LUDI NOVI ROMANI MMDCCLXXIV - VIRTUAL CHARIOT RACE, Second Semifinal


P. Annaeus Constantinus Placidus, aedilis curulis
 

Ædilis Curuls Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus omnibus in foro S.P.D.

You are about to read my narrative for the Second Semifinal of the Virtual Chariot Race in the LUDI NOVI ROMANI 2774 a.U.c.. The same ancient/modern caveat I posted for my previous narrative also applies to this. So there are chariots and there is TV, there are charioteers and there are smartphones, etc. etc.

You are all invited to read and enjoy this account, always keeping in mind a simple truth: this is not fact. This is not history. It is fiction. :-)

Optime valete omnes,
P. Annæus Constantinus Placidus
Ædilis Curulis Novæ Romæ
__________________________________________

The broadcast opens, similiarly to the one for the First Semifinal, with a circling aerial pan shot over the Circus Maximum in Nova Roma. As for the previous event, there is no audience at all in the Circus except for the four magistrates in the front row, on the left side. Artificial puffs of blue and red smoke, all mechanically rigged and with a slight prevalence of the latter, come up from various points of the Circus. It is an early Saturday afternoon. The heroic signature theme for brass (an orchestral variation on “Chariots” by Mike Oldfield) is heard under the opening credits, appearing on screen in red-golden Roman epigraphic script: LVDI NOVI ROMANI | VIRTVAL CHARIOT RACE | SECOND SEMIFINAL | Directed for TV by GAIA TVLLIA CELERIS. The pan concludes on the TV broadcast center on top of the Circus and on the lonely figure of a firefighter standing next to it, at the top of the concrete staircase leading to it. He wears the full operational uniform of the National Italian Firefighters Corps and a bright red protective helmet over his head, with a golden mirrored visor. His face is obscured by the visor and he could easily be mistaken for a firefighter on duty as a fire safety guard in the Circus, were it not for the fact that he is completely alone. As the camera comes closer to him, the man lifts his visor, revealing himself as Placidus. He unties his helmet and removes it. Then, very slowly, he removes his uniform piece by piece (fireproof gauntlets, coat, jacket, polo shirt, safety boots and trousers) to uncover a prætexta tunic under it, with two wide purple stripes running for all of its length. He smiles to the camera and knocks gently on the entrance door to the broadcast center. A very young female TV operator comes out of it. She is dressed in black and wears a white respirator mask over her mouth and nose. In her hands she carries Placidus’s toga prætexta. She starts dressing Placidus up in his toga and folds it properly. Once he has worn it, Placidus’s toga reveals a small ormamental pattern, embroided near his left shoulder, in the shape of the Firefighters Corps logo: a golden flame rising from a red circle in the middle of two golden crossed axes. The girl picks up Placidus’s uniform, boots, gloves and helmet and gives him a wireless hand-held mic. Placidus turns it on and speaks into it.

placidus. Thanks a lot, my dear. What’s your name? (He directs the mic to her.)

celia (humbly). Celia, sir. Always at your service.

