I don’t know where to begin. I feel as if I must be living a dream inspired by too many science fiction novels. At any moment I expect to wake up in the mud, clubbed into senselessness by some wild man. And yet, the moments pass, and the dream proceeds. For some reason, it was easier to believe the Grants’ story than it is to believe my own senses. I have seen them. I have spoken to them. I still cannot accept that they’re real.
The Starship Troopers arrived early this morning. We heard them echoing across the moor before dawn, heard the chewing of mud under heavy tires through the pipes that feed into my room. Some time ago, I dug up Byrnwood’s broken sewage system and relaid the pipes to run from various points around the village to a small hole in the floorboards of the library director’s office. The pipes are no longer fit to carry water, but they can still carry sound quite well. I’ve used them to detect wild ones, approaching traders, and even the rare appearance of non-human animals. This morning, I used them to detect the Starship Troopers.
Or, as they like to be called, Minerva.
I alerted the others as soon as I heard the first rattle in the south road pipe, and by the time the armoured vehicle crested the last hill, we were scattered all across Byrnwood, waiting in open windows with crossbows and spears at the ready. I stood in front of the library’s patchwork doorway with Thalia at my side. She refused to join the others in hiding, likely because she is clever enough to know that the men the Grants described to us will not be stopped by an ambush of spears and arrows. I was glad for her company, even though I feigned disapproval. When I saw that mechanical behemoth growing larger and larger on the horizon, I felt as though some impossible alien construct had invaded our world, for it did not abide by our laws. It moved on its own, shook and growled like a living thing.
And when it rolled into Byrnwood, straight up to the library steps, it disgorged creatures that looked, in many ways, like human beings. The limbs were all right, the proportions were there, but taken as a whole, they seemed fake, like how I always imagined mannequins to look. Their cheeks were full, their hair was sleek. They each had a variety of skins, from soft pale to inky black, but all were cleaner and smoother than any human skin should be. And their clothes, hardy and flexible and uniform. No frayed ends. No patches. No rags. Only a small number of them wore the Starship Trooper armour that the Grants described to us, but those hulking creatures had more in common with the wheeled beast that bore them than their companions and, least of all, Thalia and I.
The Starship Troopers formed a half ring around the mannequin people, who waited in apparent discomfort as one man, paler than the rest and almost as pale as his long silvery hair, came forward. Here, I try my hand at recreating dialogue. I know the shape of a conversation, and my memory has yet to fail me, so I hope to do this first contact justice.
‘You must be Julius Gordon,’ the man said.
‘I am,’ I replied.
‘Then we’ve come to the right place.’
‘Have you?’ I asked.
‘Yes, I think it’s safe to say that we have,’ he said. It was immediately clear that this man had a mastery over spoken words unlike anyone I’ve known. They flowed from his wide, smiling mouth as easily as they flow from my quill. However, his words were immediate and captivating. Voices on the page must be deliberately read, but his voice demanded attention. This effect frightened me. I didn’t trust it. To make matters worse, the man could see this written on my face.
‘Don’t be alarmed, Mr. Gordon. I know this is all very frightening for you and your people – they can stand down, by the way. We’re not here to hurt you, and I doubt very much that there’s anything you could do to hurt us. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Third Secretary Hermann Brandt of – ‘
‘Hermann. German origin. Literally translates to ‘army man.’ Are you an army man?’
Third Secretary Hermann Brandt gave a little huff, as if he were trying to laugh and sigh simultaneously. ‘Not exactly, Mr. Gordon. As I was about to explain, I am an ambassador for Minerva, the last bastion of human civilization on this scorched Earth of ours.’
‘We have our own civilization, thank you.’ I was shocked to hear this from behind me, in the faded voice of a small girl. Thalia was clutching the hem of my jacket, but her head stuck out defiantly toward the mannequin people. I watched the Starship Troopers carefully, but if they were even breathing, they showed no signs of it. Third Secretary Hermann Brandt of Minerva gave us another laughsigh and looked at Thalia with razor-sharp pity.
‘And I can see that it’s thriving,’ he said. ‘But Minerva is an organization founded by the brightest minds of the twenty-first century. Maybe you’ve read of them? James Watson, the man who uncovered the secrets of our DNA? Nayef Al-Rodhan, the founder of meta-geopolitics? Ah, I can tell by your face that you must have at least one of his works in your collection.’
