MIRAGE Short Stories

( An abstract from "Time-traveler's Guide" [v2318] : the Ancient City of Solon, pp47-55. )

by S. K. Chang
translated from Chinese by K. G. Koziol and L. Yeh

...The Bronze Statue, erected in the heart of the imperial city of Solon, stood over 400 Terran-metres tall and took up nearly 2 hectares at its base. The towering corpus could be seen shining brilliantly under the violet sun from over 80 kilometres across the surrounding savannah. According to the travelers at that time (i.e. late Anlui Era), the Statue was the most distinguishing landmark of the whole planet when observed from spaceships -- even the Golden Palace could not compare with its magnificence. Such huge dimensions made the Statue not only unique in the Huhuian Stellar System but, perhaps, even in the entire Universe.

There are several legends about the origin of this Statue. According to the Huhui Annals, the earliest version of this Statue was erected to commemorate the first wave of Solonian colonizers. However, it is generally believed that the first Statue represented the first ruler of Solon. Another theory is that the Statue was a trophy of The Interstellar War III... In any case, all later historians agree that there had been a Statue in Solon by the end of that war.

The first Statue stood about 40 metres tall. It was already a giant for its age, but only a mole hill in comparison with those colossal Statues of later years.

20 years after the conclusion of Interstellar War III, the emperor of Huhui, who had disappeared in the tumult and was thought dead, suddenly reappeared in Solon. His younger brother, already on the throne for years, was of course unwilling to step down, and therefore the two sides finally took up arms against each other. Backed by those ministers who were still loyal to him, the old emperor conquered the imperial city, forcing the new emperor to flee into the savannah. Following the restoration, the followers of the new emperor who stayed behind in the city were all executed -- more than a thousand heads were hung on the city walls, and all the helmets and breast plates of the dead were melted down together with the original Statue and then recast into a new one of the old emperor. Not long afterwards the old emperor passed away, but because the successor was very young, the new emperor's party seized the opportunity to ally with the Leopardmen and attack the city. Once again upon the throne, the new emperor massacred the remaining members of the old emperor's party and recast the Statue in his own image. The old emperor's heir, who barely escaped with his life, had also fled into the savannah, but returned 12 years later to retake the city following another mass insurrection....

The struggles for power between the "Old Party" and the "New Party" lasted more than 1000 years. According to the Huhui Annals, Solon city changed flags altogether 31 times, thus showing how unstable the situation was during that period. This long-term struggle has been called the "Thousand Year War" in history books.

Since it was dominated by such fierce civil wars, the Thousand Year War period of the Anlui Era contributed little to the development of Huhuian civilization. Perhaps the only accomplishment was the advancement in bronze-casting techniques -- no matter which party conquered Solon, the first thing it did was to exterminate the members of the opposing party and melt down their armor together with the old Statue and cast a new one. As the scale of warfare grew larger and larger, the Statue consequently became bigger and bigger. When the city changed flags/banners for the 17th time, the Statue had already reached almost 100 metres in height. Even though bronze-casting techniques were quite advanced, to recast such a mammoth statue was still a time-consuming and difficult task. It would exhaust all the resources of the city and offer the opposition a chance to seize the throne. Thus, the cycle of melting and recasting never stopped....

The recasting of the Statue therefore turned into a nightmare for the rulers of Solon -- something they could not afford either to do or not to do. A Huhuian poet of that time said it best: "The eyes of the entire Universe, all, are gazing at the ever-glowing Golden Man of the imperial city." When the city changed hands for the 19th time, the victor -- a prince of the New Party -- issued orders to destroy the Statue and forbade its recasting. Nevertheless, this brave prince suddenly became the object of his subject's contempt and was stabbed to death the next morning in his tub by his own officers, thus Solon changed hands for the 20th time. Because of this frightening historical precedent, no subsequent emperors again dared to go against this tradition. No matter how difficult the work of recasting was, even if it emptied the treasury, it still had to be done!

