The Maia Calendar
(The Amulet Chain - Book Four)
(The sequel to ...With Love and all That Jazz)
Maia lives in a perfect world; no poverty, no disease, they enjoy clean energy and an indiscernible crime rate… yet they have no past.
The Earth of 2210 is a world with no past. The great Auroras of the late 21st Century destroyed the World’s historic records, digitized only a decade before. The struggles of Earth’s Ancients have been lost; buried deep within the subconscious of those who survived.
The images of dystopian worlds once fired the imaginations of humankind and filled them with dread and wonder. The peoples of Maia’s time have no such fear, but then they don’t know the truth of their existence and how intricately it ties them to their forgotten history… the time of the Ancients.
Maia is the descendant of those Ancients and she has a very rare gift. She is a Savant. She can recreate moments from the distant past as if she had actually lived through them.
In a world where History is no longer a respected discipline, Maia is the most famous Teller of the Tales. Legend teaches restraint and her stories are sad reflections of a previous time where death and evil were rife.
The murder of her mother 16 years before triggered her gift. Discovering the truth behind it could mean her death.
Istanbul had been friendly, buzzing with the expectation of summer, and utterly packed; an ancient sweating sardine tin of crumbling ruins and imagined glory.
It was August the 7th; the newspaper said so as it flapped playfully in the Bosphorus breeze. The previous days’ headlines had screamed GOLD and NEW OLYMPIC HERO and WORLD RECORD, but these had been usurped by a headline still resonating in the bowels of the Old City.
BOMB RIPS APART ISTANBUL’S ANCIENT HEART
The blast that tore open the area north of the Hippodrome yesterday morning was centred below ground in the ancient Basilica Cistern. What was once an ancient city well is now a massive crater.
A day since the blast, not a single body has been accounted for, and no body part has been identified, despite relatively easy access to the site.
While officials are not releasing specific details, the number of missing continues to escalate and the death toll is expected to rise above 100.
The confirmed missing include many Turkish nationals, 11 Americans, 3 Germans and 2 Australians.
More reports pages 2 – 11.
The stories were tempting, but I had read them before. The pertinent information was on the front page; the two missing Australians. They were now little more than a fond memory.
I sat enjoying the aroma of one last coffee as I remembered them strolling across Sultan Ahmet Square. Formerly the great Roman Hippodrome, it was a square that was no longer there. They were still there, in my mind; can you see them as I do? They were typical of their time, the A to Z of Aussie tourists; Aidan, somewhat handsome in an ordinary way, and his wife, Zoe, both 30. She was far more striking and not unlike me. Pale of skin normally, Zoe glowed with a Mediterranean tan. Her long black hair bobbed along in its coltish ponytail, laden with sweat at the roots, her eyes weary with weeks of travel.
The newlyweds had not walked hand in hand towards the Hagia Sophia from their room across the square at the Azade Hotel; it was far too hot and it had been for weeks. Incessant and repressive, day after day, with little more than an afternoon sea breeze for light relief.
I can still see Aidan pause before me, as if struggling in a moment of recollection, with a face in the crowd that seemed impossible, as I was. He did not know anyone insane enough to brave Istanbul during the height of summer. Zoe was the only one he should recognise and she was standing beside him, not in the crowd ahead. They turned left, away from the Hagia Sophia, away from me.
The accents of the two Australians, rising above the din of the square as they blended back into the crowd, were easy to recall. Aidan’s search for enthusiasm was painful.
“One last time, love. One final historic monument; I just need something to sleep on during the long flight home.”
“If we must. At least it’ll be cooler down there, but promise you’ll take me to a bar afterwards. And no dry martinis, we’ve done that already!”
“OK, I promise.”
Aidan had kissed Zoe lightly on the forehead before leading her down the steps into the ancient subterranean world of the Basilica Cistern; a world of assassins, spies, and hope during a long siege.
Not a skerrick of the couple was ever seen again.
Maia awoke as usual with a yawning stretch. Her reflection flickered back at her from every wall of her glass-lined room. It was a room from which she could view the world as it passed her by if she chose, or be reflected for privacy. Maia’s eye-lashes fluttered back at her, the eyes beneath somewhere between an almost iridescent green and a cobalt blue. She sighed. Reaching over to a glass panel beside her bed, she pressed her fingers lightly on its surface. The panel slid forward. It would have opened silently if it wasn’t for the shoes from the previous day carelessly littering the floor.
The glass bedside table that emerged contained the object of Maia’s vain desire. She fumbled with the eye-dropper sleepily, before laying back and applying the substance within to her butterfly eyes. Maia hated the sensation, but she loved the effect. Her eyes settled on the more iridescent green. She caught the reflection of this on the ceiling before finally sitting up with another lazy yawn.
