Title: In Various Grades.
Beta and proof-reader: Fififolle. (thank you!)
Summary: Shipwrecked en route to Persia, a British naval officer assists in the fight against prehistoric killers.
Fandom: Primeval: AU
Reed King - Lieutenant in the British Royal Navy; speaks English and Osmanliji (is bilingual)
Benjamin Hands - seaman in the British Royal Navy; speaks English and Osmanliji virtually bilingual)
Ali Mihaloghlu - Former member of Hamadiye militia; regional acting head of the group tasked with handling Anomaly-activity.
Mr. Hovhan Menas - Businessman, regional organizational head of the group tasked with handling Anomaly-stuff, cousin to the Sublime Porte’s financier.
Fatima Menas - Daughter of Mr Menas. Accomplished illustrator and miniaturist. (like being a birdwatcher and a falconer)
Author’s note: the “Sublime Porte” is the Ottoman Emperor.
A note on translation: Wherever possible, I’ve tried to use the original Ottoman word; where I don’t know it, I use the modern Turkish word. I also write phonetically where there is any doubt; ie, Osmanlici, the Turkish word for the Ottoman language, is pronounced Osmanliji.
Prompt: I'd love to see an 18th century (or other historical) anomaly
response team. For the swash and buckle, if nothing else.
Like/want: I like clever stories with strong plots.
Maximum rating your recipient will read: Any
Bey = Mr. Used to show respect. A polite “sir.”
Hanim = Miss, Ma’am. Used to show respet.
Pasha = the formal and high-ranking “Sir.”
Creatures: Ankarapithecines (7-8 feet tall; 8 MYA), Australopithecines (average of (3? to) 4 feet tall; 4-3 MYA)
Note: I know what you’re thinking “but if they had that nasty habit, why don’t we find evidence of it in the shape of their teeth?” Well, for one thing, modern humans’ teeth don’t show specializations for eating grapes, tunicates, squid, bamboo, or ox hearts…yet we can eat all and any of them.
"What sort of a man is he?"
"He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I disliked, and yet I scarce knew why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't really specify the point. He's an extraordinary man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way."
“А как он выглядит?”
“Его наружность трудно описать. Что-то в ней есть странное... что-то неприятное... попросту отвратительное. Ни один человек еще не вызывал у меня подобной гадливости, хотя я сам не понимаю, чем она объясняется. Наверное, в нем есть какое-то уродство, такое впечатление создается с первого же взгляда, хотя я не могу определить отчего. У него необычная внешность, но необычность эта какая-то неуловимая. Нет, сэр, у меня ничего не получается: я не могу описать, как он выглядит. И не потому, что забыл: он так и стоит у меня перед глазами.”
. --- Mr. Enfield & Mr. Utterson; from the book The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in English and in Russian.
Black Sea coastal region,
Province of Istanbul
They’re very quiet Lt. King thought to himself; one minute, we’re talking to Mr. Menas, thanking him for all his help in organizing repairs to our ship… and in the next, there’s a butler at his ear. Okay, so they call ‘em by a diff’rent name than we do – so?, even the French use different words for the same thing.
“Lieutenant King,” Mr Menas says, that butler gone - no, just at the doorway, waiting. “As your captain has asked of me to honor you in his stead, I’ll ask you to accompany me outside and tell me if this is from your ship,” as he rises from the – still not sure what to call it; it’s a padded sofa, hugging the four walls of this room, stopping only for the low door. Moonlight glides through the drawn curtains.
“Anything I can do to help,” I answer, slightly puzzled, following him out of the room and down the one flight of stairs; I keep my gaze fixed forwards, politely not looking into the study of Mr Menas, host of myself and my fellow crewmen. Then the butler holds the door open for us, whereupon we stand on the fine wood porch, looking at the group standing in a cluster on the lawn.
“We are here, Ali Mihaloghlu-bey,” Mr Menas says. “Now, if you may, show me what you felt so urgent.”
“Yes, Pasha,” one of the cluster says. “My men found the remains of a merchant in the woods uncomfortably close to your residence here. By his clothes, I’ve determined he hails from Fener.”
“What attacked him? Robbers?”
“His monies were all untouched. His head, was not – it is absent.”
Mr Menas mutters something out of which I catch the word ‘Allah’ – a prayer, then, I’d say; he’s just like everyone else hereabouts.
