Our Secrets Died With Us
Science-Fiction / 6500 words
PREFACE: This is the first installment in a series of loosely connected Science-Fiction stories set in a Roman-like setting. Though they can be read separately, it is recommended to read them in order.
We are a dying people, and thus are our lives forfeit. There is a biting irony in these words, and yet they remain so bitterly relevant.
Some would argue we always were a dying people—nor would they be mistaken.
This knowledge has made us sullen and desperate. Each of us must find our own way to cope with it...
Me, I’ve decided to write.
There are many reasons for this. My memory is no longer as it once was—and while this is true for all of us, I have hope the exercise will help preserve some sense of continuity in my life.
Another reason is that it helps pass the time. I often find myself standing alone in the atrium, staring at the distant mountains—as if, by observing them long enough, I would see them move. In moments like these, I fear for my sanity.
And so, I write.
Life in San Sanea has become tedious and monotonous. It is nothing but drama, with the same recurring arguments—Telius Maximus has too much money; Primus Probus is a liar; Senadra cheated on her husband; the children of Gnaeus Claudius have wreaked havoc again... this all seems so inconsequential to me.
Maybe I am the only sane person left, after all.
Today, the Senate is to convene yet again... despite the fact there is nothing to debate. Nothing of interest, that is.
I will attend, as is my duty, but this too has become tedious.
This morning was abuzz with talk of the letter. It is the one most exciting thing that has happened in years... though its contents are also quite disconcerting.
Thousands of copies were distributed throughout San Sanea, addressed directly to all the members of the Senate but also to many regular citizens. Some were even plastered on walls. The intention was clearly to spread the message as wide as possible.
It read as follows:
“People of San Sanea, you have been deceived! There is one who remembers, and that is the lady Prisca.”
As a censor, I was tasked with investigating the issue—for it is no small matter to withhold memories, when they are such a rare commodity.
When I arrived at Prisca’s home, I found her lounging in her garden. Though she seemed relaxed, I could see from the marks on her face that the beautiful brunette had been crying.
“Pardon the intrusion,” I began, “but I must ask you a few questions. I’m sure you understand...”
“If it’s about that letter,” she started defiantly, “it’s all lies! I don’t remember a thing. How could I? I’m just like everybody else... Now please go. I’d rather be alone.”
I pulled a nearby chair and sat across from her. She glared at me, but I ignored it.
“Apologies, lady, but I must insist. It is my duty.”
“Duty!” She spat out the word as if it were a poisonous thing—and perhaps it was. “That’s all you people can think of.”
“Be that as it may, I still need to ask—”
“I’ve already answered.”
“Technically, you’ve made a statement. Furthermore, I’m inclined to think you are not being truthful.”
She straightened at this, fury in her eyes. “You dare call me a liar?”
“Please, remember who you are addressing,” I said coolly.
Conflicting emotions crossed on her face—pride, fear, anger... but lassitude won over as she lay back with a sigh.
“Apologies, eddo. It has been a trying day...”
“Of course. Now, can you tell me why you’ve been crying?”
She shot me a side glance, but this time did not try to deny the obvious.
“By Xen! How else was I supposed to react to my reputation being smeared so? Was I expected to dance about in joy?”
Despite the harshness of the words, her voice now sounded more defeated than defiant.
“So you still claim innocence?”
Her gaze pulled away from mine. She looked uncomfortable and remained quiet for a moment.
“And what if it’s true?” she suddenly lashed out. “Why should anyone care? Why should it even be anyone’s business? Shouldn’t our memories be our own?”
I crossed my arms as I observed her twitching. She wiped her eyes—where another tear had pearled.
“Not when they involve us all. And they do, don’t they?”
Again, she looked away. But there was a slight nod of her head.
“Who did this to me?” she asked, sobbing. “Why would anyone be so cruel? Everyone was looking at me at the market this morning as if I had the plague! And you should have heard the things some of them were saying...”
I had, but did not see fit to mention it.
“It should not be hard to find the culprit. Who had you told?”
“No one!” she snapped. “That’s what’s so infuriating about this. Nobody knew!”
“I beg to differ. Someone obviously did.”
Prisca shook her head, obstinate. “It’s impossible!”
