Valery Simenon woke shivering and sweaty from a forgotten dream to hear the call of the Muezzin to morning prayer.
Of all the places to get himself exiled to, the Persian authorities chose the one place where conservative Islam still flourished. Every morning he discovered all over again why science had spent centuries stalled in the former Muslim world: it was because the Muezzin's call to prayer woke people too early to fully recall their dreams, and the insight was lost in the call to submit.
But he also knew if he stayed a moment longer in his hessian cot, then the day would begin in a blast of melting heat, and unless he was up and about he would lie struggling to move half the morning in the low cot, while the heat wore his sanity and salt levels down. So he moved with a purpose in the brief moments of coolness before the sun rose.
As he slipped into his cotton overalls the Muezzin started to call again. Valery stopped still and listened.
The Muezzin announced the arrival of a new Governor, first in Arabic, the local language, then in Imperial Persian, the ancient language which the authorities had revived in recent years. Before the annoucement had finished, Valery had jumped out of his tiny shack and begun running. A new Governor could mean anything to him, even a change of fortunes.
Sahara City was under a protective dome, with in reality protected only the crops from biotech attack and made little difference to the humans who congregated there. Hence, in the main decontamination area where newcomers arrived, a bazaar had sprung up and Sahara city had become quite the destination for the former Europeans who fought their way south into Africa. And even though much of Europe was gone, submerged within the ocean when the poles of the planet tilted 23 degrees and the seasons abruptly vanished as if they had never even existed, still their reputation for being purveyors of fine weaponry persisted, as it had through history.
As Valery passed through the transparent goo that was the protective and antiseptic membrane of the inner dome, he came against a newly arrived group from a Rare Location: the Vatican City. And, he noticed with sharply drawn breath, they had slaves from Silver River. Fighting down his distaste he pushed through the smelly and colorful crowd of slaves and slavers, and found himself on the street which traded in charms and trinkets, made from the now useless electrical equipment that the planet was littered with. And there, walking through the black-skinned Beduoin traders, swathed in the perfectly starched uniform of the New Persian Empire, walked his greatest enemy.
They met talking smoothly in English, not touching hands, as was customary for hygiene:
“Pleasure to meet you again in such colorful circumstances,” the Colonel said.
“Governer,” Valery said, “welcome from the Sahara City's only scientist.”
“Ah, I recall our years of study at Teheran university still,” said the Colonel.
“I fondly remember the time,” Valery replied.
“All that time in Persia is sour. And I am exiled to this rotting hole in the inhuman sludgepit of Africa.”
“Exiled?” Valery asked, “By the Emperor?”
“Yes,” the Colonel replied.
“But you did not find him attractive?” Valery said mockingly.
“Only homosexuals gain real power in the Persian court these days. It's the backlash from Islam,”
“They say it is the new islam, but here in the Sahara they say it is the Great Satan,” Valery said. Then he deliberately changed from English over to Persian: “But why not accede to his requests, then? Surely forced homosexual sex is a small price to pay for professional success?” and he went still, gazing at the Colonel with aggressively twinkling eyes.
“You are trying to slander me,” the Colonel said finally, in Arabic. He spoke so because the local language was considered more manly by the inhabitants of Sahara City who stood listening openly.
“On the contrary,” Valery said, chasing him into Arabic, “I have never understood why a man would pursue a career even to the point of abandoning his only friend to exile. What would such a man stop at, if he could do that to his friend?”
The Colonel's eyes narrowed. He returned to English: “This is not the proper place or time.”
“The only improper place or time is when we are dead,” Valery said. “And you'll wonder why you spurned my friendship!”
“Valery, I have no wish to renew ancient arguments,” the Colonel said. “However, I must point out that the woman you were lover to was in fact destined to rule all Persia for many years before her son the Emperor could take power. Valery, her death is simply a political thing, and nothing to do with you or your love at all. The simple fact is, you took events personally and behaved absurdly as if the Emperor himself had killed his own mother. It was intolerable to have you in court, not because you were hetrosexual and they homosexual, but because you held them in utter contempt! Now, let us talk no more of these matters for now. The Court has all about ears even here.”
And with that, the Colonel swept past and left Valery shaken to the core by his terrible words and standing in middle of the bazaar.
In the dark days after the Disaster, when the planet's orbit had not yet settled, the biotech plants had swept across the ocean and eaten everything in their path. Persia alone had stood in the way. An alliance of genetic engineers and military specialists had worked to defend Persian territory.
The onslaught had been terrible. A wave of Green Goo, high as buildings, bubbled up from the Indian ocean and moved steadily north, always north towards Teheran. Finally, in the last days of the defense it had been Valery who had seized on the idea to abandon Teheran and retreat to the mountains in the North. He had argued that the Goo showed every sign of having a goal, and no sign of progressing beyond Teheran. He argued that the Goo was part of an intelligent biological design that spanned the planet's surface and worked with unknowable and dumb force. And people believed him, because he had taken part in creating this force. So he had a fair reason to be able to predict how it would work in warfare.
But some he would not convince. These, the seven-hundred year Muslim alliance of military, merchants, bankers, and religious political figures, stayed behind to defend Teheran. And in what turned out to be mere moments of successful defense, the Goo silently swept across the city.
No-one knew to this day what had occurred next. The Goo receded as Valery had predicted, and the land itself was again safe for human habitation once the remaining spores of Goo were poisined. But many felt that day they had better been defeated. For the military and religious men who had stayed behind in Teheran had been forever changed.
Many whose faith was incompatible with the changes to their bodies committed suicide before the arrival of the common people from the North. But those practical military men for whom honor came before personal matters, and for whom successful defense of the city mattered more than their lives, the change was not inappropriate. For these men, who had expected death and nothing more, received a new kind of life entirely. For these war heroes had been physically changed, their endocrine systems altered permanently in unimaginable ways, their neural pathways and brain chemistry and even genetic expression permanently changed.
Thus the homosexual elite of the Persian Empire was born. Men who had imagined only stable family lives, suddenly felt a new pull to organise their lives around, the insistent and compulsive contact with men who had stood with them in Teheran to face a certain death. Even the young emperor-to-be, surrounded by his private guard of hand-picked men in that final defense, suddenly took a different view to the possibility of his mother ruling Imperial Persia for several decades. Why? Because she was not a man. And to those men who had to reconstruct their personalities after the defense at Teheran shattered their souls, manhood alone became the extreme expression of merit and homosexual inclinations the criteria of genuine humanity.
And the attack of Green Goo had left another mockery of Persian honor.
For in the centre of the ancient Teheran Bazaar now stood a solid black obelisk, a phallic shaft of pure computational matter of mysterious design, seven foot tall and impervious to attack. The masses took it for a sign from Allah that they had been spared destruction, and a new Qua'ah, sacred rock, of Islam. But Valery knew better:
It was some kind of transmitter of signals, this much he knew. And from his past life, now dead and buried half a world away under miles of living Green Goo, he knew exactly where the information it gathered would return to. And Valery knew what no-one else in the city or the empire did, that Persia had become a vassal state even as it believed it had entered its period of greatest power since the ancient rule of Cyrus. The black box, as he called it, gathered detailed data on every human thing around them and transmitted it safely back to the central processor, which he knew even now grew and learnt in the former Central Australian Federation. It was one of the many eyes of a self-learning biological machine designed the manage man's environment more perfectly than before, the machine they had arrogantly anamed after the ancient Greek Goddess of the Earth:
It was the Persian eye of Gaia.