Citizen Fred's Book

by Mike Shea on 27 January 2005

Here is my Moleskine-inspired bad science fiction story:

Citizen Fredrick Joseph Abergale stared at the object sticking out of the dirt hill. He had worked on this trail for six hours now and it was the first man made object he had seen. When he awoke to the soothing voice of Citizen G giving him the job of inspecting and clearing the trails of Great Falls for that day, his heart sank. The trails were twenty kilometers away from the huge towers of the city and offered little distraction from the sharp cool air, the frighteningly wide sky, and the sickly green foliage creeping all around him.

Static filled his earbud. He only caught bursts of the microshows and had no idea if he was supposed to laugh or mourn. Rarely did he hear the fanfare at the beginning or end of the forty five second microdrama or microcomedy so all cues for feeling were gone.

The silence covered Fred like a cloak. It squeezed him and dropped moments of quiet in the normal bustle of his mind. In twenty minutes he would return to the road where a gyrocoptor would take him to the supershuttle and back to his home on the two thousand forty sixth floor of dwelling tower 23.

Then he saw the object half buried in the hill. Only the corner of the rectangular object shined from under the dirt. A shining plastic covered the corner of the black rectangle. It frightened Fred to look at it. It was alien to him. He kicked at it with one dirt-covered work boot. More dirt fell and the object slid down the hill. With one gloved hand he reached out and pulled it free. The black rectangle was sealed in some sort of plastic bag with a complex fastener at the top far different from the atomic fasteners Fred was used to.

Fred pulled at the seal and it popped open with a puff of stale dust. He pulled farther and the plastic cover burst open and fell off the black rectangle inside. He recognized it at once, though he had never seen one in his life.

It was a book.

Fred's heart leapt and fell all at once. He had never been so scared or excited. He had never seen a book before, though he had once seen a picture in one of the historical data archives. He didn't know what it was and Citizen G would not tell him, but an ancient man Fred once cared for in a Medicare center spoke of these books. Fred thought the man was senile. Now however, he held one himself.

Don't Be Evil.

The words, the only law of the planet now, hammered in Fred's head. What would not be evil? Should he destroy the book? Should he bury it? Should he take it with him and tell Citizen G of it on the gyrocoptor? That feeling of excitement filled Fred again. His fingers ran over the black oilcloth cover. An elastic band held the book closed. When he touched it, the elastic snapped like brittle rubber. It fell away in three small black pieces and all thoughts of turning the book in fell away along with them.

Fred opened the book.

Most of the characters of the first page were difficult to make out. Fred's eyes, used to only reading the ideal font decided upon by Citizen G, had to trace over each character before recognizing it. One word and one four-digit number, once recognized, sent waves of electricity through Fred's cold body.

"January 2005"

Truth dawned on Fred like hot sunlight. The small book he held was nearly five hundred years old. His hands trembled. What words filled these ivory pages? No one knew what life was like so long ago. Few cared. Now Fred would read the words of another person like himself from centuries ago. He would hear the voice and read the mind of someone dead for at least four hundred years. His last hesitation broke and he turned to the next page.

Fred struggled with the first few pages before subconsciously recognizing the strange handwritten letters and words. Soon, with script and language problems falling away with each word, Fred fell into the stories themselves.

When he looked up two hours later, Fred saw the last rays of sunlight reflecting off of the two-mile high datacenters to the south. He looked up at the criss-crossing white trails of the supertransports in the sky above him. For his forty years, Fred looked at these trails but only now did he really see them. They looked like a web.

He felt the words of the book seeping into his thoughts. He felt his previous ideas and beliefs crumble and fall. Like a rogue program tearing through a central processing unit, the stories of that book burnt all new paths and circuits in Fred's brain.

Fred didn't know what to do. He didn't know that in eight months he would plant a home-made bomb that would send one of the Citizen G datatowers crashing into twelve others. He didn't know that he would stand on this hill a decade later, lean and starving but never so alive. He didn't know that his grandchildren, naked and brown and wielding flint-headed spears, would hunt down wild deer for food.

Fred walked silently to the waiting gyrocoptor, tucking the small black book into the deep pocket of his blue overalls. His mind was empty and his thoughts were clear. And he was not afraid.

I wrote this story in response to a query from Fred of Fred on Something asking for Moleskine-related stories. I wrote the story on the evening of January 27th, 2005. I wrote the first draft longhand in a Moleskine plain pocket notebook with a Lamy Safari extra-fine point fountain pen loaded with Noodler's black waterproof ink.