I decided to take a different approach—and get to the more pressing issue. “What do you remember, exactly?”
She threw her hands in the air.
“It doesn’t matter! None of it does. Do you really think I’d have kept it to myself had there been anything of significance in those memories? There just isn’t! What was the point of becoming the center of attention if there was no substance to any of it? I don’t want to be studied like I’m some animal... I’m a human being! I have rights!”
“Please, lady... there’s no need to overdramatize. Nothing of the sort will happen. I just want to talk.”
Her eyes examined me for a moment. “Well, it’s true, though. They’re just ordinary memories of ordinary things.”
I stood. “Very well. Then I’m sure you won’t mind coming to the Praeneum tomorrow.”
“What if I do mind?”
“The consul and I will be expecting you after mealtime. Do not be late.”
I put a hint of menace into my voice, just to make sure she knew she did not, in fact, have a choice. The look of resignation in her eyes told me she understood quite well.
As I left, another woman—with red hair and dark blue eyes—came rushing in. She slowed down when she saw me and greeted me with a surprised smile and a curtsy. I bowed my head in the proper way, but did not interrupt my exit.
Discovering the nature of those memories is only one half of my mission. It is just as vital to identify the author of the letter. While its contents were of utmost importance, the manner in which the information was disseminated was quite disturbing. There were other ways it could have been handled better, more discreetly, without raising so much discontentment.
The letter had been typed and printed in mass. There weren’t that many places in San Sanea where this could have been achieved. In fact, there were only three with the capacity to produce such a large amount of copies.
I thus decided to visit all three in the afternoon.
The first was owned by Caius Ulsus Aelius—a small rotund man with a red face who liked to hide his depression behind a mask of fake joyfulness.
As he walked me through his establishment, I showed him a copy of the letter. I suspected he would have seen it already, but it can never hurt to be thorough.
He examined it with a critical eye. Muttered. Nodded.
“It’s very professional,” he conceded.
“Was it made here?”
He shook his head. “It could have. But it’s highly unlikely. There would be a trace of it. Here, let me show you.”
With a more agile movement than I would have thought him capable of, he jumped onto a ledge on our right that gave access to a large panel with a series of screens, lights, and levers.
He pressed one of the displays and it lit up with some text. I joined him just as he pointed at the writing.
“This is a list of all the jobs that ran through us in the past three weeks...”
“That’s a fairly long list,” I remarked.
“Yes, yes, but the point is, everything is referenced and indexed. Including the contents of everything we print. So, we can easily check by typing any portion of the letter...” He did so as he spoke. “There. Now, we let the system check...”
“Couldn’t someone print something without logging it?”
“Impossible.” There was no hesitation in his response. “To print something, you have to process it. If you process it, it goes into the system. There’s no other way to do it. Ah, and there’s our answer.” He tapped on the screen with a satisfied smile. “No match.”
“And could not the system be purged?”
He frowned. “I don’t see how... I mean, in theory, yes, it could be done, but there are not many who could do it.”
“Well... you’d need privileged access to the system. So it’d have to be one of our admins. Or myself,” he chuckled. “But, even that would get logged. And before you ask, no, that part couldn’t be deleted. It’s hardcoded. For security reasons.”
“I see. Could you check those logs, just to make sure?”
“If you wish.”
He typed on the console and I watched as a series of symbols appeared on the screen. Each time he would answer with a short code, until a final message appeared. After studying it for a moment, he shook his head.
“Two jobs were canceled in the past thirty days, but nothing that looks related to that letter. And it all was legit, as far as I can tell.”
“Very well. Thank you for your help, Aelius.”
“You are most welcome, eddo. Please let me know if I can help any other way.”
My next stop was the Vita Nova headquarters, owned by the sisters Livia and Magia, who were well-known disciples of Lady Gaia. As they both were in a meeting at the time of my visit, I was received by their personal assistant, Issus Teleonidus. A young and terse man who, while remaining quite polite, seemed intent on making clear he had better things to do with his time.
“No,” he replied when I asked if the letters had been printed there.
“How can you be sure?”
He had only given the offending document a cursory glance.
“It’s just obvious.”