“And we found him running towards here,” Mr Mihaloghlu continued, his gang parting to reveal who was being held – literally – in the center.
“Oi! Easy!” the captive cried.
“If I may enquire, Pasha, is this an associate of one of your esteemed guests?”
Mr Menas turns to look at me.
“I know him,” I say. Me aside, he’s the only other Geordie aboard ship. “He’s our navigator. Ben Hands.”
“Hey,” Ben says as a greeting. They let him go.
“In that case, Pasha,” Mihaloghlu says, “I ask to summon the crew.”
“Truly?” Mr Menas asks, worried only now.
“I’m afraid so. I saw the tracks, myself, Pasha.”
“Then summon them, Ali-bey. Awaken all the men you need. And return by mid-morning with a list of all you need made.” What th…? What’s going on here? Tracks?
“Consider it done and dealt with, Menas-Pasha. A good night to you.”
“God protect you and yours,” and Mihaloghlu and his team – crew? – departed, leaving me, Ben, Mr Menas and the butler standing there.
Even when we all went inside and were shown to the guest bedrooms, that thought continued in my mind:
Mid-morning had become noon by the time I was able to persuade Mr Menas to make Mr Mihaloghlu let me come along on the search – on the condition that the rest of my crew return to the ship immediately (Hands excepted, given the state he was in); I confess I capitalized on my uncle’s friendship with Mr Menas’ brother and the debt he owed my family. And he’d said ‘Ali-bey, tell him what you need to.’
I then had jotted out a short letter to my uncle the Captain, telling him what we knew of what had happened to Ben, and informing the Captain that I was joining a party to hunt down what had been responsible for Ben’s trauma. The ship repairs were proceeding apace, I knew, and didn’t really need me here for anything save strict formality – being a host while offering help, was what Mr. Menas was doing.
I marched with the crew in silence, down the long street, through a small field, and into the woods. I wouldn’t’ve expected so many conifers, otherwise it was exactly like a heavy English wood. Only then did Mihaloghlu ask me, “Where did you learn Osmanliji?” His own accent was faint, but I could just make it out in the Ottoman words.
“My uncle and his friends were soldiers in the Crimean War. I picked it up from them. Yourself?”
“I was born speaking it.”
“You’ve got an accent.”
“True. I was born in Konya; I moved here because I figured that, unless we invade Romania or Georgia, this was the best place to fight any invading Russians.”
“I see. So what’s all this to-do about a set of tracks?” I ask, figuring now’s as good a time as any, now that I’ve got him talking.
“Imperial authorization. Some credit Suleiman with the idea, but it was only instituted under Ibrahim.”
Dryly, “The assortment of teams tasked with tracking these unknown creatures; that is where our Order ultimately stems from.”
“And what are these creatures?”
“Many things, almost never the same things twice.”
I stop when he pauses in mid-stride when one of his men up ahead drops to his knees, back to us. “Prayer time already?”
Mihaloghlu’s hand goes for his sword, but doesn’t pull it out of its scabbard. He keeps his eyes on his man.
After some length of time, his man gave some manner of hand signal, and suddenly Mihaloghlu’s blade was edge against my throat. “Mind – your – tongue.” Or lose it, no doubt. Who says pirates’re all gone? “Come.”
We go up to the man who’d dropped, who’s still on his knees at a stream. I couldn’t even see the stream, owing to all the shade overhead and the moss taking up nearly all the water’s depth; that and the ground barely rolls in this plot within the woods. I could just make out bare footprints in said moss… but b’fore I can say anything, I notice there’s something off about this foot.
Not a deformity.
“Our remit,” Mihaloghlu says, sword sheathed.
Which is? “What made that?” I ask, looking at the footprint. Longer toes than normal folks have, and big toes canted out to the side. Yet there was never any sign that even one of the things was limping.
“We’re to find out, and deal with it as circumstances allow.”
Our next stop came after we’d followed the tracks to where Hands had been when he’d seen whatever it was that he’d seen; he hadn’t exactly been coherent last night. Small slips and shades, he’d said, like Mister Hyde had come to life in all his darkness. I really need to read that book now, I suppose.
