The Archive

by Bob Johnston

Marrak slipped and fell heavily on her backside. The land had turned out to be a nightmare of deep, ankle-breaking pits. She thought of the crippled capsule on the high moor behind her. Crippled, but weatherproof, and with ample supplies. God, what a journey.

She resisted the urge to stand and push on. She was tiring and weakening rapidly, and had to manage her physical resources cleverly. Another ten minutes wouldn’t hurt, even if the anemic sunlight of Barnard’s Star would soon be gone for forty hours. She sat tight for the full ten minutes, ate a little, drank a lot, and then pressed on.

Long, tough walks force the mind to do two things at once; focus and wander. From the doubt when she left earth, her resolve to find a safe place for the Gutenberg Bible in her backpack had only strengthened as she got closer to her destination. Even now, increasingly scared of falling, breaking something and dying slowly, that resolve was unbroken.

She crashed out of the field of ferns and onto a mat of what passed for grass here. The mountains were close and, she was glad to see, not so intimidatingly high as they had seemed from a distance.

What did the book she was carrying really mean, she wondered. She wasn’t sure, but she lived in a time when the incinerators were back at work across the galaxy, and she had decided, if there was one book she could save, it was going to be the Gutenberg. It wasn’t burning on her watch, she remembered thinking dramatically. She smiled and stepped forward into the light drizzle. When the inquisitors of rationality came looking, Marrak had decided the Gutenberg would be gone.


The Archive, if it actually existed, had once been a military facility. Then it had become a repository for business records. Then some enterprising sort had taken ownership of the complex and, instead of torching the lot and making some other use of the place, they had started reading the material lining its shelves. And it became the legendary Archive, holding the second most important thing in the universe, knowledge. The first is, of course, time.

She imagined how this citadel built for war might look, but when she finally stumbled upon it, sore and blistered, she found a modest single floored structure with a slate roof. She sat on a raised bank of rock and fern. There was no question that this had once been a military location. Barely a stone’s throw to her left was a massive gun emplacement, its concrete base still terrifying but magnificent, the barrel a huge lump of rust.

Finally rested, she walked to the door and knocked, politely but firmly, three times.

The door opened and a very ordinary man stood in front of her. He smiled.

‘Can I help you?’

She had practiced her reply many times.

‘I have a Gutenberg Bible. I heard there was an archive where it might be safe.’

‘You look like you’ve had a tough journey. Come on in.’


Menhenick and his colleagues seemed delighted to have new company. He was enthusiastic to show her the vast, cavernous underworld below the modest building on the surface.

‘The process of organizing such a vast archive will take centuries. The business that established this facility was cynical in the extreme. Knowing that most of what came in would never be looked for again they simply piled it in. They forgot that, seen again or not, it was important, otherwise it would not be here.’

Marrak ran her hands along a shelf of newly translated and printed material.

‘Do you engage with this stuff? I mean, beyond archiving, does any of it interest you personally?’

He smiled.

‘Most of it is like everything else, but I have dealt with a few amusing pieces. We found a package recently that had been deposited in a rural bank shortly before a major world war on earth. The receipt for the deposit was signed by several members of prominent families in the town. The pack contained substantial amounts of paper cash; in the currency of the enemy their country would soon be facing. I studied the families in question and they remained influential for several generations while none of their neighbors ever knew that their grandparents had been feathering their own nests, even in the face of a foreign invasion.’

He looked at Marrak, his face now serious.

‘It is a small anecdote but it demonstrates how important information is. If anyone in that bank had told the town what its most notable citizens had hidden away, things would have been very difficult for those families. Information is the most ubiquitous of things, the easiest to record, and that which the powerful are most fearful of. Hence their constant obsession with concealing it. An obsession that never succeeds.’

Marrak unslung her rucksack and remove the bible. She unwrapped the book and held it up to him.

‘This is one of the most important books ever printed and I want to ensure it is never thrown into the flames. Can you help me?’

Menhenick looked the book up and down as if it was a penny paperback at a second-hand book sale.

‘We have many early printed books and you are correct, this is important in the history of printing. But you seem to have a more intimate attachment to what is just paper and ink.’

Marrak was outraged.

‘Just paper and ink? It’s a Bible.’

Menhenick merely smiled, once more.

‘I understand. A sacred text. We will take care of it but it will simply become another part of The Archive.’

Menhenick took the Gutenberg Bible and placed it on a high table behind him.

‘We will look after it, believe me.’

The immensity of his lack of understanding suddenly overwhelmed her.

‘Menhenick, that is not just a book, it is…’

‘We do not doubt how sacred this document is but we are also confident that your God is perfectly capable of recreating it anywhere and anytime it is needed. This is an archive, not a church.’


Marrak walked under the feeble rays of Barnard’s Star. The Archive had no vehicles to take her back to her stricken capsule, but had given her plenty of food, water, and assurances that her Bible would be cared for. She sighed. It clearly meant little to them, beyond its notoriety and seeming danger to the powerful.

She stepped out of the valley of the Archive and was awed by the landscape in front of her. She had not once looked back on the journey in, vision still blurred by single-minded purpose. All this beauty shrouded from her on that walk.

She could call for rescue when she reached the capsule but, smiling, she realized she was in no particular rush right now to be anywhere other than here.

She sat down and prayed quietly.



Bob Johnston lives in Scotland where he scribbles, reads theology, and marvels at the country’s beauty when it isn’t raining, which isn’t often. He likes a good story; ancient, old, or brand new and tries to create good stories of his own.

Philosophy Note:

The inspiration for this story is the censoriousness of recent years, and the Bowdlerising of old established titles. None of this is new, but one does hope that these waves of narrow-minded banning might eventually come to a stop. Philosophically the piece addresses the conflicting human drives to protect knowledge and to suppress it, and whether those who protect it need to be particularly interested in it.

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