Hexpanse, the short story Chapter One The Librarian

“How is it now?”

 

“It’s red!”

 

Aknila is a commercial specialty. It can show any color of the spectrum, depending on the temperature of the glass and the hand holding it. Its beautiful, but artificial colors glimmer with the impression of life among the gray walls of smoky pubs - for those, of course, who are able to detect colors. Its flavor and spirit tastes like the famous Terran whisky, after which it was modeled. Apart from the color upgrade, there was another factor that differentiated it from the latter drink: the remembrance of whisky was only contained in the memory old machines. One of the many legends that lied about the perfection of the glorious past.

 

“And how is it now?”

 

“Librarian, you drank enough. You should go home,” the bartender looked upon him from under his thick eyebrows. Honor and pity collided in his tired eyes as he looked on the old man, but his attention was occupied with checking the stock of goods. He, too feared the augment of war, which showed its effect with tapped shipments.

 

 “And now? Is it still red?”

 

He just murmured random colors uninterestedly, his thoughts were wandering somewhere else. The old man gazed the drink in his glass with misty eyes. He watched the liquid and its surface. Whatever angle he tilted the glass, the liquid stayed straight horizontal. This wasn’t a new scientific discovery, but he thought that sometimes the small, but accurate and necessary details created by nature can be staggering, especially for a man who spent such a bulk of hours to understand sciences. He watched the drink’s surface, as he could not see its vivid color. His mechanical eyes were programmed by machines with an algorithm that allowed him to detect colors only on screens, and only when it was necessary. Those colors out in the natural world that hold no meaning are redundant, their scanning just wastes battery.

 

The air of the pub was heavy with alcohol and tobacco smoke, which was because of the underground placing of the windowless tavern, not because of the huge crowd. There was no crowd, hardly any guests at all. That was the exact reason why the librarian liked this place. He got used to the smoke, the smells, but he wouldn’t trade silence for any price. The university libraries, the sound-proof research labs, and this small pub... there was one thing in common between them: one could be preoccupied with their thoughts in them, protected from the noise of overcrowded streets, capitalist factories, loud and flashing commercials, the people of the one-size-fits-all districts.

 

“Where did we go wrong?

 

“Pardon?” snapped the busy bartender in attention. There was something wrong with the stock...

 

“Where did we go wrong, John?” The librarian was gazing the perfectly smooth surface of his glass for a couple of seconds, then he slammed the precious drink and pushed the glass in front of the bartender, marking his need for refill. “Where did we go wrong?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We went wrong, Sir, just when Mr. Ford bounded the workers to the conveyors.” He tried to thaw the librarian’s cold mood with a gentle smile. “But it was about a thousand years ago.”

 

“Five hundred seventy-four years ago... don’t fool with me, John!” grunted the old man like an instructor. “However, what you said is not so nonsense. But if we go this far back in time, then we should consider the NASA MMJ program in 2032 as the beginning of today’s galactic wars.”

 

“When the Terran people constructed research labs on the Moon of Earth, on Mars, and the moons of Jupiter? Even I learned about it in History class. Mars was a good choice. They say that many fine mines were opened later. Martians can thank these mines for their richness and that they are a separate party in the war now... the filthy junk!” He filled his guest’s glass with an angry motion, then his own, too. “Let’s drink to the rust! May it devour them!”

 

“Oh, come on, John! The Cyberians are also a kind of people. The trefon and tallium mines of Mars were life-threatening. The Martian settlement enterprises were forced to replace their workers’ body parts with robotic devices in order to run their mines with maximum profit. These hybrids made Mars rich, resistant, but inhuman and over-mechanized. I myself cannot count, John, how many percent of me is machine and how much humanity is still left...”

 

Long silence came, as a new customer approached the bar and left for a dark corner with a pint. The bartender did not insist to continue the conversation, as it was difficult for him to talk about the initiating reasons of the war lying on their shoulders, even though he always loved to listen to the librarian. He honored the old man and his knowledge, and when he argued with someone else, he liked to listen to the delicately selected fragments of his wisdom with half an ear. The “great men’s toy” augmented from the unimportant guests of the pub as a rough diamond. But only a few people knew it. Those who looked at him saw only a tired, seemingly timid old man who tries to drown himself in alcoholic delirium -- but the fate of thousands depended on his council. John was sometimes wondering about how old he could have been, and how long ago he had died if he hadn’t been kept alive artificially for his knowledge and his aging organs hadn’t been replaced from time to time. Sometimes he felt that the elderly man was a mind reader, when he asked a question out of the blue which he was wondering about right then.

 

“How old are you, John?” he frowned his forehead below which one his mechanical gray eyes was analyzing the stubbles of a white haired, middle aged man standing behind the bar.

 

“Fifty-six, Sir. Why asking?”

 

“You are quite young. You haven’t even born at the time when the companies hiding behind the Martian people’s mechanized strength declared the establishment of the new federation named the Cyberian Collective, and stating that they reject paying taxes and keeping the laws, and that they would even wage war against their own mother planet, the Earth. Eventually, it was not them but Earth that stroke first, of course.”

 

“Filthy junks!” That was the statement after which the bartender always filled a glass for the guest and himself. He considered himself a supporter of the Luddite Movement, though deep in his heart, he understood the decision of the Cyberian that they even assumed a war to reject the dominance of Earth. Even he would have done the same. Moreover, he didn’t like the Terran Empire too much, either. “And filthy Terrans! Librarian, to which people you were born?”

 

“I myself belonged to many people throughout my lifetime, John. I believed in many things, I dreamed a lot. But your people is no different, either...” he grunted, then he took a deep breath. Whether it was because of the alcohol or the pain of remembrance is not known. “I know that you stand on a third side, and your people is also taking part in the war, just like Earth and Mars... What color is the Aknila right now?”

 

“I just refilled it, so it is still acid-green.” Then he turned around, marking his resentment and that he doesn’t want to continue the conversation. Deep inside, he was thinking about what would a Cyberian cyborg bartender or a Terran innkeeper have done in his place. Everyone had their own seemingly sacred reason to wage war, which was driven by conceit, pride and interest.

 

They differed... and yet they were similar.

 

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Hexpanse, the short story Chapter One The Librarian
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next chapter: Phyton