Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Archives

I started this story back in February, let it go a while, then "finished" it about 2 weeks ago. Of course, as anyone who writes knows, finish is a relative term, but for now I am happy with it. Feel free to comment and/or tell me what you would do as the question is posed at the end of the story.

The Archives

I glanced in the hallway mirror one last time. I could hear the limo waiting for me as its engine idled in the street in front of my apartment. I had received many awards in my life, gave speeches in front of the most powerful and influential people in the country. But I was as nervous as a girl preparing for the junior prom. Today, I was to visit the Library of Congress where I was to be the first person to gain access to the historical papers from the Great War.

The Great War. A time of unparalleled death and destruction on earth. Twenty plus years of war resulting in the loss of over a billion people, the injury of another two billion and the displacement of virtually 1 out of every 2 human beings on the planet. It had taken almost 30 years just to compile all the records now housed in the Library of Congress as the disbursement of information and true understanding of the scope of the conflict was so daunting. And then another 20 years of secrecy; not just because the details of the war were so difficult to comprehend but because the task of establishing a viable lifestyle for the remaining population was all encompassing. But now, finally, 3 generations since the beginning of the what was eventually called the Reclamation, someone other than one of the seven Circle of Elders was authorized to read, review and report on the summary of the most darkest and conversely, most unifying time of human existence.

The ride to the Library was not long, only about 15 minutes, but along the route we passed a microcosm of what remained and had become of the earth in the last seventy plus years. All of the monuments of Washington DC that had existed in the early 21st century were gone. Virtually all of the homes, businesses, transportation outlets, literally everything man made that had once stood in and around this city was destroyed. Indeed, even the natural elements of the land, the river paths, rolling hills, groups of trees, and the animals and birds that lived within them, all of it was changed. While the desire to link the old names to these new places had become tired, the reality of this place, this New Washington DC was as true as it was for New Moscow and New London and New Beijing. All of the major population centers were now equal in their age and similar in their architecture and design. One could now travel to most of the large metropolitan areas and feel at home; even the language which had been designated in the early days as a mostly English base continued to be spoken universally.

The Great War had started innocently enough. An unknown object splashed into the Chesapeake Bay one spring afternoon, witnessed by literally thousands of people out enjoying the unseasonable weather. When the aquatic and waterfowl life in the bay started dying, no definitive explanation could be discerned, at first. Then, another object fell into the Mediterranean Sea and when life in that sea began to die within a few days, the connection was made to the original occurrence. Tensions, which were already frayed throughout the world, heightened quickly. But everything changed when the discovery was made by the scientific community that the objects which had landed in both areas were alien in origin.

As we passed the housing units, at first mostly apartment towers like my own, generously spaced with well-maintained recreation areas connected by simple two-lane roads for motorized vehicles, and spacious non-motorized lanes for all other traffic, I felt some of my anxiety start to ease. But as we approached the center of the city with its single family dwellings housing the New Leadership, I again felt my stomach begin to knot with the realization of the responsibility of the task I was about to begin.

Within weeks of the discovery that the objects were extraterrestrial, another half a dozen objects splashed down in the larger fresh water bodies on the planet. Despite the immediate unification of all the astronomical organizations throughout the world, the source of the objects could not be traced. When even larger objects struck the seven oceans over the course of one terrifying weekend, it was clear that our enemy was bent on an attack focused on both our water and food system in one fell swoop. Despite the severity and effectiveness of this strategy, the nations of the world rallied. All the resources that had once been focused on war were now directed towards this crisis of the seas as the popular press named it. And when three months passed without any further water attacks, a global sigh of relief rolled across the planet.

How much of what I knew, of what was taught to the masses, would be confirmed and how much contradicted? While so much time hadn't passed that there wasn't ample, direct evidence of the major events of The Reclamation, there was still the occasional story that would make its way through our communication system that unveiled a bit of information, be it story or artifact, that differed from the mainstream perceptions that we all knew. As a member of the communication industry, I was aware of more than most people, but I generally found little interesting dialog among my friends and colleagues. The reality of what had occurred was so self evident, so widespread, and the effort and resources that had been and were still required to move humanity forward so time consuming that these stories were treated as little more that oddities which served as minor diversions.

