You don't just have to fight: a curator's story

You don't just have to fight: a curator's story
Photo by Max Kleinen / Unsplash
This is an excerpt I've been working on this week, a diary except from another Amnari, SDAC Tabishka. I'll be continuing to work on it over the next few months, as much as I have time. It's very much a first draft, but I thought I would share it anyway.

Note attached to the top of the file: I don't know who's going to read this, but if you do, you have to help. You have to get the word out—now. It's too late for me, but if you can get the word back to a matrix, even a hub will do, we can spread the message.

Everybody has to know. We are all in so much danger. Not just the Alliance, but all Amaresh. Everywhere. These people are monsters and they'll stop at nothing to get what they want.

I know you won't believe me. I wouldn't either, if I were in your shoes. I was in your shoes, not that long ago. Now I know better, which is why I have to tell you the whole story. Then you can take the rest of this diary, share it with as many people as you can, and maybe, just maybe, we might be able to save the world.

Ishril 25, 4633 AIA

We have a problem with the shipment. I've just come back from the Taijis Nil library to find a message waiting for me on my desk. I only came back because my slate wouldn't stop buzzing. Urgent message, flashing bright and clear on the black screen. Now here I am with this note telling me I need to speak to the Guardian of External Affairs as soon as possible.

I'm Deputy Assistant Curator for the museum, so I've never talked with a Guardian before. It's not impossible, of course, but it does make me anxious. That sticky feeling that I must've done something wrong. It's not real, but boy does it feel like it is.

I want to head over there straight away, since it is the Guardian xirself, after all. But I sit at my desk and I wonder, what could possibly be so urgent about a shipment of junk from the Nas Ashca?

And it is junk, don't get me wrong, to pretty much everyone else outside the museum stores, it's pretty much useless. Dead tech from five thousand years ago, often more, mostly just mangled metal we can put aside to be recycled or reused. That's why it'd never get approval for a dragonlift, so it's coming overland instead.

Nobody ignores a Guardian, so I now I have to drop everything and head up to see xem, I suppose.

All I wanted was a quiet day, and a quiet life. You're going to have to put up with me whinging now, but I can't for the life of me work out why the Builders—all those brave souls who put so much work into tunnelling this city out of the canyon rock with what primitive kata skills they had to hand at the time—decided to put a library so close to what is, in real terms, the frontline in an endless war.

Why not put the library well back, out of harm's way? Nobody's going to want to get a book or pop ino the museum for a quick tour on the way to fight, are they? Are they?

I think all of this as I wend my nervous way over to the elevators. It's like a warren down here, but even with several thousand tons of rock between me and that hideous rend in reality they call the Gap, I can still feel it every time the bloody thing rips open.

We all can, of course. If you were born in an Exclusion Zone, inside a Barrier, then you know what I mean. Like somebody put metal needles in your teeth and bones and pulled you inside out. I don't know how all those Warrior and Watcher classes do it. Defending the Line. Fighting until the sifradan and the seers can get the Gap closed again. 

I know I couldn't.

I like my quiet, I'm not gonna lie. Isha blessed me, I guess, with the sort of skills for sorting out objects in a museum store and stacking books, because you wouldn't see me anywhere nearer a Gap than I ever have to get.

I'm rambling. Here we are. The elevator, just the one this far down because there's only five of us who work down here, so we don't need more than one. I don't use the stairs; my legs won't take it. I can tell the Gap's open right now. My teeth pulse, my gums taste of metal. And my legs—I'm so glad of the elevators. If I had to use the stairs I'd die. They'd have to bring all the objects up to me in our home.

So, while I'm here in the elevator, I try to plan what I'm going to say to the Guardian. My slate's a good distraction. I send a message over to Ajaë to let xem know what's going on.

<Message from the Guardian Anarya. Xe wants to speak to me about a problem with a junk shipment from the Nas Ashca. I might be late home.>

Ajaë's busy; xe doesn't reply right away. Xe's always busy, the cheetah to my sloth. I struggle through the world on my failing legs and my failing heart, the kata eating away at me, and xe's the hero saving the world.

Well, xe manages all the tricky ways kata can be used to store data on the Amnet, so of course he's busy.

Right. We're at the right floor. I've never been up here before. Isha's sacred tits, the ceilings are high, and vaulted, too. It's busy, too. Nothing to do with me or my shipment, of course. Service staff and assistants are hurrying back and forth because the Gap's live and that keeps everyone on their toes.

I have to weave my way around them (not easy with my legs being daft from standing in the elevator), and make sure I don't bump into anyone. They all look important in their smart uniforms and stylish hair cuts. Bushu locs are in again this year, but they don't suit my hair. I'm Taija, and my hair's too thin, so I leave it natural.

