Fiction | Short Story

Between the Shelves

All who serve in the library are expected to read. It is a necessary task and a dangerous one.

It is not my place to question the Just.

Never despair about Justice or doubt the Just.

But sometimes I do meditate on why the Just have posted me to the library. Because of its importance, this duty has many burdens. We keep libraries in recognition of the evils of the old world—as testament to the horrors, inequalities, and repressions of the world before we made it new.

Only by knowing the misery of the past can we appreciate the fairness of the present.

It’s been an education for me. Knowledge of the vast inequalities of the old world has been spread far and wide. When we are children, the magisters show us the pictures of the poor sleeping on benches while others revel in palaces. The footage on Remembrance Day documents the long food lines and the “millionaires” feasting on caviar (a type of fish egg, the consumption of which was seen as a sign of status). But my service at the library has made clear to me the rotten inequities at the core of what we have replaced.

The old shall be crushed beneath the heel of a hopeful future.

As a young female, I learned how the practice of sexual exclusivity known as “monogamy” and the institution of narrow care called the “family” were both instances of profound inequality. Reading the works of the past, though, has made clear their insidiousness.

Cruelty often has the softest touch.

I had thought that monogamy would have been viewed as a vice to be tolerated or excused, the way that the old world would sometimes shrug at its vast economic inequalities. No—it was celebrated! Page after page, book after book—rejoicing in that exquisite selfishness they called “love”! There seemed little awareness of the repugnant exclusion inherent in the willingness to adore a single other person.

One heart for all.

The deification of the “family” shocked me, too. How could one person favor one child over another merely because of supposedly biological connections? With repeated viewing, the spectacle of a mother kissing “her” baby goes from odd to nauseating.

The child is the responsibility of the whole and has a duty to the whole.

Now, of course, we live in a more equitable time. We couple by lottery, and children are recognized as a common responsibility. The absurd despotisms of monogamy and the family are no more. We have won great victories in erasing all bonds from humans so that we can better advance the cause of humanity.

Justice can never rest.

Of course, not everyone is content with the new world, so vigilance is always demanded by the Just. Some are malevolent. They cling to memories of lost privileges and nurture ambitions of new privileges for themselves. But the deluded may pose an even greater danger. They succumb to the lure of the old not from a backwardness of heart but a softness of mind. They see the convention of reading books, and grow bored with the concise truths administered by the servants of the Just. They see the swirling passions of love, but they miss the fact that every love story is a tragedy (even if the lovers don’t realize it themselves). They do not realize that the seeming wonders of books are in fact luxuries.

Luxury is the enemy of Justice and those loyal to it.

Our libraries, then, serve multiple purposes. The existence of the library is a sign of the confidence of the Just. Let the lost world parade in its most garish display—those loyal to Justice will not be swayed. And if some are swayed? If people are going to read books, it is best they read them under our supervision. If a decadent fanaticism starts to flower in their hearts, we shall see it and correct it.

A smile at the backward can be the gravest treachery.

All who serve in the library are expected to read. It is a necessary task and a dangerous one. Necessary: Only by knowing the byways of treachery can one best fight the enemies of Justice. Dangerous: Familiarity might breed sympathy.

Let hatred of inequality cause devotion to Justice to burn with a bright light.

I see a young female go to the library many days each cycle. She runs up the steps with a smile on her face. It is dangerous for her to go to the library so often. To stop her would be to admit fear among the Just.

Justice never fears or doubts.

So she goes. Others come frequently, too. We log each one.

Justice is always vigilant.

I read of the lost world and observe its temptations: great sorrow and jubilation, former slaves finding their voice in freedom, fools laughing at kings, and children swollen with dreams. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice….You, o you, so perfect and so peerless, are created of every creature’s best….The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing….

Never despair about Justice or doubt the Just.