From there, the tracks led to a puddle of blood and bloody handprints. “It was here,” Mihaloghlu said. He had been right, last night: it was worrying how close the Fener man’s attack had been to the Menas homestead. Aside from the blood, though, there wasn’t anything more than some thrashed weeds and some slender broken branches.
There was more than one of them, it seemed.
That afternoon…back at Menas Pasha’s residence:
On entering the study – neither myself nor Mihaloghlu coming more than a few feet in – I notice a paired stack of books on a table not in use and close to us… five of them Darwin’s books, one by Bates and Wallace, and at the top is a red hardcover alongside a black hardcover – two Qurans, no doubt, even if the big bold symbols on each book don’t look the same.
And we see – in the middle of the room, sitting at a table with Ben Hands, her drawing as he talks – Mr Menas’ daughter; Fatima, I believe her name is. She has a very Greek complexion, though her nose looks strongly like the current Sublime Porte’s own. Hard to tell what colour her eyes are.
Hands ‘pears to be enjoying himself; and why not? A sympathetic and pretty little lady hanging on his ev’ry word? Sounds good to me. Even with the three – maidservants? duennas? sisters? – in the room with them and the butler, who’s now heavily-armed: I count three different types of knives on him. “Deep brow?” Hands’ hostess asks, and even I fall for her.
“Very,” Ben says. “No no,” when she draws what I presume are brows, “deeper. Aye, like that.”
She smiles and, that detail done, bounds out of her chair and over to the bookcase that fills the wall, running her finger over the spines and talking to herself in what sounds only distantly like Ottoman. With a pleased exclamation probably similar to “aha!” in intent, she pulls a dull red thin tome from among a shelf of similar books. Carefully flipping through the pages, “Anthrosuchus, Neandertal-li, chimpanzee… hayir, no match.” Appearantly only taking note of us and our presence then, “What do you think?”
“I am certain, hanim,” Mihaloghlu said, “that soon, you and our Emperor will each have a new specimen to examine.”
“Truly, you think there will be more than one of these?”
“The tracks and the witness description agrees that it is an ape. And apes are never solitary, monks, mystics, and orang utangs excepted.”
She smiles at him – reason enough to spout nonsense like that – and says, “And I have created you in various grades.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “What was that?”
“The Quran.” Figures. “You are, I infer, Lt. King.”
“Could you answer me something?”
“Certainly.” To the best of my ability…provided it doesn’t threaten my country or my crewmates.
“Why were you sailing to Persia?”
“Simply to pick up an ambassador,” only to get caught in a storm that wrecked us on your coast, “then return to England.” Thanks to my talent for languages, I would have been among those staying in Persia, at least for the next few years.
“The intervening lands hold no interest for you?”
I shrug; the intervening women hold my interest, not the land. “What, great Ali-bey,” she asks him, “makes you sure it is an ape? The crocodile of Emperor Ibrahim’s reign had the appearance of fur and odd feet.”
“Very true, hanim. As ever correct. But I tell you this – crocodile or ape, I will ensure it becomes a specimen and nothing more.”
8 Million Years Ago:
The Anatolian Plateau was an even mix of open plains scatteringly interrupted by rocky mountains. And in the center of the plateau were three volcanos.
This was long after the dinosaurs died out, a fair distance before Neandertals’ appearance, but only a short hop away from Lucy and her kin. But the twain had always been separate, apart, never to meet…until now.
The evolutionary math was as inescapable as it was precedented. Throughout history, males gathered and cleaned objects with the aim of winning over females of their species. Spiders wrapped their prey, bowerbirds ornamented bowers, and Australopiths gathered skulls. Skulls were important to scavengers like them – it demonstrated and displayed how good a given troop or coalition of males was at bringing back food from a kill. The more skulls, the better the odds of survival – the better the odds of reproducing.
The Ankarapiths had put up a valiant fight, but this troop had lost to these foreign interlopers. These far smaller interlopers. So the flat-faced apes were being gutted and eaten by the victors, the better-quality heads being nibbled carefully to avoid doing damage to the all-important.
That evening, rejoicing shouts erupted from the throats of those who were out of time, as the Shimmery returned. They knew it had brought them to here, so they raced back through from here.
In the morning, the trio of volcanos erupted, burying the plateau in what would become tufa.
