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From Inside the Flap
The library on Hanis was a warren of a place, dug half into the mountain to keep the occupants from the planet's desert sun, built around a series of light wells and glass-roofed courtyards that looked like green houses and broke up the monotony of tiled floors and white walls with a welcome touch of colour. There were roses, she noticed, as she crossed the plaza in front of the anthropological section, big as dinner plates. They must be genetically modified, she thought, and really too much of a good thing. They had taken an object of beauty, super-sized it and spoilt it in the process. The colours were insipid, not vivid, the reds were not that blood colour of real roses, they were more like a scarlet wash and the white had a slight greenish tinge to them, which reminded her of caterpillars.
Her friend Esmee would have laughed at her description, she knew, would have been amused at the way she picked apart all these strands of modernity that surrounded her. But Esmee was a long way away and a long time ago, or so it seemed. She had become a librarian because she liked old things, books in particular; the smell of them, the feel, and that was even before you got to the content. But, in truth, she had little to do with books. There were, of course, still collections of them at the central and in the local hubs, but in reality what she dealt with were discs and hard drives of one sort or another. Though it still all came down to words in the end.
She looked up through the glass dome, before she went through the doors to the anthropology section. The sky on Hanis always had a red tint to it no matter what time of day, something to do with dust particles in the atmosphere, she thought, though she hadn't paid much attention to the orientation talk on the shuttle ride over. She could also just glimpse the top of a jagged, red spire of rock, part of the ring of serrated, broken mountains that framed the campus. But the glass was covered with a film of the same red dust and instead of giving her a sense of infinite space, the dome made her feel as if she was in a bubble, separate and alien from the desert world around her.
Karin was at the desk in the anteroom, working on a monitor. She glanced up as Robyn scanned herself through the door using her identity badge. Security here wasn't exactly state of the art - the place was, after all, a library - so it was something of a low priority. The woman smiled at her. Like all the co-workers she had met here, she seemed friendly, but also rather unengaged. Not the sort of person you could get drunk with and have a good laugh, she thought.
Karin was so blonde and Germanic-looking, her ethnicity was written on her face like a label. She had thought there had been a frisson of interest there, the other night at the welcoming reception, but perhaps she had been mistaken. The vile, ersatz stuff they called vodka here, could do that to you.
"Does anyone ever go out there?" She asked, just to make conversation.
"On the surface, you mean?" Karin answered. "Some people work out there, miners, engineers and so on."
"No. I mean out there to walk, have a look around. Is it even possible?"
Karin shook her head and smiled in an ever-so-slightly condescending way.
"It's possible, but not really practical; temperatures are too high in the day and there's the risk of sandstorms. It's a really hostile environment."
As she walked on down the corridor, Robyn regretted making the effort. What sort of stupid question was that? She asked herself. And why do I seem to be as awkward as an adolescent here? She had felt her face reddening as she left Karin and couldn't really understand this reaction. She thought it was because she felt so much out of her own environment here; she had got used to her life on Thera, her water-side house next to Lake Kara, her daily work routine at the Institute. She had taken this assignment to break out of that cycle, to challenge herself. She was starting to think that she had made the wrong decision.
She suited up and scanned herself through the air-lock. The vault she was working in was programmed to maintain an optimum level of humidity and temperature to protect all the records. It was also a dust-free environment, of crucial importance on this planet where the abrasive red dirt seemed to get everywhere.
Shelby was already at his station and nodded to her. Though drinking and eating were technically forbidden in the vault, he had a travel cup in front of him and pointed to a flask on a side table as he nodded to her. Not much of a greeting, she thought, but he seemed the strong silent type. He was over six feet and absolutely gorgeous; slim, graceful and the colour of dark honey. Not her cup of coffee of course, but quite personable. With looks like his, he didn't need to make an effort with women. Yet, truth be told, the short time she had worked beside him, she had found him easy-going and relaxed. She also appreciated the fact that he didn't chatter; she liked to get her head down and absorb herself in her work.
She poured some coffee from the flask into one of the recycled cups, wondering how her society had gone from pottery to pewter, reached some apex of functionality and design and then plummeted back to nasty, plastic cups that burnt your fingers and sloshed your drink everywhere. Then it was back to archiving.
At one time, it was said, all the knowledge of the world, of old Earth, could have been stored in one room. So a scholar in Renaissance Italy, for the sake of argument, could amass a library in his house and be confident that he held the world's knowledge in his hand. Just an illusion of course, even at the time, but a tenable one at that. And if you went further back, that great, lost library of Alexandria, which in some ways the library on Hanis resembled, could have well made a case in its time for being the vessel of its own world's knowledge.
In Robyn's time, the guardians of knowledge had abandoned these illusions; their job was no longer just to amass and conserve knowledge. Instead, because of the snowstorm of information that was a constant blizzard, overwhelming everyone everywhere, their task had been subtly altered. In fact, now they had to harvest information, gleaning the important relevant facts and winnowing out the chaff, the misinformation, the bizarre and weird mis-directions and the just plain lies. As she thought about it, she was happy with this harvest metaphor, though aware that many of her contemporaries wouldn't quite get it; they weren't very informed about old, traditional agricultural practises.
