He could hear them.
They were outside the camouflaged entrance to the bunker, looking for signs of a hidden door. It wasn’t their first attempt. There had been many sweeps of the area over time, some as close as this one.
None had been successful. None could be allowed to be.
If these banned books were lost, humanity would plunge into a new Dark Age, never to recover…all because of near-religious fear of scientific knowledge that the leaders blamed for the war-blasted world outside.
I was a young boy, fresh out of college when the Great Burn happened.
Like so many others, I had enlisted straightaway after graduation. It was just what we did, since the tensions in the world had climbed to incredible levels. You did your bit to protect what was precious to you and yours. No one thought — really thought — that things would come to a head. After all, we had been on the brink before, and all sides involved had pulled back as rational heads prevailed.
Everybody figured it would be the same this time around as well.
Everybody was wrong.
Guess we’ll never know just who or which side preempted. All I know is that one fine Summer day there was a flash comms transmission with all the proper codes attached, and the sky was filled with rising lances with fire in their tails leaving smoky tracks across the deep blue sky.
Seeing them, you knew that somewhere else in the world, a similar scene was unfolding. Technological advances made over the years ensured they would reach their targets, wherever they were. Anti-missile defense systems were deployed, but because Man has always been so good at wiping himself out, there were never going to be enough.
Some got through. All over the planet.
Billions died in the same inferno that powers the Sun brought down to Earth and unleashed with terrible power. Cities, once mighty with towers reaching upwards to show how Man could build lasting structures were reduced to rubble in seconds. Their populace vaporized in an instant. Those were the lucky ones. Many more lingered on, thinking that they had survived — until the radiation sickness or disease got them.
Before everything collapsed, I had received my final orders from Command before they went radio silent.
Remain in place. Guard the bunker and its stores. It will be needed again.
The bunker is why I’m still alive. It’s the orders that keep me here now.
Well, that and the fact that there’s enough food preserved here to last a man for decades if he’s careful.
Along about year eight after the Burn, somebody got military radio broadcasting again. The news was pretty grim, but it looked like the country made out okay…at least as okay as possible, considering. Other military stations like mine came online to exchange info as to what was happening where they were. I couldn’t join in, as my transmitter was down and it was going to take me a very long time to trace the problem and fix it.
That busted transmitter saved my life.
Government had devolved into something called The Order, according to the various broadcasts coming in. Most of the surviving populace had bought into it, and the anti-science creed they seemed to spout. Not surprising. When you have a bunch of traumatically shocked people, they’ll follow anything that promises order out of chaos. That gives them purpose.
That gives them something to blame for their troubles.
Most of the guys on the comms net stayed away from The Order unless absolutely necessary. According to their accounts, Order adherents had evolved the idea that it was the scientists, not the leaders of the time, who were responsible for the Great Burn. That only the most basic of sciences should be taught and followed, lest the nation be led down the dark path of invention and the destruction those inventions cause.
Year twelve after the Burn, the Order attacked and destroyed Facility Four, with all of its records. The personnel were burned at the stake as followers of outlawed science.
Within the year, four more Facilities and their keepers met the same fate. They were using the comms to locate them. Mine was still down.
The Cleansing, as they called it, had begun.
Year fifteen after the Burn saw The Order triumphant over a husk of a country. They had systematically hunted down and destroyed every Facility out there as part of their insane Cleansing. They burned records that could save them, killed the ones who knew how to use the knowledge to advantage.
There was only one Facility left now.
Mine…and I knew they were hunting for it, and me.
I’ve been in the Facility for twenty-two years.
The Order seems to be collapsing, but they’re still trying to find this place even so. If I can hold out a little longer, I may just outlast them as they fade into history. Then, maybe, I can cautiously start coming out to recruit people. Teach them important stuff. Organize them.
Get the world on an even footing again.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to hide and protect this place and the knowledge in it.
Library Facility Number One.