FOUR: OLD WORLD BLUES
Tethys Edict 210.3.1a: Anything placed into the Museum of the Forgotten, tangible or intangible, mechanical, intellectual, literary or otherwise, will immediately be removed from the memory of any citizen or body of citizens.
I'm too excited to wait. Right now, I am sitting in my bunk with the lamp on and my ink-bottle balanced on a book by my hip. It's somewhere around midnight, and really I should be asleep – but tomorrow is just too far away for me to put this off until morning. I'd still be at my desk, but the ghosts insisted I go to bed. They're taking this whole 'invalid' thing a bit too seriously, in my opinion. I mean, as long as I don't run any races, my leg's going to heal whether or not I'm awake, isn't it?
Oh, no, that sounds too harsh. I shouldn't complain about it. It shows they care, and I think the idea of injury is especially horrifying to them, since so many years have passed since they were last capable of being wounded.
Well, speaking of ghosts! Let's pick up right where we left off.
I stared. Things had just got very strange very quickly, and it seemed they were only going to get stranger: this man was―
“The Founder?” I asked, incredulous. “You're – you're the Founder?”
“As I live and breathe,” he replied, and when I didn't laugh he sighed. “A joke. I do apologise. I was no good at those in life, either.”
“And … you're dead,” I said.
“Correct,” replied Maxie. “You didn't think I'd still be alive, did you?” He held out a hand for me to shake. “Let me start over. Maxim Veselov, leader of Team Magma, Founder of the city of Tethys, approximately five hundred and fifty years deceased. You can call me Maxie.”
Tentatively, wondering if I would go straight through him, I shook his hand. It was surprisingly solid, but didn't feel like flesh. Too cold, and too hard.
“Avice Amrit dol' Tethys,” I answered. “Er – Legal Apprentice, I guess.”
“Naming conventions have moved on, I see,” he said. “Which of those do I call you by?”
“Avice. It's a pleasure to meet you, Avice, and I mean that wholeheartedly. This” – Maxie waved a hand at the room – “is not somewhere that very many people visit. I think you're the first proper visitor I've had in, oh, two hundred years or so. Has it been that long?” he added, distractedly. “Good God … it's a wonder I haven't gone mad. Perhaps I have – but never mind about that. Avice. Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I said. It was easier than asking him how any of this was possible.
“What brings you down here?” He folded his arms. “I'm somewhat out of touch with affairs up in – do you call it Chimney, these days? – yes, in Chimney, but I'm almost certain that the Museum of the Forgotten is supposed to be out of bounds.”
My eyes widened.
“The Museum of the Forgotten?”
“Yes. You didn't know?” Maxie smiled and went to the far door. “Would you like to see?”
The Museum of the Forgotten! How could I resist? Certainly, I was a little terrified – I'd heard the stories, you know, as we all had; about how the Museum stole memories, how anything that spent too long in there vanished from history and all – but I had heard the other stories too, the ones that librarians tell each other in secret. I had heard about the books to be found here, telling the history and legends of the old world; about the thinking engines, machines like those that ran the synthesis plant; about the plastic eggs, into which pokémon could be implanted for easy transport when there were difficult journeys to be made. Reader, you may have noticed that I seem to know a lot about the past; well, I've been writing this with the stuff of the old world piled up around me, books and pokédexes and other things I haven't yet figured out what to call. You might call me a historian now. All that had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was there – in that room two years ago, curious, confused, and with a voice that seemed to have disappeared.
I nodded mutely, and Maxie raised his eyebrows.
“Really,” he said. “You're that kind of person, are you? Now that – that could be useful.” He opened the door and beckoned me. “Come on, then,” he said. “Down here.”
Almost without thinking, I followed Maxie out into the hall, and down a flight of iron stairs into the belly of the Museum.
“Here we are,” he announced, flicking a switch on the wall. “The graveyard of history.”
Fluorescent lights of a kind I didn't recognise clunked on, one by one, and the Museum appeared: shelves, cabinets, mounds of the past, stretching out to the left and right all the way to walls that seemed as far apart as those of Long Hill Atrium. Teetering stacks of books rose to implausible heights, held in place by yellowing string; ranks of exotic clothes, in colours and materials I had never seen before, swung to and fro on metal bars; heaps of shoes, engines, models, devices for which I had no name and no point of reference crowded in all around me, five hundred years and more of history pressing in on my vision at every turn.
I had to grab hold of the doorjamb so as not to fall over at the sight of it.
“'Sflukes,” I whispered, trying to look at everything at once and failing miserably. “I mean – just – drown 'em …”
Maxie smiled again.
“I didn't quite expect that,” he said. “But then, it's been a long time since anyone came here who was brave enough to see this place. Do you know, when those policeman types bring things down here, they wear masks with tiny eye holes so they won't accidentally see anything intellectually stimulating?” The savagery in his voice brought me out of my trance, and with some effort I managed to stop looking at the Museum and start looking at him. “They're fools,” he said, bitterly. “Fools. When I brought you people down here, I never – I mean, I only―”
He twitched his fingers, curling and uncurling them with some suppressed emotion, and sighed.
