[In case you missed it, read the Archivist’s Introduction]
From: Thalia Gordon ([email protected])
If you’re one of the few recipients of this message that recognize my name, then you may have some idea of what this file contains. You may already be squirming in your memory foam seats. Good. Stay there. I know you’ll be tempted to reach for your comm. You think you know who to call to make this go away. I’ll save you the trouble – it’s not going away. There is no one you can ring and nothing you can do to cover up a mess as ugly and poisonous as this. Sure, you can tuck away the bones and melted steel, fold them into the desert sands where Terekat used to stand and wipe the name from all your maps. You can bully witnesses and twist up testimonies into pretty little things for you to display on your desk. You can try to hide the rot, but that’s the tricky thing about rot. It spreads.
If you’re one of the vast majority on my mailing list with no prior knowledge of AOA Cadet First Class Thalia Gordon, then allow me to explain myself. Do excuse the righteous indignation. If you don’t know exactly what I meant, then it wasn’t meant for you. No, dear reader, most of you are quite in the dark when it comes to matters outside your triple-fortified bunker up on little Mount Olympus. I’m not blaming you for that, but I am trying to light your cozy darkness, if just a little. Where is Terekat, and why should I care? Whose bones? What rot?
I can light all these dark corners for you, but first, I imagine you’d like to know just who holds the lantern. In my first life, I was a starving girl in the ruins that once were the isles of Great Britain. This has little to do with the events of May 18th, 2095, but it has everything to do with me, and as the lens through which you will soon see the bare truth, I feel it necessary to prove the transparency of my character. I need to show you that I’m not a lie myself. Maybe my name is John and I’m a Glaucus engineer with a burning passion for tasteless practical jokes. But I’m not, and the guilty among you already know that.
I was born in the ashes of the old world, where my first father grew rotten crops and my mother bred me in the back of a wagon. We survived together for a number of years, and I’ll never know how many. I didn’t even know my own age until my first medical examination at Minerva HQ (they told me I was eleven, but I was sure it had to be older than that). But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve never told anyone about my first life, so you’ll have to forgive me if I try to dance around it. I thought it would feel good, to pull out these painful pieces of myself and hurl them into Minerva’s mail servers.
One day, and I can only guess as to why, my first father took his digging trowel and beat my mother in the head with it until she stopped twitching. I watched, not knowing what else to do. He must have decided to help humanity along on its race to extinction, but when he turned to me, he didn’t kill me. He looked heartbroken. I was still dumb and mute, a spectator to my own collapsing life. Instead of killing me, he did the next best thing. He tried to kill any chance I may have had of giving birth to a child. He cut into me with his trowel. It was sloppy work. There was so much blood, I think he stopped for fear of killing me. He just let go of me and sat back, staring silently into my eyes. Then, he hooked a broken edge of the trowel under the flesh of his wrists and split open his arteries.
Strange how retelling this story doesn’t do a thing for the lump in my throat or the fist around my heart.
At that moment I became a meat robot, moving without thinking to the input of some inborn survival programming. I took my first father’s medicine bottle, which I now know to be either vodka or some other new make spirit, and I washed out the wound. My first father always cleaned our cuts and scrapes with it, and if my automated brain hadn’t picked up on that, I would have died there. Instead, I endured the pain, even as it clawed up inside me and pulled at my nerves by the roots. I screamed like an animal, but I survived. I took what supplies I could carry, and I wandered the isles alone. Then, I found the Byrnwood Library, and my second life began. The library collection was largely spared by the War, and an old man named Julius Gordon had founded a refugee camp there. He took me in and taught me how to read. He was so passionate about his books, his little windows into happier worlds, that he didn’t seem to care much for any of us. He just liked an audience and the safety in our numbers. Still, he was the first human being I’d ever met who loved something, and for awhile, I believed I could love as well. I became a person again. I could forget the hot pain and the blood and the feeling that some central part of me had died. I could even forget my first father and adopt a second one. Those years at Gordon’s Library are treasures to me. They represent the only time in my life that I’ve ever been happy.
They came to an end, swiftly enough. My second father was just beginning to teach me how to write when a Minervan deep exploration team discovered the library. The Oculus diplomat on the team was Third Secretary Hermann Brandt, a vile, ambitious little shit who tried to convince my second father to part with his books in exchange for some empty promises. You can imagine how well he took that, if you imagine that he burned down the library with Secretary Brandt and himself in it. He decided, in his own selfish way, that his books would be better off mingling with his ashes than sitting in a Minervan museum. I don’t hate him anymore for taking my happiness away, but I do still feel the loss. I would have killed myself then, if not for the Aegis security officer on the team, Sergeant Karim Hassan. My third father.