The emperors accordingly were quite ambivalent toward the Statue. If an emperor did not cast the Statue it meant losing his life, but if he did he was destined to lose his country. The choice between these two dilemmas was enough to make even the most enlightened emperor's hair and beard turn white. The attitude of the Solonian citizens was equally double-minded. They detested the work of recasting Statues, for many of their fathers and brothers either were killed in battles and had their armor integrated into the Statues, or perished accidentally while casting the new Statue -- losing their footing and falling into the molten hot forge, or being crushed by the debris as the old Statue was destroyed, or dying of exhaustion along the road as they tried to move the debris. Hence, the Statue always conjured up bitter memories. Nevertheless, it was at the same time the landmark that the citizens were most proud of -- the Bronze Statue was the main reason for the city's greatness and glory. There was not a single Huhuian poet who did not either praise or condemn the Statue. And this is also the reason why that, until now, the lovelorn youth of Huhui still refer to their lovers as the "Bronze Statue of Solon" in their letters.

Since both emperor and citizens possessed such complicated and strong feelings toward this Bronze Statue, by the time the city changed flags for the 29th time, the Statue had already become a gigantic object more than 150 metres in height. Anyone who intended to recast it would be scared to death by just looking at it. One time a general of the Old Party conquered the city and proudly entered it. His officers led him before the Statue where he glanced at it only for a moment and then fell from his horse. The poor fellow was knocked out and remained in a coma for three days. On the third night, in the square in front of the Palace, someone happened upon him pacing back and forth and mumbling to himself barefooted with hands behind his back. In the morning the guards discovered that he had hanged himself in the Palace. Some said he had committed suicide; some said he had lost his mind; but others believed that it was the spirit of the Statue that had possessed him and forced him to do himself in.

No matter what the real cause, the general's death so frightened the armies of both parties that they did not dare to attack the city for nearly 37 years thereafter. Solon consequently became a free city during that time. The leaders of both sides knew that whoever attacked and entered the city would then have to recast the Statue, but none of them had the courage and only let Solon run itself. This was probably "Heaven's Will", for it was during this period that the democratic traditions of Huhuian civilization first came about. For the first few years, the city had no real government. After a few years' chaos, an old scholar strove to persuade the inhabitants to adopt Terran ways and organize a republic, called according to the history books the "First Republic". Solon had thus changed flags for the 30th time.

Once the republic was established the city gradually regained its former glory, people were living well and business and industry developed rapidly. This made the senators of the republic very proud of themselves. Then it came to certain people's minds that it was the proper time to recast another Statue. The advocators pointed out that since the present Statue was made in the image of the last emperor of the New Party, it was absolutely unsuitable for the people to honor him. Furthermore, the achievements of the republican government had surpassed those of the past, and that this government deserved to have a new Statue for itself. The only question was whose image would be on the new Statue. Some recommended casting many small statues to commemorate Solon's first colonizers. Others called for honoring Solon's first ruler. As for the senators, they, of course, privately hoped for a Statue of themselves, only it was not proper to pursue that publicly.

Nevertheless, there were also many people opposed to recasting the Statue: They pointed out that emperors of past dynasties all had lost their thrones and perished on account of remaking the Statue; hence the republic, being a democratic government, should not be so ambitious. Moreover, the armies of both the Old Party and New Party still appeared from time to time on the savannah and might attack the city at any moment. If the republican government wasted its people and resources on recasting the Statue, this would no doubt be a stupidly suicidal action. In addition, the Statue was already well over 150 metres tall and weighed over 100 tons. Last time it took nearly 10 years to recast it. How could a republican government, they asked, act so autocratically and not take into account the opposition of the people?

Both sides of the question were quite powerful and they squabbled over this problem for quite some time. Finally, a solution was found by the same scholar who had originally suggested the creation of the republic. This old man was already over 90 years old, but he was still sharper and more intelligent than most young people. His solution was a great invention of Huhuian civilization and had a great influence on later generations: He stated that there was no need to recast the Statue from scratch. Instead, they could simply add an outside shell coating to the original Statue. This way not only would the new Statue be larger than the old one, but it would also not be necessary to destroy the old Statue and thus spare work and material. And most importantly, because the old Statue would still be inside, subsequent emperors would not frivolously dare to destroy the Statue, but, at most, simply try to add a new shell to it.