“The paper is off.”
“How do you mean?”
He remained quiet as he led me through a series of halls and into a large storage room. It contained hundreds of cardboard boxes, all filled with reams of paper.
Grabbing a box, he tossed it onto a nearby table, opened it, and pulled out some samples which he handed me.
I studied them for a moment. I had seen this type of material before. It was a popular paper, often used for advertisements and even official documents. Very different from the one the letter had been printed on.
“But surely, you must use other types of papers?”
“Never,” he said. “This is our trademark. We are the only ones to use this particular type of paper. We don’t use any other.”
“Could someone have brought their own paper and used your system to print on it?”
He laughed—though it felt like it was to mock the absurdity of such a statement. “Absolutely not.”
I did not insist and left him to his work.
The call came as I was en route to the third printing company. The face of Maxius Pius appeared on the halo screen, floating in front of me as the motorum drove itself to my destination.
“Have you made any progress, Caius?” he asked.
“I can’t say that I have. Though I have one more place to visit. Hopefully, I will find a lead there.”
He seemed preoccupied.
“It is important that we find answers. And soon.”
“Trouble?” I asked.
The nod was curt. “Appius Quintillus is trying to use this to discredit me. As if I had anything to do with it...”
That man was a worm. He had vied for the consulship for years, and I guessed if we did not find answers, he would blame my friend for incompetence... and then use this to increase his own influence. Such is the nature of politics.
“I understand. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this. You can count on me.”
“Thank you,” he said with a slight smile. “Let me know how things go.”
The motorum slid to a halt just as our conversation ended. I exited the vehicle and turned to face the front of the third printing establishment—Typhoeus Industries. This one was located in the center of the city. Because of the market that sprawled across the street, my ride had parked itself some distance away.
As I began my walk toward the building, I bumped into a red-haired woman.
She profusely apologized, then paused when she recognized me.
“Eddo Silius! I am overwhelmed with shame...”
I dismissed the matter with a wave of my hand. “It is truly not that big a deal. Do not distress yourself.”
“Oh, I meant for this morning... I should have introduced myself. I am Unna. We met at my friend’s house, when you were leaving.”
“Yes, I thought I recognized you. But there is no need to apologize.”
“I was so concerned about Prisca’s well-being that I failed to properly greet you.”
“It is quite alright. How is your friend?”
She made a face. “Still quite distraught, I fear. I intend to cook her a meal tonight, to take her mind off this awful matter!”
“What are your thoughts about this business?” I asked.
She seemed surprised I would show an interest in her opinion.
“Well,” she said slowly, “it is a troubling affair. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure yet how I feel about it... What I do know is that she’ll need a friend to help her through this. So I try to focus on this for now, and not to dwell too much on the details.”
“Perhaps you are right...”
“Did you know she tried to commit suicide last year?”
Hadn’t we all? But I did not say this. Instead, I shook my head and feigned surprise—because that was the proper thing to do. Without etiquette, there would be nothing left of us at all. The Sadin Codex taught us as much.
“She jumped off a cliff. It was a long fall. Broke her neck and pretty much every other bone in her body. She was in excruciating pain. Took over a month to recover.”
I grimaced. “She should have used poison. Less painful. And recovery would have been quicker.”
“The pain was the point, though. She needed to remember what it felt like to be alive.”
As I said, we all have different ways to cope.
“Do you think she’ll try again?”
“It’s not so much about if, as it is about when.”
“I see. Well, if you’ll excuse me, lady Unna, my duty calls.”
“Oh, of course! Apologies, eddo, I did not mean to interrupt.”
“That’s quite alright,” I said to her with a reassuring smile.
I then turned and continued my way to the printing company.
Of the three establishments, this one was the largest. There were also more people here—not all of them employees.
In the previous two, customers would drop off their orders and come pick up the finished jobs later. There were specific areas designed specifically to receive them.
Here, things seemed to be run differently, though I could not quite figure it out.
When the owner, Kaeso Typhoeus, arrived—after a fifteen-minute wait—he shook my hand and proceeded to explain the peculiarities of their system, which also explained their popularity.
“You can drop off projects, of course, but because customers are often in a hurry, we decided to allow them direct access. This makes things easier and quicker for everyone. Here, I’ll show you.”