“Good morning, computer.”
“Good morning, Miss Lawrence. Your usual morning scenery App; perhaps you would enjoy the Amazon in all its pristine beauty?”
“No thank you, computer. I think I’d like the news this morning.”
“Very well, Miss Lawrence.”
The glass walls of Maia’s bedroom, so mirror-like until now, lit up with images from around the world. Maia scanned the various images briefly before stepping across to the story she found most interesting. She waved her hand over the screen. Its familiar static sensation felt warm, although the glass did not emit enough heat to warm the room. Maia stretched out her fingers to enhance the picture and then waved her fingers upward as if flicking a magic wand. The movement had the desired effect of increasing the volume.
“And now to election news, Tony Joneses reporting.”
“Thanks, Sarah. As everyone is aware, we have two candidates for the World Presidency, Miss Simons from the South East Asia and Pacific Region and Mr Lawrence from the European Region. Pundits are expecting a close vote and with billions to count we won’t know the result for some days after the election. I caught up with both candidates as we entered the final days of campaigning, and here’s what they had to say, ladies first.”
“I’d like to thank all of my supporters and particularly the opposing candidate, Mr Lawrence, for running an honest, heart-felt campaign. I would like to remind every citizen that voting is compulsory. This is an election that concerns everyone on the planet, not just for the millions I represent in the South East Asia and Pacific Region. I intend to stick to my pledge to rid the world of weapons once and for all. After more than 100 years of peace, I think humanity deserves this privilege. I am aware that my opposing candidate’s wife was murdered in her home, and that is a lamentable event, but that was 16 years ago. Local crime rates across the globe have fallen to almost negligible levels. I think it’s time to rid the world of weapons, for humanity’s sake.”
“And now the European candidate with his final thoughts.”
“Thank you for your kind words, Miss Simons. I have enjoyed the honesty and the integrity of your campaign, but unfortunately for myself and many others, 16 years is still a recent memory, especially concerning such a crucial issue. My daughter grew up without a mother. How many more children will be forced to do so if we cannot defend ourselves, even in the safety of our own homes? I urge the people of the world to vote for defence in a peaceable world, for the loved ones who have to live with the outcome of such a personal invasion.”
Maia smiled and stroked the glass screen lovingly. You tell ‘em, Dad, she mouthed to the screen. At 22, Maia could barely remember her mother’s face. The fading red hair, in the pictures that adorned the family home, was little more than a silhouette of the woman she should have known. Maia sighed.
“Sink please, computer.”
“Do you not wish for breakfast, Miss Lawrence?”
“I’ve got some power juice, that’ll get me by. More news please.”
“Yes, Miss Lawrence.”
Maia washed and preened while the walls around her flashed with images from across the globe. The news program was a particular favourite and brought another smile to her face, as it was designed to.
“Government statistics show that the level of pollution in the Earth’s atmosphere has been reduced to prehistory levels. A spokesperson comparing ancient ice-core samples...”
“Mrs Jones’s cat has survived. Stuck in a tree for two days, Miss Fluffy was a little worse for wear, but obviously glad to be in the arms of...”
“World health organization’s announced today it is 50 years since the world has experienced a major epidemic...”
“Jonathan walked his sister Frida to school today. It was the 4-year-old’s first day and she was most excited...”
“The London underground continued its record run today... 11 years, 3 months and 12 days since the last reported train delay or re-scheduling. However, officials were quick to point out that New York, Paris, Sydney, Berlin and Beijing all had longer success rates...”
Maia slipped on a leather skirt, wiggling slightly as she manoeuvred it into place. She enjoyed the effect that it had on her figure; pulling her in at the waist and showing off her shapely hips while baring her slender porcelain legs for the world to see. Maia stared into her wardrobe for a few minutes, debating which top would best accompany her skirt. Revealing, always; cotton, of course – always natural au natural, she joked to herself.
“Thank you, computer. You may rest and run your weekly diagnostics. I won’t be back until next week.”
“Yes, Miss Lawrence. I look forward to your next suggestion.”
Maia waved her hand vaguely across a glass panel opposite her bed. The wall at this point now resembled a mirror, yet it slid open seamlessly. Maia stepped out into a hall lined with similar glass. She was not alone. The ten o’clock Shifters were on their way to work, dressed much as Maia was, all leather and cotton. She nodded and smiled to the five faces that accompanied her to the lift, as the door to her single-roomed apartment sealed itself with a sigh.