placidus. You’re very good, Celia, but please don’t “sir” me. To you I’m just Placidus. (Pause. Celia bows to him and runs back into the broadcast center carrying his uniform. Placidus sardonically admits his ‘defeat’.) Oh, well. (He starts coming quickly down the stairs – just at ease in his magisterial toga as he is in is everyday working uniform. A modified, softer version of the signature tune accompanies him. He settles in the middle of the racetrack, just opposite the four magistrates. A burst of pre-recorded applause is heard at a low volume in the background. Placidus raises the mic near his mouth but does not speak. Instead, he lets out a very short chuckle as he hears the applause, looks down for a brief moment and then back into the camera, smiling.) Ladies and gentlemen, domini dominæque, iuvenes, pueri puellæque… for short, everybody in front of the TV… welcome back here for the Second Semifinal of the most excting Circenses event in these Ludi Novi Romani 2774 a.U.c. … (Short pause.) …the Virtual Chariot Race!!! (Pause. He opens up his arms wide, expecting some applause. Indeed, Tullia starts a burst of huge, very loud pre-recorded applause and cheering exactly on cue. Placidus is happy and continues.) This is Crew Captain— er, no, sorry. (Giggling.) This is Ædilis Curulis Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus talking to you LIVE from the Circus Maximum in Nova Roma… (Pause. Low applause continues in the background.)… which, in spite of what our great director Gaia Tullia Celeris, up there in the broadcast center, would make you think… (Pause. A giggle from Tullia is heard from Placidus’s earphone.)… is completely empty except for the TV crew, who are surely not as loud as you’ve just heard. (Pause. Aerial shot on some of the camera operators, who wave their arms.) But I’m happy all the same, ’cause it’s Ludi time and a great race is just about to be run, of which I shall tell you everything and everything about everything. (Pause.) I’m only sorry that my dear friend Salvus cannot be here with me today… far more urgent duties from his macronational Law Enforcement job forbade him to join me in the Circus, which means I’ve got nobody to trade jokes with. (Pause. He chuckles.) What the heck, I’ve hosted so many races entirely on my own, that I don’t think I’ll have any problems in doing one more… Salvus has assured me he’ll take a leave of absence in order to be with me for the Final. (Pause.) Before I start, however, I have to highlight the fact that the Circus is NOT completely empty, because, apart from the TV crew, I’ve got four illustrious people sitting right in front of me. (Pause. Shot on the magistrates. Placidus’s voice is heard off-screen.) From left to right, Ædilis Plebis Marcus Aurelius Cotta Iovis, my colleague in the Curule Ædilitas Aulus Iulius Paterculus and our honourable Consuls, Quintus Arrius Nauta and Aula Tullia Scholastica. (Pause. Applause is heard while Placidus introduces the four magistrates, who get up one by one and sit back down. Paterculus holds a red nappa in his right hand and a white respirator mask hangs from his left arm. The Consuls also carry masks within their folded clothes.) OK, now that the formal introductions have all been done, it’s really time to get into the heart of the race. (He pushes on his earphone.) Tullia, can you please give me the starting grid for this Second Semifinal? The second batch of three. (Pause.) Thank you.

Shot on the electronic billboard on top of the Circus. Three computer-animated text lines, one in bright blue, two in bright red, appear on the screen. Each is carried by an animated silhouette of a racing chariot, running from left to right.

LANE  CHARIOT                    OWNER                        DRIVER         TEAM

I           Corona Obsidionalis       D. Aurelius Ingeniarius   Celsus Vulso    VENETA

II          Taurus Flammeus           C. Popilia Lænas             Attila                RUSSATA

III         The Triremis                   Q. Arrius Nauta               Ben-Hur           RUSSATA

When the shot goes back to Placidus, he is shown looking down, shaking his head slowly from side to side and chuckling to himself. He is also heard murmuring Oh my, oh my, oh my… into his microphone, but with a very lighthearted, non-serious tone. His earphone buzzes and Tullia’s voice is heard from it.

tullia (concerned) Ædilis Placide, is anything the matter?

placidus (still chuckling) Er, no. (Pause. He looks into the camera. Very firmly) No, Tullia. Most definitely not. (Pause.) It’s just that I’m very, very surprised at this lineup. You see, Lentulus is a good friend, but he’s also one of the smartest people I know here in Nova Roma, as he didn’t tell me anything at all about who’d be running today. Sure, he ran yesterday, and he did tell me Popilia Lænas would run today – and indeed there she is. But apart from that, I knew nothing at all. Most of all, I had absolutely no idea that our esteemed Consul would be running here today. (Pause. He looks straight in front of him and sees that Consul Arrius has disappeared from his chair. He looks to his left, and spots the Consul next to a chariot, conversing with a muscular young man.) And there he is indeed. (Pause.) Oh well, I guess I’ll have to talk to him like an ordinary racer, because after all that’s what he is today. But I’ll deal with that in a short while. (Pause. He moves to Ingeniarius on Lane I. He wears an industrial-type respirator mask on his face.) First of all, I shall greet another familiar character here on the Circus racetrack – my friend Aurelius Ingeniarius. (Pause.) So, Ingeniari, what pushed you to let your closed calcei walk on this brownish sand once again?  

ingeniarius. Well, I guess I may say that I needed a bit of, er, escapism. (Pause.) You know, as my cognomen says, I’m an aerospace engineer in real life. It’s a tough job – okay, amice, yours is undoubtly tougher… (Pause. Placidus smiles and says Thank you! in a low voice.) …but still it is heavy. Chariot racing is helping me get a bit of that heaviness off my mind.

