Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Short Story: The Keepers

I'm back! Sorry about that absence, it was totally unintentional. I will continue adding to Second Front ASAP. The next chapter is half-way there. In the meantime here is a short story that seems to be part of another, longer story. Maybe one as long as civilisation itself....

The Keepers

by Floyd Looney

At the end of my long voyage I had reached my destination. The real quest was just getting started. In front of me was an enormous edifice. A building with wings jutting out in star-burst pattern from a central dome. It was probably the largest building left standing after the cataclysm. It had been untouched.

An etched sign against the wall said: Academic Matriculation Center.

I entered the foyer and removed my breathing apparatus and my heavy cloak. I hung these on hooks arrayed against one wall, mine were not the only ones so hung. There were dozens. It might be that some of these cloaks and suits had been hanging here for decades.

After that was finished I approached the broad double-doors. An elderly man with a long white beard in white robes with purple trim was standing there waiting for me. He was at ease and patient as if he had all the time in the world.

I approached him and gave a small bow, he tilted his head forward and closed his head. At his age, I supposed, this was a bow.

“My name is Joseph.” I said, to introduce myself, “I have come a long way to see this.”

He nodded slowly in understanding, but barely moving his head a centimeter or two. Still I felt like he also pitied me, all in just that movement.

“Follow me.” He said as he turned around, the double doors opened wide by themselves, though they looked like ordinary wooden doors on ordinary ancient hinges. I followed him out of the cloak room and into a wide corridor.

I had assumed there would be rooms on either side but this was all open space. Against the walls on their side were bookshelves, filled with books. Invaluable books, a treasure on any world. So many books in one place made me gasp. These shelves were separated by tall white marble columns and divided from me by low white benches that also looked like marble.

“Each section of the bookshelves are divided by subject. This is why they are not all the same size.” The elderly man said without looking back as we walked.

I was wondering why there was so much open space when I saw four younger people and an older person sitting in chairs in the corridor facing the bookshelves. None of them had crossed the benches to get one of the precious tomes though. Instead a holographic image projected above the bench where a scientist was conducting a chemistry experiment.

Keeping knowledge alive was the only purpose of this place. Only the people who really wanted to learn were accepted here. Those who did not want to learn would not stay anyway. There would be no real reason for them to stick around. Well, it was clean and they were fed, this alone brought many to pretend to want to learn. Very few stay long.

Our footsteps echoed in this place to my ears, but I was assured by the documentation that the sound does not carry far at all. The people sitting and learning could not hear me walking by even if I stomped, some of the rumors said. I did not test this theory.

Soon enough we reached the end of this hall. The double-doors opened for the elderly man and I followed into the largest room I had ever seen. It was as large as a stadium. A museum of the human race spread out across it, or more accurately the museum of humanity did.

“Come along, if you want to hear the answer to your question, Joseph.” The old man said. I followed a few steps behind but I marveled at the statues, the art and the ancient machinery that had been kept in good condition. As I watched youngsters, watched over by a woman, started up a steam-driven printing press.

Unfortunately we arrived at the next set of double doors before I could take it all in and they shut behind us. Again I was in a large hall, like a temple, with both walls lined with books. I could see groups of people sitting and watching holographic depictions of history.

“We are biased toward teaching history without bias. We try, although we might err occasionally.” The old man said, an amused lilt to his voice, although I had asked no question. The man seemed to know the reason I had come here, although that should be impossible. Yet, I followed precisely because I thought he knew where I needed to be.

“How did you know..?” I said when he finally stopped and approached one of the benches.

He seemed to grin under his facial here. “It is a question that many have sought the answers to, Joseph, but most find that they wished they hadn't. The ones that stay choose to learn about unrelated subjects, seemingly to make themselves forget. This is futile of course.”

I nodded. “There are ways to erase memories, but they are not delicate nor subtle.”

He waved his hand above the white marble bench and a holographic menu appeared, it waited for someone to give it a command.

“This is the only alcove in all the complex devoted to the topic, Joseph. Do you wonder why something that destroyed human civilization would be given such little space or prominence?” He asked me. Then it occurred to me that we were at the far end of the Hall of History, right up against the wall and a hidden emergency exit. It was one of the smallest bookshelves a well.

I knew the answer. Like many, nay most everyone, I had pushed the facts away. I had wished it away and went on with my life. I had rejected it. It hurt to hear the question, my heart pounded, my stomach lurched and my eyes watered.