There was no hurry in boarding the lift, it always sensed a passenger waiting, yet the glass lift sped down its 37 floor journey and it was uninterrupted, for once. The convenience of this was an inconvenience for those who wished to catch up with some more good news on the lift’s glass walls. The multi-panelled layout was designed to separate the various choices for the different occupants, who did not face the numbers above the door, they all faced the walls. In a world with thousands of good news stories from which to choose, each occupant of the lift exited with a smile on their face and Maia was no exception.
The lift had dropped below ground level, circa 2210, directly into the SolaRail network station that formed a part of the greater tube network below and above London. This was the Strand-Fleet line, which happily hovered along Fleet Street and its adjoining avenues throughout the central section of its journey once it exited the tunnel. It had replaced the fossil fuel powered cars and buses of yore, and had done so for over a hundred years. Maia stepped onto a SolaRail carriage and mused as she did each morning. There were no rails anymore; they were mere legend, something she had the privilege of discovering some years before.
Maia found the sensation of scooting along in a glass carriage slightly odd. However, not one of her fellow commuters felt that same sensation. This was the only form of travel they understood, but Maia knew better. She smiled wistfully again. The glass was essential. It filtered a healthy dose of vitamin D to each commuter without the danger of skin cancer, and the ghastly sunspots no longer associated with skin diseases and aging. The glass also captured the sun’s rays, which powered the SolaRail and any device within, while reflecting any unwanted rays of heat.
There were no portable computers, brain teasers or electronic readers on board. Commuters could access all of these from any glass surface in the carriage as each was a computer-communicator-console-reader. Nearly every wall in London was now designed in such a way and each wall soaked in the sun, while reflecting it. This in turn powered the entire city, the surrounding suburbs and satellite villages.
Maia hopped off not far from the Tower of London; one of the few non-glass and steel constructions in the city. She was headed for the City State High School, where she worked five days a week, if she felt like it. Maia performed her civic duty with pride, receiving no stipend, but she did hold the rights to her knowledge. She sold this on a pay per view basis, yet despite being the best in her field, she was the cheapest; she could afford to be.
The school was always quietly reserved after ten o’clock in the morning. Its walls flashed with the images that the teachers’ minds projected onto them. Some commented as they did, while others let their thoughts do the screen walking. Maia was expert enough to do both without really thinking about it. She stepped into her history class with an infectious vibrancy. History was the least respected of the major disciplines, but nobody presented it quite like Maia Lawrence and her class all sat up in their seats expecting another brilliant performance.
“Good morning, class.”
“Good morning, Miss Lawrence.”
“Now don’t do that, has the principal been at you again? I think he has. Shall we try the greeting again? Good morning, class.”
“Good morning, mi... Maia.”
“That’s much better.”
The class had broken out in fits due to their own faux pas, and Maia let them giggle amongst themselves while she prepared herself. She sat in the centre of a circular classroom, in the glass chair that revolved just as she liked. Maia placed two thumbprint sized glass nodules casually to her temples and closed her eyes. The walls around the room, and the desks where the students sat, immediately lit up with Maia’s thoughts. Only then did she open her eyes to judge her progress.
“Well, class, today I thought we would meet a president and a very famous one at that.”
“Does it end well, Miss... sorry, Maia?”
“Does it ever end well, Martink?”
“Um, no MmmMaia.”
“As it never shall.”
Maia smiled, which relaxed her students. She was only a few years older; if it wasn’t for her lack of school uniform she could have easily passed for one of them. She began her tale with a brief description of the times, which flashed up on the various classroom screens as she spoke and morphed out before the students.
“It was 1865, April the 14th to be exact. There was a wide thoroughfare outside Ford’s Theatre; you should be able to see it now. It will not be as you might imagine. There is no bitumen, obvious guttering, lane markings, power lines or street lights. There were no SolaMags in 1865, only the odd horse and carriage… there goes one now.” Maia paused as the students gawped at the horse-drawn carriage bobbing along the street. “A pedestrian’s passage across this road was relatively easy in 1865, yet not necessarily straight forward. Note that the road surface is not smooth, it is prone to flooding and random puddles, and one has to be mindful of horse droppings.
“Ford’s is such a grand old theatre, don’t you think? Slightly austere and yet it was quite new in 1865. See how it towers above the other buildings and note its construction; mostly brick. Shall we go inside? I think we should, I think we should explore.”
Maia scanned the classroom quickly. She had already drawn the students in with her detail of the Ancients’ world, now she had to touch their hearts with the tragedy of it, for that was where the soul of the lesson lay.
“The audience has yet to arrive, but the ushers are busy brushing each other’s vests, resplendent in red, and polishing the brass fittings until their faces can be clearly seen. I like all the facial hair. I think a man requires facial hair, what do you think? I think our men are all too alike these days, at least in this way.