We stopped at one of the many interfaces embedded in the wall, and he took out a sheet of paper from his pocket. When he showed it to me, I saw it had some handwriting on it.
“Say I scribbled this real quick before coming here and I wanted to make a hundred printed copies of this. Well, it’s very easy. All I need do is slide the original into this slot, like so...”
The sheet disappeared into the wall. The display lit up with symbols. He tapped one of them and a picture of his handwriting appeared.
“Now, I make a number of selections using this menu down here to pick font type and size...” A few quick taps transformed the text into something that looked like it had been typed. “You can even control the color of the text—or of the paper itself. You could do a lot of fancy stuff, if you wanted to. Then, all you need do is confirm your order with a tap here... then introduce your payment method.” He scanned his badge over a sensor. “And that’s it. Now you just have to wait a few minutes, and the printed job will become available in this compartment right here.”
He pointed to a panel beneath the interface.
“So... if I understand correctly, anyone can come here and have anything they want printed?”
“So there’s no control?”
“That would defeat the purpose. The whole point is to make the process quicker and more seamless.”
All well and good, but that would also make my job a lot more complicated.
“Do you at least keep records of what gets printed?”
“We have to, yes. Sometimes a customer will come back and complain about a job. So we needed a way to compare their claims with what was actually printed. That said, because of the vast amount of material coming through our services, we can’t keep track of everything. Records get purged weekly, so we don’t get swamped.”
“And when you do have records, do they include details about the customer?”
“Only what they’ve provided. In most cases, that’s just their payment information.”
“I see. Well, could you check if this letter was printed here in the past week?”
He glanced at the letter and nodded. “Ah yes. I’ve seen this. Hmm. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done here. Though if the author was smart, they’d have waited a week before distributing this...”
“Is the weekly purge public knowledge, then?”
“We are obligated, by law, to inform customers.”
He tapped on a text printed on the wall, next to the interface. It included usage instructions but also, underneath, the minutiae of what was expected from both customer and printer. Quite clearly, it stated records were deleted once a week and that the company could not be held liable for any errors beyond that time.
This was not going to be easy...
Knowing you are going to die is one thing. Knowing your loved ones are going to die is another. Knowing the entire civilization you belong to is going to die is beyond words.
How do you cope with something like that?
Some people leave, never to be seen again. Others become thieves and join the Stealth Society. Or grow quiet, cold, and distant. Or do unspeakable things—like inflicting torture upon themselves... physical or otherwise.
Last night, I dreamed of Prisca’s attempted suicide. I saw her—as if I had been there—jump from the edge. Then I found myself standing next to her shattered skull and splintered legs and arms. Blood was everywhere. Her eyes, though glazed out, still had a sparkle of life in them. Her mouth moved, but I could not hear what she was saying.
I leaned down and brought my ear closer to her lips.
“Kill me,” she begged.
I jumped and ran away, but it was too late. I kept hearing those two words again and again and again... I could no longer keep them out of my mind, no matter how far from her I was.
All of a sudden, I reached the end of the beach and found I was standing at the edge of another, impossible cliff. And there, far below me, lay the broken bodies of hundreds of my kin. Before I could make another move, the wind carried their voices to my ears, as they pleaded for me to help them, to end their suffering...
Kill us, kill us, kill us...
I woke up, then.
The nightmare was imprinted on my brain. I was having trouble breathing, got out of bed, and rushed to a window. As I opened it, I took a deep breath and my mind started to clear.
It was morning, outside. I could tell from the brighter glow above.
I dressed up and went out for a walk.
The Praeneum is the tallest structure in San Sanea. It serves many purposes. The ground floor mainly holds the curia, where the Senate gathers. Above are various offices, including those of the consuls—and my own.
At mealtime, Prisca presented herself at the entrance. The front desk directed her to the room where Pius and I had decided to receive her.
It was small—with just a table, four chairs, and a video screen embedded in the wall. There were also security devices hidden within the table which we could activate with specific eye movements, though we did not expect to need them.
The young woman—who looked like she had cried all night—sat where we directed her. Pius positioned himself across from her, with me on his right.
