Glances are stolen. Words hardly pass. More than once, I notice Aunt Pauline's lips twitch. But the words are swallowed. I wish she could speak. She always speaks. Not today though. The clatter of forks and plates is literally the only sound heard as everyone quietly crunches away.
Dinner is the balance of yesterday’s beans and carrots, and a few yams. These are rationed for everyone in equal quantities. There is not much remaining, and everybody agrees we can only eat as much as is absolutely necessary to keep breathing. So we each quietly eat way. We empty all the bowls, and lick our plates and forks clean.
Wind waves start to pass, mildly at first to cause goose bumps, but they grow, enough to lift Kim’s unkempt hair, and skirt Grandpa’s overgrown beard. And as supper runs down, it grows even stronger, blowing and carrying with it leaves off the trees, tipping over half filled plastics, eventually yanking off Aunt Pauline's head scarf and knocking over the jug of water. But we ignore it, tittering a bit and passing around napkins to wipe and sop spilled drinks.
Shortly after food is done, the kids oblivious to everything around them, and doubtless thinking the darkening skies are the usual evening taking over, move to beneath the tree to play games – squares and taps.
Anna, the neighbor’s visiting nephew suggests we sing a song, so we join and start on an off-key chorus of “If all become untrue”. Everybody sings, albeit half-heartedly. The popular hymn slows down and the hand chained circle awkwardly breaks up, as the kids silently slip back to their parents.
The wind is now stronger, going inside becomes inevitable. Papa, and a couple of adults, including Toby the Carpenter who lived just a stone throw away, panel up the windows, mum locks all the doors. All file downstairs, until every one of the 27 is inside the basement. Here steel warehouse shelves full of broke computer, storage disks, router and wires, welcome us, plus few cans of carrots and green beans, our last food reserve.
The time has come again. So all huddle up around the soot lamp in hushed breaths. Only Kim doesn’t join us. Time is precious, and he needs to keep working on the solution. The kids of course don’t understand what is going on, and Aunt Pauline gives each a sucker, which they eat away in the shadows.
Once everyone is settled, mum quickly glances at everyone else. The unasked question is obvious; this is the second day of asking. Who today? Yesterday it was answered by the Peter, the carpenter’s son, who offered himself. His parting words still echo in my mind: “save humanity” he said, before jumping off the window and whooshed away in a gush of wind by the gnome.
Seconds pass, and no answer. A minute and no answer. Breaths start to quicken, and mum’s is almost audible. If no one freely offers, she will have to make a pick. The pact was clear: one sacrifice a day.
Meanwhile everyone keeps stealing a look outside, at the window well which is increasingly filing with every type of debris the wind has picked up, including grasses, and leaves and twigs, but also plastics, and socks and spoons, and mangled metals.
“You know if we don’t do this, it will only get worse. And then it will come down on everyone!’ She pleads to no one in particular. The more we delay, the worse it gets. The magnetic waves from the Gnome's time preset satellite drone will keep increasing and directing even heavier celestial bodies towards our plant. Their knock-on’s will keep cracking our planet until it can no longer hold and crack away, if no sacrifice is given. We have at most a quarter of an hour left.
“What’s the point dying one by one?” Mike, the regular at the Library, who has been quiet until now snaps out of nowhere. I have seen him etching to speak from the moment we returned. “You know who has the book. Just choose the dammed person and end this god-dammed lottery!” He swears.
Now I see mum’s brow start to mist. She had dreaded this moment. She swallows a lump of saliva. And is about to say something, but Toby the Carpenter, whose son peter offered himself yesterday, beats her to it. “We have already gone through this, Mike. We buy some time, and plan an escape. Kim is working on a way”. The Gnomes apparently only move past dusk when the sun has set. So we have all day to chart a path to wherever humanity might still be surviving.
We should have started on the expedition early today, but the idea was put on hold, until a proper plan is hatched. There might still be some more humans also holed up somewhere, and if we can find them, if we can communicate with them….It was foolish, everyone concurred, to leave our only safe refuge here at the basement, and head nowhere without a plan. If anything, the gnomes would just as quickly pump up the magnetic radiation, and decimate whatever is remaining of humanity.
The agreement as it stands is that they will wait until we are ready to reveal the whereabouts of the book, but even that is at a cost. One person has to be offered as a sacrifice daily. The gnomes have a laboratory not far from here, and they take that person for ‘memory retrieval’. Sooner or later, they will stumble on the custodian.
It is a fine line mum is maintaining to buy time. Why don’t the gnomes just as well blow up our planet and with it all of us, you may ask. Well, they desperately need that book. It is something about their native planet becoming inhabitable and them needing another to fully occupy. As we yet know, only one person knows where the book is, and only mum knows his or her identity. She was the librarian.
Our plan of course is to buy time, and hopefully find a way of escape. The unspoken hope is that everyone else offers themselves to protect the one custodian of the book. But who is the custodian? Who knows where the book is? If anything, what book? Kim, who last spoke yesterday when the consensus was arrived at, just called it a ‘book’, only revealing that it held the secret to a new technology that threatens gnomes control of the human race.