“Oh look, the audience must be arriving, the doors are opening. Here they come. There is no sign of a rush. The times are far more relaxed, although these people do work hard and the American Civil War is still raging to the south. Note the ringlets in the women’s hair and the flouncing dresses, pulled in so tight at the waist with horrible lace-up contraptions called corsets and sprung alive below with bustles. Almost makes one want to faint describing them. What do they remind you of? I always imagine a drooping bluebell. Dressing was certainly an art form, and for both sexes; as were the accompanying hair styles and that wicked facial hair.
“You can see that the theatre is indeed not very old, yet you can smell the mustiness in the carpets and the velour of the mostly decorative drapery. You can also smell the tobacco in the voices of the men. I think we talked about tobacco last week; a natural fibre, befouled by greed and chemicals, often inhaled for its aromatic flavour.”
Maia paused as the smoke drifted up above the theatre goers in fragrant wisps. Her students leant back on their chairs and attempted to partake of the ancient aromas. Maia seemed to be doing the same, but her nostrils twitched as if the unfamiliar acrid smoke was actually teasing the fine hairs within. Maia continued.
“Our American Cousin is the play we’ll be watching tonight and there will be at least 1,700 in attendance, 1698 at first. I don’t think we’ll bother with the beginning of the play, though. I think we’ll wait outside, for none of you have tickets. Let’s pretend we’re all ushers, with bright red vests. Our remaining guests will be along soon. Perhaps we can escort them to their seats.”
The class held their collective breath as last call was announced. The gas lighting flickered against the opposite walls, which seemed to shiver with the cold.
“There they are now; the American President and his wife. He is a fine, tall and slender man. Note his weary features; the lines that crease his face. He is only 56 years old. When was the last time you saw a man of that age looking so old? His wife, Mary, is stern and petite. She is a remarkable woman and you can see it in her face. She often counsels her husband, which was not the done thing in 1865. The First Lady will show you how proper she actually was for her time a little later. Let’s show them to their seats.”
The presidential party nod and smile at the theatre attendants as well as the class, and they are led into the presidential box. The play pauses briefly as the orchestra strikes up Hail to the Chief. The audience gives the President a rousing standing ovation following this, and the hairs on the back of the necks of each student bristle.
Mrs. Lincoln whispers into her husband’s ear as he holds her hand, “What will Miss Harris think of hanging onto you so?” The president smiles, almost shyly, and replies, “She won’t think anything about it.”
The house lights are lowered again and the play continues.
Intermission soon follows.
The screens that are the classroom walls focus in on the paths of the President’s bodyguard, footman and coachman as they wander across to a nearby tavern. The vision from Maia’s mind quickly changes focus. There is a new man in frame. He is handsome and well-dressed in a suit, with a handle-bar moustache. He is walking with purpose and he enters the theatre without question. He continues on through the foyer and into the audience. He seems well known, almost as well known as the President himself. He heads towards the presidential box and the students hear a man in the audience say, “There’s Booth.”
They watch intently as Booth continues on, casually taking a card from his pocket. He writes something on it and gives it to the usher stationed outside the presidential box.
Act III, Scene II is being performed as Booth enters the outer door of the presidential box. He does not re-appear in the actual box.
President Lincoln and his wife are clearly enjoying the play, yet the president leans forward and down to his left. He is looking straight at Maia’s students and he smiles kindly as if acknowledging them. The students are holding their breaths again as Booth bursts into the presidential box. He raises a pistol and shoots the President in the back of the head. The blood from the wound sprays out across the audience, and across Maia’s’ students, who recoil and wipe themselves in mime.
The students scream as Maia collapses in her chair and the walls of the classroom flicker static.
The class’s regular teacher leapt into action, rushing over to Maia and removing the electrodes from her temples. The students were still attempting to wipe off the non-existent blood that seemed to splatter across their screens, but that was of little concern to the teacher, she knew what a bitch 3-D holograms could be.
“Settle down, class. Miss Lawrence will be back with us in a minute… just as she always is. You all know that the more traumatic the tale, the weaker she becomes. Please use this time to frame some pertinent questions for her.”
Maia opened her eyes. The walls of the classroom were clear. She could see through to two other classrooms and to the streets of London. A SolaDDB hovered by; it was open at the top deck and full of tourists. They didn’t notice Maia; they couldn’t see inside the school buildings.
Maia smiled and each of the students threw up a hand eagerly. She scanned the class carefully until her eyes fell upon a frail little girl with enormously inquisitive bright green eyes. Her jet-black hair was tied back tightly in a ponytail and seemed to accentuate the bulge in her eyes. The girl’s arm was sprung so tightly that Maia doubted that even a nod from her would lower it. She was also concerned that lowering it would release the waterworks that seemed to be wriggling beneath her plaid skirt.