Hassan could see where I was headed, so he took me back to Kyrgyzstan with the rest of the expedition. I was supposed to spend a week in hospital for malnutrition and some minor infections, but then the doctors discovered the damage my first father had done. A week turned into a month as
they put me through a series of operations to clear out the scar tissue and reopen the pathways that his trowel had sealed shut. According to them, they fixed a lot of the damage, but I don’t feel fixed. It’s quite a mechanical term, isn’t it? Fixed. Functional. I’m functional again, and if I were still a meat robot, living only to survive, perhaps that would be good enough. But I’m a human being now, with all the fears and desires that come with this hallowed territory, and to me, nothing has changed.
Once I was released from hospital, my third father placed me in the Primary Center, where I lived and learned for five years before transferring to the Junior Academy. My teachers were impressed by my reading and writing level, considering my circumstances, but I had a lot of catching up to do. This didn’t bother me, since I had plenty of free time to devote to my studies. I refused company; the other girls with their whole and healthy bodies made me jealous and the boys with their unreachable smiles made me sick and lonely. The only human being I accepted was my third father, who spent more and more time with me as his ranks and privileges were slowly stripped away (the disastrous end to the expedition in 2086 effectively killed his military career). He taught me about life in Minerva, he introduced me to films and music, and we took regular holidays out to the towns surrounding our main bunker. Of all my fathers in all my lives, he was the most caring, and the most devoted. Still, the damage had been done. I can’t say I ever genuinely returned his love, though I tried to make a show of it for his sake.
My third father died of an aortic aneurysm the day before my graduation from the Junior Academy. We could have treated it, but the medics didn’t catch it in time. He must have known, because he amended his will the very morning of his death, but instead of going for help, he decided I would be better off with all of his earthly possessions instead of a father. By then, I was familiar with loss, almost friendly with it. I moved on and made it to my evaluation. According to the assayers, I could have chosen either Glaucus or Aegis for my further education. With my antisocial nature, they advised against Oculus, not that I would have ever considered joining them in the first place, except to burn down their college the way Hermann Brandt effectively burned down our library. The assayers told me that my personality and skills would be a perfect fit for Glaucus. I could make Chief Archivist in fifteen years. Naturally, I chose Aegis instead.
I wanted to hurt someone, and I wanted a gun. I wanted to feel powerful for the first time in my life. Based on my academic achievements and low physical training scores, I was sent immediately to the Aegis Officers’ Academy, where I’ve studied for the last three years with an emphasis on military intelligence. I’ve learned a great deal about the values and codes of conduct that Aegis adheres to over those years. They take their morality very seriously in the classroom, almost as seriously as counter-insurgency tactics and leadership seminars. I thought I’d made the right choice. I still wasn’t happy, of course, but I was at least satisfied that I’d escaped the rot of the old world. I had no one left to lose and soon, I would have power and authority in the last unblemished place on Earth.
I didn’t know, as I do now, that the rot is everywhere. This world was an overripe pumpkin, festering with human sins for century after century until the War split it wide open, exposing the black mold and milky juices inside. Minerva is only an intact flap of skin, sitting face up in the rancid muck and covering the diseased core. My manuscript is a boot to kick over the healthy skin and expose the sickness within. Don’t worry, dear reader. I understand how deep the corruption runs. I know Minerva’s PR machine is already humming to life as you read these words, and it will churn up the truth until there’s not enough left to dust your eyelids. Oculus will go to work, and you will wake up tomorrow to find that this e-mail and my manuscript have vanished from your personal network. Still, I had to send it anyway. It’s a sort of therapy, if nothing else. I’ve avoided writing outside of classwork because I’m afraid of becoming lost in the words, like my second father. I’ve kept so much inside of me for so long that I feel the rot will eat me through unless I purge it. Terekat was the last great weight. I can’t carry any more, so word by word, brick by brick, I’ve built this monument to the rot. Feel free to reach for your comms now, but please, take the time to read my manuscript before you erase it from your servers. This monument is for all of us.
Oh, and don’t bother looking for me. It’s a big, empty world, and there are so many places to hide.
Sincerely, as always,
I managed to retrieve the following email by deep searching old hard drives that were up for recycling. Luckily for me, someone was foolish enough to assume that deleting a file was enough to make it disappear. Now the question remains, what should I do with this email and the attached story? For now, I’ll evaluate each chapter. I’ll make my decision after I analyze the entire account.