Over the course of one's life, there are a few times when everyone can remember where they were when certain events took place. On that fateful day in March, virtually every human on earth remembered their exact location and activity. The attack was ferocious in its intensity and planet wide in its scope. The weapons were not atomic but the barrage was incessant. Within twelve hours, the world's financial and political centers were leveled. Where the crisis of the seas appeared to attempt capitulation by striking at the water and food sources, this stage appeared to be an attempt to remove the leadership and business minds of our societies.

Yet, again we regrouped. Some credited the military leaders who created a chain of command where power wasn't the object, but where decision making, organization and the flow of those decisions through the system became the focus of all. Others praised the religious leaders of the world who put aside their philosophical differences and found one voice to both give comfort to those who had survived and an inspiration that galvanized the human race's determination. Still others felt that it was the simple fact that we now knew who was attempting our extinction; not only were the spaceships now visible daily in the skies above, but one of the attackers had been captured and his visage reproduced in all manner of communications that still functioned.

As the limo began to slow, I saw that a path ahead had been cleared in the normal rush hour traffic. The driver eased the vehicle between the first few law enforcement vehicles that were creating this path, then we steadily sped through the opening towards the Library. Suddenly, we were there, the door was open and I was being escorted past rows of my fellow communication specialists towards the massive doors of the Library. I heard a few familiar voices call out my name but saw no faces in the crowd.

The final stage of the attack came as suddenly as the middle stage had ended. Again, like the interval between the first two stages, enough time had passed so that a tiny sense of hope had begun to grow. The psychology of the process with its carefully choreographed lulls sandwiched between relentless fury, came astonishingly close to breaking the spirit of our race. While some of the biggest population centers had been spared the second attack, the scattered leadership of the world, in anticipation of an attack on those centers, had ordered a disbursement of the remaining population. Even more amazing than the fact that the message to "spread out" got through was the way the people of earth regrouped into bands of population that were totally unique when compared to those before the Great War. These new groups were not constrained by nationality, religion, race or income. People came together for reasons based solely on survival. Diversity in all phases of human achievement featuring a range of skills both mental and physical made up these groupings. Men and women working together without regard to all the xenophobic concepts that had previously ruled the day. It was a horrendous time but an inspirational reaction.

At the top of the steps I could see the Commissioner of Communications, smiling as I approached. It was he who had called me into his office and had asked me if I would consider this historic assignment. Now, he took me by the arm and led me through the Library's doors. When they closed behind me, the cacophony of the street scene was instantly replaced by a penetrating silence and I again felt the nervousness in my stomach. As we crossed the cavernous entryway, I was aware of the clicking of our shoes on the polished floors and their echo off the walls decorated with pictures of the people and events of the past seventy years.

"Shall we go right to the Archives?

Like at our first and only meeting concerning my access to the Archives, the Commissioner moved right to the point. I nodded my assent. We passed through a number of doorways, some which required the Commissioner to type in a security code, some with only silent but watchful guards. I never had much of a sense of direction, so it didn't take long for me to feel disoriented.

The final stage was initially not even recognized by the survivors as a stage of attack at all. It was widely perceived by the remaining population and leadership that the attack had been repulsed. Worldwide groupings that had been born out of necessity were not being reorganized into "countries" although far less than before the invasion. These new countries were more like states within the old united States in that there were differences between these countries but one overriding vein of unity. Just as Patrick Henry had first uttered the unifying phrase, I am not a Virginian but an American, we were no longer French or Chinese or American, we were earthlings. But then people began dying again. So random, so unrelated, that no one noticed or connected the dots. It took fully 2 years before the reality behind the deaths were realized and the announcement was made that the slaughter was the work of the aliens.

"Am I the only one outside the Circle of Elders to know about this?", I asked.
The Commissioner pushed away from his desk and walked over to a small, wooden table tucked into the corner of the room. He removed a folder and brought it back to the desk.

"Open it", he said.

The folder was not very thick, perhaps a half dozen or so papers were inside it. Each had a small 2 inch square picture at the left hand corner and a few paragraphs detailing the biographies of each person pictured. I recognized all the names and was even acquainted with two of them. They were the icons of the communications industry. Each was known throughout the world for a particular accomplishment, all were revered for their ability to keep the people informed during a time when news, particularly news of the early days of the Reclamation was like a salve to humankind as we fought to avoid extinction.