placidus. Yes, amice, I see perfectly. (Pause.) After all it’s the very same reason I’m here in the Circus time after time… doing these chronicles is a – how can I put it? – a welcome diversion from my grinding routine. (Pause. He looks up and sees the young Celsus Vulso in full form.) I also see that your great pilot is back at the reins, very fit.

ingeniarius. Yeah, my great Celsus is ready to get into this once more…. And this time there’s no Atrectus in sight to put himself between Celsus and the finish line.

placidus (giggling) No, Atrectus didn’t subscribe this time around… but don’t think that the others aren’t just as strong and skilled, Ingeniari.

ingeniarius. You don’t think that I’m not aware of this, Ædilis amice. I am.

placidus. OK, then. I wish you and Celsus all the best of luck for this race. (Pause. Ingeniarius gives Placidus a thumb-up while Placidus moves to Popilia, in lane II. She is dressed very elegantly: she wears a white woman’s tunic underneath a pale red stola – almost fuchsia – and a golden-yellow palla on top of it. She also wears a tiara on her head and her stola is fastened with two golden brooches. She is flashy and charming.) Good afternoon, lady Popilia. Welcome back to the Circus. I see you’re so elegant and charming, as usual.

popilia (momentarily lowering her silk mask to reveal a wide, cheerful smile). Thanks, my dear. (Pause.) And I hear that my favourite Ædilis is a flatterer, as usual. (Pause. Placidus looks down for a moment and blushes slightly.) But, as always, you are so kind and gentle that I amply forgive you for your flattery.

placidus. I’m not flattering anybody, it’s true. (Pause. Popilia slightly bows her head to one side, demurely. Suddenly a loud hiccup coming from Popilia’s chariot, on her right and behind Placidus, makes him look up and see Attila. He is visibly very drunk, his nose is red, his black hair is completely dishevelled, no helmet, no body armor. A true Barbarian. Placidus talks to Popilia.) And of course, like all other times, I can’t say the same for your charioteer up there. (Pause.) How’s he?

popilia (sarcastically) Dear Ædilis, by now you should know perfectly what sort of guy Attila is… and still you ask me how’s he? (She almost laughs.) He’s drunk and he’s a clown. As always. He drank two full bottles of red wine before coming here… “to warm up”, he said, when I asked him why. And he’s hopelessly in love with Lentulus’s charioteer, Dorothea, as always. (Pause.) By the way, he may consider himself lucky as that b— (she checks herself hastily) that girl is not around… (Placidus chuckles.) She ran yesterday and came second, so, even if we get into the final, he still won’t have any, er, distractions.

placidus (in a lower voice and allusively). Ssh, domina Popilia. Don’t say it out loud. And mostly, don’t tell Attila, but we’ve got a surprise for him – if he is good. As a racer, I mean. Not in any other sense. (Pause. He looks up to Attila and salutes him.) Salve, Attila. Welcome back here. (Attila does not respond immediately. When he does, he stutters.)

attila. (drunkenly). H—[hic!] Hello, Ædilis Placide. I’m f—[hic!] fully ready to race!

placidus (giggling). Well, I couldn’t really tell, just by looking at you. (Giggling continues.) Okay, domina Popilia, good luck for this race to you and your… er, clown. (More giggling while Placidus moves to lane III and sees Consul Arrius standing there. He does not wear his mask, although he keeps it hanging from his arm – his high position allows him not to. Placidus suddenly stops and stands to attention, talking to Arrius in a very formal tone.) Ædilis Curulis Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus illustrissimo Consule Arrio salutem dicit!

arrius (patting Placidus on his shoulder, very kindly) Placide, I’m neither your Commander in your fire station nor your Sergeant in the Army. I don’t need any of this at all. (Pause.) Even if right now you occupy a lower magisterial seat to mine, I can perfectly remember we were equals – colleagues – up to no more than one year ago. We are still equals morally, you know. I’m not superior to you at all. Indeed, like you said a few minutes ago, here on the racetrack I’m not really a Consul – I’m a contestant.