“Yes… Mrs. Thatcher, Miss.”
The classroom teacher was a stern presence at the back of the class, yet she was smartly dressed, and not unlike Maia. She controlled the class with single words and the wave of her hand. She did not teach History; that was beneath her.
“That’s all right, Reece. I always feel much the same rush. I’m not sure what those spots were on the President’s face. Sun spots, perhaps. Maybe even cancer.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Thatcher, Miss Maia, but…”
“No, Reece, we don’t have cancers, but in President Lincoln’s time they did. In fact, they hadn’t even discovered many of the cancers we now know about. Of course, they could just be age spots; they still had those then. Who’s next? Yes, you Trentham.”“Was that a real gun, Maia?”
“Absolutely. It fired a bullet made of metal. That’s what lodged in the back of the President’s head.”
“And caused all the blood!”
“Yes, Aquin, but you shouldn’t be so enthusiastic about the blood. You saw the mess it made and the grief on the faces around the President. There was even grief on your own faces. A weapon has a distinct purpose; defense. There is no other excusable purpose.”
Maia drifted a little as she wandered through the more usual questions that were asked of her. What did the street smell like? Why were there no solar powered vehicles? What did horse poo smell like? She was brought back to Earth by an odd, unrelated question, yet it was one she was becoming quite accustomed to answering.
“How do you think your father will go in the Earth’s Presidential elections?”
“You don’t have to answer that, Miss Lawrence.”
“It’s alright, I’m terribly proud of my father, his work and beliefs. He will do as well as he can, win or lose, but today I think we should concentrate on Mr. Lincoln. How do you feel about the ancient president, Reece?The frail teenage girl with the bright green eyes was clearly out of place here. Most of her fellow students were already adult in stature at the age of 14 or 15. Reece was lagging behind and struggling physically. She had earned her place in this class through a sheer willpower to learn.
“He had a friendly face, but he seemed quite sad. Why do you think the ancients are all so tragic, Maia?”
“They’re all famous because they are tragic. They suffered for us, so that our time on this beautiful Earth could be peaceful. I think they’re lovely in their tragedies and their stories teach us what not to do. That’s why they can be so inspiring. President Lincoln once said, ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ I think he felt the same about his wife and all women. That is the beauty in his tragedy; at least that’s how he seemed to me.”
“Do you think your tales are true, Maia?”
“I have no doubt, Reece... I have no doubt at all.”
Maia could hear the classroom teacher choke back a snigger at this point. History was no longer a science. It was presented by Savants who framed fables out of stories long passed on orally, often shrouded by Chinese whispers and dream sequences. It was one of the few dilemmas in their society; what to believe about the past and what not to. Despite this vagueness, the Savants were immensely popular. There was something tragically human about their fables, something perhaps tragically lost.
Maia repeated her portrayal of the Lincoln assassination after lunch. The looming presidential elections had made Lincoln a hot topic and no one regaled the story of his final day quite like Maia Lawrence.
* * *
Maia’s SolaMag zipped along just above the surface of the A1 with ease. She wasn’t quite sure about the specifics of the technology; she just knew her SolaMag was cute. It was not unlike the bubble shape of an ancient VW Beetle; the more original 1960’s design. However, its surface was 85% glass. Each panel was a solar panel that powered its whisper-quiet engine while reflecting the sun, storing energy and acting as control panels inside the cabin. There were no blind spots in a SolaMag. Its only solid surface was its polar-magnetic base. Magnets of a reverse polarization lined the road surface and for where there were no roads, this model came equipped with automated slide-out wheels.
The SolaMag cruised along seamlessly at about 200 kph. Maia knew she would be home after dark, yet she didn’t care, because it would be home. Her destination was no one-roomed glass box 37 floors up; her home was so utterly different that comparisons were rendered moot.
Every Friday Maia abandoned London early, usually about 2:30 p.m. Today was no exception. She had driven west out of London and then north through the midlands towards her destination; Northumberland, up in the far northeast of ye olde England. The United Kingdom was no longer a country; it was merely a state in the greater European Region… and happily so.
The cottage, which had been the Lawrence family home for over a century, reflected her SolaMag’s headlights like a quaint unfinished jigsaw puzzle. The half-timbered exterior was quite an art form and still relatively popular in out-lying villages across the country. It was a rare sight this far north, as stone was more popular here, but hidden away as it was down a narrow country lane, it wasn’t the tourist attraction it might have been.
Maia loved the hotchpotch design of the exposed timbers and white-washed plaster, as well as the higgledy piggledy nature of the rooms within. This was her childhood playground. It had not always been a perfectly happy one, yet it was still a place where Maia felt secure in her own past.