"When the Plan was in its infancy" began the Commissioner, "debate was fierce on both sides of the issue. The greatest minds, most powerful leaders, and deepest thinkers of the world debated for almost two years just to decide to implement its details. The few remaining records of these debates indicate that just as it appeared that the Plan would be scuttled, the War in the Middle East began. Within two months of the start of this conflict, the Plan was approved unanimously. It had become clear that without this drastic step, there would be no returning from the destruction that the warring nations had begun. Yet still, one final amendment was added. At this time, we believe this last detail helped these great men and women sign off on what they knew was a death sentence to so many of their fellow humans. A way to link the future to their decision so they could feel comfortable knowing that it could be stopped if the succeeding generations decided it should end. So it was agreed that every 10 years, someone outside the Circle of Elders, someone trusted unquestionably by the people still alive, would have access to the Archives. As you now know, the Archives were virtually complete within the first few years of the beginning of the Plan. The story you have known all your life, the story all remaining humans then and now have been taught was just that, a story. And, of course, to make sure that the person chosen to receive this honor was truly universally trusted, events were directed by the Circle to help build and maintain the status of these people precisely so they would be in a position to be believed should they decide to reveal the truth."

I closed the folder. The watershed moments of my life flashed through my mind. I was suddenly aware of the connections of these events, as if I had lived my life with blinders.

I looked up at the Commissioner to find a sympathetic smile and a nod.
"It is now your turn to decide. If you choose to, we will announce a world communications conference on the day of your choosing and provide you with whatever documents you wish to make public. We understand it is an incredible decision and not at easy one with which to wrestle. But we can only provide you with seven days to decide. It is the Plan's directive, delineated in that last amendment".

So now, I stand before my reflection in the mirror. Tomorrow is the seventh day. I see the wisdom of the seven day decision cycle as I don't think I could survive a longer time limit. Sleep had become a welcome respite from the enormity of the decision but now, even my sleep has been invaded by visions of what has been and what might become again.

The truth has always been the goal of all great communications men and women. Whether that truth was hand-written on parchment, tapped out on typewriters, mass printed on rolls of newspaper or instantly transmitted electronically through the ether, the truth was always our goal. And now, I knew the truth, the awful truth: that it was through lies and controlled death and destruction that humans had finally achieved the greatest time of peace and prosperity ever known on earth. Great men and women before me had developed the Plan, the idols of my youth and my profession had remained silent when presented with this truth. When mankind feared the worst, that they might destroy each other out of a lust for power and money, they decided to use that very destruction as a tool to unite the men of earth by staging an alien invasion. They condemned billions of individuals to die to save humanity as a whole.

I have always maintained, both in my personal and professional life that people were inherently good and that given the choice they would invariably make right choice. Did I dare take this great risk to prove my beliefs?
I looked up at my reflection. What should I do?

What would you do?


  1. Its funny how educated people always think they are smart. When a decision is has to be made they will go over every scenario and evaluate every outcome.When they finally chose a solution. The event has either been solved or is now unable to be fixed by the same solutions. The common good is always the most important thing correct?

  2. Bob,

    I am assuming by your response that you would maintain the status quo and not reveal the truth that led to humanity's peace, correct?

    Taking that forward, that the common good is always the most important thing, how do we apply it to health care? Do we allow the really sick to be denied health care as they are an inordinate drain on the monies available for the rest of the population, thereby reducing costs and taking care of the "common good". Or do we ask the majority of the population to pay more money with the assumption that if someone in the majority suddenly gets critically sick they will be covered, hence the entire common good is protected from bankruptcy and/or denial of health care?

    I guess what I am saying is that what is your defintion of the common good and can't it be defined in different ways depending on one's perspective and biases?


    PS; comment on the actual story?

  3. The actual story...when I first read it,it annoyed me for a couple of reasons.I wont go into them because today all day I found myself thinking about it.So I say anything that can create that much thought is a good thing.As far as any criticism I might have,I don't believe I have a right seeing as I have never done anything of equal value.
    My political views are more to the right but I love an open exchange of thoughts and opinions.One last thing my answer to your story would be ...if it was a conservative government in charge at the time I keep my mouth shut if it was liberal tell everything :-)