Back out in the woods, further away by now, and still following the trail comprised of whatever their quarry left… footprints, smears of blood and feces, slivers of furless skin where a momentary lapse of balance had nearly reduced the quarry’s population by one. How do they shave? Sharp sticks? Bone and rocks? Or are they naturally bald?
“Have you ever been to England?” I ask, my voice in the quiet tones I learned in the Navy.
“No,” Ali says. “Though I know some who have – Menas Pasha, being one of them.”
“Really? When did he go?”
“When Queen Victoria gave the…” looking for a word, I daresay, “Order of the Garter to Emperor Abdul Hamid II and his son.”
“And is Mr. Menas retired?” And I think I let it slip that I’ve never seen him go anywhere near a gun or rifle or even a sword.
“No; he’s a financier – a banker – much like his father and several of his uncles and cousins.”
“Then how is it,” I ask, “that he calls the shots? Why do you take orders from him, if he’s not part of your chain of command? Or is your empire in such dire straits money-wise that the money-lenders rule?”
A few chuckles amongst the men. “What do you know of Menas Pasha?” Ali asks me.
“His brother and his cousin fought alongside my uncle in the Crimean War.” It never ever hurts to have local contacts. And a large dollop of Providence on one’s side – witness where we made landfall in the storm.
“Unlike his cousin and brother, Menas Pasha cannot fight.”
Not sure I heard the word correctly, “Cannot, or will not?”
“Haram,” Ali says. “It is a career path forbidden to him.”
“And why is that?”
“Because he pays his taxes.”
I fully suspect that, if my country engaged in such a solution, we would either beggar ourselves and have a monumental army – or we would be richer than El Dorado, but have no army. “An interesting solution. I suppose it would work.”
“Of course it does.”
I nod, and ever onwards we walk, as we’d walked during that conversation. And a thought occurs to me: “Or is his daughter one of the reasons why you’re so eager to follow Mr. Menas’ orders?”
“You should shut up,” Mehmet says, “on your own – and fast.”
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Keep away from Miss Menas,” Ali tells me. “In movement and in conversation.”
“Why? I fail to see how it’s any of your concern if I decide to court her.”
“I will not allow it!” firmly and not loudly.
“Since when do you have a say?” Wait, are the two of you engaged?
“Since I’ve seen the horrors that happen when you northern yabanji seduce her virtuous people.”
“I am not a northerner.” Not going to object to being called a foreigner.
“Your England is on a more northernly latitude than Constantinople is, as is Russia.” This fellow’s definitely got a grudge against Russia.
“Whatever. All I know is that it’s Fatima and her father I need to talk to about her, not you. And if I need to start kneeling to Allah to do it, then so be it.” Not sure why Ali and his men’re snickering.
“Don’t you Catholics already do that?” asks Mehmet, a carpenter Ali’s brought along.
I draw my sword halfway out of its sheath. “I,” I warn him, “am no Catholic.”
“You’re English, just like the missionaries.” Ahmet says something. “England, New England,” and shrugs, as if there’s no difference between the two.
Shoving my sword fully into its scabbard, I mutter, “Damn Turks.”
Mihaloghlu says one word in reply, and it’s enough to stop everyone in their tracks. That’s probably what it was, an order to halt.
I turn around and look at them all looking at me. “Prayer time again already? Nap time? How Spanish of you.”
“Clearly,” Ali says, “you need to be taken down a peg. You’re proving far too disruptive to continue on.” To his men, “Go on ahead, we’ll catch up.” To me, “Shall we say to first blood?”
“Not to the death?” I ask, unsheathing my sword as he draws his.
“I would have expected such a bloodthirsty answer from a Russian or a Frenchman.”
“Says a man with guns and rifles on his person.”
“I can be trusted not to use them in a sword duel. Can you be trusted not to use yours?”
“Of course.” I am, after all, English.
The fight was clean. No dirt-throwing, no punches or kicks, not even hiding behind the bole of a tree.
Also no blood. Yet.
I don’t know how much time lapses before the beasts come down from the trees; but even by that point, neither of us had drawn blood.
One could hardly say they looked chimpanzees; they were as distinct as a pig to a porcupine. Utterly naked and entirely bald, they held razor-sharp stones in a grip that in a Man could only come from dislocating torture.
