Getting By
Chapter 33

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

The voice of the translator faded as the speaker rose again to stand behind the podium, the hologram showing the last page of the diary still hovering above the stage.

"Those were significant excerpts from the journals we found, ladies and gentlemen," the young lady told the packed auditorium. "I realize that the archaic language may be difficult to follow in places, but there are enough remnants of English in today's Spanglish that you should be able to get the gist of what was written. You will find transcripts of the Spanglish translations in your handout packages when you leave. These journals, coupled with the DNA evidence, confirm the identity of the remains found at the site as none other than Gavin Thompson. We have also identified the site as the actual Citadel. We are still investigating, but the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of this being the archaeological find of the century. If you will hold your questions just a bit longer, these next holos will show why we make that assertion."

The scene faded from the handwritten pages of the diary to a view, from about half a mile away, of a small group of craggy mountains in a dry, desert landscape. An inset showed its position on a map of western American Phoenicia. Dry, uninviting vegetation and the occasional tree-like plant with tufts of sharp, pointed leaves were dotted about the landscape.

"This is the view of the Citadel that Gavin Thompson and his small band of survivors must have had when they first made their trek across the Mauve Desert. They, of course, knew it as the 'Mohave' Desert. Even then, they would have seen the Josh Trees, or Joshua Trees, as they are called in the journals."

The scene shifted again, winding upward between boulders and rock outcroppings.

"In the intervening centuries, sand and erosion have obliterated the original trail from the desert floor to the lower valley, but we believe it must have followed this course, as this is the only route that wheeled vehicles could have followed to the valley above."

The holocam continued over the lip of a small valley and into a bowl of sand with strangely shaped dunes crisscrossing at odd angles.

"Those piles of sand are, in fact, the berms that were built for protection against aerial and artillery bombardment. Sonic imaging showed that they had been built from rock and the ruins of old land vehicles, and had a layer of soil placed over them. Continuing into the valley, we see the house to the right, near the western edge of the valley. Sun, rain, wind, and sand, of course, have all taken their toll, and all that remains is a sand-covered skeleton. This, of course, being the replacement for the house that was destroyed in the attack by the Russian."

"As we continued across the valley, we could see where the waterfall had once cascaded down the cliff from the upper valley. This depression would have been the pool at its base. There is the opening from which Sr. Thompson and his squad launched their counter-attack against the Russian's men. Here, you can see the remains of the waterwheel generator described in Senor Thompson's early journals, and to its left, the ruins of the stable."

The scene shifted further to the left and entered a black hole in the rock face of the mountain, pausing briefly to show a dusty lantern resting on a rock ledge. Inside, the camera turned into a wood-framed doorway as the door creaked open. As the holo entered the small space, a skeleton, still clothed in the tatters of dusty, faded camo-fatigues with a Phoenix badge on the shoulder, lay on a bed, a book open beside it.

"As we entered the mine, we found this lantern still sitting on its ledge. This must have been the ledge where the snake that gave Gavin Thompson a fatal bite was resting. Further inside, we see that the wooden apartments built to house the early Phoenicians are still standing. The wood is dry and cracked, but the structure is still solid. Certainly rodents got in through the cracks, but larger predators and carrion eaters would not have been able to enter. This is probably the major factor in the preservation of the skeleton. The apartment on the end nearest the entrance of the mine is where we found the body of Gavin Thompson. There, on the floor, is the pack he carried on his pack horse. It was in that pack that we found the remainder of his journals. You can see the final journal resting on the bed and the ancient writing implement still gripped in his fingers."

The holo-cam left the room and continued down the mineshaft.

"You can see the wiring for the lights that were strung in here. Sometime after its abandonment, the power lines that supplied the Citadel must have been cut or broken, but some of the old light bulbs are still in place. This passage goes down to the lower entrance of the mine on the eastern side of the range, past the partial cave-in mentioned in Senor Thompson's journal. As you can see, the old wooden door is still in place. Going up this passage, we find what must have been the fire-control room described in Senor Thompson's journals. Further up the passage, past the doors of the control room, we re-enter the main shaft, which ascends a bit from this point. Here, branching off the other side of the main shaft, we found the shafts that were used for the archives. You can see that the materials are well preserved, for the most part. Here is the section from which Gavin must have taken the books he intended to take with him to Phoenix. This section is all fiction and, as you can see, some books are missing."

Back out into the mineshaft and further in, the cam turned into another shaft.

"This section seems to have been dedicated to the fifty years or so just prior to the Sickness. Here we found publications describing the political situation and events from around the world right up to, and including, the first days of the Sickness. It seems that Senor Thompson wanted to ensure that we would learn from these publications and not repeat the mistakes of the past. My team is going through these materials very carefully now, and each day brings new revelations."

The holo cam made a quick tour of the rest of the archives as the speaker described their contents, then exited the mine.