“People do not want to know.” I answered with a halting breath. I breathed deep, like one might do after crying. I rub my eyes, making the tears go away.

“Why is that, Joseph?” The friendly, wise old man asked. He was unaffected by this, he had lived through this countless times, he knew what to expect. I felt it, the urge to lash out at him. As if this were fault, as if the feelings and emotions pouring into me...

That was wrong. They were pouring out of me. This was not some external pressure I was feeling, this was all from inside. Tears were flowing unimpeded now. I was looking down at the space between him and me, gasping, lip quivering and wanting to think about anything but this. Like a child outside of the operating room not wanting to know the fate of his mother inside, but knowing already.

We humans already know what we don't want to know. We want it to go away. I wanted it to go away.

“Why, Joseph?” The man asked again, ever impatient and calm.

I wiped my nose and tears. I did not want to look at him. I did not want to see the new images on the screen. I had saw them and rejected them already. They were part of the human DNA now, since the Burgeoning. Since humans had done whatever needed to be done to survive and to flee the awful truth.

“We did it.” I said, “We all did it. Even though I wasn't but a baby, I did it as much as anyone. We did it all through history. Over and over we failed to hold it in check. Over and over we have sought to forget the truth and run away from it and we killed those who knew...”

He was quiet.

“We all did it. Every time civilization collapsed, we rallied just enough to start building again. Then we got to think ourselves better than that. We never were, we never were.” I said, sobbing. I was sitting on the floor now.

“Why Joseph?” he asked, images of atrocities playing out behind him. “But why?”

Even if I admitted it, what would it change? I wouldn't be able to live amongst the new worlds knowing that I was wasn't like everyone else. Why had I come here? Why had I wanted to delve into the collapse of Earth? Why had I wanted to see what had caused the greatest suffering in history?

When I really knew it all along. Buried deep, deep inside.

“We're animals. We're not born innocent. We're never innocent. We are animals, the worst beasts that ever walked the Earth and the hundred worlds. Humans are not intrinsically good. Our default is greed and selfishness. Only with our minds and souls can we hope to control this.” I said, drained of energy I just lay on the floor.

It was cool. Quiet. I wanted to sleep but the nightmares had already arrived.

“2109 A.D.” the old man spoke up, and sounding a little preachy continued, “The human race finally did it. Again. They rejected any and all notions of right and wrong or morality. They embraced every possible evil and carried out these evils with enthusiasm. Humans were their own Gods!, they declared, but no, they were their own devils. The death toll reached more than half the human species within a year, within two years more than eighty-five percent of the human race was dead.”

After a pause he returned to his quiet voice. “The remnant finally started to come to their senses, many still rejected of course. To their end. After seeing what they had done, the remnant closed off their minds and fled to the stars. Today, I wonder, how far away is the next collapse. And the next. For those societies who reject a higher reasoning, a higher morality and even a higher power are more dangerous than any fanatic who went off the rails.”

“But is there a God?” I asked, I begged.

“Humans need God. It is now scientifically proven.” The man answered, a twinkle in his eye. “Whether or not he exists, Joseph, humans need to believe in something more than their own base desires. Otherwise they become animals. Just a simple understanding there are things one must not do to another human being is enough, really. Yet, this is rejected over and over through time.”

I had a lot to process.

He sighed. “Joseph. Humans wish to forget it happened. They always do. Even here, this is the least used portion of the building. In the old days they built new cities and empires atop of the old ones. Today they flee to other worlds. Flee from their own animal nature. Even those who ever think about it will lie to themselves that it can never happen again.”

“I'm not sure.”

He pointed at the holographic screen. I winced. Images of people tearing apart babies and covering themselves in blood during an orgy-rave.

“People become monsters. Evil becomes passé and a higher and worse evil is sought to quell their base desires. People need a reason to be civilized and over time these reasons are removed one by one, in the name of 'freedom' or 'fun' or any number of other things. It will happen. It will happen again and again and we can do nothing but fight it. Fight it like a candle in the night.”

I bury my face in my hands. It's hard to accept. The horrible evidence is everywhere. It is still fresh, even if humanity has declared it to be unthinkable.

“Are you asking me to...” I take a breath “Go to the worlds and spread the gospel of civilization?”

“I am asking, is that what you feel you should do?” he answered, and sat on the bench. Above him a blood-covered woman was cutting off her own arm screaming, “It's my body!”

He was right. “What is your name?” I finally asked.

He smiled and shrugged. “Just call me what every one else does; Dad.”


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