Monday, 9 February 2015



A Summons from the Capitol


A quiet drink. Some peace in the night. These were not extravagant requests after a day like today, surely. How could he spark an explosive plagiarism dispute at the Institute his colleagues wondered, since every primary and secondary digital source had been wiped almost four decades ago in the Great Crash of 2255? Every thesis and every theorem was new knowledge, they said. Original thought. Not so, the librarian had argued. There was still paper, reams of it. Admittedly, the ancient records were fragmented and often incomplete, but they constituted living, surviving proof that his fellow scholars, and indeed the Overlord himself, were not creating a new world. They were remaking it from scraps.


Magda reached across the table and cupped her husband’s knuckles beneath the palm of her hand. ‘Irony and futility,’ she said, ‘add up to despair.’ The librarian sunk his chin to his chest. Yes. From down the hallway a whimper whipped into a wail. Magda smiled, ‘Our “government issue” is having another hard night.’ Her husband made a noise about sipping his drink in peace. Every family on their street had just one “government issue,” a sly social joke even as scores of cats and dogs ran feral.


Their son’s birth followed the French letter of the law, one child per family. And Magda had had to follow the decree of the Secretary of Industry and Prosperity: males preferred (or else). She’d undergone two pre-emptive procedures before they’d gotten it right. The librarian wondered if his boy grieved his aborted sisters in some mystical way, or was it more the usual fears of a monster in the closet or underneath the bed? Difficult to know.


He entered the darkened room. He sat down on the edge of his son’s bed and tousled the boy’s hair. ‘It’s time to get tucked into the rocket ship and blast off to other worlds,’ he said. ‘Get ready for count down.’


‘Are there real rocket ships?’ the boy asked him.


‘There are,’ the librarian confirmed. He chuckled. ‘But they don’t work. We’ve lost the instructions. Perhaps when you’re grown up you can help fix them. And fix the country while you’re at it! Now, good night. Go to sleep. Ten, nine, eight…’


As he rejoined Magda in the living room there was a stern, repeated rapping at the front door. What now? And the boy trying to fall asleep. He answered the sounds. A messenger accompanied by a uniformed and armed escort confirmed the librarian’s identity before handing him a package.


‘What’s that?’ Magda asked him after they’d gone.


‘I don’t know,’ he replied. He examined the markings and the waybill. ‘It’s from the Department of the Secretary of Heritage, the Capitol.’


‘You’d better open it, Stefan.’


‘Yes, I suppose I should.’ He wondered what he had done, or more importantly, what they believed he had done. His latest published essay had appeared months ago, an arcane rumination on the great, lost library of Alexandria. There were many modern parallels, how could there not be? But what had been lost had been eventually recovered; he’d concluded his piece with a regrettable but apt cliché about hope springing eternal: surely there were worse crimes.


‘What would they want with an obscure academic from a second-rate school?’ Magda asked him. She was smiling.


‘You flatter me, darling.’


‘How else could a woman like me keep a hold on a man like you?’


‘Here, you open it and tell me what it says.’


‘It’s a letter bomb, isn’t it?’ Magda tore away the perforated seal and scanned the document. She covered her mouth with her fingers. She reread the document closely. ‘The Secretary of Heritage himself has invited you to the Capitol for discussions regarding the possible prominent appointment of yourself to the public service.’


‘I’m not sure I like the sound of that.’


‘It would be the pinnacle of your career. Your life’s work has been recognized by the authorities.’


‘I’m really sure I don’t like the sound of that.’ The librarian peered around the room. ‘Where’s my drink?’ He paced an oval around the table. ‘Still, many are called and few are chosen.’


She said, ‘I think you’ve been chosen.’


February is dystopian sci-fi pulp serial month at meGeoff. Today’s installment is the first of 10 parts. If you’ve read this far I hope you’ll return tomorrow for part two as I’ll post each subsequent installment daily. Last year’s story Last Chance Gas is in the February 2014 archive.

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