“With this technology, we reclaim control of our lives” , and the gnomes don’t want that because they will no longer control and influence information through proxies and surveillance technologies. If they get hold of the book, they destroy it; so long as we have the book, Kim is sure he can rebuild the technology.
Mike’s fear meanwhile is fast turning into anger as the inevitable draws nearer: “How many innocents must die through this lottery before the gnomes stumble on the custodian?” He says, staring at mum,
“All they want is the book, whatever god damned book it is. Tell them who has it, who borrowed it, whom did you lend it to, because it is not like the person is going to step forward and save us of his own will.”
Mike’s ranting is growing, and it seems he echoes a popular sentiment. Only Toby is openly on mum’s side. And it is probably because he has already lost his son, and doesn’t want that sacrifice to go in vain. Whatever they did to his brain! Mum should have known the consensus was never going to hold, not without a foreseeable escape. Just one day, and no one is willing to offer himself up.
She is about to speak, when a rumbling sound above us starts. Mum is caught; reveal the Custodian, and end the sacrifice lottery - the gnomes promise to at least keep everyone alive - or keep resisting, buy time, and hope that Kim is able to fix the communication box before many are sacrificed. I see her glance to the far corner where Kim is busy notching and connecting wires.
If Kim can only restore the computer and retrieve some information, Toby thinks he can figure out a way to disable the gnome's satellite. Albeit never practicing it, he studied advanced physics during his student days, but he needs some information, unfortunately lost with the breakdown of all electronics. So a lot of hopes are hanging on Kim, but he returns a blank stare. That is not encouraging. From the look of events, mum will be lucky to avoid a mutiny. Everybody is now muttering.
In the window well, I can see the carcass of a kitten. Must be one of those kittens of the neighbors’. They had just brought in a dozen last week. Yes, last week, when it was usual springtime and flowers were blooming before the blackout.
Meanwhile a raging gust of wind sweeps against the house, above us, I look up at the window well, which is now fast pooling with water as rain starts. It won't be long now, unless a sacrifice is given, and the gnomes switch off their satellite.
Mum is now left with no option, and I see her start to part her mouth. Toby is angry and shouts her down. Aunt Pauline closes her eyes, unwilling to witness the end of any likelihood there is save the world. There is some sort of commotion now, inside and outside.
“The book,” mum calls out aloud, “It is called the ‘Decenternet”.
Now all eyes are on her. Who has it?
Rainwater is pooling up the window, any second now. Will she give up the secret and damn humanity? It is a tense two or three seconds before she again starts to open her mouth
Meanwhile the stampede is intensifying, inside and outside as the window well darkens, an obscure shadow above it. The kids are screaming, nobody has bothered about them until now, with more pressing issues at hand….
It is in the midst of that stampede as everybody begins to scream, some at mum, others in fear of the vibrating house that is certain break any time, that a voice shrill and loud cuts in,
“Yes! I have got it!”
Everybody now as though programmed, turns to Kim, speechless at first, got what? The book?
“I have got the Decenternet back,” Kim explains, “I have got it back. Ann was right. The password is the Block, the block, …the block chain”, he excitedly stammers.
Speaking atop his voice, and swallowing his word as he tries to explain everything at once, Kim now turns and rolls the computer towards everyone, lowering the side board to set the projector. It is an understatement to say that everyone is motionless. How and when did Kim even get the computer to power up? Nothing electronic has worked in the last two days.
The first person to speak up is Toby, the carpenter.
“Are you sure we are not being tracked? That is how they found us…”
“Decenternet is secure, and surveillance proof”, the fired up Kim rants, pointing up on the wall.
“It uses the Osiris, a fast and secure browser”
Like a teacher explaining a difficult concept to his students, Kim continues,
“And it runs on Anuvys Operating system not windows. Designed to protect our freedom and privacy”
With the mention of windows, my eyes turn to the window well, it is a simultaneous reaction from everyone. And there the unbelievable is seen. The window is clear as light! It is happening. The electronics are back on. We didn’t even realize the lights inside are back on. Tears are now on everybody’s eyes…
It is time to try and establish contact with whatever is left of humanity elsewhere. Up on the browser, I see Kim type, Liberty Search engine, and he types away:
“the internet is defeated; the gnomes are overcome. Is anybody out there?” He presses enter….
There, at an unbelievable speed, hundreds of results are thrown on the screen. Everybody is marveled, and now clapping and ululating at their loudest...I join the chorus and shout my lungs out....
That is when i feel a heavy tap on on my shoulders,
It is Stephen, my best friend and course mate
As my eyes adjust to my surrounding, i realize i am surrounded by my classmates in the University auditorium,
"Are you okay?" the looks ask. Of course i am not. I have just been woken from a dream.
"You better wake up," Stephen now says, taking his seat next to me, as the group breaks up, and each person returns to their seat. Apparently i have been shouting Kim's name
"Don't worry, " Stephen pats my back, a smile curving on his lips, "Sean Kim is about to present the Decenternet White paper.. The future is here!"
This my entry into the Tell A Story To Me, And Win 5 SBD! Writing Contest #8 by @calluna. Here is a link to the post with more details LINK
Notice - This is only fiction, and the story is not done in affiliation or under the sponsorship of anybody or organization. Read it for entertainment and information purposes
Much love, Larmbert