placidus (relieved and more at ease). Thanks for your kindness, Arri, but I do respect you as a Consul exactly because of the fact that we’ve been collegues, and I’m just as honored for the fact that you, like my friend Ingeniarius, took a little bit of time off of your busy Senatorial schedule to come here and get a bit of excitement. (Pause. He looks up to Ben-Hur, a very strong and muscular charioteer with a mysterious look on his face.) May you tell us a little bit more about your pilot, Consul? I think it’s just the second time I’ve seen him here. (Pause.) Ben-Hur, a memorable name from literature and film – is that really his name?

arrius. To tell you the honest truth, Placide, I don’t really know. (Pause.) I met him in a seaside town in my homeland. He was fighting as a gladiator and he was really, really good. I approached him and asked if he could drive chariots as well. Sure he could, he said. But when I asked him his name, he said: “You may just call me Ben-Hur”, and he said nothing else. (Pause.) Anyway, as you said, he did race here before, and I can guarantee you that he is good.

placidus. Well, your guy is clearly up to a good start, and because of this I wish him and you good luck for your race as well. (Pause.) Consul, now you may go sit back comfortably in your chair, there in the front row (he points to it). By the way, may you please tell my colleague Paterculus to come here? He has to start the whole thing.

arrius. Sure, Placide. (Pause. Consul Arrius goes back to his seat and talks briefly to Paterculus. The latter gets up and goes to Placidus.)

placidus (to Paterculus). Salve, collega. Are you ready to do your starter’s duty?

paterculus. Just a second, Placide. (He unties his white respirator mask from his left arm and puts it on.) Here. (Chuckling) Now I’m ready.

placidus. Indeed! (Brief laughter.) Come on, mate. Let them all off.

paterculus. Count on it! (Pause. He grabs the nappa and lifts his right arm up high.) Attention, pilots! (Pause. He counts off very slowly.) Three… two… one… (He drops the nappa.) GO!!! (On “Go” all the horses gallop away. Paterculus is not fast enough to react. He lets out two cough hits – in spite of his mask – and then, as in the earlier race, he climbs up the spina wall, balances himself, stands upright, dusts off his toga and goes back to his seat in the front row. Low-volume, pre-recorded applause is heard while he does. The shot goes back to Placidus.)

placidus (looking straight into the camera) Okay, folks. After my mate Paterculus’s near-perfectly executed start, as you can see, they’re off! (Pause.) So I’d better not lose any single second, and immediately start my narration of…

LAP I

Placidus settles behind his monitor next to the bleachers and starts.

placidus. Corona Obsidionalis, driven by Celsus, is the first to jump forward. (Short pause.) As usual, Lentulus was kind enough to send me all of the racers’ tactics, and I know that Celsus has chosen to “support a constant pace”… well, judging from how fast he started, leaving behind Attila on Taurus Flammeus and Ben-Hur on The Triremis… even if by less than one meter each… if this is the constant pace he’s chosen for his horses, he’s already got the victory in his pocket. However, a few years of being here watching and chronicling these races have taught me a great deal about the unpredictability of the races themselves. (Pause.) Here they come to the first bend… I seem to recall that there’s at least one racer who chose to “hug the spina” as his tactic, that is, passing the bend very close to the central wall… (Pause. Shot on the racetrack.) …and, judging from what I am seeing here in my monitor, I know exactly what chariot it is: our Consul’s! Evidently, the great Ben-Hur is not only muscles and brute force… he’s clearly skilled enough to take his risk in going around the bend so close to the wall without hitting it. (Pause.) OK, they’re all safely come out of the bend… thanks to Ben-Hur’s risky manoeuvre, The Triremis has now paired with Corona Obsidionalis and Celsus… a few more lashes from Ben-Hur to his strong, pure-breed horses, who are just as muscular as him, and he’s in the lead by just a few centimeters! (A pre-recorded “Oooooohhhhh!”, accompanied by some applause, is heard while this happens. Placidus cannot help but let out a short laugh. He pushes on his earphone.) Tullia, what was that you told me before the first semifinal? “You do your job and I do mine”, right? (Pause.) Well, OK for pre-recorded appluse, but I had no idea that you were capable of emitting a few oohs as well, from up there!

tullia (from Placidus’s earphone). Well, Ædilis, I’m not entirely responsible for what you’ve just heard. (Pause.) Celia, our audio wiz here, has got a full archive of sound effects and audience recordings from previous races she can tap into.

