The Last Book
by Michael Hislop
Ancien – Ancient in French
Speranza – Hope in Italian
CUSTOS – Guardian in Latin
Have you noticed the way the sunshine plays in the ruined and deserted places… Leaving looming shadows… In a wide open space, the sun’s fingering rays played off a limping man’s face. He was old, so said his weary limp. And he was alone except for a foxy terrier, rustling among the everywhere collection of stumbling ruins. Below his feet, concrete mottled black and grey, stretched for miles and miles and miles…
Far in the distance and high above imposed a floating Mountain. Specimen of the new Human Home. Not that one could call The Human any longer Human. Long ago, Humans had fled the surface of the Earth, having polluted it beyond their repair. Humanity abandoned its Roots and took to the Skies… Now living in towering cities supported by computer consciousnesses. Rebuilding Babel in The Sky.
Funny thing, as soon as Humans abandoned Mother Earth, She quickly started recovering. And now feeling again Her normal Self was nearly done consuming and digesting the detritus of Human occupation.
Alongside, a terrible thing happened, Humans surrendered their Humanity. Each year, and throughout every new decade, right on time, Humans appended new fangled upgrades and funky applications and complex sensorisors…Humanity traded fads and devices for Thought, Freedom and Soul, becoming mere vessels for other intelligences.
Long ago it had been deemed dangerous, unfashionable and exceedingly strange to even visit the surface of The Earth. So no one came down to Her surface anymore. Her surface was now barren, except for beloved fauna and flora, and except for a few Remainers, like the old man. Thus, the lone man was an outcast, both by choice and by being cast out.
The old man’s voice sang out… “Speranza. Speranza. Where are you, Girl. Come on Speranza, We are Here.” And a wagging blur came rushing past. Ahead yawned tumbling ragged ravines… Looking alike a blast site.
And below, hidden from eyes above, nestled a ranger’s trailer. It was painted dark greens striped into patterns… making it nearly invisible. It sat hidden in the regrowing environment. It had been an outpost of The Forest Service of a long-forgotten country, and now served as the outpost of a lone man.
It had taken the old man many years to find it and he knew himself lucky to have found it. It had all the modern conveniences: solar panels, a water/waste recycler, communications gear, running water, a fridge and a toilet, and a generator. And it was now Home to the Old Man and Speranza.
The old man walked to the door of his trailer home. He was tense and careful. He didn’t trust the safety of technologies, they were far too easy to dupe. The old man preferred different ways; The ways of old. Reaching to his neck, he removed a silver chain bearing an engraved key. In etched metal italics, the key said… CUSTOS.
At his feet, Speranza wagged and dribbled, asking for a vigorous scratch. The old man smiled at his faithful friend, awarding a rub under chin and under belly. All the whilst, he was scanning the surrounds, all of which he knew and had placed. Everything appeared as it should. Everything was in its place.
Satisfied, the old man astood, grunting and grimacing, his breath a whistle. He was no longer a youth, indeed, he was far far past. For in childhood he had himself witnessed the Exodus of Man. He knew with the certainty of all his years that his days in the sun were numbered, as sure as the sun’s hours upon these lands. Holding his chest tightly, he let himself into the darken trailer, wincing in pain as Speranza rushed past.
With a feeble flick, electric lights sparked filaments ablaze… Revealing an ordered place, neat and stark and sterile. There were no visible personal effects except for a Digital Photo displaying a moving image of a beautiful Girl… Tall and cute, she was all eyes… Eyes that spoke of a Big Heart and a lot of Love… Across this image of Girl, was handwritten…
My Heart, My Forever, Our Love
Always and Forever
The old man brushed the tips of his fingers across his lips… And with a secret kiss whispered “Forever and More, My Love.” Lingering entranced by re-memories, before a racking coughing fit shook him… Doubling him onto his knees. Upon his lips was blood red and upon his breath the scent of The Grim One. “Ohhhh… Agggg… Mmmmm… Oh, Oh, Ah… Agh”
Ancien gasped and grimaced and gulped as he strained for the Privilege of Life. After many long years, his Heart was giving out. And, there was no such thing as a Doctor down on the Earth anymore. The old man knew that in the flying city far above, a remedy could be found, but he wouldn’t afford the cost. For what exactly is a Human without Humanity? Only Man tortured by man in endless madness.
Pulling himself at last to his feet, Ancien prayed “It won’t be long now. My Love, Sophia, I am on My Way.” At his feet, Speranza whimpered and whined, giving the old man a long sad look.
“Come, Speranza, let’s feed you. It is that time.”