“Do excuse me,” he said. “It's terribly lonely down here. One gets so bitter.” He cleared his throat. “But now I have a guest. How should I … yes, I suppose that first. Will you be staying long?” he asked. “I think we might have some questions to ask of each other, of course, and you may want a tour of my lodgings as well, but unless things have changed dramatically in the last few decades, you probably aren't supposed to be here. I wouldn't want you to get caught. I don't know what the so-called Administration might do to you, but I'd bet rather a lot that it might be more than a rap on the knuckles.”
I didn't understand all of what he'd just said, but I'd got enough to bring me back to reality. How long had I been wandering the corridors? An hour or so, I thought. And how much longer before I had to be back? I was supposed to be joining some other Apprentices for a study session at six. My watch said it was a little past four now, and I wasn't sure of my way back. I'd have to leave in less than half an hour.
“I can't stay long,” I said reluctantly. “They'll notice I'm gone. But – oh, storm's teeth, there's so much I want to say!”
“You and me both, believe me,” said Maxie. “How long can you stay?”
“Not more than twenty-five minutes.”
His shoulders twitched, but did not slump. He always carried himself very well, did Maxie. Still does. I'm not sure if ghosts can even get back pain, but I can't imagine Maxie ever does.
“That's no time at all,” he said. “The Museum, as you call it, takes at least forty minutes to see in its entirety – and if you wanted to look at all the things in it, you'd need weeks.” He sighed. “Can I at least speak to you a little before you go?” he asked, not quite able to suppress the plaintive note in his voice. “There's a room behind the study upstairs with a sofa that's hardly uncomfortable at all, and I'm sure I can find you something to drink. And it would be a very efficient use of your time,” he added. “If you only have twenty minutes, you'll find out more from me than from poking around in all that.” He waved a transparent hand at the Museum.
It was a good point that he'd made – but more than that, I'll confess, I pitied him. Once you've been speaking to one for a few minutes, ghosts start to seem rather more normal than you'd expect, and already I was seeing him less as an unexplained manifestation of the supernatural and more as a mournful and very lonely man. I couldn't really refuse him this.
“All right,” I agreed, and with one last longing look at the Museum I followed him back upstairs to what I now know as the captain's quarters. On the other side of the study, as promised, was a relatively spacious cabin, and well furnished too, with a sofa, table and chairs, and a curtain that screened off the bed I'm writing from. I can glance over to my left and see by the lamplight the very sofa I sat on that day. Maxie was right: it's hardly uncomfortable at all. In some respects it's actually more comfortable than this bed, but there isn't room to lie down on it.
“Excellent, excellent,” said Maxie, once I was seated. “Can I offer you a drink? No? Well, I suppose there isn't time, anyway. I'm certain there must be something drinkable left in here even now, but I wouldn't know where, and it would take me a while to find out.” He sat opposite me, straight-backed, and gave me a look over his glasses that made me faintly uneasy. It was only much later that I realised it was the great-great-great-grandfather of the one in use by Administrators, preserved in a state before its conversion into an intimidation tactic. In Maxie's hands, it was useful for far more than mere intimidation, as I was to discover. “Now,” he said. “Where should we start?”
Good question. There was, I thought, just so much to discuss. But there was one question that seemed to demand an answer right away.
“How are you still here?” I asked. “Are you a ghost?”
“I presume so,” replied Maxie. “Some sort of a lingering presence, anyway. I've always thought of myself as a memory, if only because of where I am.”
I nodded slowly. OK: a ghost. I supposed there was nothing to say that it couldn't happen. Was it any stranger than Aranea's angel, or a man saved from jail by an erotic legend? (Now you're starting to see why I keep on saying that life is absurd.) If anyone was important enough to hang around as a ghost, I guessed, the Founder would be – but that raised another question.
“OK, but why are you here? You're the Founder. And this is …”
“Where memory comes to die,” he said. “Yes.” He was silent for a moment, and I wondered if I should have kept that particular question to myself. “Why do you think I'm here?” he asked at length. “Why is anything in the Museum of the Forgotten here?”
It didn't seem to be a rhetorical question.
“Uh … because it's meant to be forgotten,” I said.
“Close. Who's doing the meaning?”
“What?” I'm used to his dialect now – all the ghosts speak the same antiquated Tethysi – but that was an unclear sentence, and back then I just couldn't parse it. “Who's what?”
“Sorry,” he said. “I assumed, since you're obviously as curious as the proverbial cat, you would already have thought about … well. Never mind. The reason things are put into the Museum is because the Administration decides that they ought be forgotten.” He paused significantly, and I started.
“But you're the Founder―”
“And as such I'm much too dangerous to be commemorated. Do you know why I first brought people down here?”
There was a long silence. I'd always thought the reason was 'so that they didn't drown', but I had a feeling that that might not be what Maxie was after.
“I rest my case.” He looked at me over his glasses again. “Has it ever occurred to you that this is a ridiculous idea for a city, Avice? Why not live on a boat, or an artificial island, or somewhere that isn't at the bottom of the sea?”
