April 1st, 2023
The day had arrived for the first public petitions meeting to be held before the Senate. It was a move masterminded by Senator Patricia Bellos as a way to give the people of Rome a feeling of connection between themselves and the Senate beyond a simple election process. It would also be an opportunity for citizens to meet the senators, so that when voting day for Consulship came, they might be better informed. It had been a good plan, and was readily supported. Unfortunately due to poor phrasing, rampant word-of-mouth, or simply overestimating the average citizen, the Senate quickly came to regret the decision.
There were almost five hundred people in Rome now, and if there was one thing most people have in common it is that they think they know what’s best not only for themselves but for the whole of Rome. Not even two hours into the petitions, the Senate was already beginning to feel the strain. They had to limit petitions to ten minute pitches and five minutes of follow-up just to keep the numbers in check.
Most of the petitions weren’t noteworthy. They were either requests for the obvious: “I think the Senate needs to put more effort into getting sufficient amounts of freshwater.”, the obvious self-aggrandizement “I think that as a pillar of the Roman community, given my record of charity selling jackets at a very low price, I deserve a seat on the Senate.”, the dogmatic or self-interested “I really do think it’s time we banned these new cults, enough is enough.”, to the legitimately confused. “You see, if we assigned one stray cat to every person, it would eliminate the current rat problem in the city and reduce the number of stray cats.”
“Your time is up, Mister Alescio.” Senator Bellos rubbed her temples with her thumb and forefinger. “The Senate has heard your proposal on the healing properties of tetrahedrons. That said we do not have the funds or justification to build a thirty-meter glass pyramid in the city center.”
“But I’m not finished.”
“Believe me, you are.” She said, lowering her hand to the table. “You can direct any further pyramid-based questions to Lady Kebechet, I’m sure she’d be happy to help you.”
Still muttering under his breath, Alescio left the Senate chambers. They had three minutes until the next one was sent in.
“You do realize Kebechet might kill him.” Albion remarked snidely after he had left.
Patricia sighed, she was beyond complaining at this point. And there were still five hours to go…
“Maybe he’ll be interred in a pyramid.” She shrugged “I think he’d like that.”
“He might very well.” Albion smiled. “Tell us, who is our next contestant on this veritable sideshow?”
Patricia glanced down at the sheet an attendant had brought to her earlier. For all the nonsense they had to endure, she pitied the aides who were out in the hall now trying to organize them.
“Huh, this one could have some potential.” She said, eyeing the summary. “That is, it has a chance of being a good idea.”
“Like an oasis in the desert.” Albion sighed. “What is the name?”
“Thalia, just the one name.” Patricia shrugged before motioning for the doorman. “Send her in!”
The next petitioner stepped lightly into the senate chamber. She was young, no older than her early twenties by the look of her, with sleek dark hair held in a long ponytail and a smiling face under bright green eyes. Her skin was tan from the sun, and she was dressed for warmer weather than the chill wind outside would demand.
“You would be Thalia?” Patricia asked, getting the ball rolling.
“The one and only.” Thalia smiled, a warm sunny smile with brilliant white teeth.
“Very good, what is your proposal for the Roman Senate then, Thalia?”
“Okay then.” Thalia raised her hands to chest level as she spoke. “I’ve been looking at the radio situation in Rome.”
“The radio?” Albion asked, a curious eyebrow raised.
“Yep, the radio situation. See, there are lots of small portable radios in the city, and they’ve been a big help in finding refugees, right?”
Patricia took a glance at another Senator, Conti, who was the most adept in technical matters.
“Y-yes that’s true…” he stuttered, looking through some of his papers.
“Well then,” Thalia continued. “It stands to reason that if our small transmitters can get a word out, the bigger the transmitter, the bigger the range of signal.”
“How big of a transmitter are you suggesting?” Patricia asked. She was skeptical, the young woman didn’t appear to have the makings of a technical genius, but the idea was, at least, more sound than most she had heard that day.
“A tower.” Thalia said. “A proper radio transmitter tower within the city.”
“I’m impressed by your candor if nothing else.” Patricia said, hands still folded on the table before her. “But do we have the resources and most importantly the technical knowledge needed to fashion a new and operational transmitting tower?”
Thalia’s smile grew slightly devious as she let out a soft chuckle. “We do indeed, Senator, something of a secret weapon of mine. I am acquainted with an expert in the field of engineering and technology, and he says he should be able to put the designs together fairly easily. As for supplies, there are plenty of older radio stations to be salvaged and repurposed, not to mention more scrap iron than we know what to do with.”
“Valid points…” Patricia nodded, glancing at her other senators. Most seemed interested as well, eager to hear something sensible for a change. “So this new radio station would be used for sending messages to potential refugees? Getting the word out to Rome?”