placidus (thoughtfully). Celia, the audio wiz… (Pause. He suddenly recalls.) Oh, Gee! Celia! The girl who dressed me up! She was so great… (Pause.)…and I’m such a fool. Tullia, please, let me talk to her for a bit. (Pause. Celia goes to the small microphone on Tullia’s console.) Celia, I’m so sorry for not realizing who you were, earlier on. (Pause.) Your hands are just as skilled on the audio console as they were sweet and delicate on me, so let me thank you again for that.

celia (from the microphone, cheerfully). It was nothing but a pleasure, sir.

placidus (slightly embarassed) Celia, as I said earlier, I’m no “sir” at all to you. I’m Placidus. (Pause. Celia giggles and does not answer. Placidus talks to Tullia.) Tullia, can we please get back to the race? Thanks. (Pause. Shot on the racetrack.) Over the second straight line, Celsus and Ben-Hur are now paired, as Celsus is moving forward with exactly the same brisk pace as earlier, while Ben-Hur has accelerated a little bit and managed to reach him and to form what almost looks like a quadriga. Attila has been left behind for a moment, but still the distance between him and the couple before him is very short. (Pause.) The racers are now into the second bend… Celsus takes it safely from a distance, Ben-Hur speeds up and goes very near the tip of the wall… and clownish Attila takes advantage of all this by hiccuping his way through them and he sets himself second. (Pause. Placidus is distracted by some faint musical sounds in the background coming from an unknown place, which are soon drowned by the noise of the horses’ hooves and of the chariots passing in front of him. He resumes.) So, by the end of this first lap, the situation is as follows: Celsus on Corona Obsidionalis is first, followed at less than 50 centimeters by Attila on Taurus Flammeus, who’s in his own turn followed very closely by Ben-Hur on The Triremis… (Pause. Shot on the dolphins pole above the Circus)… now that the first dolphin’s head has come down, meaning that it’s time for…

LAP II

tullia (from Placidus’s earphone). What was that, Ædilis?

placidus (perplexed). What was what, Tullia?

tullia. That sound, Placide. Just at the very moment when the chariots were speeding past yourself and crossing the finish line, I heard a sound. It wasn’t noise. It was a sound.

placidus (thinking back). Indeed, I seemed to hear something coming from I don’t know where. But I thought I was dreaming it (chuckling) and I just didn’t care. (Pause.) Oh well, if it occurs again I shall pay more attention to it. (Pause.) For now, I think I have to pay attention to the race unfolding before my eyes. (Shot on the racetrack.) The ideal quadriga built by Celsus on Veneta’s Corona Obsidionalis and Ben-Hur on Russata’s The Triremis in the previous lap has by now been amply disrupted by the arrival of the Barbarian Attila on Taurus Flammeus, also belonging to the fiery Reds… (Pause.)… and now that same burly guy is lashing his horses like mad, and temporarily leading! (Pre-recorded applause in the background. Placidus smiles.) What can I say, folks. Between the comical façade of the red-nosed drunkard and the eternal wannabe Romeo, there hides a very skilled and incredibly strong-willed charioteer. He’s so good, in fact, that now that he’s arrived at the first bend he can take all of the time he needs to slow down, get far from the wall and turn properly. Ben-Hur, following him, makes another perfect but risky turn by keeping his left wheel mere millimiters from the spina wall. In the meantime, Celsus’s horses keeps galloping like they’ve always done since the beginning for this race and… (Pause. Placidus’s smartphone rings from inside his toga – a cheerful, folk-sounding ringtone played on piano and guitar. At the very same moment, Placidus’s earphone starts buzzing loudly: it’s Tullia calling him.)

tullia (very excited). Placide!! That’s it!! That sound!!!

placidus (pulling out his smartphone, without even reading the name on the display) Yes, yes, Tullia, I understand that. Now please excuse me for a minute, I have to answer this. (Pause. He turns the speakerphone on and answers.) Hello? (One second later, Salvus’s sunny, strong, Sicilian-accented voice is heard faintly from the small speaker in Placidus’s smartphone.)

salvus. Hey, hey, hey, Placide! I’ve just seen on TV another guy who’s not scared at all of getting the bends!! (He laughs loudly. Placidus is overjoyed.)

placidus (joyful) BUDDY!!! It’s you! Are you watching the race?! [salvus (from the speaker, overlapping). I am indeed!] But… weren’t you supposed to be on duty all afternoon? And that was why you couldn’t come?

