In the City of Giano

In the City of Giano

It was a city of sculpted light and clarity and it was constructed on a bedrock of lies and intricate webs of deceit. And Leon Battiste Alberti had built it himself, almost single-handedly. His advisers had been cynical as he drained the city-state’s treasury in pursuit of his splendid vision, this edifice that would outlast the measure of his life and his law. They predicated an early demise. Many had come to rule before this small, unprepossessing man, whose origins were less than illustrious, and been defeated by the shining, complex world of Giano. It required subtlety and brutal strength and when he had first risen out of the military ranks to lead a punishing action against a new schism of popular democracy, few had believed he would have the stamina for rule. Giano destroyed as it created, brilliantly, casually and with caprice. In retrospect he agrees with his early critics, he had surprised himself. He had not known he would become a victim of his own need for control. He had always been a meticulous man; it did not necessarily equate to power.

On this first day of WinterMoon, the 20th anniversary of his YearRule, he is perched on a window ledge, somewhat precariously, to observe the gathering chaos below him. Always secretly amused that the nobles believe he appreciates their adulation, he retains a precise view of their aspirations, their hatreds and their desire to destroy him. Not much has given him pause in the long, bloody years in the Palazza de Medici. Even above the furore of the courtyard below, he hears the door behind him open, his instincts are close to paranormal and he shifts his balance imperceptibly as a whirling darkness launches itself at him. Pivoting, he turns and catching her by the arm he uses her own momentum to pin her to the floor.

One day you will be too sure, Battiste, one day.

For a moment he allows himself the luxury of appraising her; the black depths of her hair and those remarkable eyes that have never conceded anything, to anyone. He smiles.

But not yet awhile, Isabella, it would bore you. Does this unprovoked attack upon my person indicate that you are unduly pleased with me?

I would rather please a dog. Take you hands from me, peasant.

He laughs despite himself, she often has this effect on him, perhaps that is why he keeps her. He lets her move fractionally and then allows her to get up slowly, very slowly, he has never underrated her venom. The chamber vibrates as she slams the door after her, a small crystal chalice explodes off a shelf. He sighs wondering again if his passion for unusual ornaments will finally destroy him where all else has failed.

The origins of Isabella Maria de Medici could be traced back across a thousand years. It was a feat few could match in these decadent days and Battise valued her as much as his other priceless antiques, his galleries, his subject cities, his academies of scholars and historians, all of which had been purchased at unnatural prices. But he is a man who knows the true depth of an obsession, and this relentless pursuit of the fragmented and tattered beauty of an era now totally surpassed by technological hegemony pleases him, by the very nature of its oddity. He likes to imagine that he is the last in a line of cognoscenti who have tirelessly pursued the dying mysteries of long gone ages. This thought amuses him for, in many ways, he knows exactly what he is, a bandit-king, little more than a condottiere. Romance, nostalgia and sentimentality irritate him but he finds contradictions innately irresistible. He had purchased Isabella in an off world buying expedition on a small planet that specialised in aristos slavery, although it was never described in such a vulgar way. She had been enhanced, of course, but there remained a significant quantity of her genetic codex that made her something of a rarity. The GeneTech had been concerned about her violent, indeed pathological, propensities and had cautioned Battiste against buying her in her original condition. With some splicing and careful re-sequencing work the Genetech believed he could modify some of her alarming behaviour. Battiste had laughed.

I am not purchasing a painting to match my existing decor, Dottore, she is classified as human I believe, I want as much of the original gene material as possible, complete with murderous tendencies.

You will have to sedate her, Seigneur, it is cruel to keep her locked up, even here we find she is practically uncontrollable.

On the contrary sir, I will allow her to go free.

After signing a veritable manuscript of disclaimers Battiste was allowed to transport her back to a replica of the Palazza her family had once built in their era of greatness. He is aware that Isabella, in as much as she is capable of coherent thought or imagination, hates both him and the Palazza without reservation.