The old scholar's recommendation was quickly adopted by the entire republican senate, and all the citizens also heaved a sigh of relief as if emancipated from a huge burden. What a clever way of killing two birds with one stone! they thought. Appreciating the old scholar for his contribution and support for the republic, people all agreed that the face of the new Statue should be none other than his own. Who could have known that just because of this, the old scholar would be killed and the First Republic would come to an end?

News that the republican government in Solon was going to rebuild the Statue spread quickly over the savannah and greatly disturbed both the leaders of the Old and New Party. Once they realized that recasting the Statue would no longer be such a difficult task, their ambitions stirred up again. As a consequence, they resolved their differences and organized an allied army to besiege the city. The republican government fought bravely for 3 years, but finally could no longer resist the assaults. The day the city fell, none of the republican senators fled, instead, they all remained and burned themselves to death in the senate chamber. The republican army that defended the city also fought to the end, not a single soldier surrendering. The tragic fall of the First Republic has been sung of even to this day by Huhuian poets and has inspired generations of Huhui democratic resistance fighters.

What followed the entrance of the allied army was three days' mass slaughter. The old scholar and 35 members of his family were all killed and their heads hung on the city gate forever forbidden to be removed. It was not until 124 years later, when the Second Republic was established, that the heads were finally taken down and the Statue recast in the old scholar's image.

After the victory, the allied army crowned a prince of the Old Party and a princess of the New Party as emperor and empress -- thus concluding the Thousand Year War between these two imperial parties. And another shell was then immediately added to the Statue.

Following the Thousand Year War, Huhui history moved into a brand new period. From then on there was no longer a struggle between the Old Party and the New Party, instead it was replaced by the wars between the "Imperial Party" and the "Populist Party". In a period which lasted nearly 2000 years, 27 republics and 27 restorations came and went. Since the banner of the Imperial Party was a leopard and that of the Populist Party a snake, this struggle has been called the "Leopard-Snake War". In the end the Imperial Party and Populist Party also came to a compromise, Huhui history subsequently entered a period of constitutional monarchy and Huhuian civilization of Anlui Era reached its golden age.

During the 2000 years of the Leopard-Snake War, the Bronze Statue of Solon acquired 54 new shells, finally becoming a mountainous Statue nearly 300 metres high. At the beginning of the constitutional monarchy, there were still several courageous and talented generals and prime ministers who had continued to modify the Statue. But because its body was just too big, even putting on just one more layer had become an extremely complicated engineering feat. Hence the last time the Statue was modified, it cost several trillions and the minister was dismissed. Thereafter, no minister ever again tried to modify the Statue.

Still, over time the Statue continued to change on its own. The outer shells that had been added dynasty after dynasty were originally fashioned in the images of different historical figures. Perhaps due to some transformation over time, or perhaps because of the weight of gravity, each layer of shell naturally squeezed and attached itself to the prior one, and thus the Statue slowly altered its appearance, no longer resembling any particular historical person, but becoming a composite of numerous faces and figures. When Solonians and visitors glanced up at the Statue, they could not help but have a strange sensation that what they were looking at was a living being, not a metal statue of several hundred tons. Some said that when they stood in front of the Statue, they felt as if the eyes of all Huhuian history were looking at them. Others said that the Statue's appearance was not that of an ordinary man but of some kind of super being....

In this way, all sorts of rumors gradually began to spread: Some people swore that when they passed the Statue at night they could hear it breathing heavily. Residents who lived on the nearby lanes all claimed that they had heard sounds of the Statue crying or sighing. Although the city government again and again explained away these rumors, they still managed to spread uncontrollably. Since the Statue had entombed innumerable spirits of those who had not died well, it was not surprising, according to government authorities, that legends about the Statue would grow. It was not until the Iconolatrism -- a religion that considered the Statue to be the only God -- emerged and people began to worship the Statue, that the Solon government began to panic and adopt severe measures to ban the religious movement and forbid its practices.