Turning her SolaMag off, Maia noticed a light in the lounge room window, and her heart skipped a beat. She leapt out of her vehicle and without locking it, rushed inside; straight into the arms of the only man she had ever really loved.
“The one and only!”
Maia’s father hugged her warmly, yet all too briefly. He had never been the touchy-feely type, even though Maia was overtly so. She held on while he shuffled within her lingering embrace.
“I don’t think you’re really pleased to see me, Father.”
“How can you say that? You’re all that I have besides my work. All that I have when the weekend leads me back here to the cottage, and all the memories that come with it.”
“I know this place reminds you of mother and I know that makes you sad.”
“It’s still the only home I… that we have. It’s so much warmer than the glass towers in London. Come and sit down, I’ve made tea. I know how you like it; milk and one sugar.”
“Two, please. I’ve been exercising more to compensate. Actually, Father, I don’t really care what I eat. Nothing seems to sit on me.”
“Give it a few years; age will catch up to you eventually, even if that’s something we have improved upon without solving. Now sit.”
Maia sat and took her tea. The room was warm thanks to a modernized AGA that used solar power instead of wood or gas, and it needed to be this far north as the night closed in.
The father and daughter spoke little; each other’s company was solace enough. Their worlds could be terribly distant, despite the modern conveniences of the 23rd Century.
They turned in just after eleven; each to the rooms that had once held such happy memories on a nightly basis. Maia couldn’t sleep at first. The ghosts of her past lingered between these walls like wicked whispers before the eye of a cyclone passed, yet Maia no longer feared them. She welcomed them each weekend. They were family and one could not choose one’s family; one simply had to learn to live with their own past or go completely insane.
The flickering of Maia’s eyelids soon matched the dying embers of the fire that her father had prepared for her, so she rolled over until her head sank into the downy pillows her mother so loved.
Maia drifted off into the ghosts of family past, lurking beneath the cottage’s great oak beams…
“Why would they hide it, if they didn’t want it found, Jasmine, why wouldn’t they just destroy it?”
“I don’t know. Just because they’re my family, it doesn’t mean I know every bloody gory detail. This might not even belong to them.”
“Of course it belongs to them. Look at the manuscript I found hidden in the walls of the attic yesterday. How many books were pulped one hundred odd years ago? Why wouldn’t your family do the same? It was almost an edict. Why do you think we lost so much history?”
The anger in the voices of Maia’s parents wafted up amongst the ancient beams with the fires’ fumes and the ghosts of generations past. It was the tone of the voices that had woken Maia; she had never heard her parents argue before.
Maia slipped out of bed as silently as possible and crept downstairs. That was a mean feat in itself, given the age of the timbers, but Maia was particularly fine boned and she had a clever knack of hiding herself in the dark behind a mop of jet-black hair.
There was only one light on in the cottage; the lounge room lamp. That was soon extinguished as her father stormed out of the room. He did not see Maia in the darkness of the landing and she snuck into the lounge unseen. The room, recently renovated, was lit by a large inglenook fireplace. Maia’s mother sat alone at an antique desk. Its sides had been folded out and leant on a pair of swing legs, creating a handy writing space.
Her mother was not writing as she often did in here; she was studying. There was an actual book, made of paper, in front of her and a piece of jewellery that Maia had never seen. In fact, she had only ever seen pictures of actual paper books. Both items seemed dusty and decrepit, so she wasn’t surprised that the books of the world had been replaced by the pristine shiny tablets that could hold hundreds of tomes and download thousands more at a whim.
Maia watched her mother carefully as she studied the two objects. She often watched her mother, whether it was in the kitchen baking, or in here ironing. Her mother seemed so different, so unlike the working mothers in the local villages who were always on the go.
The fire within the freshly swept chimney crackled playfully; sparks shooting up into the darkness beyond the great oak lintel. Maia curled up in the far corner and continued to study her mother until her eyelids grew heavy again. She was just beginning to nod off when her mother finally spoke.
“Who’s that? Who is that?”
Maia was instantly alert, yet the action in the lounge was a blur. She saw her mother silhouetted against the fire, then falling across an arm chair, and landing in a distorted pose… and Maia screamed.
“Maia! Wake up, Maia.” The concern on her father’s face was not unusual; it just took something extraordinary to evoke it. “It’s the old dream again, my girl. It’s just the old dream.”
“I know, just as it’s always been… and still no face… why is there never a face? Why does my mind play tricks on me?”
“It’s not; it’s just protecting you, as I always will. Your mother was just… unfortunate.” Maia’s father sighed. “Our lives should be more certain. We have no illnesses that we cannot cure, happiness is assured and the world is a generally peaceful place. This is that one thing. You know it’s why I’ve spent so many years campaigning to protect the home owner’s rights, at your expense.”