The old man tended to his evening chores with the disinterest of the bachelor, but he had a preciseness to his way. His movements, each and every, spoke of thought, considered and determined. Before long, Speranza and he had eaten, and Speranza was now curled in Dreamtime. Her snuffles and snores punctuating the blanketing silence… Zzzzzzzz
Quickly and quietly, the old man arose from his chair… He moved with an energy, his actions fervent and urgent. In a dart that would have surprised a man half his age, he locked and latched the front door of the trailer. Latching a heavy steel bar diagonally across the doorway. With a grin and a grunt, Ancien was done, he was satisfied. No one was getting through there. Then he laughed at the thought, knowing this was so highly unlikely, that all his effort was absurdly comical. But he reminded himself… “It must be done, You are The Guardian.”
Done with sealing the door, Ancien gathered two firearms from a cupboard that housed his armoury. With practiced motions he disassembled and cleaned and reassembled his AK47 and his 12 gauge. The smell of gun oil, greasy and metally, permeated the trailer. But the old man didn’t notice or mind. The smell to Ancien was a fond one, reminding him of his long ago grandfather. He stood the guns by the doorway.
Ancien then lit a tall tallow candle and plunged the trailer into otherwise darkness… Then he moved into the small bathroom at the trailer’s end. Within the WC, he flipped a switch hidden under the soap holder… With a heavy grind and a click… A hidden compartment rolled open… Revealing within a bundle, tightly bound and clad… And it seemed heavy, as Ancien lifted it slowly and carefully with both hands.
Seated back in his only chair, Ancien lovingly caressed the bundle held in his careful hands. His ardent affection in all his attentions, he lifted the bundle to his chest… Hugging it close to His Heart; A loved One so Dear.
Slowly, precisely, with studied care, the old man began unwrapping the bundle… With each layer he peeled away, the bundle became smaller and lighter… And not just in the measure of weight. For from the Object possessed by Ancien’s hands came a Glow. Agleam, Aglow. A radiance reflected in Ancien’s ancient eyes. And as the last constraining wrap came off, the room and Ancien were bathed in multi-coloured shards… Ancien was rapt, enraptured… Captured… Silent. He always was at this Moment.
Then Ancien solemnly and reverently opened The Cover of a little leather-bound Book. Fingering its pages adorned with gilded edges, savouring the smells of leather bindings and old paper… And, the old man began reading the words contained within…
”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
The Sacred Word. This was the last Book in the World. The sum total of Humanity and its wisdom represented in Its pages. Ancien knew that it was the Greatest Treasure on Earth.
Ancien’s reveries were suddenly interrupted… “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound…” It was coming from the mirrorphone on the trailer wall. Its trillings mingling with the Glowing multicoloured array creating a kaleidoscope…
Ancien quickly hid the Glowing under his coat, and hit the mirrorphone… Which sprang alive with the hiss of static, radiation’s real sound, hiss, hiss, hiss… monotone inhuman on repeat… “Please hold. Translating. Please hold. Translating. Please hold. Translating…”
If there was a sound worse than elevator music, This was it. Ancien would have preferred not to use any form of technology at all, but the urgency of his condition and his certain task had forced his hands. He had to find someone Worthy. This was his Duty; His most urgent Task. He was The Custodian of The Treasure, and his Duty was only spent upon the entrustment of another.
So yesterday, after much argument with himself, and in a state of some angst, he had relented. He had used his inherited communications gear, placing a call to the city of once Human high above. After wrangling for what seemed like an eternity with Alexia, Alexi’s younger sister, “and much prettier sister” so she repeatedly told Ancien, Ancien had reached The Museum of Federated Humans. Calmly he bristled a message… Shaking his head in wonder at advancements of communicating that took hours.
Wonderment and Disgust… Wonderment and Sadness… After all his efforts at least he had discovered something useful… There was amongst the once Human, one remaining Museum relevant to Humans, This was a feat; A monument. Humanity no longer considered itself Human. Its scientists and technicians long ago proclaimed as Masters of Evolution and Engineers of Immortality.
Humans were in the process of discarding names and proper names to the dustbin of their History, and were now using blockchain designators. It made sense really, names are largely irrelevant in the age of instantaneous non-verbal communications. These days every one arrayed patches and implants… No one talked. Why waste the energy… Plus it made it so much easier when communicating with the computers.
So after much frustrated communications, spouting gibberish with artificial intelligences, Ancien was able to leave a message with ‘The Curator of The Museum of Federated Humans’. On the blinking mirrorphone, sprang to life… A picture… An elderly man, white-haired, silvery fox, speaking a gentleman… looking surprisingly Human, especially for a consciousness, bent on forsaking It’s Humanity.