‘Emotional Amoral Egoism,’ I replied.
‘Then you understand the principles that drive our organization. You know, perhaps better than anyone in this wasteland, that we have the knowledge and the resources necessary to resurrect the human race.’
‘Are you here to resurrect us?’ I asked.
‘I am here, with my colleagues, to explore the island that was once the United Kingdom. This is the first of many planned Minerva operations in the area. We’ve been testing the soil in anticipation of recovery efforts and making contact with all of the settlements we find. Now, you’re quite the legend in these parts. We weren’t here long before we started hearing stories of Gordon’s Library. Many of the coast tribes seem to think you’re a myth. You’re like a sort of transcendental wise man to them.’
I remember that very clearly. It had surprised me, at the time, to learn that my reputation had so far outpaced me.
‘And unlike them, I can use a word like transcendental on you and you won’t even blink. Truly remarkable.’
I’m ashamed to admit that this small flattery did its work on me. I invited Third Secretary Hermann Brandt and his colleagues into the library and signaled my people to join us. Two of the Starship Troopers remained by their vehicle, but the rest followed me inside. I led them to the children’s department, which we use as a sort of communal sitting room. It’s the widest room in the building, and in the centre of the play area, there is a wooden replica of Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous galleon, the Ark Royal. It only looks like a ship from afar, as it is completely hollow on the inside, with shelves built inside the walls to house books, puzzles, and other distractions. My people filled the ship’s hollow, sticking their heads over the facade of naval might at our otherworldly guests. Thalia sat on the bowsprit with her legs locked over the beam, and I remained outside the ship to keep a closer eye on the mannequin people. They kept glancing at the shelves circling the play area, and I could read the excitement on their plastic faces. I wanted to know their intentions before allowing them into my collection. To let them go sifting through my blood and bones, to pull the marrow from my ribs. I needed to know to whom I was baring my insides.
At my request, Brandt introduced me to his team, mostly composed of Minerva’s research division, Glaucus. The Starship Troopers were members of Aegis, their military division, and Brandt himself was an agent of Oculus, the Minervan diplomatic corps. He told me that the three branches were a recent development, that Minerva and Glaucus used to be one and the same, back when the main goal of the organization was to collect and preserve all accumulated human knowledge.
‘Like the Foundation,’ I said. Then, it occurred to me that he may have never heard Asimov’s Voice before, so I clarified. ‘It’s a book. By Isaac Asimov.’
For some reason, Brandt thought this was very amusing.
‘Do you have a library at Minerva?’
‘Mr. Gordon, we have quite a bit more than that. We have the Archives, a digital database containing all of the pre-and-post-War knowledge that Minerva has accumulated so far. Imagine a library that can fit in the palm of your hand, where you can call up any single thing the collective efforts of the human race have dreamed up in the past four thousand years. We have Isaac Asimov, we have William Shakespeare, we have ancient Sumerian texts, we have films, we have works of art, and we even have a functional copy of the internet. The Archives are our Foundation, and if you’re willing to cooperate with us, you can help us strengthen it.’
I began to feel lightheaded then. Possibly a result of my sickness. What he’d explained was no more incredible than anything else I had heard or witnessed from the people of Minerva. Perhaps it was the familiarity that struck me then. It was just as Asimov had described it in 1951. If I ever had any doubts about the divinity of the written word, they would now be crushed once and for all. He knew. He had been a mortal man, and yet his words had transcended time to tell us the future. The future that had become my present. However, after the initial heady spell had worn off, the consequences of his last statement began to sink in. The prickling haze turned to ice in my veins.
‘You want to take my books,’ I said. I could hear my people stirring and murmuring inside the Ark Royal.
‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Mr. Gordon,’ Brandt replied, and I thought I could detect just a trace of panic on his face before he could stamp it out. ‘We’re here to help. That’s the whole point of this expedition. With your permission, we’d like to test the soil around the library and investigate your food supplies. Your people need food and medicine first and foremost. Once we have a foothold in the area, we can begin working on the town infrastructure like we have for the communities around our headquarters.
And, if you’ll allow it, I’m sure our researchers will jump quietly for joy if they can take a modest peek at your collection.’
