Archive Footage

She doesn’t remember, when she’s awake.

That’s not precisely true, though, and Ivy won’t stand for anything less than accuracy. Say, rather, while she’s awake, none of it was her. She can tell you dates, and places, and body counts, she can list for you the exact circumstances of each event of her long, long life (at least, every event since that time, long ago, among a maze of bookshelves in a library that, awake, she can no longer describe to you, though once she knew its every turn by heart, when a woman stood over her and offered her eternity: before that, there is nothing at all). But all of it is as if it were something she read, or heard of: catalogues of names, lists of dates, archived footage in the library of her head.

None of it was her, and none of it means anything. Ask, and she will tell you: she is search engine, encyclopaedia, almanac, index. She is not the reader, but the book, a library of books, each waiting its turn on the dusty shelves of an endless archive, centuries in the building.

Asleep, she is no longer the archive, nor the archivist. The landscape she wanders is no longer the quiet, dusty order of bookshelves, history is no longer locked in parchment, bound by pixels, but floods through her, and every moment of it she feels, and the crushing weight of millennia of experience weighs down on her until she wakes, screaming –

– all of it forgotten.

She doesn’t remember even that she has dreamed.

Waking, she wanders the corridors of a ship that every morning is a new discovery to her, though she knows every inch of it like the back of her hand: schematics, blueprints, invoices for parts, wait behind her eyes, cataloguing the history of every rivet. Ivy Alexandria, archivist of the Aurora, has walked these corridors ten thousand times and more: has been aboard centuries, as the ship’s log (gigabytes in the ship’s servers, as many duplicated inside her head) can tell her; but Ivy, this morning’s Ivy (as every morning’s Ivy), walks these corridors as if she has never seen them before.

And every night, she dreams.

Fire around her, ash drifting, floating through the air like snow, the smell of smoke all around as she runs through the stacks, seizing texts at random from the shelves around her, tears streaming down her face; and not only from the smoke that stings her eyes. All the books are burning, all around her, and she can only save so few. She runs, weeping, as a figure strides out of the smoke towards her, the hem of his coat smouldering, reflected firelight glinting in the glass lenses where his eyes should be. He seizes her arm and pulls her away, and she cannot fight him without dropping the books she holds, though she twists in his grip – if she can only pull away, get back to the books, perhaps she can still save them – but she is choking on the smoke, blinded by smoke and tears, and he guides her out through the flames as the books burn all around them, and she hates him fiercely in that moment, for letting them burn.

There are dead bodies all around, floating mummified in the vacuum, and in space no-one can hear you scream but there is no-one left alive to scream, only corpses tapping on the windows.

Earthrise, on the surface, if she were up there to see, but she is down in the tunnels, and the air is thick and smoky in her lungs, almost devoid of oxygen – the filters malfunction, sometimes it doesn’t even take a gas attack to suffocate the soldiers fighting down here – and she is running, running, and she doesn’t understand why anyone would think this fun (Who does? She knows someone does, someone important, but all her mind offers her is the scent of smoke, the echo of a laugh, vague outline of a bearded face). She isn’t even sure where she’s running from, or to, but there is gunfire behind and so she doesn’t stop; until the explosion that knocks her off her feet and sends her flying against the tunnel wall.

She opens her eyes and they sting, goes to wipe them with a hand but it hurts to move and she doesn’t know why and she tastes blood in her mouth and that’s probably what’s in her eyes as well, and a blurry shouting figure steps over her, and sprints off down the corridor, and everything fades to black again.

Nuclear wasteland, charred fragments of walls, twisted girders pointing accusingly to the sky, shadows on the walls cast by nothing, and perhaps grass will grow among the rubble someday, but now there is nothing here, nothing that moves among the ruins, and if that is true only of this city, or if this whole planet has died screaming she doesn’t know, cannot know, for her in this moment this is all that exists, the totality of the universe is this desolation, and the rainclouds gathering above.

There is blood on the tiles, and she stumbles over a corpse’s pale hand, outstretched on the ground: her eyes follow it up to the shoulder, take in the ruin of its face, the blood matting in its hair. Up ahead come more shouts and gunshots, and she stands ready to defend herself, but no more soldiers come, there are only corpses, uniformed, uniform: all red hair and red blood. Voices up ahead, arguing, and she follows them: blood on the tiles, and sweeps of metal, wires and pipes and needles and tubes and in the midst of it all, Ivy just has time to see before she ducks and flinches as there is the crack of a gun and sparks fly from the machinery, a woman hanging.

Slumped against a wall in a deserted hall, her leg a mess of blood, she cannot stand and doesn’t know where she would walk to if she could.

A world explodes below the hull of their fleeing ship; a rush of fire in the void and a billion lives snuffed out in an instant.

A dead kitten, lying at the foot of a staircase.

A dying soldier, bleeding out in a muddy field, and she kneels beside him and he clutches at her hand as he dies, and she doesn’t know his name or what he is dying for, only that he is dying, and only she there to witness it.

Death and death and death and everything dies in the end except us and who are we and who am I, this she who stands witness to all of it, never knowing why, or even when or where, only that this is?

Waking, she knows the order of the past, the bones of it, the dates, the numbers, the names, the places; and she thinks she knows all there is to know of the past. And the present, she sees, she hears, she touches, tastes, smells, feels: that is what the present is for, the moment that is the only moment, the only experience, that she must absorb every facet of, because it is the one, the only now. There is no past but the chronicles, no future to speak of: there is only now, and she lives it to its fullest and is glad of it.

Sleeping, there is no order; no clean annal, sharp-edged and well-defined; black ink on white paper. No index to order the moments, and they pile upon her, centuries of nows, a mountain of moments, an endless tide spilling over her; a tsunami of experience that crashes down on her, crushing her under its flood, drowning her in memory.

And then she wakes, and it is morning, and it is now, and now is all there is, all there ever is or was or will be: starlight through the porthole and twisted sweat-soaked sheets and stacks of books all around and a kitten asleep in a nest made from a pile of star charts atop a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare, and it is the first morning she has ever met, and so she laughs as she leaps up from a tangle of sheets to greet it.