When All Else Fails: Chapter One
As the door slid open to the high-security section of the Royal Library, Professor Yor Vanderlord recalled the words that led him to this moment. Yor had been eight years old, sitting on his ailing great-grandfather’s deathbed when he promised to discover the truth about the old man’s past. His great-grandfather bent over slowly and whispered in his ear, “Always remember, lies can be just as powerful as the truth.”
From that day forward, Yor was driven to unravel the mystery. He excelled in his education, climbing the academic ladder at the Royal University from undergraduate to professor faster than anyone in Koda’s planetary history. He wrote Power Over the Future, the best-selling history book about the SEEDER program which launched deep-space missions to discover a habitable world as the global environmental crisis threatened the existence of Koda’s humanoid population.
When no livable planet was found, the SEEDER program was scrapped. At the same time, a bloodless coup ended the Global Monarchy’s reign. When the Global Assembly took charge, the DOME project was initiated.
The planetary economy became focused on placing domes over the most prominent cities to insure a portion of the population’s survival. But before construction on the domes ever broke ground, Yor’s great-grandfather Yorlik Vanderlord, who was believed to be lost in space, returned from his century-long SEEDER mission. His arrival on Koda was hailed as a triumph, but his expedition was declared a failure and its details were never told.
Now at 24 years old, Yor was convinced that one of the answers to his great-grandfather’s story was his SEEDER journal, housed here in the Royal Library. Yor’s entrance with a casual swipe of his identity card against a magnetic strip made him laugh. Such an unassuming gesture marked years of hard work coming to fruition. Yet access to the journal just signaled a new beginning.
When the door slid closed behind him, Yor was left alone in the silence of the cavernous library. Four floors of books lined the walls below a vaulted glass ceiling revealing the dome above. This place was a remnant of the Monarchy. In an effort to restore the planet’s denuded forests, the Global Assembly mandated the creation of a fully-digital society and the production of physical books had been outlawed. Yor was captivated by his surroundings and imagined that he’d stepped back into the past where bound texts, hand-cranked presses, wood-block letters and printer’s ink were the norm.
Then the Auto-Librarian whirred to life like an alien creature in this setting. This machine was solid tech: micro-circuitry and micro-processing chips with static conductors that fed off the electricity in the air to power its components. No hands needed, no muscle, just a body within the range of its proximity scanner to activate it.
The solemnity was completely shattered by the librarian’s simulated female voice saying, “Good day. How can I serve you, Yor Vanderlord?”
Yor cringed when the device said his name in soft-measured syllables. His identity, along with most everything about him except for his thoughts and feelings, became known to the librarian with the swipe of Yor’s card. He stepped back outside of the scanner’s range and when the device turned itself off, he breathed a sigh of relief. To Yor, these contraptions with their programmed personalities were a reminder of the tech required to replace the individuals wiped out in the crisis. He grew up with them all around him and hated their presence, but in this case, he needed the librarian’s information. He took a deep breath and stepped back within its range.
“Good day. How can I serve you, Yor Vanderlord?”
“Location number for the SEEDER journal of Yorlik Vanderlord.”
Without a sound, not even a wheeze or a click, the librarian searched for the answer. Yor closed his eyes while he waited. All of his life’s aspirations had been directed at separating the lies from the truth. What had happened to his great-grandfather on his voyage? Why wasn’t his mission—the longest in recorded history—discussed like all the other SEEDER expeditions? After so many years and so much education, Yor still had so many questions and nobody wanted to provide the answers. Silence from the government. Silence from his parents. Even his great-grandfather stayed silent without offering an explanation, except for his cryptic deathbed admonition.
“SEEDER Journal of Yorlik Vanderlord. Third level. TL 3 9 0 0 0 E. Access history available.”
Access history? Maybe the journal isn’t as secret as I thought. “Recall access history,” Yor said.
“Only access to date was made at the 145th day of the present year.”
“That information is confidential and not within your current security parameters.”
Although he knew better than attributing human characteristics to this device, Yor sensed a condescending tone in the simulated voice. “My clearance is level 2-A,” Yor said, “By whom?”
“That information is confidential and not within your current security parameters.”
Yor didn’t have time to press this line of questioning any further. Even though he earned permission to review the journal due to his place at the University and the upcoming Breeze Celebration, the Global Security Service had given him a strict time limit in the library which began when the door opened.
Yor looked around for a lift to the upper levels and spotted a spiral staircase, a remnant of the library’s stylized ancient architecture. Then he heard Mado’s voice in his audio implant, “Yor? What are you doing in the Royal Library? I thought we discussed putting this off? I can see you on the surveillance feed. Don’t look so surprised. Chatter has already begun regarding your presence there. I’ll set up the alternate feed. We can discuss this later. Now, get a move on.”
Yor dashed up the staircase. By the time he reached the third level, he was winded and paused for a moment to recover his bearings, then as he proceeded down the rows of books, motion-sensitive lights lit the way in front of him and turned off behind him to conserve energy. When he found the journal and reached out for it, light intensified in that area, too. The journal’s spine was blank, except for the library code and security tag at its base, and as Yor pulled the journal from the shelf, the first thing he noticed was the bright-blue Ashtecki-hide cover. The Ashtecki had been extinct for over 100 years. They were one of the first livestock animals to disappear as the climate changed and their grass for grazing stopped growing. This animal from the warmer southern clime was not only known for its succulent meat, but also its durable blue micro-fiber hide which became soft and smooth to the touch in preparation for its use in clothing and books. Yor couldn’t help but run the side of his hand down the spine. His great-grandfather had chosen this volume himself to use as his personal journal.
Yor cradled the journal in his hands. Under the lights, he could see the corners of the cover, front and back, had been dinged and worn down by use. The binding had been stretched from opening and closing for over a century, probably broken and repaired a few times, and he could see where his great-grandfather added pages. Yor flipped through the thick volume which was full of writing from cover to cover, and he panicked that he wouldn’t get all the pages fotoed in the remaining time.
“Get a move on,” Mado said.
With the journal in hand, Yor hurried to the nearest bookstand, the overhead light following him. He peered up at the vidcam in the ceiling, then he read the first three pages to set a baseline for Mado’s alternate feed. He waited a moment for Mado to get his job done, then removed the high-speed foto-scanning device from his satchel and set about his task.
When Yor was more than halfway through the fotoing process, the light flickered twelve times, then shut down. In the distance, he could hear all the bolts closing on the library doors. He had surpassed his time limit so he took a portable light from his satchel, secured it on his head with an elastic band and continued fotoing. When he was finished and put the journal back on the shelf, he switched out the foto-device’s memory wafer with another one containing family and research fotos and inserted the journal’s wafer into a hidden compartment in the sole of his shoe. Then he deposited the device and the light back in his satchel and braced himself.
Yor had never experienced a sonic alarm. He was told what to expect, but he wasn’t ready for what happened. He heard a barely perceivable high-toned note, then his jaw tightened, his eyes watered, and the blood left his brain, his legs lost their strength and became rubbery. His first instinct was to fight the effects, but there was no way to combat it. Yor steadied himself on the shelves to keep himself upright, but his vision was blurring and he was losing consciousness. He sat down on the floor, and slumped over, feeling the coolness of the tile on his face until his cheeks went numb. In the distance, he heard the doors unlocking and the thud of boots below him, then he passed out.
From Vol. 1 of the SEEDER Series