrubbed metal will give way to the mud, the brick, the littered streets. Sometimes I think I can smell the city – perhaps, behind the sweat of the crew and the scent of engine oil, might that be the faintest hint of the city’s open sewer? Of sun-baked stone? Of sour incense?

I can see it in the eyes of the crew as well. They are dreaming of the city too. They too are afraid that they will turn a corner and find themselves in the market, or one of the many shadowed alleys. When we eat meals together, the crew does not converse. The city is our other cargo, an unwanted twin to the one in our hull.

When we first met them they only farmed. They could not transport food more than a few miles; none of their villages numbered more than a few hundred. When we gave them what we knew – techniques, know-how, theory – their villages moved, changed, conglomerated. The largest was not far from where the ship landed. “We call the city Babylon,” they tell me in fluting voices. They pause. They are smart; they can read human faces already. “Is this a name you know?”

In the dream, behind the markets and the temples, there is a great structure. It was a tower once; now it is collapsed. Its form against the blue sky is ragged, like a wound.

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