salvus (from the speaker) Yes, sure I was. But, you see, nothing’s been happening for at least one hour here at the police station. One of my colleagues turned on the TV, which happened to be tuned on NRN, Nova Roma Network… and lo and behold, there was you hosting this great race! (Pause.) I couldn’t resist calling you. Actually I tried to call you five minutes ago, but there was no answer…

placidus. Well, yes, I thought I heard something, but there was just too much noise around me and I didn’t realize what it was. (Pause.) Would you excuse me for a second, buddy? (Pause. He turns the speakerphone off, then pushes on his earphone and talks to Tullia.) Tullia, is there any way you can insert this into the live broadcast? I mean, this call?

tullia (from earphone). Sure, Ædilis. Just Bluetooth it to my phone up here and I will take care of that.

placidus. OK. (Pause. He turns Bluetooth on, which promptly finds Tullia’s phone. He touches its name on the display and resumes talking to Salvus.) Buddy, I’m back here. Can you hear me? (Pause. When Salvus answers, his voice goes straight into the live broadcast and thus it is also heard from the large TV set in the police station, very slightly delayed. The vocal tone is slightly limited in bandwidth, but it is otherwise very clear.)

salvus. Yeah, sure I can hear you! (Pause.) But… why am I so loud? And what is this huge reverb on my voice? (Pause. He thinks for a minute and then he realizes that the “reverb” is actually the delay from the TV set in front of him.) Oh my Gosh… I’m hearing myself on TV! (He laughs happily.) I’m just as live as you! (He keeps laughing, while Placidus listens to him.) Just how did you do this?

placidus. Buddy, apart from the fact that I didn’t do anything… (he giggles)… it doesn’t matter how I did it, but I did do it. Now that you can co-host with me the rest of this race. Don’t tell me you have a limited supply of voice traffic on your phone…

salvus. No, of course not. It’s an institutional phone from the Municipal Police here, I’ve got unlimited minutes. (Pause.) I’m safe.

placidus. OK, buddy, do you know the racers’ names?

salvus. Yeah. Sort-of.

placidus (jumping at the chance) Then please turn the volume down on your TV set, follow this second half-lap and narrate it. (Pause.) Over to you, buddy. (Shot on the racetrack. Salvus is slightly taken aback but complies.)

salvus. Oh. (Pause.) Well, folks, as you have heard from your good but slightly mad main host… (Pause. While Placidus bursts into laughter, a group of uniformed buddies of Salvus’s hear his voice coming from the TV and, curiously, they gather around the TV set – and around Salvus.)… he did manage to draw me into this even while I’m on duty. (Pause.) I can see that Corona Obsidionalis, driven by young charioteer Celsius… [Pause. Placidus interrupts him. placidus. He’s actually called Celsus, buddy. Pause. Salvus Resumes.) Ah, OK. Like I was saying, while Celsus has slipped into the third place, Attila is still leading, but strongman Ben-Hur, up there on the Consul’s chariot, clearly doesn’t want him to taste victory at all, and he’d much rather like him to taste some dust. (Pause. On screen, Ben-Hur bends over the right side of his chariot, picks up some dust and tries to shoot it into Attila’s face, but the latter nimbly shifts his body to the right, and Ben-Hur misses the target.) Wow, this Barbarian! He may be barbaric in his drinking and his clothing, but there’s nothing barbaric at all about his driving. Am I right, Placide?

placidus (live from the Circus). You’re most certainly right, buddy! Indeed, there are not too many drivers I’ve seen in here with the same driving skills as this tipsy buffoon. (He chuckles.) Like I was saying earlier, it may well be just a façade. Just look at him go… just before he approaches the second bend, he slows down and takes it from the proper distance, while Ben-Hur, as usual, keeps his speed and passes dangerously close to the tip of the wall… but, in doing so, manages again to pair up with Attila. On the finish line, Attila on Taurus Flammeus crosses very slightly first, followed by Ben-Hur on The Triremis, and, just a little bit more distanced, but after all not that much, here comes Celsus on Corona Obsidionalis. (Pause and shot on the dolphins pole.) The third brazen dolphin has just lulled himself to sleep, which of course means that we’re all entered the final lap of this great Second Semifinal race, namely…

LAP III  

salvus. We’re nearly there, are we, Placide?