Huhuian civilization had by this time reached the peak of glory, its arts, culture, commerce, industry, science, and military power all surpassing those of nearby star systems in the Galaxy. The Huhuian Stellar System therefore naturally assumed the hegemony of the 18 neighboring star systems. Historians, accordingly, still continue to debate about the appearance of primitive Statue worship in spite of the advancement of Huhuian civilization in Anlui Era. In any case the magic power of the Statue continued to grow day by day. Even though the government had not done any work on the Statue for many years, the Statue kept on increasing in size. Some people suspected the Iconolatrists were secretly repairing it, but this is not very convincing. First, although these believers worshiped the Statue, they dared not touch it in any way, for according to their Canon Law, it would have been blasphemous. Second, even if some member of the Iconolatrist sect had decided to break with the Law and try to repair the Statue, it would have been very difficult for that person to escape detection by the Statue's guardians. Another theory, with a little more scientific basis, said that, as a result of the downward slippage of a fault under the city, some small fissures had begun to appear at the base of the Statue. In this way underground magma was able to enter the Statue and blow it up like a balloon. This theory also explained fairly well why at times the Statue seemed to "sweat" or "cry". No matter what the cause, the ever-expanding Statue began to incite the citizens to a state of general panic. In the quiet of the night, even those who were not adherents of Iconolatrism could hear the Statue breathing. Furthermore, the face of the Statue slowly but steadily took on a frightening aspect. It was so terrible that once when an ambassador from other stellar system gaze upon the Statue for the first time, he fearfully exclaimed, without thinking twice, "This is a demon's face!"

For more than 100 years the Statue continued to grow, reaching a height of 360 metres. Its body also kept on expanding and encroaching upon the plaza in front of it and four or five blocks of the surrounding residential area. As the Statue grew so did the number of followers of Iconolatrism. In spite of the efforts of the government authorities at suppression, the power and influence of this religion were by no means quelled: Children paraded through the city with the Bronze-Statue badges and insignia on their clothes. Women wore images of the Statue as pendants and prayed for blessings before the Statue. Philosophers wrote long treatises discussing whether the Statue was the only God in the Universe. And from time to time bloody disputes broke out among various sects of believers on account of differences in religious teachings -- hence, martyrs were often immolated in front of the Statue. The Statue, in the face of all this change, remained impassive and just kept on growing. Finally the prime minister and cabinet ministers announced that they all would convert, and Iconolatrism became the state religion from that time on.

Since Huhui had become hegemon of the local superstellar systems -- the Stellar Alliance, it therefore commanded all the other systems of the Alliance to adopt this new religion. 13 systems yielded to Huhui's threats of military force; however, the other 5 systems decisively announced that they would leave the Alliance. As a consequence, fanatic Iconolatrists in Huhui organized an expeditionary force to conquer those systems that had pulled out. In the beginning this was more or less a local dispute; but eventually it came to involve the neighboring superstellar systems. One tragic event led to another, like the domino effect, and eventually caused the Interstellar War IV.

Interstellar War IV lasted about 250 years, destroying much of Galactic civilization and greatly influencing the course of future events. (For more details on the war, consult "Comprehensive History of Interstellar War IV.") Not long after the cease fire, Huhui, the stellar system that had started it all, received the penalty it deserved: A star fleet from the superstellar System GGG besieged the Huhui world, and a Dragon class dreadnought soon appeared above Solon city. 20 minutes later, the entire Statue was vaporized leaving nothing but a large bare patch of scorched earth.

Legends about the Statue, however, continued on despite the vaporization of the Statue. It is said that the day before its destruction, the Statue seemed to be crying, and its face took on a rare kind expression. A witness, an adherent of Iconolatrism, recalled that only at that moment did he realize that the Statue truly was the soul of the city. There was another rumor saying that the Statue was never really vaporized and that a new Statue had appeared in the upper reaches of the Hu River Basin. Some people even believed that the Statue would somehow condense back into shape and return to Solon to lead the Huhuian warriors in starting up Interstellar War V and thus the Iconolatrism would be restored to its former power and glory. All of these beliefs are still current in Huhui world today.

There is however at least one thing that is certain: The destinies of Solon and its Statue have intimately intertwined. After the Statue was vaporized, Huhuian civilization in Anlui Era rapidly followed the road to collapse. 25 years after the Statue's destruction, Solon was conquered by the Snakemen from the Hu River Basin and fell into ruin, the Snakemen themselves soon also mysteriously becoming extinct. What connection these unusual events have with the Bronze Statue will still have to wait for future historical research....