Why am I thinking about hair? Oh, it's because it's one of the things the Gap can affect. Along with everything else. Hair, nails... Big windows give me a panoramic view of the canyon, the sharp rise of the West Wall with all its own windows and terraces, the waterfall at the very head (one upside of living this deep into Amin Duum's Zone, the constant background rushing noise).

And down on the canyon floor, everyone keeping all the flora and fauna under control as the loose kata from the Gap sets them off, too.

I thought I might be suited to Botanist Class when I was very young. I do love plants, but there was an incident—let's not go into that—and I stuck to the sort of objects not liable to suddenly spring to violent life and lash out whenever the Gap goes live.

Objects are affected, but their molecules are more stable than biological organisms, so it's not so dramatic. Worst we get in the museum stores is when something falls off a table without a warning.

So, I shuffle along to the side with the windows, catching some much-needed desert sun (Ajaë tells me I need more, and I nod but ignore him). Where am I going? I've not been up here before but the message said to come to the Guardian's quarters. What would they ask me to do if the Guardian was back home in Rad Ruinn? I don't know.

Now we're at the end of the corridor, I get to see the screens. These are like slates, some kind of special. kata-reinforced glass, but bigger. Anyone who wants can see a readout of data from the Gap Chamber itself. I flick a look, just out of curiosity you understand, and see a bunch of names and insignia I don't recognise.

Sacred Isha, keep them all alive and safe. May your blessing be with them this day.

A knot has gathered around the screens. "Wow, that's a bad one," somebody who can understand all those complex kata stats says. "Gonna be a long afternoon."

"Tanaka was saying they're gonna start calling in the—"

"Excuse me." I butt in, because my slate just buzzed again and I know what that'll be. I don't want to keep the Guardian waiting. As a group they all turn to stare, and suddenly I'm so aware of how I'm not wearing one of those official uniforms with the sashes. 

I have one, of course I do, but if you spend all your time several feet underground sorting through dusty objects you don't wear it. It's only just now that I realise this. I'm not wearing a neat jacket and breeches and sashes. I adjust my work smock and apron, as if I'd meant to dress this way.

"I'm looking for the Guardian of External Affairs," I say, to collective raising of eyebrows.

For some of us, the world has to carry on even when the Gap is open. Our teeth might be tingling and our fingertips burning, but our jobs must march on.

"That way," says one sporting Bushu locs and having an especially elaborate face tattoo.

"Thank you." I give them an obligatory little bow, but they've already swivelled their group attention back to the screens, the feeds, and their analysis of the evolving fight.

I limp in the direction I've been sent, happy to be ignored. This can't be serious, I'll be back downstairs in a blink, I tell myself. Or I tell my hips and my back, which are already whinging about all this moving about.

I've been sent down a corridor with big windows and bright afternoon sunshine on one side and a series of doors on the other. Double doors, single doors, large doors, small doors. In between each doors, images of the High Ashad Isha Xirself in various life scenes. 

I pause. I've not seen these before, but they're early. Really early. I would say early Builders, judging by the style. I must've read some research papers on the meaning of these poses, the use of bas relief, the colour.

I'm getting distracted. If I wasn't being constantly buffetted by people hurrying about with fretful expressions, I could stand here for hours. Even my lower body hushes, as if my femurs and pelvis are as fascinated by pre-Alliance history as my brain.

Helpfully, somebody has thought to put up good signage and three doors down, I find one of the double doors standing wide open and marked with the Sign of the Guardian of External Affairs. Immediately beneath this delicately carved arch, an owlish person stands, holding an unusually large slate and blinking frequently up and down the corridor.

At the sight of me, plainly out of place here, this person stretches up onto xir tiptoes and leans over, a heronish posture as if xe might pluck me out of the river of the corridor. I stop, alarmed, and lean back to avoid this.

"SDAC Tabishka?" Owlish has an appropriately hooting voice. Nobody uses my full title in that form. It takes me a blink to reply.

"Yes, you wanted to see me?" This isn't the Guardian of External Affairs. I might be a dusty creature from under the Taijis Nil library itself, but not even I am so uninitiated into the rarified air of the Caipashad that I don't know what a Guardian might look like.

This is an assistant. A senior assistant, of course, but still an assistant.

"Follow me." The assistant rotates like a top and strides off on a pair of long legs with a lot more power in them than I have in mine. I scuttle past him, but I'm breathless and aching a yard or so beyond the doorway. I huff, in a circular antechamber of some sort, with yet more bas reliefs of Isha.

"Are you all right?" A new person and I manage to unheap myself to see that yes, this is the Guardian of External Affairs.