Sighing he turns from the gallery of portraits, the Giottos and Torrigianos and wonders again what ails his spirit for it seems to him, of late, that there is little of genuine pleasure in his life. He is not bored, the intricate dance of power shifts in Giano keeps him more than occupied, something less easy to describe besets him. Perhaps it’s time to die, he muses, though that may well be nigh impossible to achieve. Mortality is not an easy option in a body that has been constructed to last. There is also the small matter of his inherited and acquired immunity. Unlike the majority of the population Battiste grew up outside the great Duomos in a mountain cave complex. He and his family weathered the worst of the plagues generated in the wake of the Great Chem Wars, without the assistance of bio-technology. They were hardy stock, small and tough. Whole families, tribes and clans had been decimated by the pandemics but the Alberti had survived, they continued to live outside without the oxygen, eugenic and antigen assisted regimes of the Duomos. Consequently Battiste was able to travel, globally and between planetary systems with little discomfort. It was this ability that allowed him to gain a monopoly on the Geneprint trade and with it something close to absolute power; he now owns the technicians, the plants and the scientists who can cure every conceivable illness. He can also manufacture any incurable disease and unleash it should he so choose. In his clinics his patients are unaware that their treatment enables him to control their unborn children, to program them as he desires. He likes to think he is the Vesalius of his age and whereas Vesalius had demystified the anatomy of the human heart, Battiste can now control that heart, its passions, its loves and hatreds. All this appeals to his sense of an ordered universe, and he believes he has constructed a path towards the ultimate expression of humanism, man as infinitely reasonable, decorous, intelligent. In the new world coming there will be little place for the chaos of emotion. The questions of volition and free will do not particularly disturb him, like his predecessors in rule, he believes he has the right to shape the world of lesser creatures. However all this does little to solve the immediate problem of his ennui, lesser mortals than he have despaired when the flame that drove their lives had fulfilled its singular purpose. He is unaware that Isabella is planning to solve the tedious dilemma of his mortality.

Isabella Maria is not entirely human nor is she a clone, she is something far more subtle than either. The world she delighted in, that marvellous creation of her brother, Lorenzo Il Magnifico, no longer exists. The Palazzo is both utterly alien to her and disturbingly familiar. It is an endless maze of lies, and yet it calls to her, there is no peace in it. She has been striving for an unbroken sequence of memory, for a functional intelligence since Battiste had purchased her, but she keeps getting lost somewhere in nebulous spaces, dreams, and images that unravel like the fabric of fragile lace. It seems anything can betray her grasp on her purpose, a deft thread of music, a portrait, the smell of wine and she is back in a world where far flung lights glimmer like a cobwebbed tapestry. She is sea-bound with monster waves and fish, and far beneath something dark, unknowable, the luminous flesh of the deep sea, a black creature that lives in the depths. The sluice gates in her blood open and shut to some iron-clad rhythm, something made of grey, voided space. And yet there is an imperative in her, a drive, she cannot say what it is for it seems to hide beneath the mountains that are piled in her mind. Like a diver, she rises constantly to a surface and it is clear, so clear, for an instant then she is sucked relentlessly back down.

Lately, she finds herself drawn back repeatedly to a statue of Piero de Medici, she is entranced by the power of the man’s face, the lines of clarity, the unseeing eyes that seem to see her alone. Conversations float around her, and if she is very still she can hear them, words drifting like mist. The sonorous voice of Marsilio Ficino, a sadness born outside of time, as if he knew the thousand year future of his people. All of it lost, the beauty of eloquence, of art, the passions of the mind and the heart, all of it expressed, alive, here in this palace. We are as fleeting as a storm, my Prince, so soon we will vanish under the heel of the barbarian. And then Lorenzo’s marvellous laughter, rippling through corridors hushed with power and powerful men. She understands that silver world of music and golden fountains, the cadence of poetry, the sway of dark-eyed woman, dressed as fabulously as exotic birds. She knows it like she knows her own skin, the skin which somehow doesn’t quite belong to her and yet it does. Of late she has realised she must resist the tempests that rise through her like nightmares, that escape lies coiled somewhere in the ability to be still; to allow all the contradictions to flow through her without succumbing to rage. She suspects that Battiste controls her through manipulating some instinctual level of her being and although she resists, she is as sleepless and hot as the artificial sun which fills the courtyard beneath her.

But now it is time to leave the gallery, her presence is required to adorn the Chamber of Reception for the arrival of Battiste’s guests. As if on cue De Orca arrives to escort her to the dignitaries waiting below. De Orca is an even greater mystery to her at times than Battiste, she distrusts him completely, and he bears a rather large scar on his left arm due to her skill with a knife. But there is something unfathomable in his eyes, something glimmering beneath that perfect exterior. Suddenly she decides to confront him.

De Orca, you are a pig, I know, but why do you minister to the Battiste despot?

Why do you think I have a choice, Lady?

Lorenzo would say there is always choice. That complicity is choice.

Il Magnifico, God rest him, remains undisturbed in his long sleep.

Do not evade, De Orca.