I hesitated. It hadn't.
“We were never meant to stay here,” said Maxie. “We weren't even meant to― but you're running out of time. Let me just say that it's a considerable blessing for those who rule Tethys that I and my ideas are forgotten.”
This was outright sedition, and it made my spine tingle with excitement. I'd never heard revolutionary sentiments expressed in anything above a whisper before. Was that really only two years ago? It doesn't seem possible. My nineteen-year-old self seems so young and inexperienced. I suppose I still am young and inexperienced, but still, a lot has happened in those two years. I've sailed to the end of the world and back; I've spoken to gods and danced with kadabra; I've been arrested and beaten up and taken prisoner and worse. It's quite the resume, now I think about it, although I doubt any Tethys employers would be very impressed by it.
I'm joking, of course. There's only one Tethys employer, and it has no need of resumes.
“Can I ask you some questions?” said Maxie. “My news of the city is somewhat outdated.”
“Oh,” I said, blinking. “Uh, sure.”
I told him about the Pirate War and the closure of Underridge, which was at that time being prepared for reopening, and then, at his prompting, about a series of topics that seemed wildly unconnected to me: milk rationing, the latest Edicts, the state of the sergeantry, foreign trade, poetry.
“Interesting,” he said. “And what of yourself? You're a Legal Apprentice, yes?”
I was, and told him moreover that I was also a poet, which made his eyebrows rise extraordinarily far up his forehead.
“That answers for a lot,” he told me. “It's always the people on the margins who find their way here. Those who already have suspicions about the city. Poets, thinkers, librarians … others.”
There was a question hidden in there that I could hardly fail to notice, but I chose not to answer it yet; I'd only known Maxie a few minutes, after all. I responded instead to something else he'd said, and told him my father was a librarian and my mother a pirate.
“It sounds like there's quite a story there,” he replied. “I can't imagine two people less likely to even meet.”
I considered for a moment.
“It was a pretty weird meeting,” I said thoughtfully. “The High Librarian choked a ludicolo with her shoe.”
“Er. All right. What― Christ, the time!” He jumped up. “You must get going,” he said. “But one more thing before you do – when you leave the Museum, you'll start forgetting about it. That means about this visit – and about me.”
“I haven't really left enough time to explain,” said Maxie, ushering me back into the study. “Sorry about that. Just try to remember. Try very hard, or you'll never remember to come back, and I don't think either of us want that.”
“But won't I wonder where the time went?” I asked.
“I'm sure you will,” he said. “And I'm sure you'll rationalise it somehow, just like my last visitor who forgot and never came back, and the one before, and the one before. Why do you think there's no lock on the door?”
I stopped and turned to face him.
“How am I meant to remember, then?” I asked, and it came out a little more pleading than I meant it to. I want to feel bad about that, but I can't. I had just found the Museum of the Forgotten and met our deceased Founder, after all. That's hard information to give up willingly.
Maxie's face softened slightly. It was then, I believe, that he really started to feel the contrast between his five hundred and seventy-eight years and my nineteen. I must have seemed such a child to him – someone totally unready, despite her promising parentage and favourably revolutionary predispositions, to be thrust into his strange half-world of memory and intrigue.
“I don't know,” he said, his voice clear of the usual bitterness. “I wish I did. Please, if you can just try …” He ran out of words, and shrugged. “I'm sorry. This is a harsh place.”
It really was. It was also brutally efficient: when I stepped out of the Museum a few seconds later, after an awkward goodbye, I hadn't even reached the end of the corridor before I caught myself wondering why it was half past four already. By the time I'd turned the corner, I no longer even knew why I was horrified to find myself think that. And by the time I'd reached the next turning, I was just thinking that next time I should keep a closer eye on the time. I didn't want people finding out that I was still searching for Aranea, after all.
Yes, I forgot. Just like that. There was no great battle over my memory – the whole thing was over before I even realised it was happening. I don't blame myself; I gave the Museum its power over me without knowing what I was doing, and there's no tougher enemy than the one that lives in your own head.
So life went on, more or less. I watched Moll battle, I wrote my essays, I composed secret poetry. If I thought of the Museum, maybe it felt a little more relevant than before, as if the idea of it had solidified somehow in my head, but of Maxie and his junkyard kingdom I remembered nothing.
I know now how the Museum works: you don't remember it because you are told that you won't remember it, that it's impossible to know anything inside it, that even to think too much about the contradiction of 'museum' and 'forgotten' poses a danger to your memory. Back then, Tethys was so alone – a bubble of steel and glass at the bottom of the sea. Foreigners came no deeper into the city than the docks, and their ideas never got any further than the port taverns. Our sailors went abroad, it was true – but they were cycled in and out of service, kept at home for months in between each voyage. The system was truly monolithic, and in its vastness it was unassailable. Even the Administrators were trapped in it – I seriously doubt any of them knew how the Museum worked, or that the Founder was down there. All they knew was that the way their predecessors had done things was the way that things were done, and in this tautologous way the city persisted, motionless in thought and imagination. Oyster-like, Tethys rooted itself to the seabed, closed itself in a shell of stagnation; oyster-like, it trapped internal threats inside a pearl, burying them in the Museum.