The job was not to suppress information, but to filter it and send it to the central Hub. The theory was that this body of knowledge, this narrative, would stand on its own and remain, long after the babble of other voices had died out. That was the theory at least.
If it hadn't been for the way she felt about this place, Hanis and the people she worked with, she would have had to admit that she had pulled a plum assignment out of the mix. In truth, if she hadn't felt so lonely and so detached from the others - not necessarily through anybody's fault but her own - she would have felt that, at last, she was truly fulfilling her role as a librarian and historian.
She had been given the task of assessing the archives of some of the commercial expeditions, carried out by a number of corporations that had won the contracts to explore and develop trade with the Copernican sector of the far galaxies. It was recent history, as only the advent of sub-light travel had made such exploratory voyages feasible.
What fascinated her were the anthropological records that the corporation ships had kept as one of the stipulations of their contract. As part of their commercial agreements, they were bound to a policy of respecting the indigenous peoples that they came across and a commitment to minimal interference in their societies. To demonstrate that they had obeyed these regulations, they had been entasked with describing and recording everything that they encountered. There was a plethora of recordings, film and statistical data. Her job was to combine it into some sort of narrative, a historical overview of the inhabited planets in the sector that would be uploaded to the Hub.
In practise, some of the information was patchy and of dubious value. Some of the expeditions had employed anthropologists, but most of the records had been compiled by miners or security details and were often more focused on the exotic rather than the mundane.
As she logged into her work-station, she cross-referenced her work schedule with the diary on her hand Pad. One word came up -'Elanthia'. It meant nothing to her for a few seconds, and then she recalled what it was. A small, dusty planet on the edge of the Copernican sector. Nothing much of note there, it seemed from the quick scan she had given it; a classic pattern of contact, contract and consolidation. In company speak this meant that the expedition had made first contact, which must have been friendly or positive enough to lead to a trading agreement or contract, which in turn led to a process of development in the consolidation phase. This was a subtle, delicate process of helping the planet's people to help themselves, without due interference, but with enough technological and scientific input to better their lives and set them on the path of self-help. Or so the theory went.
So Elanthia was on her to-do list, but didn't look particularly promising. She was sorely tempted to shelve it for now and get on to some of the meatier, more appealing planets, but her librarian's analytical sense wouldn't let her. She should do this in order. She could give Elanthia a morning, perhaps a day, and console herself with the prospect of getting stuck into Shabaz, or Consignia 1, tomorrow.
She started to look at the material more methodically. As she thought, there was nothing much of interest. The planet was classified as a B2 planet with a breathable atmosphere. It had a longer year and correspondingly longer seasons. Most of the population was concentrated in the equatorial belt of the planet that was drier than old earth, which was always the bench mark they measured planets by, but reasonably habitable.
The exploitation contract had been won by the Sung Yang Corporation and first contact had come through one of their survey ships the 'Sir John Franklin'. The survey team had reported an indigenous population at Point 5 of the Intergalactic Anthropological scale, which would put it at or around the level of pre-Conquest Meso-America, ancient Mesopotamia or late Dark Age Europe. The scale was a nonsense anyway and had long been discredited, though as no one had come up with an acceptable alternative, it was still in use.
So the description told her very little and the images she viewed, while intrinsically of interest, just gave her a patchwork picture of the place. She looked to see if there were any records of indigenous archives of any sort, whether written documents or pictographs on stone or pottery, but the expedition reported that there was only an oral culture, reliant on memory and the passing down of these memories across the generations. That in itself wasn't strange; there were many examples of similar cultural models, in old earth cultures, and across the galaxies.
The first expedition had landed near the equator on the central continent, which was itself like a vast archipelago of sizeable land masses around an inland sea. It had landed in the kingdom, or empire - the translation of the vocabulary was apparently problematic - of Melanthera, which seemed to be the dominant state at the time. But there had been some problem at the contact stage and things had stalled. It was only some years later, when Melanthera had been partially overrun by a nomadic people called the Hvassara, that viable treaties had been negotiated. Because what the planet did have, was the richest range of minerals that you could wish for, all just waiting for extraction. From what she read, the consolidation phase was a model of practise, with the Hvassara and the local Melantherans coming on in leaps and bounds, from pastoral nomadism to the brink of the industrial revolution in a span of a decade.
It all seemed straightforward enough, though the part of her that was a historian regretted the lack of primary sources. So much had been compiled after the fact, some years later, and many of the original records had been re-edited over time and with hindsight. That was the problem with these virtual records, they were too easy to tinker with, to fine polish.
She could hear Shelby moving, getting up out of his chair and stretching and, checking her Pad, she saw that it was lunchtime.
"Canteen?" He asked walking over to her station, then looking at her screen.
"What are you doing?"
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