“My name is 8367454537… But you can call me, Jim.” Ancien thought he sounded a remarkable resemblance to an actor in Human Life called Morgan Freeman. Ancien smiled ruefully remembering “A Cosmic Voyage… Equipped with his five senses, humankind explores the Universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”
Look where Science had taken Human. Was it worth it? Ancien didn’t know that it actually was Morgan Freeman’s simulated voice. Artificial consciousness knows you and I, better even than I.
“How can I help you, Sir. I must say straight away and very hesitantly, that this is highly unconventional. Unusual in the extreme. There isn’t even an entry in our codebooks for communicating like this, and verbally, and with a life-form like thee. No one numbered like me talks to one such as you. What even are you? Is that what we used to look like… Ughhhhhh… Hair… All over you… And you must… Must… Smell… I’m so sorry, Sir. So unusual. Unusual to the extreme. I don’t know. We don’t know. Shall I just get rid of you…”
Hahahahahaha… “Ancien is my name. I am your Human. Yes. We still remain. We are on this Earth. Always my Home. We never gave up Our Birth. I wish… Ughhhhhhh… Your distaste is equally my disdain. Get rid of Me… hahaha… for I too am Mother Earth. But, nay, let us not waste… There is not time. I give you My Name, “CUSTOS”… We come, We announce Our Claim.”
“Alongside My Name, I carry Our Faith. I have The Book. The Sacred Tome. Home of The Word. It is the Last remaining One. There is none other. It is The greatest Treasure. You must make haste. Retake your Faith. It is Yours.”
The one called Jim interrupted… “Excuse Us, Sir. I don’t mean to be rude in interrupting you, but we have so many other things to attend to, and Alexia has only allotted 3 minutes on The Grid… A book you say. What good is a book when we don’t use words anymore. Numbers, Numbers, Equations, Codes, Codes, Formulas, Formulae, Codes, Nodes… Excuse Us, Sir. I really must go.” And the mirrorphone went blank on the wall.
Ancien visibly paled, his shoulders shrunk, and he railed off into a fit of endless coughs… The end was near. He clenched his teeth even as he shivered and quivered… His resolution clear. At break of Dawn, he and Speranza would go physically to the flying city of the once Human. Even though that certainly would be The End…
Ancien didn’t sleep, nor could he subdue his nerves. He spent the night, In Vigil. This was his Last Stand. They were tender hours, a man with a man’s own Self… No conversation, No braggarts, No ego. He knew everyone. Carefully he again enwrapped The Book. Wrapping again Humanity’s worth. Stowing That close near His Heart. There is no safer Place. Humanity’s best Fruit. And, as soon as Speranza snuffled awake, they were off…
In the still and silent dark, it wasn’t hard to find The Path. Concrete, mottled grey and black, It stretched for miles and miles and miles… As far as The Eyes could See…The Path was a twisting spiral. A conduit of energy, up, up, and downwards, perpetually, free energy. It gleamed and glimmered not in colours but in striations of Light. Mobius Strip. The Sacred Spiral. Infinity. But to Ancien’s eyes all could be seen was concrete, grey and black, twisted, grotesque, irreparably…
Above, infront, arose, a monstrosity, a mountain, half inert, half alive, once Human, something… Ancien trembled… He had been taught that there would be This Day. All experience fear, but not all are afraid, so Ancien pressed on… Speranza, ever hopefully, marshaled alongside, for Faith and Hope go together naturally.
And The Dawn arose, striking the scene, Brilliantly… All was stark… Everything in Its place. Set on The Stage, Naturally… Ancien realised this was his present, that precious moment of clarity. He could See It, See It All… Exactly as should Be… Stark, Brutal, Alive, Survive, Come, Eat, Play… And, Ancien smiled… All is always exactly as will Be…
And Ancien’s ancient eyes were drawn to a sight, the eternal companion of mankind… A young boy… Much older than his years so said his sad eyes. Scruffy, dirty, and proud somehow unfettered. He already knew clothes don’t matter. He just sat there and sighed… His Image, The Picture… Saying it all… He would survive… He would serve His Time… But why the matter? Why after all this and that… Why should he strive?
Ancien sat down besides… His Journey was done. The Answer, not in the city, nor even in The Mind… But in The Survivor. And Ancien smiled as he died. And from his clutching arm fell The Book… Shining Brilliant. Truth doesn’t just resonate, It Is…
The youngster, transfixed, ran to The Book… clutching It to his insides, thinking surprised, maybe inside he could find something for dinner and even lodgings besides… And he just ignored the old man, he was dead, and the boy had seen Death’s eyes before.
And, Ancien’s last breath was a satisfied sigh… His Job was done. Now it was up to The Boy.
Ancien – Ancient in French
Speranza – Hope in Italian
CUSTOS – Guardian in Latin