I learned this much later, from Maxie – for as you must have worked out by now, I did eventually come back. I'm here right now, although I'm not sure I'd call it the Museum any more. It's a bit more free-floating than it ever was before, for one thing. Then again, it does still carry that touch of magic, firming up ghosts and binding memory. Maybe in some way it is still the Museum. Stranger things have been known.
Anyway, that's by the by. As I was saying, life went on, and I kept on not remembering. Days passed – weeks – and nothing changed. I can only imagine how Maxie felt when each day ended and I didn't return. He must have been used to disappointment, but still … I remember the look on his face when I eventually did come back. It was so much more than just relief.
But a week before then, a week before our reunion and a month before my first meeting with the Museum's curator, I didn't even know his name. I wasn't even thinking about the Museum – I was thinking about Astrea Francesca dol' Tethys, another Legal Apprentice with whom I was supposed to be preparing a presentation that week, and who I didn't much like on the grounds that she didn't much like me, either. I can't think what I'd done to irritate her – exist in the same city as her, presumably – but whatever it was, she and I did not get along, and our project wasn't exactly progressing well. That morning, coming out of the shower, I was wondering if maybe I ought to give in to her demand that we include the 496 case study so that she'd have to grant my counter-demand that we reference the Yellow Edicts. (Don't ask. Both of those are much more boring than they sound.) And from nowhere, in the middle of doing so, a thought popped into my head:
Huh. The librarians were right.
It was so odd that I stopped halfway out of the shower, utterly nonplussed. What were the librarians right about? And why was my brain shying away from thinking about it? When I tried to puzzle it out, my thoughts seemed to move around the topic in circles without actually approaching it. Curious and by this point fairly irritated, I raised the towel to my head to dry my hair – and saw on my arm the splodge of a birthmark that the librarians, all those years ago, had said looked like the Founder.
It did look like the Founder, I realised. And I knew that it did because …
I dropped the towel, stepped backwards in shock and slipped on the tiles, landing back in the shower with much more force than I was happy with. I had discovered one of the fundamental rules of life – that epiphanies are best had outside of the bathroom, something that I'm told a man called Archimedes discovered several thousand years before me – but though I'd hit my elbow and made my arm numb and though I would later find exquisitely painful bruises on my side in more or less the same shape as the tap, I was filled with wonder and delight: I remembered the Museum!
As soon as it came, however, my elation passed. Would I forget it again? I had to write it down! I scrambled to my feet, grossly underestimated how painful my leg was and fell over again; with that second blow all the pain seemed to come into focus, and I took the second attempt at getting up at a more sedate pace, punctuated by a steady stream of oaths that would have shamed Moll's parents in their sailor days. I scribbled THE FOUNDER'S NAME IS MAXIE in the condensation in the mirror with my finger, hoping that would do until I got back to my dormitory and could get some paper, then dried myself as quickly as my new bruises could stand. When at last I was dressed again, I realised I had to remember something, and had a moment of panic when I couldn't recall it – but then, as the mirror steamed up again, my writing came back into view, and the memory returned. I wiped the message away carefully, in case anyone else should read it and get suspicious, and limped off as fast as I
Sorry about that! There are, if your edition of this doesn't reproduce them, three ruined pages and several hours between my last words and these. I got maybe a little too excited last night, and in my haste to write everything down I knocked over the ink-bottle. Among the casualties were: several hundred words of this history; my bedsheets, which will probably bear the mark forever; my leg, which will probably bear the mark for days; and all the clean dressings on my wound, for destroying which all the ghosts are furious with me today.
There's no one like a group of quintacentenarians to make you feel like a naughty child.
Anyway. I swore, very loudly, and in my efforts to get up and out of bed attracted their attention – not to mention their wrath. I should have been resting! I shouldn't have had the ink so close and in such an unstable position! And so on and so forth. Honestly, I feel about six. They're right, of course, but they don't have to be so condescending about it.
Or maybe I'm being too harsh on them. They're old, after all, for all that they still look young. (A nasty thought: the youngest of them wasn't much older than me when he died.) And they've long since lost bodies of their own that can be harmed. It shouldn't surprise me that they're so protective of mine – the only living body between us all on this ship.
They'll come around. I'll apologise to them. I should have waited until today before starting to write. If there's one thing I've learned over the past two years, it's that there are times to make a stand and times to back down, and this is definitely not the time to make a stand.
But I'm getting off the point again. It's morning now, and the keening wind, as far as I can tell, has passed. At least, the lamps are showing no sign of red above us, so we're tentatively heading for the surface. We'll see sunset tonight. I'm back in my study, with a new bottle of ink and a freshly-bandaged leg, and you, dear reader, are wherever you are now, probably silently judging me for my impatience. Don't be too harsh. I've learned my lesson: historians, especially wounded ones surrounded by overprotective ghosts, have to take things slowly.