“I’m surprised the other consuls are not here,” she remarked.
“They are being briefed on a regular basis,” lied my friend. “Their presence was not required. Now...” He went through the paperwork set before him. “How about we start at the beginning. How long have you had these memories?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. A long time. Years. Maybe centuries, or even forever...” That would not help her case. She must have realized this as she pursed her lips and looked down. “I’m sorry. It just never seemed important. I still don’t believe it is. It’s just... images... scenes from before.”
“How can you be sure it’s from before?”
Prisca grimaced. “Because people looked happy? Because the sun shone in the sky?”
Pius and I looked at each other.
“Alright,” I said. “How about you tell us what you remember exactly?”
“It’s hard to say, because there are a lot of images... I’m not sure where to begin.”
“Does anything stand out? Something you maybe remember more vividly?”
She fell quiet as she pondered this for a moment, trying to remember.
“Well... I recall a river with clear blue water, though I’ve never been able to locate it. There are faces of people I don’t know... or I suppose I should say that I don’t know anymore. A mountain, a forest... How could any of this be useful?”
She seemed anxious at this point.
I had been taking notes, though I knew the entire conversation was recorded.
“One never knows,” said the consul. “Is there anything familiar in your memories? Something you know from your current life, that you knew then as well?”
Prisca frowned. “Actually yes, though it’s probably the most insignificant of them all.” She pointed out the window. “I see the market house. Though the way I remember it, it is smaller and more colorful—cleaner, too, as if it had just been built.”
I glanced at the building which could be seen in the distance—a low, lengthy gray structure with large glass windows. San Sanea’s largest market was held there in the morning, every day of the week.
“Is there anything special about it?”
“How would I know?” she asked defensively.
“Well,” I said slowly, “do you remember only the outside, or also the inside?”
“Both, though I remember the outside more clearly.” She paused. “But there is something odd that I always wondered about.”
“What would that be?” inquired Pius.
“There was this small structure on the side... I’m not sure how to describe it... it was right next to the market house, but separate. It’s no longer there, though I suppose it must have been torn down or integrated into the larger building as it expanded.”
She went on to describe a few other souvenirs... but she was right. It all sounded quite trivial.
In the end, before she left, I asked her:
“Lady Prisca... why did you jump off that cliff last year?”
She stared at me, her face gone quite pale.
“How do you know about that?”
“Please answer the question,” said the consul—not without kindness.
She glanced at him, then back at me. Swallowed.
“I...” Her hand twitched as she gazed out the window again. “I don’t know.” Her voice was low and sad. “My life was dull. I felt dead inside.” She snapped back at me with a touch of anger. “How is this relevant in any way?”
The look in my friend’s eyes told me he wondered the same thing.
I gathered my notes and rose to my feet.
“Thank you for coming, lady Prisca. You are free to go.”
The consul and I were comparing notes when a call informed me Unna was at the front desk and asking to see me.
I was surprised but agreed to receive her in my office.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
She sat down across from me and said with perfect indifference: “I want to confess. It was me. I did it.”
“The letter. I wrote it.”
I sat back in my chair and stared at her.
“You wrote that letter?”
It took me a moment to process the revelation, though I was struggling to understand this woman’s possible motivation—not only for the act itself, but for her confession as well.
“Why would you do such a thing?”
She shrugged. “It was my duty. People needed to know. Now they do.”
“What about your friend?”
“That was the whole point of the letter being anonymous. This way, it wouldn’t hurt our friendship.”
I frowned. “I was referring to what it did to her, not to your relationship.”
“Oh.” She dismissed the matter with a casual gesture. “She’ll get over it. Eventually.”
None of this made any sense. If she wanted everyone to know the truth, there were other ways to reveal it without hurting Prisca in the process.
“Why not come to us? Wouldn’t that have been easier?”
A slight smirk formed on her lips when I said this, though it quickly faded. I found this troubling.
“It did not cross my mind...”
“Oh, come now! You can do better than that.”
She crossed her arms and said nothing, though she held my gaze.
“How did you find out about her memories?”