“I know, I know, I understand. I just wish I knew about that night, like I know so many things from the past. Why is it I can’t remember this?” Maia fought back a tear. She swallowed and focussed on her father, on the things she knew weighed heavily on his mind. “I’m sorry, Father. This is just girlie nonsense; there are more important things in the world this week. How is the election going? Will I be calling you Father President this time next week?”
“You know there is no certainty in politics, although I like the sound of Father President. But I think we should talk about it in the morning. You need your beauty sleep and so do I. Big week ahead, babies to kiss.”
Maia’s father was true to his word. They met at the old hand-carved table in the kitchen over bacon and eggs, with coffee. They both enjoyed a stiff drink in the morning, while the food was an unexpected extravagance. This usually meant that he was up to something, but Maia allowed her father work his way up to it; the politician in him was becoming terribly ingrained.
“You were asking about the election campaign, last night.”
“Yes, Father. It must be a close run thing, because you’re not as chipper as you could be.”
“Don’t miss a thing, do you?”
“No, it’s my special skill… or one of them at least.”
“Indeed. You shouldn’t be so coy about them, your special skills may be more important than you know. You’re right about the election, though. I’m not sure we’re going to win this time; seems as if there’s a mood for change. I just hope Miss Simons doesn’t misuse the power she might be given next Saturday.”
“Shouldn’t you be out campaigning then?”
“I think the daughter should be the candidate, not the dotty old father, but I will be out and about every day next week, after I spend one final family weekend at home. Full calendar I’m afraid, so how’s the Maia calendar looking for next week? Do you have room for your old dad?”
There it was, but Maia smiled pleasantly. She actually loved working on her father’s little projects and she had to force herself not to blurt out her next sentence in one long word as she often had in the past.
“Another of your excursions?”
“Do they help with the details?”
“Always, just as they help everyone I teach. We have so little tragedy in our world. How else can we learn from our mistakes if not through the tragedies of the Ancients? If not for your timely excursions, I would be of little use in this world.”
“That’s my girl.”
“So, what is it this time? A statesman, a scientist, a famous good-looking sportsman perhaps?”
“No, just two ordinary souls who wavered in their focus of life and failed to reach their potential.”
“How do you learn of such individuals? Haven’t most of the records been lost?”
Maia had been told the stories from a very young age. She remembered sitting on her mother’s lap in the armchair, right in front of the inglenook fireplace. The embers crackled up amongst the wisps of smoke like the aurora that permeated the ancient tales. Maia could remember her mother’s words clearly; she remembered everything except that one night. It was her greatest gift and her deepest curse. Her mother always told the tale the same way, in the same gently serious tone; as if attempting to teach Maia remembrance…
“There was no history when you were born, Maia, just scraps of evidence that made very little sense. A century ago, that’s one hundred years, I think you can count far beyond that now, a tragedy befell human kind. It could quite easily have been ripped straight out of the script of a dozen 21st Century disaster movies; you’ve seen the discs we discovered up in the attic. You know how they go. Their plots normally involve a disaster, followed by riots with pillaging. The story tellers had such vivid imaginations. Who would ever steer a ship at full tilt into an iceberg, or ask thousands of men to run across an open field into a hail of gun fire?” Maia always noted how her mother paused at such moments, as if asking her to consider such fantasies as real, but the moment was always brief as Maia was too young to truly appreciate evil.
“When a real disaster engulfed the Earth, the riots did not materialize, even as the sun spewed forth its massive solar flares. The entire population of the Earth marveled at the Sun’s brilliance, at its awesome power. They say it was something to behold. Quite unlike the gentle ghostly auroras you have seen Maia; when the snow is piled up outside and the sun is low in the sky. They call that the Aurora Borealis, but the ancients did not see it as a colourful spectre. For the first time in history the aurora borealis, or the northern lights, and the Aurora Australis, known as the southern lights, became one massive aurora – the Great Aurora. Night and day for two days it lit up the Earth’s skies. Night was as day and day was extraordinarily brilliant, as if the sun itself danced through the atmosphere.
“The peoples of Earth had long been prepared for such an event. Scientists had been watching the sun closely for more than a century. The wealthier countries had placed tiny spaceships, called satellites, up in orbit around the Earth to assist with the warning process. They were the first things to be destroyed by the might of the Sun as the world bathed in the spectacular aurora created by its massive solar flares. That was not unexpected, at least the satellites had done their job, and everybody knew the solar flares were on their way.
