Letter to Mars

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

The Archivist writes a letter to Mars.

For Fortnightly Prompts: If only the fortune cookie was different




Since you asked, I will tell you about the place that I work.

The Library is a massive building, windowless, blocky, imposing. Cast from the Lunar regolith, mottled, grayish-white, where it is worn with age its pitted surfaces grow lighter, the subsurface of the casting being less oxidized than the outer casing. Unlike anything else in the dome, a place that strives to seem earth-like wherever possible, redolent with plant and animal life, the library is alien, lunar and, if you get close to its walls, it smells faintly of gunpowder.

Eight stories tall and just as wide and deep, it strives to hold the appearance of a cube. But, time has worn away the edges, softened its features, so it is often called The Rock or the Bulwark. It has no doors, no ornaments and the few hints of its man-made origins (the seams of casting and 3D printing) have faded so far that many of our children are surprised to learn that it was not a natural Lunar object; that the dome was simply built around. 

It's true that our ancestors built The Library first, and then the dome. But, they built them both. How could they not? "Our bodies are a Library of Man and our gardens a Library of life and in The Rock, our charge, the Library of human knowledge."

The only way to enter The Library is from below. And inside? Everything. Such as it is.

I am Archivist. And like the last archivist my task is to catalog, preserve and document all of the written treasures of earth. It is a task of great honor. And yet--

Knowing so much about what earth was really like can be... difficult. You see, we don't really teach much about earth history beyond the basics, the Lunar history is just so much more relevant. (And perhaps, now, so too can be the history of the Martian effort!) And while everyone knows that "someday we shall return" I don't think that many people really think that will apply to them. In fact, the earth is seen more as a place of folly, our groundling ancestors too selfish and short-sighted to even keep the planet habitable. And the photos and movies of earth people and hard to relate to. Perhaps, it's a failing in me as Archivist that I don't feel any romance for the place. But, simply, I don't. Is it the same with you?

Maybe, this is more understandable if you knew that so much of my time is spent studying what is basically garbage. Most of my fellow moonfolk aren't aware of this even if it isn't really a secret (the easiest way to keep a secret is not to hide it but to simply make it seem so boring that it is forgotten) but the material procured for our Great Library... was done so in haste. We have nearly all of the books from the library of ONE small radical fundamentalist college, (so, our science section is filled with nonsense, in fact all of the sections are) along with stacks of newspapers and paperbacks, probably from some of the original traveler's homes. Far too many books filled with sports statistics and recipes for foods that simply no longer exist. And the trash heap. It's all paper trash with writing on it. Cereal boxes and gum wrappers, old take-out menus and "for sale" signs from notice boards.

I can only imagine that in the haste of the evacuation it was the best they could do... to pack the walls and the empty spaces in the pods with whatever they could find and leave it to us to piece back together what had become of the earth. 

And it's all that we have of ... so many civilizations. There are whole languages that I only know through a single User's Manual for an automatic rice maker or vacuum cleaner. This is why I had spent years of my life finding and cataloging every "fortune" I could find.

You see, on the back of the fortunes it invites to you "learn Chinese" and we have so little Chinese text to work with. I have found 38,296 fortunes. Of these only 1,038 are unique. They use 8 varieties of ink, come in 15 distinct sizes and it is possible using our sensitive dating machine to place them in chronological order and to attribute groups to 6 to 11 factories, 7 of which, based on the isotopes, were likely in what was then the United States. It's harder to place those not from the US, though, I think 2 must be from Mexico due to a commonality in the typefaces. 

What's fascinating, is that for all the variation in production, the factories copied off of each other relentlessly. Recycling little bits of wisdom and dubious Chinese translations. And, among all of these scraps of paper there is only one fortune that is unique. 

The paper is unlike any of the others, it's a thicker kind of paper, made of cotton with bits of wool impurities.  At first I just thought it was from a fancy restaurant. The ink, as much of it as we have, isn't from any sort of home printer though, it is letterpressed, like the wedding invitations I've sometimes preserved. And... it's torn in at least 3 pieces.  And I only have one:


I have always hoped that the other parts are somewhere in the garbage that remains to be processed. This little sparkle of hope keeps me motivated as I pick through the piles of matted yellowed text. As I hydrate and tease apart layers of burger wrappers and notices of eviction. 

It's not unlikely! All of our literary treasures (outside of the college Libarary books) were taken from the same landfill. The process of packing the paper in to the free spaces in the pods separated caches of debris from each other. Bad Archeology. So, when I work I think about what the rest of the sentence might be. 

My late tutor, the former Archivist, once suggested that it was not a fortune at all. But, on the back there are the Lucky Numbers: and part of The Joke: "What do you call a man who..." and what I can only assume is a totally new word in "Learn Chinese" --

So, that is a bit about my life, dear friend, and my work such as it is. I look forward to your missive from Mars.

What is your Library like? Did you ever chat like this with the last Archivist?



Still delighted to have discovered you,


Submitted: November 24, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.

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LE. Berry

Enjoyed this piece Susan.

Tue, November 24th, 2020 10:49pm

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