I said nothing immediately. Instead, I looked up at Thalia, who was staring at Brandt’s head with such malicious intent that it seemed as though she were trying to kill him through sheer force of will. I wondered if that was what Stephen King’s Carrie looked like whenever she used her telekinetic powers. Even though I found some of her mistrust reflected in myself, I couldn’t bring myself to refuse them. My initial possessive phase had passed. After all, the Voices on my shelves are only immortal as long as there are readers to Hear them, and for the first time in many years, I had a fresh audience in my thrall.
‘You can look at the books tonight,’ I said. ‘After supper.’
Brandt smiled his wide smile and bowed. I avoided Thalia’s gaze, for I knew she had turned her telekinetic fury on me. We spent the rest of the day touring the park and the town. The Glaucus researchers took samples of our soil and our vegetables. They examined our storehouse, our well, and our waste pits. Through it all, I couldn’t help but notice the Aegis soldiers following us like grandly distorted shadows. I didn’t fear them, although I suppose I should have. Their leader seemed to be in a perpetual state of displeasure, which he deemed fit to broadcast to us all after removing his helmet at the end of our meeting. This stone idol of a man was introduced by Brandt as Sergeant Karim Hassan. Karim, Arabic origin, one of the ninety-nine names of Allah. Means generous. I have yet to see his generosity in action.
Brandt, on the other hand, has demonstrated a giving nature that belies the meaning of his name. He shared his team rations with us at suppertime (thick bars of some bland but filling substance), which we ate together in the circle of tents that Minerva had pitched in the road outside the library. It was previously unthinkable for us to stop eating with food left in our hands, but the bars were so dense that our stomachs began to ache before most of us had even finished half of a ration.
The conversation flowed with startling ease between my people and Brandt’s. The Oculus agent mentioned to me that he had never seen such immediate and close interaction between Minerva members and outsiders. There were always too many barriers. Too many concepts the refugees couldn’t grasp. As if to emphasize this point, a Glaucus researcher began playing music from a device on his wrist. Unlike our rudimentary songs, this was fast and layered and it had an indelible beat. He had been talking to Elizabeth Hanson at the time, and she began bouncing along to the music.
‘You like it?’ I heard him ask. ‘It’s jazz.’
‘This is jazz!’ Elizabeth gasped. Her grimy face had turned red and her eyes swelled with excitement. ‘I knew it!’
‘How could you possibly know what jazz sounds like?’ the young man asked.
‘F. Scott Fitzgerald.’
The researcher laughed, and I felt intensely proud of my people then. Thalia was right – we truly did have a civilization of our own. The undying Voices had given it to us. I had hoped she would move past her Carrie phase, but she refused to eat with us in the Minerva camp and instead ate from our own rations inside the library. I have tried to reason with her, but she is choosing to avoid me for now. I suspect she was watching us from afar as I gave a tour of our collection to Brandt and Frank Rybell, the Glaucus leader. Frank has multiple origins and meanings, from the Germanic francisca throwing axe to the Latin meaning of ‘free man’ or the English meaning of ‘sincere.’ I wonder which one reflects Frank Rybell the best? I asked him, but he seemed confused by the question. In fact, both Brandt and Rybell were oddly subdued as I led them through all three floors. I believe they were trying to hide their admiration. After the tour, they both admitted that they were tired and returned to their camp without any further explanation. I don’t know what to make of this reaction, but I feel a shade of my earlier skepticism returning. I will watch them closely.
By now it is almost dawn. I can see the darkness lightening on the other side of my window. My candle is sputtering, and my ink is running low. There are so many incredible stories to relate from this incredible day, but I will have to wait. Maybe the dream will end, and these stories will fade from my memory. Or maybe I’ll leave my office to find the angular silver tents still pitched outside in the road. As I began this entry, I couldn’t believe what I’d seen and done today. But after writing it down and giving it shape, I’m not certain anymore. As always, the words on the page seem to make it real. Maybe this bright future isn’t a dream after all.
– It is interesting to note that the official recorded beginning of the Byrnwood Library affair did not begin on October 28th. The few official records I could find indicate that the research team, led by Third Secretary Brandt, did not arrive at the Library until October 31st. None of the details included in this entry in Mr. Gordon’s journal are even mentioned in the official account. It seems likely that this discrepancy could be connected to why the entire affair receives so little attention here at Minerva.