placidus. Of course we are, buddy. (Pause.) Would you mind me leaving you for just one more minute? I’ve got to talk with my director.

salvus. Of course not, bro. (Pause. Placidus smiles.) Go ahead.

placidus. Okay. (He pushes on the earphone.) Tullia, Attila is doing so well. I think it’s time for that little surprise we’ve prepared for him. Don’t you think so?

tullia (from earphone) Sure I do, Ædilis. Let’s do it. (Pause. The shot suddenly moves to the inside of the broadcast center and does a tracking pan on the TV crew: from left to right, it frames three crew members, Tullia, three more crew members and a woman, with her back to the camera. As the shot comes closer to her, it shows her long brown hair. The camera moves to the right side of her. Revealing her as Dorothea. She is entirely dressed in black, like the other crew members, and she is properly combed and made-up. She holds a wireless microphone in her hand. She turns it up and speaks into it.)

dorothea. (softly and sweetly) Atty… (Pause. Her voice booms through the PA in the empty Circus. Attila hears it and he is thunderstruck. His eyes look around dreamily to find out where that magical voice comes from, but he sees nobody. Dorothea calls him again.) Atty… (Pause. Attila suddenly wakes up.)

attila (with the full strength of a man profoundly in love, but also hiccuping) DORY!! [Hic!] Here I am, my love! [Hic!] Where are… [hic!] Where are you?

dorothea (still sweetly). I’m somewhere you can’t see me, Atty, But all that matters is that you’re great. And this is why you mustn’t be afraid of that mass of muscles right behind you! You must go forward.

attila (still very strongly, as above) Of course, Dory! Of course I’m not…[hic!] not afraid of him. I’m not afraid of… [hic!] anybody, Dory! I’ll win this race for… [hic!] …for you, my love! I… [hic!] I LOVE you!!!

dorothea (annoyed, no longer sweet, talking to herself) Huff. Here we go again. (To Attila) Atty, now let me get things straight. I came here to spur you. To encourage you. And yet you keep doing this stupid Romeo stuff with me. (Pause.) Love? Phooh! (With disgust) That’s a word belonging to another geological era, for me. Goodbye, Atty. (She turns off the microphone. The shot moves to her inside the broadcast center. She turns to Tullia and smiles.) Was I any good?

tullia (smiling back to her) Just good? You were absolutely perfect! (Pause. Dorothea looks down and smiles to herself.) Maybe you were a little bit too hard on him?

dorothea (laughing loudly) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… hard??! Nah, my dear, the guy is a perfect fool. He deserves all the hardness in this world, and more. (Pause. The shot goes back to Placidus, who talks to Salvus.)

placidus. Have you seen what the power of love can do, buddy? As that old song went, it can raise you up but it can also drag you down.

salvus. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve seen that. (Pause.) Actually I didn’t know that the guy was in love. And not only that… I didn’t know he was in love with Lentulus’s lioness! It’s kinda dangerous to be in love with such a woman, ain’t it, Placide?

placidus. Well, now you know. (He chuckles.) And maybe in a short while you’ll be an eyewitness of how dangerous it can be, but I’m not going to say anything. For the moment, I’m seeing that, while Ben-Hur has risked his n-th scrape on the spina wall by doing the first bend his way, Attila hasn’t even realized that “Dory” has shut him off, and he’s literally flying across the bend. (Shot on the racetrack.) Look at that… perfect. He’s in love. (Chuckling again). But here comes the dangerous part… over to you, buddy!

salvus. Well, yeah, Placide. He’s so lost in his love dream that, while he moves past the bend, he isn’t looking at Ben-Hur… but the latter, one step at a time, a few centimeters as a time, has overtaken Attila and now he’s second. But I don’t think he  cares at all… I’m even hearing him sing… (Pause. Attila sings loudly on the tune to the Battle Hymn of the Republic – so loud, in fact, that the cameras on the bleachers have no trouble in picking up his voice.)

attila (singing, partly off-key). Dory, Dory, hallelujah… [hic!] Dory, Dory, hallelu-u-u-u-jah… (Pause. Celsus, from behind, tries to overtake him, but he is distracted by his singing.)

celsus (to Attila, angrily) Shut up, you rotten idiot! (Attila does not hear him at all and keeps singing.)