Picking up where we left off: I'd remembered the Museum, and as I wrote down everything I could about it in the back of one of my poetry notebooks, I knew I had to find a way of getting back there, and for a longer period of time. I needed a day or more to learn a little about what was down there – and about what the Founder was up to. Sure, I was inexperienced back then, but I could tell when someone had an agenda, and he certainly had one. He wanted to be freed, of course, and he wanted company, but there was more to it than that. Whatever his plan had been, the one that made him so dangerous he had to be forgotten, I was absolutely certain that he still wanted to carry it out.
All this meant that I had to get down there again, and my chance came at the next Quiet Day. I told Moll and Virgil I was off to visit my father – it was his birthday next week, but since my schedule meant I would miss it, visiting him now made perfect sense. (Before you start accusing me, yes, I did actually visit my father to celebrate the birthday rituals another time. I'm not quite that bad a daughter.) They accepted the story, since they had no reason not to, and just like that I was free. I could have told them, I suppose – or I could have told Moll, anyway. I didn't share secrets with Virgil like I shared them with her. But I didn't. I wanted to learn more first, and I wanted to make sure that the Founder's plan wasn't something bad for the whole city as well as for the Administration. There was a chance, after all, that he had been trapped down there not for some noble ideal but for some genuine crime. If he had, I promised myself, I would leave and let the Museum do its work on me. I would not be the one to destroy my home city, no matter what I thought of its government.
So off I went, back down through the corridors to the place where I thought the Museum was, and luckily I was more or less right – it took only about twenty minutes of confusion before I managed to find the turning again. I pressed the button, stepped through the airlock, and almost collided with Maxie, who had started out of his chair in surprise.
'Sflukes, if you could have seen him then! He hadn't even dared hope I might find my way back, I could tell. He kept taking off his glasses and putting them back on again, as if he wasn't sure whether or not I was really there.
“You've returned,” he said, after a minute had passed in rather awkward silence. “You …” A little twitch ran through him and he drew himself back up into his habitual composure. “Excellent. We've much to discuss. First, I think, the grand tour!”
The Museum, as I learned then and you must have worked out already, was a ship: Maxie's ship, in fact, the Alcmene from the history books, which bore so many people to safety to Tethys when the waters were rising.
“I've no idea why they called it that,” Maxie told me. “It wasn't mine. I took it off a – a friend of mine after he died. He'd made some … interesting customisations, as you'll find out if you ever see this thing from the outside. Anyway, it isn't really the Alcmene now. It's just the Museum.”
It was an impressive vessel, even back then when it sat lifeless under the city: big enough to transport a small army, which was I suppose one reason why Maxie's friend took it, and still in good shape. We saw the bridge, the cabins, the engine room, and all looked old, but definitely still functional. Even the glass over Maxie's sarcophagus, in the little crypt at the back of the ship, was intact and free from dust. Beneath it, his corpse lay in state in a glass-topped sarcophagus, nothing now but bones and a tarnished pair of spectacles.
“It's rather hard on the ego, watching yourself dissolve over the years like that,” he remarked, as we looked at the fatal crack in his skull. “But there I am: the Founder of Tethys, the reason that so many people survived the end of the world, slowly crumbling into dust in a glass case.”
I stared, fascinated. Perhaps you think that's morbid, but really, there's nothing so very bad about bones. There are a couple of hundred of them inside me right now, and inside you too. It's a Tethys thing, I think. We never were very concerned about bits of dead body. Possibly the old civic anthem had something to do with it: We will give our blood and sinews, and all that.
“How is this place still functioning?” I asked. “Shouldn't it have fallen apart by now?”
“It should,” he agreed. “You have Edie to thank for that. She built a rough replica of one of the synthesis machines you have in Tethys, and scavenges stuff for it to turn into supplies. Keeping the Museum functioning is her life's work.”
“Edie?” I looked up from the bones, surprised. “You're not alone in here?”
“In a manner of speaking,” said Maxie. “Edie is the Museum's curator. She tolerates me mostly as an exhibit, I think.” He sighed. “She can see me, but she isn't human. How can I explain … I don't suppose you know what a computer is?”
“Nope,” I answered. “What is it?”
“Er … we'll leave that one for the time being,” he said. “I don't think I can explain it without demonstrating. For now – well, Edie is suspicious of people. When people bring things down here, they haven't always been kind to her. I don't know what they think she is, but they clearly think this is the best place for her. The first few times she came out to greet them. That was before they started throwing things.”
It didn't surprise me. I thought I might have thrown things, if an unknown computer or whatever rushed up out of the depths of Tethys' forbidden Museum. Not that I told him that.
From there, we moved on to the Museum proper: the vast quantity of stuff that had accumulated in the ship's hold. This is a history, not a catalogue of the Museum; there just isn't space for me to detail everything this place contains. But I do have a catalogue – scrupulously maintained by Edie for the last five hundred years – and I can copy out some entries for you. 'Pokédex, slightly worn, three (3)' – well, you know about them. I was consulting one yesterday about the dragonair. 'Hoenn Year in Review, 2014, ed. by Jasper Monkwood, one (1)' – the number of books that had the word 'Hoenn' in was enormous. I think it was actually a criterion for banning: if a book referenced in any way the name of the old country, the Administrators shoved it in here. I'm almost tempted to call myself Avice Amrit dol' Hoenn, just to rub in what I've done.