Lady, say nothing of this to anyone.

Say nothing of what?

You should not have these memories, Isabella, they were not part of your original programming.

Below them the music of lute and pipe ascends like gilded birds and she feels as if the feathered touch of wings could brush her, as if flight were as easy as da Vinci had once made it sound. Air and warmth. Memories glide and coalesce like river fish on a summer’s day and for the first time it seems that they belong to her. That growing within her, like a child in utero, there is an emerging synthesis of what she has been and what she will become: Isabella Maria, darkest rose of the Medici. Proof of their splendour and their hope, a woman who was renowned for both her intelligence and her beauty. As she descends the stairwell, she is aware that Battiste is watching her, oblivious to his subjects who cavil beneath the dais like hunted animals. She despises them both, Battiste for his arrogance and his subjects for their abject cowardice. A conversation with Ficino drifts through the doorway of her memories.

The basest despots contrive to rule by division, they fatten themselves on plundering their people’s lives, their very souls. And the people are frail, they are unable to withstand such power, they will fight only when driven by madness to hunger or to defend their young…

She realises now that she has never had Ficino’s tolerance or his compassion for the powerless. Only now, as one of them, is she able to begin to comprehend just what it is that Battiste has made of her. And it is so much less than what she was and now is capable of being. He had wanted an original, a pet Medici, like the miniature monkeys they had once kept on gem-encrusted leashes in the Palaces of Spain. She smiles as she glides towards him through the avenue of cowered subjects, and notes the hint of surprise around his mouth. Like the tiny primates she too is vicious, unpredictable and entirely devoid of gratitude.

Through the long, arduous afternoon Isabella appears to listen to the sycophantic speeches of the nobility and the poor, all in the same key of gratuitous praise for a benevolent ruler. And she wonders if Battiste is so devoid of imagination that he appears to need such an impoverished range of reassurance. On a deeper level she is more preoccupied with the changes in the composition of neural gases that Battiste is having pumped into the Chamber. Every reaction can be heightened, every emotion can be extended and purged. Given the magnitude of the occasion she notes that Battiste has gone to some pains to orchestrate the emotional fervour the neurals are promoting and that he is not immune to the collective reaction. As the sunlight crosses the Chamber and the light from jewelled chandeliers fractures into dancing prisms, Isabella arrives at her decision. It occurs to her that although she has always been a woman of contradictions, she has never willingly conspired in her own subjugation. Somewhere, across time, she hears Lorenzo laughing again, teasing her about love, summer fruits and the peacocks strutting beneath green arbours. She can almost smell the pungent fragrance of the first berries. Carefully she unpicks the memory, like a seamstress with a fine fabric, she packs it away amidst the other treasures of her past. It is time now for the future.

Thus it was, in the city of Giano, that Isabella de Medici fulfilled a prophecy that had been made about her almost a millennia before her re-creation. As the denizens of the city celebrated the rule of their tyrant with an induced sensual frenzy, Isabella descended the levels of the Palazza until she arrived in the BioTech High Sec. Zone. There she efficiently murdered the guards and gained entrance to the centre of Battiste’s power. And as the cloned servants of the GeneTechs mindlessly fulfilled their duties, Isabella accessed the acquired memories of four years of captivity on the aristos slavery planet where she had been bred. Armed with that knowledge she constructed a neural recombinant gas that would ensure the death even of Battiste, along with every living carbon based creature within a substantial radius. Although she was not a woman to suffer unnecessarily from remorse, she could not resist a sense of sadness that the beauty Battiste had assembled in that place would decay before humans would risk entry to the Palazza again. As her world lay dying around her Isabella remembered Ficino’s prophecy before she succumbed to the sweetness of a death from which she could never be resurrected. Ficino had written

Your beauty is our greatest weakness, and you despise us correctly for only perceiving a canvas of perfection, the symmetry of your features, the luminosity of your skin. Beneath that is concealed the most lethal woman of our age, you are capable of destroying us only because we refuse to acknowledge what you truly are, we are incapable of imagining what lives beyond the surface.

With the exception of Isabella, all the character in this story have been resurrected from the Italian Renaissance. In some cases I have reshaped personal lives for the purposes of this story, in other cases I have built on what I know of their personal histories. I hope they are more forgiving than Isabella.


Leon Battiste Alberti 1401-72

Marsilio Ficino 1454-1501

Lorenzo de Medici 1448-97

Giotto 1266-c1337

Torrigiano 1483-1523

Piero de Medici 1373-1446

Versalius 1514-64

Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519

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