attila (singing, on the same tune as above) Dory, Dory, hallelu-u-jah… [hic!]… some day I’ll win your heaaaaaaaaaaaaart! [hic!] (Pause. Just as he and Celsus are about to enter the second bend – Ben-Hur having just passed according to his own, high-risk tactic, he starts again… more off-key) Dory, Dory, halleluuuuuujah…

celsus (next to Attila and about to enter the band) I said shut up!! (Pause.) If you dare singing even one more line from that damned song, I’ll… I’ll… (Pause. He never finishes the sentence as he is within the most crucial point of the bend. Placidus comes back in.)

placidus. (to Salvus) Buddy, I think Attila’s singing must have gone a bit too much to Celsus’s head, as he is about to make the fatal mistake…

salvus. Yeah, Placide. He’s not looking straight ahead. (Pause.) Now I wouldn’t want to be the person who brings him any bad luck, but I don’t think that the situation that Celsus’s got himself in is rosy at all. (Pause.) Indeed, just while he comes out of the bend, he doesn’t realize that watching Attila, while telling him to stop, has brought him and the left wheel on Corona Obsidionalis too close to the spina wall… way too close… he’s nearly there… and here he goes! (CRASH! Loud noise, as the left wheel on the chariot hits the wall. The hubcap comes undone. Salvus resumes.) On the finish line, Ben-Hur on The Triremis crosses first! He raises both his arms and pumps his firsts triumphantly! A great victory for our Consul, and for the Russata team! (Pre-recorded cheering and applause in the background.) You finish, Placide amice.

placidus. With pleasure, buddy. (Pause.) Attila, who’s still entranced by his lost love, crosses the finish line in second place, with a stupidly fixed gaze on his face… while Celsus Vulso on Corona Obsidionalis, whose left wheel has been visibly wobbling after he’s hit the spina wall, crosses third… then the wheel comes off, and the great blue-painted chariot crumbles down.  Celsus climbs off, he unties his helmet and body armor and throws both of them on the ground… (Pause. Loud clanging noise from Celsus’s armor pieces. Placidus tries to talk to him.) Celse! Hey, Celse!

celsus (very upset.) What do you want from me, Ædilis? Please leave me alone. You know that idiots shouldn’t be allowed on the racetrack, don’t you?

placidus. Attila’s not an idiot at all, Celse. He’s very smart. Maybe he drinks a little bit too much, but that’s it. (He chuckles.) Come on, Celse. You’re such a great pilot. You’ll do better next time. And after all, you did finish the race, so you do get your deserved Championship points.

celsus (disappointed). That’s a meagre consolation, Ædilis. A really meagre one. (He looks down and exits the Circus from its North door. Placidus talks to Salvus.)

placidus. Well, buddy, I’m sorry about the guy. But that’s racing, you know. There are people who win and there are people who lose.

salvus. Indeed, Placide. You’re perfectly right. (Pause.) Are we done?

placidus. Yeah, buddy, we’re nearly done. (Pause.) Wait a minute. I’ve got an idea. Is there a front camera on your smartphone?

salvus. Of course there is.

placidus. Can you turn it on when I tell you? (Pause.) And please tell all of your colleagues there to move over, I want the shot just on you.

salvus (perplexed). Placide, how do you know that my coll—

placidus (interrupting him). Buddy, don’t you know that I know everything? (He giggles.) No, joking aside, I heard them behind you. Your phone picked up their distant voices.

salvus. Ah, that’s it. (Pause.) Well, shall we say goodbye now?

placidus. Sure, buddy. Please turn your camera on. (Pause. Salvus’s sunny, smiling face appears on the electronic billboard next to the broadcasting center. He is wearing a dark blue policeman’s duty uniform. Placidus assumes a formal tone.) Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been watching the Second Semifinal of the Virtual Chariot Race in the Ludi Novi Romani for the year 2774 a.U.c. This is Ædilis Plebis Publius Annæus Constantinus Placidus…

salvus. …and this is Manius Flavius Salvus, happy to have spent another fun half-hour with my favourite trainee… (Pause. Placidus smiles and resumes.)

placidus…and I’m signing off, of course waiting and hoping to see all of you on next Monday afternoon, same place, same channel. (Pause. Placidus pushes for the last time on his earphone.) Tullia, please fade me out now. (She does. The screen fades to black and the broadcast finishes.)