Actually, that's not a bad idea. Dol' Hoenn. Something to think about.
But back to the catalogue. 'Chest containing six (6) dresses, three (3) scarves, one (1) pair white heeled shoes' – believe it or not, these were some of the most exciting things the Museum had to offer. I'd spent my whole life in one – well, two, I guess – suits of clothing: the uniform of Tethys. The only time I ever even saw any other clothes was when I was at the docks and there were foreigners about. And here were all the styles and colours of the old world, clothes I'd never even heard of in cuts and shapes utterly unfamiliar to me – can you believe, dear reader, that I didn't even know what a dress was until then? They weren't part of the uniform: the knowledge was dead. It seems incredible now even to me, sitting here wearing the third of the six dresses this catalogue entry mentions. (It's purple. Not red, not black, purple. It's amazing, and if I were a less serious historian I might have to paste a picture into the book to show you.)
'Pokémon Centre computer, five (5)' – one of those brought Edie over, I think, stuck in a corner of the old box network as a few roaming lines of code. 'Teapot, porcelain, forty-seven (47) – do you know how many teapots were thrown in here after tea became the sole preserve of the city elite? More than I know what to do with. 'Ink pens, nine thousand seven hundred and twelve (9,712)' – I don't even know why those were banned! What was so dangerous about stationery? Why were we only allowed ballpoints and pencils in Tethys? 'Collected Poems and Translations, Veronica Forrest-Thomson' – all right, I'll stop. I could go on. There's so much in here, so many treasures and secrets and fragments of the glittering world of sun and solid earth that reigned before the ocean closed over it. That day was my first look at it all, and the first time that I realised what we'd lost – worse, what we had thrown away.
“This one's probably of some interest,” Maxie said, picking something small and oblong up from a table. “It tells you more about the old world than anything else here.” He handed it to me, and one side of it lit up with a string of letters and numbers:
Monday 5th December
“Almost perfect,” he said. “It should give you the year there, but it seems it can't calculate it. It was never designed to last this long. It wouldn't have without Edie's help.”
“What is it?” I asked him.
“Do you still have the intercom?” he asked. I nodded. “It's that, but in your pocket, and potentially to anywhere in the world,” he said. “It can capture images, too – like, er, a perfect drawing, or a memory – or record sounds, and send them across the world too. Text, as well. It also allows access to a great shared storehouse of information, connecting users right across the globe.” He sighed. “Or it did. The people and places that maintained the network are long gone now. Er – are you all right?”
I wasn't. I was actually crying a little – silly, yes, but imagine what it must have been like then! Everyone connected, across continents, across worlds; imagine the conversations, the loves, the art that was made. Imagine the stories.
And imagine us, our Tethys, the greatest city in the known world, throwing all of this away, leaving it to rot in the ashcan of history.
I imagined, back then, and it felt to me like we were killing ourselves.
I expect that's how Maxie intended me to feel.
But let's leave his crimes for the proper time. I put the phone down, and Maxie patted me awkwardly on the arm. As reassuring gestures go, it was pretty dire, but I did at least get the point.
“Sorry,” I said, blinking hard and dabbing at my eyes. “I just, uh – it's a lot, you know. A lot to take in, and a lot to have lost.”
He nodded solemnly.
“It is,” he said. “But it doesn't have to stay this way.” He motioned me over to a corner between two bookcases where a couple of antique chairs had been laid out. “You're the first person ever to make it back here,” he told me, sitting down. “I don't know why, but I'll take it as an omen of something rather special.”
“Something special,” I repeated, not quite comprehending.
“I'm forgotten because I'm dangerous to Tethys as it is,” Maxie said. “I'm forgotten, Avice, because I never intended to leave the human race at the bottom of the ocean. I had a plan, when I was alive – a plan that was nearly finished when that blasted starmie put a hole in my head.” For an instant, then, I thought I could make out a gaping wound on his brow – but it vanished as quickly as it appeared. “I had all the materials ready,” he went on. “I have them still, actually, or at least they're within the city. All I had to do was to put everything in motion.”
“Put what in motion?”
Maxie gave me a look so long and so severe I started to wonder if he hadn't wanted a prompt.
“To end the flood,” he announced, at length. “My plan, Avice, was to bring back the land.” He leaned forward, eyes alight with passion. “And now that you're here, I think I might at last be able to do it.”