“I was staying at her place, a few weeks ago. I got up in the middle of the night to get some water from the kitchen. When I walked past her bedroom, I heard her muttering. I opened the door to see if she was alright... she was asleep but agitated, like she was having a nightmare. But what struck me were the words coming out of her mouth... descriptions... of things that are no more. It wasn’t difficult to understand what those were. I left before she woke.”
This part, at least, seemed plausible.
“Alright. So why not come to us immediately?”
“I told you! I—”
“Enough, Unna!” I put as much steel as I could in my voice. “If she’s truly your friend, sending those letters makes no sense. Anonymity hints at ulterior motives. You don’t do something like that to someone you care about. So give me the truth now!”
She flinched and looked down.
“I... well... if you must know... we had an argument some time ago. She was very rude. Mocked me in front of our friends. Is that something one would do to someone they cared about?”
No, it wouldn’t. This version made sense. And yet, I still felt like something was off. I realized she was studying me again, and there was a curiosity in her gaze that made me uncomfortable.
“What are you not telling me?” I asked.
Why would she laugh? I could not make any sense of this woman. She was behaving so differently from our exchange the day before...
Then I remembered the story she’d told me.
“Why did you tell me about your friend’s suicide attempt?” I asked coolly.
“It seemed relevant, at the time.”
“No, it didn’t.”
She smiled. “What is it, eddo? Did you not like it?”
I was losing patience.
“Are you playing games with me?”
“What else is there to do?”
As the words came out of her mouth, a cold chill went through my bones as I suddenly realized what she was doing. And while I was furious at her for manipulating me like this, a great sadness also overcame me. Like us all, she had found her own way to cope with our shared sickness.
And her confession was a part of it.
She must have realized I had caught on, because she fell back in her chair and sighed.
“There is nothing to do,” she said, almost in a whisper. “Everything, every day, is the same. There is no life, no joy, nothing... How does anything we ever do even matter?” She stared at the ceiling for a long moment. “I feel so empty, eddo... I am an empty shell.”
That was not entirely true, though. She was not empty. She was filled with sorrow.
As are we all.
That night, on my way back home, I walked by the market house. I considered it for a moment, then went in.
The main entrance was never locked—what use would that be when there was nothing to steal within? The stalls were emptied every day and set back up the next morning.
We had examined blueprints of the building after our talk with Prisca. The originals did show a smaller structure on the side, though we found no records of what it may have been used for. Most likely it had served as storage for items that did not—or could not—move easily in and out of the market. Or maybe they held offices. But now my curiosity was piqued.
The spot where the structure had once stood was still there, I realized. Sort of. New walls had been built around it, and only a small prominence remained there now, which served as a stage. A microphone had been placed there, which could be used to make announcements.
I examined the surface, but saw nothing unusual... What had I expected? This was ridiculous. It was a very public place. Anything odd would have been noticed a long time ago. There couldn’t be anything here.
Looking at the side panels of the structure, I saw they were painted in bright colors. There were some drawings, too. Including one of the sun. This caught my attention. We did not have many depictions of that legendary astral body. They say its rays shone brighter than the Glow which lights our days... It is hard to believe something so small could be so powerful.
Out of curiosity, I lay down on the floor to look at it more closely. I ran a finger along its surface and around its edges. I frowned. Everything was smooth, except for the circular shape of the sun itself, which jutted out slightly. I pressed my thumb against it... and it sank in.
A clicking sound followed, then a rumbling as the whole stage slid backward, away from me, revealing an opening underneath.
I jumped to my feet and stared down into the darkness.
With proper configuration, the lens grafted into my eye can be used as a lamp. I took the time to set this up, then started down the ladder.
Five long minutes later, I reached the bottom. Lights lit up all around me as I turned around and entered a tunnel leading to a metal door. The console on the side beeped when I pressed the large green button and, with a roar, the gate opened.
On the other side was a large, cold, and musty room. Here too, lights flickered on, followed by a series of sounds—like machines being activated.
There were large ducts everywhere, running against every surface, and disappearing into the walls.
At the center of the room, a glass container slowly rose from the floor and screeched to a halt as I arrived in front of it.
Inside was a book.
I touched the glass and it buzzed and vibrated, colors swirling across its surface as in a wild frenzy. Then it split into two, each side sliding away and disappearing back into the floor, leaving the book exposed.
