Ozymandias


F I C T I O N


Abrar Fahyaz


I light up the time machines’ temporal engines, making the switchboard jump to life. And as I finish setting up the date, or rather the destination, my odyssey across the farthest reaches of space and time kicks off.

I begin, at the height of the classical age, to witness through my very own eyes the fabled exploits of Alexander The Great. I tour the Hellenic heartland in my physics-defying craft, its camouflage is shielding me from the mortal eyes of the ancients. I fly high over the arid battlefields of Persia, following Alexander’s tail as he sets about what is possibly the most decisive invasion campaign in all of recorded history. The Panhellenic rampage reaches its climax at the Battle of Gaugamela, where the Macedonian phalanx absolutely obliterates their foe in spite of being numerically outnumbered. I linger around for a little while longer to really experience the true might of the empire in all its glory, coalescing almost the entirety of the civilised world, only being held back by her soldiers who had grown, frankly speaking, quite tired of victory.

Yet, when I re-emerge into the space-time continuum, the world before me paints the picture of a completely different social order. Alexander now is long gone, his vast empire shredded up into small, frivolous pieces. In his stead, a new colossus has risen — an empire engulfing the entire Mediterranean, Imperial Rome. Macedonia now is nought but a minute province under their dominion.

Each scintillating shot from the Ottoman canons lights up the night sky like a candle in the dark. The relentless bombardment of the city walls continue until the fated news arrives; the impenetrable Theodosian walls have been penetrated. I spectate from the safety of my ship the convergence of the Turkish forces on the vulnerable Roman defence positions. And by the time dawn begins to break, it’s all over. The Sultan enters the premises of Constantinople, officially closing off the thousand-year chronicle of the Roman Empire. It’s the end of an era, and time’s quill is quick to spill its ink onto a new page.

However, every era’s under an empire that’s under the impression that they’ll ascend higher than the ascendants they’re effectively ruled by. This leads to some rather witless blunders, such as joining a war that one should never have joined. I take in now, from the banks of the Bosphorus, the march of French troops through the streets of Constantinople. It’s late 1918, the Great War is over and by this time in a few years, so will be the Ottomans.

It has barely been two decades and look where we are! The German Reich’s Ardennes Offensive had been so enormously successful that the French High Command barely managed to last a month before capitulating. Wehrmacht panzers roll down the Paris boulevards letting everyone know that the German War Machine can not be stopped. And I must say, the victory parade really is a terrifying sight to behold. And just as I’m about to head out, I catch sight of the big man himself; with his grip over Europe ever more solidified, Adolf Hitler poses for a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower. Deluded by the illusion of Aryan superiority, Hitler looks eastwards.

The subsequent course of the war elucidated one thing, that a “thousand-year Reich”  could in reality just last a little over 12 years; that much became very clear when Soviet Katyusha rockets began hammering down on Berlin, battering the once great capital of The Reich into smithereens. My aerial view of the city was a little better than no view at all, most of the time it felt like staring down a chimney. When the dust settled, there were more Russian Tanks in Berlin than there were houses left standing. As I made my departure, the melody of the Soviet National Anthem reached my ears on account of the millions of soldiers chanting it all over the city. Germany had fallen.

 

It’s a bleak, unforgiving December night, I stand alone in the Red Square. A light breeze blows from the north, sending a chill down my spine, on top of the Kremlin, the Red flag flutters with the gust. I catch the faint tune of the Soviet Anthem playing somewhere in the distance, just like it was all those years ago in Berlin. Faint as it may be, the words are still anything but obscure:

An unbreakable union of free republics,
Great Rus’ united forever.
Long live the creation of the will of the people,
The united, mighty Soviet Union!”

— the moniker of the flag bearers of communism, it can be heard all too well, as clear as the boreal sky. Until suddenly it can’t. The anthem has ended, and as if right on cue, the clock atop the Kremlin informs everyone that it is midnight. The flag is steadily lowered and ever so gently, it disappears from my line of sight. And just like that, one of the most powerful political entities to ever exist becomes just another record in the pages of history. A sombre mood falls over Moscow. Decades of unprecedented geopolitical tension, a conflict of ideology and a struggle for global influence more titanic than any we’ve ever witnessed brought to an abrupt halt and an indignant end.

I begin walking towards the time machine and on my way there, on the TV screens lining the shops by the streets, I catch a glimpse of the cheering crowds in the Western Bloc nations celebrating this historic moment. I arrive at the destined place where the machine rests and once again re-embark upon my journey across time. My travel hasn’t yet ended, it has only just begun.

….

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

– Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias”

 

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