Bring back the land! Maybe it seems absurd to you now, dear reader – maybe you now live in a world of verdant forests and sunny pastures – but right then, untold fathoms below sea level, having never even seen the sun, I was struck dumb with the ambition of it. There was no land, not any more – or at least, there were only a few islands, the remnants of what had been the tallest mountains before the making over. To bring it back – to have again all the things that you could only really have on dry land – to have buildings, real farms, trees, cows, songbirds, manectric, sunflowers – to have cars, telephones, space rockets, fireworks – to have sunsets and sunrises, and the stars and the moon …
Well, to have all of that would utterly destroy the hold the Administration had over the city, and also Tethys' economic mastery of the known ocean. Perhaps that was why they had first left the Founder to be forgotten, even if in later years they ceased to remember why they had done that or even that they had done it. I believe now that it is apathy and fear that kept Tethys in the dark so long – apathy, fear, and the curse of forgetting. But in the early days, it must have been greed, and when Maxie told me I assumed right away that it still was.
“They're trapping us here,” I said slowly. “The Administrators are … they did this?”
“They took advantage,” Maxie answered. “Archie McLeod, the man you call the Prophet – he did it. It was a – a terrible mistake …” He shook his head slowly. “Do excuse me. It was a hard time to be alive. I will tell you, at some point, but – not now.”
I detected a slight crack in his voice, and didn't dare press him further. I just nodded and filed the name away for a future date. It's a good thing I did: the pause gave me a moment to think, and now that I'd recovered a little from the shock I could think of problems with Maxie's idea. Tide, for instance. It had made this world, and presumably it wouldn't be too happy with those who changed it. Was it even right for anyone to work against it? It had destroyed our old world, yes, but it seemed to govern this new one well enough. As gods go, it wasn't too bad. Surely there was a reason we were taught that the making over was a good thing?
“OK,” I said, slowly. “OK. I … I would have to think about this.”
“Of course,” he said. “Of course. And I wouldn't expect you to make a decision until you were better informed. Better educated, too. But I think it's best to be honest with you about what I hope to achieve.”
Honest, he said. He was never quite that, but I suppose he didn't lie, either.
“My proposal is this,” he continued. “Keep coming here, learn all you like about the past and my plans for the future, provide me with a little company – and when you've learned enough, whether you help or not is your choice. Does that seem fair?”
It did. Whatever happened, I would learn secrets that had gone undreamed-of for centuries. I could definitely see my way to indulging Maxie a little for that kind of reward.
“Sure,” I said. “Deal.”
“Excellent,” he said, and got up. “How much longer can you stay today? There's a world in here, and we've barely scratched its surface.”
So began my second, secret education: the one grabbed in snatches at night and on odd Quiet Days. I couldn't come too regularly, of course, or people would get suspicious – and anyway, I kept forgetting. The Museum's curse still held me, though every time I returned its grip grew a little weaker. I must have been seen or heard a couple of times sneaking through the maintenance corridors, too, because as time went on there seemed to be more activity in that part of the network – and not just routine repairs, either. On my fourth visit I glimpsed a sergeant patrolling with a torch, and only narrowly avoided being seen; on my sixth, I was spotted by another and chased for five minutes through the passages, the ringing clatter of shoes on metal drawing what must have been every sergeant under the Staircase into the chase. Thankfully, I was young and springy and still at heart the same child who'd climbed up the façade of the harbourmaster's office with Moll all those years ago, and managed to stay half a corridor ahead until I got to the safety of the Museum. There I darted through the airlock and the sergeants were on the verge of following me until they forgot how I'd disappeared, and turned back in case I'd slipped down a side passage.
“That sounded close,” said Maxie. “Everything all right?”
“I hope so,” I replied. “I don't think any of the sergeants saw my face.”
His nostrils flared with distaste.
“Sergeants,” he said. “We used to call them grunts. Not very kind, perhaps, but that's what they are. Catspaws of the Administrators.”
These narrow escapes couldn't last, of course. The sergeants may have been grunts, but they were also persistent, and they knew something was up. Weeks passed, and the number of them patrolling the corridors grew. I got better at avoiding them, but I also got cocky – well, can you blame me? Like I said, young and springy. They never even came close to actually catching me, and the Museum's amnesiac spell always protected me in the end.
I was a fool. I should have looked at it from their point of view: here was a mysterious trespasser, no memory of whom remained once she had disappeared. That's enough to set alarm bells ringing in the head of those in the know. It means that that trespasser is entering the Museum of the Forgotten. It means that one of Tethys' most entrenched laws is being broken.
But what did I care? I was too busy having fun. I learned about the city's founding: how Maxie had led an organisation named Magma; how, when the waters began to rise, he started to bring people to the safety of the Magma headquarters, which was buried deep in the flank of a great mountain; how, when it looked like even that mountain would be swallowed by the ocean, he had a sealed dock constructed outside it and brought the Alcmene there on the crest of the rising waves. The Magma base, he told me, was what we now called Chimney, after the name of the drowned mountain. The dock was extended, and eventually became the Grand Staircase and Founder's Atrium at its foot; by the time that was done, Maxie had been killed by a starmie that had gone berserk after floating through a sunken city and sampling human garbage never intended to meet its stomach. The Alcmene was shunted into a new dock, more out of the way, and slowly Tethys settled in to life as powerful city-state, and to half a millennium of forgetting.
And I met Edie, too – and what was more delightful than that? I loved her on sight, and I love her still now. I understand, now, what it is that keeps Moll and Chubb together underneath their antagonism. Pokémon predate our sea gods, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had their origin in some other divine designer: they complement humans too well for chance. They and we bond like nothing else in nature.