“Ah, there’s the beauty of it, Senators!” Thalia smiled deviously as if they had walked into a trap. “It’s more than just a beacon. See, there’s another need of the people that’s going almost completely ignored. Food and water are necessary to survive, but if you want people to live, then they need something else.”
“And what might that be?”
“Entertainment of course!” She clapped her hands. “I’ve seen the people here and while they’re surviving on small talk and amateur theatre you can almost taste the craving for popular entertainment.
“Entertainment, you mean like music over the radio?” Albion asked, his arms folded over his chest.
“That’s just the start!” Thalia gesticulated as she spoke, hands moving with her mouth. “You see, music is one thing, but you can dust off an old phonograph and play music. What people want is something contemporary. They’re living after the end of the world! They don’t want music that reminds them of how things used to be. Those who want a future need entertainment focused in the here and now.”
“So you’re saying entertainment should be geared not towards replaying what we have but creating new content.”
“Exactly!’ Thalia pointed at her. “Now you’ve got it. This addresses another problem I doubt many have even considered.”
“Do go on.” Albion said, dryly. Patricia frowned, Thalia did have a number of valid points, but she had always sensed a certain level of disdain for modern culture from the mage, and his type in general.
Thalia, for her part, seemed utterly unperturbed.
“You see, now that survival alone is less of an immediate concern, the ratio of people necessary to support Rome compared to the population of Rome itself is only going to expand. As we master survival it frees up more people to do things not needed for survival itself.”
Which means…” Thalia had an eager grin in her eye. “There’s going to be a spike in ‘unemployment’ so to speak, and to combat this people will take up their old jobs, or newer, less necessary jobs to meet demand. Proper restaurants and stores so to speak, will open again as we move from salvage to production. And when the old concept of the “work day” is restored, people will want what they’ve always had, entertainment. Radio receivers aren’t hard to make and there are thousands in the city itself. We could be looking at a radio in every home, and that’s potential for more than just music and refugee signals. With that, you can do more complex entertainment, radio shows produced, scripted, and performed by people in the city. There are actors in the sanctuary, trust me, I know, and they could bring culture back to the city.”
Patricia glanced at Albion. She wasn’t sure if she would call his expression impressed, but he didn’t seem as dismissive as he’d been. Patricia had to hand it to Thalia, she at least had charisma and ambition.
“For the time being” Patricia said “We will take your petition under advisement. I think I speak for all of us when I say we find the idea quite compelling. That said, we need to take small steps first.”
“Of course of course.” Thalia’s smile never once faltered as she spoke.
“So get the information and designs from this acquaintance of yours and bring it to one of Senator Conti’s aides. If it’s viable, we’ll see what funding can be found for it.”
Thalia bowed with a flourish, an actresses’ bow as she exited the stage. “Thank you all so much for your time. She grinned before turning to leave.
As the door closed behind her, Patricia leaned back in her chair. The other senators were chatting, most of them already interested in finding funding or discussing her predictions. Patricia remained silent. Bringing culture back to Rome? It was a grand proposal to be sure. Something about her words kept ringing in Patricia’s ears.
“Food and water are necessary to survive, but if you want people to live, then they need something else.”
Not just surviving, but living. The thought seemed odd but it continued to prove true. Wasn’t that why the senate had been formed? As the needs of the people grew more complex they were meant to handle it. The problems always seemed so large, the need for food, shelter, water, and safety, that the thought of things like entertainment seemed almost ridiculous, luxuries they had to abandon for a time in the fight to survive. But was it really a luxury and could they afford to abandon it much longer?
Thalia had been right. For all of her charm and enthusiasm, Patricia could feel the shrewdness behind those bright eyes. As the days grew longer and the people had more time, they would need a distraction, a panacea against the harsh reality they now faced. It had been easy earlier, people could ignore almost anything when they struggled to survive. But give someone time to think after the end of the world…
It was something they tried to suppress, but the suicide numbers in the Roman sanctuary were…unacceptable was the word Patricia decided upon. Simply unacceptable. Could something as seemingly simple as a live radio show really turns some of this around. Patricia didn’t doubt it could be powerful. How long had it been since any of them laughed? How many months since she had smiled as brightly as Thalia?
What future were they fighting for if not the one that Thalia had described? They had discussed it earlier in the Senate. Capitolina had been there to sit in on that meeting (the clever wolf had excused herself from this), and they had brought up the topic of their ultimate goal. Were they attempting to recreate Rome that was or make something new? The debate had not taken long. Rome that was, the Rome most of them had grown up in, was now a thing of history, like Capitolina’s own Roman Empire. They were living in something new, something they had to guide into an uncertain and unclear future. They hadn’t thought of it at the time, but Patricia could see now that any kind of future for the city needed more than just survival. A culture was more than just food and water and shelter. Rome needed stories and entertainment again. Rome needed laughter.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=29&sl=723 )