“Unfortunately, no one expected the might of the second solar flare, and the third was never predicted as there was no longer a warning system. These solar flares wiped out most of the Earth’s machines. They called it electronic infrastructure, but they are big words you can learn later. The insides of their computers died and most of the old cables burnt out. Nearly everything was run by computers then, as it is now; all the transport and all the communication. The people of Earth scrambled to protect what remained as the fourth massive solar flare hit, and to a large degree they succeeded. The struggle united the people, although its population was reduced dramatically. You’ve seen all the machines in the City where your father works. If we lost as many as the ancients did, we might not be able to survive. We humans are tough though, and we do like to find a way to get on with life. We always fight for survival, Maia, we always fight on.”
people, although its population was reduced dramatically. You’ve seen all the machines in the City where your father works. If we lost as many as the ancients did, we might not be able to survive. We humans are tough though, and we do like to find a way to get on with life. We always fight for survival, Maia, we always fight on.”
That was the tale of the ancients as Maia remembered her mother telling it, but there was more to the story and she now knew these facts. Five years before those solar blasts, the world’s libraries had finally been totally digitized, along with most of the public, political and scientific records. The information had been shared between dozens of super computers across the world, for protection; the cloud before the cloud. The original texts had largely been pulped to save on storage space; the world of 2090 was already over-populated and over populating it with the past seemed such a terrible waste of space. Besides, every computer in the world had been given free access to all of that past knowledge and history.
Over one hundred years of hunting down the remaining printed fragments since the Great Aurora had uncovered very little, but then History was not a priority, the Earth had to rebuild. As a consequence History had all but died as a discipline. The Earth moved on, as one; there were so many more important things to worry about; science, medicine, communication and technology. History was only just beginning to be recognized again, more as a curiosity, but its importance was gaining an audience thanks to the Savants.
The tragedy of History saddened Maia. The only other aspect of her life that compared was the death of her mother; everything else was perfect. She could see the recognition of this in her father’s eyes and for once he was totally sympathetic.
“Not all of our history died in those weeks, Maia, as you well know. Fragments of everything were saved, history has just never been as important as rebuilding, and look what we have achieved from those fragments and surviving examples. You also know that you are not the only Savant. There are many other Tellers of the Tales.”
“I know, I know there are others, but I am the best, am I not?”
“We do not deal in such absolutes anymore. You know that and you would be wise not to speak in such a manner.”
“But I am the best?”
“Yes, if you must. The Maia Calendar is unmatched in its accuracy and in its depth of character.”
“Mother always said I was good with details. I think I remember every word she ever said to me. I used to remember the arc of her face too, but…”
“Let me help you with that.”
Maia’s father stepped purposely out of the kitchen and through to the lounge. Being a curiosity seeker, she followed him eagerly, hoping to learn something he had kept to himself. Of course, that wasn’t really how her father worked, so there was little disappointment on her face when he opened a familiar piece of furniture. It was an antique that had been in Maia’s mothers’ family for centuries now, or so it was believed. The piece was certainly centuries old; mahogany, but inlaid with various other timbers which formed a leaping tiger.
He cleared the ornaments and a doily from the top, and lifted the lid. The horn that popped up was long and narrow and flanged at the end like a loud hailer. The opposite end curled back on itself and narrowed to a needle point. Maia loved the intricacies of the Gramophone design, but this was not the only record player in the cottage. There were half a dozen; all from different eras, whose dates were but vague specks on the disappearing horizon.
Maia watched carefully as her father placed the needle on the lacquer platter. The selection was always a mystery; a game her mother loved to play. Music was a driving force in her family, apparently, and name-that-tune was a favourite pastime. Had Maia known the significance of the construction date of this Gramophone, the possible selection of songs to choose from would have been narrowed considerably. She didn’t. No one really did. Old vinyl and lacquer records were all that survived of the Earth’s music pre 2090. Everything else had been digitized and subsequently lost during the solar flares. Name-that-tune was an ironic pastime for a world that lacked knowledge of its own recorded history.
The gramophone crackled slightly as it spun and Maia sat down in her mother’s favourite chair, expectation in every groove of her face. She smiled as the first few bars of music drifted over to her; as if in a time warp. She already knew the song; it was her mother’s favourite, played quite purposely.
“That’s not fair, Maia, you know it already.”
Her father could barely hide his knowing smile and yet Maia refused to divulge the name. She waited until the music led to the familiar warble of the man whose name was on the label, and then she began to sing along…
Sometimes I wonder why I spend
Such lonely nights
oh baby lonely nights
Dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new, oh baby
And each kiss an inspiration
Now that baby you know was long ago 6.
Maia’s father sang along in the end, so infectious was her personality. It was the first time he had sung in her company for some years. The song concluded with a series of rotating scratches that rose and fell with the slight buckle of the 78 R.P.M record; it was a classic, but it had seen better days.
“So, what exciting adventure do you have for me today?”