October 04, 2004

Chapter 10

When everyone was in the auditorium, the house lights went down and everyone quieted. The curtains opened a bit, and Margaret walked out to the podium on the stage.

"Welcome everyone," she began. "After a long and difficult decision-making process, the council has chosen a new leader to succeed Gregory. An investiture is more than just the installation of a new leader; it is an opportunity for us to revisit our shared commitments and examine how we reached our current position."

"Members of our past council will read from the official history, and then we will introduce the leader. The leader will then conduct an election for the new council."

The twelve members of the council sat in a row of seats across the stage. Catherine was carrying a large book. She placed the book on her lap and flipped it open to a marked page near the beginning. A screen behind her showed pictures of what she described.

"The twelve libraries were created in the year 2040, amid signs that we had damaged our planet. All twelve had similar plans and identical contents, providing a home for the knowledge gained over the previous centuries. Books, records, music, film, tools, raw materials, and a precious collection of plant, animal, and human genomic stock were surrounded by the technology needed to keep them viable for centuries. Excavations and construction lasted until 2143, when this, the last of the libraries, was completed."

Catherine passed the book to the next member. Every member read a passage to the audience before passing it to the next reader.

"For six years, the library thrived, full of people with a strong sense of mission, preserving knowledge for the rest of the world. The concerns that had motivated the creation of the libraries were being realized, as the ever-increasing costs of energy led to new wars for the remainder and the damage done to the environment flooded the coasts, dried out the interior, and battered the country with storms. The library was a haven from the problems of the world."

"In 2149, there was a reactor failure and the entire library was evacuated. Its residents fled, and the contents were feared destroyed. Radioactive material spewed from the entrance."

"A year later, a team of thirteen investigators entered the library. The surface never heard from us again, presuming us lost, as we sealed the entrance behind us and locked down all the security systems. The earlier reactor problems had been an elaborate performance, necessary to allow the library to last through the centuries of chaos that now looked certain. As planned, our team became the new residents of the library, a much smaller core group that could keep the library going for centuries on minimal power. Outside, the area was marked as hazardous - which in fact it was, for a long time."

"This original team of thirteen and their descendants monitored the steady decline of the world outside. There were fewer and fewer satellite signals and then they stopped over the next century. Broadcast radio and television disappeared, though signals from smaller radios continued. Radiation levels increased for a while and then dissipated, while weather patterns on the surface reached new extremes of hot and cold, dry and wet."

"Inside the library, we maintained the systems, managing their cache of stored materials, life, and knowledge. Twenty-six children were born during the lives of the original thirteen, carefully chosen to succeed their predecessors. We had the materials of the library itself to entertain them, the warning of the world above to keep them focused on their mission."

"None of the original thirteen or the twenty-six would see the surface again. We spent our years underground, marveling at old pictures of life on the surface and the many joys available to those who had once lived there. We lived on generated food, using the materials stockpiled for just such an emergency. Our monitoring found ever bleaker news on the surface, and we experienced the joy and pain of having escaped that fate."

"Other libraries shared their stories occasionally, though they broadcast infrequently. We heard of success at some libraries, and failure at others. We heard of the rise of new cities emerging as the survivors of the great decline banded together in salvageable spots."

"Three centuries after shutting ourselves from the world, we decided it was time to revisit the surface. Radiation levels were safe, the weather less drastic, and there were no signs of other people in the area. We had been preparing for the ascent for years, looking forward to life in a forest as well as in a cave."

"The first group that went to the surface stayed there for a month before returning to the city and the hospital. After a year of quarantine, they were released and the surface declared inhabitable. Work crews went to the surface to clear the trees that had grown inside the gates, rebuild the ruined walls, and reconnect the old surface defenses with the power of the city."

"During this rebuilding, a group decided that they wanted to stay on the surface. They explored and remapped the area, searching for miles around, and discovered a small village with fields in the valley. The villagers were barely surviving, eking out a living with poor seeds and stock. The villagers were uncertain, not having seen other humans for decades, but they were fortunately peaceful and willing to learn."

"The past three centuries have been years of growth. Buildings on the surface provide services for the farmers and allow them to supply us with food and energy. Re-establishing contact and trade with other cities, none of them close, has taken years, but we now enjoy stable relations with other communities."

The last council member, Margaret, closed the book, leaving it at the podium, and they all stood up, walking off the side of the stage and into seats in the audience.

All of the lights went dark for a moment, and a spotlight illuminated the podium. Matthew was standing there, in a suit of purple. Everyone raised their mugs in his direction and drank their chocolate deeply.

"Fellow citizens," Matthew began, "the council has chosen me to succeed Gregory. We face new challenges today, and we must face them together."

"We have faced choices between conservation and expansion, between trade and self-sufficiency. After a few centuries of peace, we face new conflicts and new challenges. The revival of the world, slow though it may be, demands that we take a more active role in it, both to help ensure the creation of a stable civilization and to ensure that our own home survives."

"We must build on what we have and improve what we know. We were given tremendous gifts by the builders of this city, and we must make good use of those gifts. Our mission remains as critical now as it ever has been, even as the outside world begins its long recovery."

Matthew paused for a moment, enjoying the applause.

"To achieve that mission, the leader must work closely with the council, the council must work closely with the leader, and the entire leadership must work closely with those of us overseeing the departments of our city."

"Today, we must elect that council. I ask you to vote for council members who will work together, for council members that you trust."

Margaret was staring at him, waiting for him to recommend council members, the last component of their agreement.

"I ask in particular that you elect Alice and William to the council, as we face special challenges in both of their areas of expertise."

The old council members stood up, gathered pieces of paper, and passed them to the citizens while Matthew continued.

"As is traditional, you have twelve votes: six for men and six for women. Write a list of the people you would like to see on the council, in the order of importance you attach to their service. When you are finished, hand them to the past council members."

"After the votes are counted, I will return and announce the new council."

Posted by simon at October 4, 2004 09:11 PM
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