It was while Maxie was telling me the Museum's history that she drifted into the room that day, watching quietly for a little while before drawing near. Maxie had told me to be careful not to alarm her, so I kept talking with him as she approached, but my eyes were on her. I'd never seen anything like her: she didn't seem to be made of any material I had ever seen before, and I even had doubts about whether she was real. She was almost like an incredibly skilful drawing that had been made on top of reality – a sketch of a simplified bird executed in long lines of brown and green.
After a little while, she emitted a strange chiming sound, like the noises a pokédex makes if you were to make them into a little tune, and an oblong speech bubble materialised above her head with a question mark in it. I couldn't help but jump then, of course, but Maxie held out a pacifying hand.
“She's a hologram,” he said. “As I explained. This is how she talks.” He turned to Edie, who was looking back and forth between us and blinking rapidly. “Edie, this is Avice. Avice, Edie.”
I crouched down and held out a hand. Edie hesitated for a moment, then drifted closer – and, to my pleasure and surprise, let me rub her head.
“Hail, Edie,” I said, grinning uncontrollably. “Hail … you're pretty, aren't you?”
She made another electronic jingle, though this time without emitting an icon, and pressed her head against my palm.
“Aw … ! How can I touch her?” I asked, glancing up at Maxie. “You said she's made of light.”
“Hard light,” he said. “We had some wondrous machines back then. Porygon like Edie here are some of the finest. Well – porygon2.5, I suppose. There was an upgrade code here in the Museum that she found and installed, and I tried to edit her myself a few hundred years ago. I'd got sick of red and blue, as you can imagine, so I wanted to switch her to greyscale … unfortunately, I got the code wrong and now she's stuck looking like a swamp.”
I'd forgotten what a swamp was since he last told me, but I didn't ask him for a reminder. Edie had my whole attention now, not least because she had just closed her eyes and manifested another speech bubble – this time with a heart in it.
That, I think, is the exact moment that I was lost.
“Oh, drown 'em,” I breathed. “You are horribly cute.”
“ … originally part of the box network,” continued Maxie. “There were porygon installed for …”
Edie blinked again, and chimed happily, bouncing up and down in midair. I wondered what must it be like for her to see a friendly face after all these years. How could anyone throw things at her? She was so warm and soft and eager to please.
“Hey,” I said, noticing something behind her head. “What're these line things?”
Maxie raised his eyebrows.
“Have you been listening at all?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “But I might, um, need reminding.”
“It's her barcode,” he said, shaking his head. “You can see the code on it: ED13. That served her for a name, I suppose, before the Museum. I believe that back then, she worked in a computer, helping to maintain the box― a complex global trade network. Somehow, the hard disk she was stored on ended up in here, and she gave herself a new maintenance job, and you're still not listening,” concluded Maxie, as I continued to babble at Edie. “Honestly. Five hundred years and even without the internet, teenagers are still going to pieces over cute animals …”
Some things, it seems, not even time and tide can wash away.
Edie's life before me had been several hundred years of quiet, industrious maintenance. In the early days, she had crept out of the Museum and downloaded the designs for the synthesis machines into her memory. That was the sum total of her experience outside the Museum for the past five hundred and fifty years. After that, she'd spent a few years cobbling together and modifying her own synthesis machine so that she could produce spare parts for the Museum, and then the rest of the time she had spent in silent maintenance. My arrival, with all the love and enthusiasm of youth, was something she had never even dreamed of, if porygon can dream.
When I arrived at the airlock, she would be waiting on the other side, fluttering her wings with impatience. She followed me all through the Museum, brought me items from the collection that she thought I would like, sat on my lap while Maxie talked to me of the old world, and of its death. It felt curiously familiar, and I couldn't place why until I thought of Moll and Virgil. Chubb, by then an iridescent beautifly, had a habit of latching onto the side of Moll's shoulder and resting there, quivering slightly with contentment – and Augusta, who was beginning to swell into a marshtomp, climbed into Virgil's lap in just the same way. I hadn't ever really wanted to be a trainer before, but when I thought of that I got it. Pokémon weren't like people, or even like other animals. When one day Edie flickered, beeped and flashed a speech bubble reading NEW USER REGISTERED, it touched me in a way I'd never known. I had loved people before. I loved Moll, and my father, and Aranea, and for a brief and regrettable period I loved a loathsome boy named Kenneth Arthur dol' Tethys who called me monstrous and who I pushed into a pile of chairs for his trouble – but I had never experienced that strange bond between human and pokémon before.
As you can see, I was happy, and really, I find it hard to blame myself. I was being inducted into this strange and wonderful world, rich in secrets and adorable artificial pokémon. And I haven't even mentioned the music, though it made me cry in astonishment and wonder, or the magic of the audiovisual recordings that Maxie showed me, or the way that it was me, me, Avice Amrit dol' Tethys of all people, who got to see it all. I was happy, and I got complacent.
And that, of course, meant that I got caught.