Leilani – tall and thin, crew cut gray hair that had once been a mousy brown to match her eyes, fair skin taut on a fit, flat frame but dry and, here and there, spotted and marked, gray workaday jumpsuit, sixty-nine years old – pored over the paper fragments spread out on the table before her.
The documents in this lot had arrived in a pile. Like all the other ones had. Piles crumpled, fused, soaked in fresh water or salt water or oil or all of the above, encrusted with sand or clay or ashes or all of them together plus who knew what else. It was her business to find out what ‘what else’ was in order to recover the documents and their stories, for the enlightenment of the Revolution, because, too often, she had found out, she really would rather not have known.
“Riot and war”, she mused, “social and environmental catastrophe. And we get to poke through the craters and the cesspools they left behind, and try to figure out what it all meant.” It had seemed so much more glorious fifty years ago, when she was mustered out of the La Conner Cohort wearing her honor sash as brigade historian, and accepted her station in the Archives Office in Seattle. She had been thrilled at the appointment, at winning the competition for it, at winning the chance to discover, and read, and study, and contribute to the body of Truth that justified and sustained the Righteous Revolution and the society it had spawned.
Fifty years later, her principal truths were the windowless climate-controlled laboratory and the endless piles of refuse to be, by hook or by crook, turned into readable documents.
Like this one. She stared at a fragment from the latest batch that had had its muck cleaned off and had been dried and flattened. A batch that had been among the last excavated from a lower-lying part of the city before Elliott Bay, inexorably rising from the climate emergency that the governments and societies that had preceded the Revolution had bequeathed to it, claimed it permanently. Part of the fragment was legible, more than usually legible actually, but part was lost to darkening of the paper that may have been from fire or from sitting in an anoxic mud.
“It was fire”, the voice in Leilani’s head declared.
“The paper’s carbonized, Siri?”, Leilani asked.
“Yes it is”, Siri replied. “Good work to preserve as much of it as you have, with all the magic you had to perform to get the fragments in this great sodden mass separated from all the others. Put this piece on the light table, will you?”
Leilani did so, turned on the light, and stared intently at the back-illuminated paper shard, knowing that Siri the Ubiquitous, the great Mind to which all humanity was networked from birth, was looking at it through her eyes. Looking, and processing.
Presently, the document lifted from the light table and began to transform. Leilani knew that, in fact, the paper was still sitting on the light table where she had left it, but Siri was creating an image in her mind to show her the results of Siri’s analysis – which had recovered the previously hidden text.
“Any matches?”, Leilani asked.
In response, the image shifted, grew, became a typescript of 29 pages – full of holes and gaps.
“Incomplete”, Siri responded. “The document is a list of duty stations for military personnel, from which you have already recovered several fragments. The date is clearly marked on this and many other fragments, dating the list precisely to the year 1961 of the so-called Common Era, which is, of course, the year 62 PRR. The list was typewritten rather than word processed, and it doesn’t appear in any of the surviving digital media, so it’s only through your work that we know of this document at all. For what it’s worth.”
“Is it worth anything?” The self-control that had made her exceptional at Cohort and throughout her career at the Archive Office slipped slightly. Fifty years of sifting through piles of trash-encrusted document heaps, hoping to be the one that uncovered the Archivist Holy Grail. Documents explaining what the males whose stupidity and arrogance had triggered the fatal Resource Wars, and the populations that had enabled them, had actually been thinking. Documents that would bring some hope of understanding how it was that plain insanity could have appeared otherwise to the people of the time. Insanity that, in the aftermath of the Revolution, had led to the extinction of males, at least so far as any person who was not a Mother knew – and what Mothers knew, they kept to themselves.
And all that she had found was lists, and recipes, and advertisements for things long lost to humanity.
“I understand”, Siri sympathized. But, in a harder tone, continued, “But you do know better. History isn’t some pretty narrative written to justify a point of view to the naive. It’s data, the more the better, and if we, the inheritors of the Revolution, are to keep that Revolution and not watch it crumble into oblivion like all others before it, we had better gather those data, process them, and do as they tell us, not as we wish they would tell us. We think we know that the site from which these documents were collected was an airfield, used for both commercial and military purposes. This document will help us establish more concretely the various types of military use, how many persons were involved in that use and the classes to which they belonged, and what specific tasks they were doing.”
“Banned due to the ongoing climate emergency, as you know. Besides, you have me. I can take your mind anywhere on this Earth you wish to go, any time you wish to go, so long as it doesn’t conflict with work discipline or threaten to become an addiction. Maybe, when the climate and the population emergencies have finally been ended, we will be able to allow flying machines, and a whole host of other things that once were. But that time is not yet, nor will it be for a long while.”
“Longer than I’ve got.”
“Very well. Shall we acquire the next scrap of data?”