They ducked and dodged our swords easily enough. And without a word or gesture between us, Ali and I had quickly turned to fight them instead. I’d heard elsewhere of an unspoken agreement to do something, but I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I’d dispatched one of the bare beasts. A look around revealed that I had scored first blood.
An’ soon enough the other men’re back. No need to unholster our guns or unshoulder our rifles, not with how we’re winning with swords alone.
And then we’ve won. The little slips lay scattered around, littering the forest with their abnormality.
“Not bad,” Ali says in English.
“Reji ederim,” I reply by way of a thank-you.
Less than an hour later:
After the battle, we found where the Creatures had been encamped – within a half-built Byzantine cistern…that was being charitable, as it was barely anything more than a hollow in the ground with a few giant Medusa heads upside-down. In the cistern were things that no Byzantine would have kept, namely skulls that could only have been the victims of the Creatures – mostly humans, though a few that were strangers to us all.
We took the skulls with us, as well as the bodies of the Creatures themselves – do such things have to have swift burials according to local tradition, or are they an exemption? – and returned to Mr. Menas’ residence.
“I look forwards to diagramming these new skulls,” Fatima said. The only thing that kept me from expressing or exhibiting my startlement at such an occupation for a young lady, was that Ali on the walk back had informed me that her drawing skills were what she was renowned for, both in drawing and in the creation of minatures. The Queen Mother herself had praised Fatima’s work, Ali claimed.
“And a fine job you’ll do of it,” Mr. Menas told her. To us, “I have news for each of you. To you, Ali-bey, I have come to a decision, and agree to permit you to marry my daughter.” What, with no courtship? Good grief, it’s like dealing with Highlanders here. Then again, maybe they courted before I showed up.
“I cannot thank you enough, Pasha,” Ali says, and then says something in a language that’s definitely not Osmanliji; I learn later on, in Persia, that it was spoken Armenian.
A smile from Mr. Menas. “I appreciate that, and agree with the sentiment.
“Remember that this may end at my daughter’s say-so. If she wishes to end your seeing her, or your marriage after it takes place, you may not offer impediments to her wishes. Do you understand?”
Ali nods. “The Noble Quran reminds us that women are entitled to end a marriage any time in accordance with their wishes. I would no more ignore the wishes of your daughter, than I would ignore the Word of God."
“Then you have my blessing, the pair of you.”
Ali bows, head and shoulders, to Mr. Menas, then salutes him. “I shall retire at the first opportunity, and take up a indoors job.” Tax-paying or just paper-pushing, my new friend?
“I believe I know people who can be of help to you, Ali-bey. We will continue this conversation later.” Turning to me, “A message came from your Captain, : the repairs are completed, and you leave for Persia with the coming of the tide.”
“I’m relieved,” I say, “since that’s where I was supposed to go. But I’ll miss this place,” and hunting such strange things.
Mr. Menas bids me farewell with words that were been rote be they here or back in Britain.
Next, Fatima came over and I thought she was just going to smile and see me off, or the local equivalent thereof. But she stepped up to me, though our bodies didn’t touch, hugging me with her left cheek brushing my left cheek, then backing her head away before brushing her right cheek against my right cheek – and taking a swift step back.
Uncle always said those sort of things entailed cheek-kissing, not merely being cheek-to-cheek. Still, one error out of all I learned from him? Not a bad record.
Fatima’s father chided her for it, but Ali said absolutely nothing. I took her hand in mine, lowered my head, raised it to my lips – and at the last second, touched the back of her hand lightly to my forehead instead.
“Good save,” Ali whispered to me in English when he shook my hand English-style. “One duel was enough, after all.” I agree.
I took the opportunity then to leave for the ship.
They’d weathered a fifteen-year-long war that’d entailed long separations from one another. Together they’d made it through food shortages and a government losing control of its own destiny thanks to internal and external forces. Particularly due to external forces.
“We have news,” said their newly-returned child, the covert courier. “We’re finally pushing the Greeks back.” Getting rid of the first genocidal army (since the days of Vlad the Impaler) that was at present encamped on their nation’s land. “Ismet Inonu and Mustafa Kemal are among the officers leading the charge.”
Ali knew of them by reputation – heroes of the war against the British and the French and, to an extent, against the Russians. Good men, he knew.
It would not be long, he hoped, before he could return for good to the woman he had once fought for, and won.