The cover, which was devoid of inscriptions, was made of a thick, smooth black material that felt like plastic, but was not. I lifted it carefully—though it seemed sturdy enough—and contemplated the title on the first page. It was printed in a large red font and read:
THE FALL AND RISE OF AN EMPIRE
I turned the pages and read through the night.
What I discovered there, in the heart of our city—for better or for worse—, changed my life.
Some of it I already knew—like how our people once were a highly advanced society, thousands of years ago... But much of it was new.
The text did not go into the details—perhaps because it was common knowledge to its author—but it revealed how a plague had devastated our people, killing everyone but one lone survivor. That one survivor, who was named Thoho, then proceeded—hundreds of years later—to resurrect us all. And while the process made us immortal, it had two unfortunate and unforeseen side effects...
We became sterile and, more importantly, we lost all our knowledge and memories.
My first instinct was to go to Pius and tell him everything. But then I paused as I considered the possible ramifications of such revelations. I knew deep inside none of this could become public knowledge.
Our people are profoundly damaged, to the point where anything this damning could throw them even further into despair and perhaps even madness.
Of course, we already all knew we were sterile and had lost our memories. But learning we had died and had been resurrected... knowing our curse had been the making of one of our own, that it could have been avoided had we been left to rest in peace—while rest now had become forever out of our reach...
By Xen! No, this would be a disaster.
I knew my friend well. He would feel obligated to tell the people... or, at the very least, bring it up in a Senate hearing. Which, of course, in itself, would suffice to leak this dangerous secret.
Better then not to tell Pius.
I also realized if there had been only one survivor, then only he—Thoho—could have written the book!
He must still be alive. Somewhere. Living amongst us.
I swear by all the gods that I will find him, if it’s the last thing I do! He must answer for his crime.
For the first time in my life, I lied to Pius. I told him I had found nothing at the market house. The look of disappointment on his face broke my heart.
“At least, we know who wrote the letter now. That should keep Quintillus off your back.”
He nodded thoughtfully.
“I just wish there was something useful in those memories.”
“We still need to decide,” I diverted, “what we are going to do with Prisca and Unna. They have both broken our laws. There should be some form of punishment. Especially since all this was made so public.”
“The Senate will have to vote on that.”
My mind was distracted. I kept thinking of the book and of the things I had learned from it. Had I made the right decision? Did I have the right to keep this to myself? We were supposed to be a democracy, and I felt bad about it, but I also knew there was no way to keep this quiet if we brought it to the Senate.
The two friends were fined and required to serve in the fields for six months... a change of pace that was greeted by Unna with undue glee.
I am tired.
Sometimes I wonder if I should not retire to the fields myself.
The nightmares plague me every night now.
I see us stumbling in the dark, hitting walls, falling off cliffs, trying to die but failing because we have lost that ability.
Are we even still human? I often wonder.
There are secrets buried in that darkness. We try to dig, to uncover them, but all we find are metal ducts that burrow further into the earth.
Some try to dig even deeper, but they get sucked into the hole, and their screams echo in our skulls until I wake up. Sometimes they still resonate long after.
The days are not much better as I am constantly reminded of my choice as I stare into the morose faces of my kin. They wear masks of happiness, of course, but I know what lies beneath...
How can we live like this?
How can forever be bearable?
As if that wasn’t enough, I now have this new burden on my shoulders.
Yes, I am haunted by this knowledge that gnaws at my soul... but it is the price to pay to maintain our sanity.
At least for a little while longer.
We are a dying people... or so I’ve always thought. While in reality, we have long been dead.
All that is left of us are these empty shells.
Without memory, there is no knowledge. And without knowledge, there is no progress. We are doomed to stagnate forever more.
We inherited the technology of our previous lives, but we could not improve on it, nor even repair it when it became damaged. There are some—like Typhoeus—who are smart enough to find new ways to use existing machines... but even he could not fix a broken system.
We have become entirely dependent on the instruments of our past.
That knowledge we once had is now gone.
Those were our secrets.
Those were our lives.
But our secrets died with us.
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Text (c) 2022 by Alex S. Garcia.
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