The lights came up as the holo-display faded, and the speaker turned to the audience. She had been surprised, on seeing the attendee list, at how many people from outside the University had joined the faculty and students who signed up for the seminar.

"I will take your questions now," the young lady said, stepping out from behind the podium.

Hands went up throughout the auditorium, and the speaker chose the first one she saw.

"If these really are the journals of Gavin Thompson, what effect will they have on our idea of Phoenician history?" The grey-haired gentleman asked.

"As you can see, in general, they seem to corroborate most of what we know about post-Sickness Phoenician history. As most of you are well aware, the basis for most of that history comes from the stories of Jamaal Warner as transcribed by his daughter, Susan Chen-Thompson. While there are some variations between those stories and the accounts in Gavin Thompson's journals, the significant facts seem to be the same. More time and study will be needed to determine what, if any, revisions will have to be made to our history texts."

"Is there any possibility of anyone outside your team getting a look at the contents of those archives?" a bearded young man asked when recognized. "I specialize in pre-Sickness history, but what remains in the ruins of the old cities is very sparse, thanks to the heavy-handedness of the scavengers after the Sickness, and what is taught in our schools is little more than an outline."

"Those archives are in remarkably good condition, thanks to the conditions in the mine shaft in which they were stored," the speaker answered. "They contain computer equipment and ancient optical media as well as paper books and news publications, as you saw in the holo. Those materials, or at least their contents, will be made available to researchers once they have been catalogued and preserved. Despite the dryness of the desert air, almost three hundred years has left many of them in fragile condition."

"In his journals, Gavin mentioned his personal notes on Government," another asked, "Have those notes been found? How do they correspond with what we know of our history since the ratification of the Constitution?"

"I'm glad you asked that question," the speaker smiled. "In a nutshell, while time and global expansion have necessitated some amendments to the Constitution, its original provisions have held up remarkably well, and yes, Sr. Thompson's notes were included in his journals. They vary only in detail and language from the actual constitution that was passed. It is astounding how many of his original ideas on government are represented in the Constitution and in our present Government. Even the monetary system that, according to these journals, came about almost accidentally, has held up incredibly well."

"I want to explore another aspect of this revelation if I may," a young woman in the front row interjected. "That is the direct line between our current military structure and training and those first years in the Citadel. This is never really touched on in Susan Chen-Thompson's books, and historians have assumed that it was simply a matter of necessity that became institutionalized. From these journals, now, we see that it was, in fact, by design; specifically, Gavin Thompson's design."

"That's true," the speaker replied. "The fact that we each undergo training from childhood in the arts of war and survival, and are each subject to being called for military service, stems directly from those first days at the Citadel. There has never been a serious effort to change this practice due to the fact that our population remains very low when compared with what we know about pre-sickness populations. Our small population and the fact that we are all militarily trained makes it both infeasible and unnecessary to maintain a large standing military, while our readiness to mobilize our entire population, if necessary, makes us a formidable threat to our enemies. Going back to the earlier question about revisions to our history, this is one area where clarification, at least, is likely to come out of this magnificent discovery. What we have attributed to tradition, we now know was another creation of our founder."

"What about the space program?" The question came from a young man in the third row. "Is there anything in your discovery that indicates a direct connection?"

"No," smiled the speaker. "Gavin Thompson never mentioned space flight or space colonization in his journals. There may be an indirect connection in his desire to see that the circumstances that resulted in the near-extinction of the human race never occur again, but that would be tenuous, at best. I think it's safe to say that Phoenicia and humanity in general have a vested interest in having a significant portion of our population living off-planet just to protect against the possibility of something like the Sickness occurring again."

"Is it true that before the Sickness, parents tried to keep their children from fighting?" a middle-aged woman asked.

"That is only implied in these journals, and we haven't gotten far enough in the materials stored in the archives to say definitively whether that is true, but from what we have seen in those materials and in other pre-Sickness sources, that seems to be the case. In fact, fighting, except between armies, seems to have been discouraged throughout society. As a result, the general population often found themselves at the mercy of a criminal element that recognized no such restrictions on violence. As you know, while we are not free of criminals, as a whole we are less prone to violent crime simply because the criminals are just as likely to end up in the hospital as their intended victims. This too is a, perhaps unintended, result of Sr. Thompson's policies on fighting and training."

The speaker looked at her wrist implant, which had just tingled. "Oh, my! We have gone far beyond the time I had allotted for this discussion! I'm afraid further questions will have to be submitted electronically. I will answer as many of them as I can on my shuttle flight to the L5 station."

The auditorium was abuzz with conversation as the speaker folded her computer and put it in her handbag, being careful not to place the fabric near any sharp objects. The portability of the device, with its built-in holo-projector, was certainly convenient, but the fragility of its fabric required gentle handling.

"Don't forget to pick up your handouts as you leave!" she reminded them.

A young man bounded up the stairs to the stage.

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