2947-01-29 - Tales From the Inbox: Arson for the Archives

The loss of the Vatican Archives during the occupation of Earth is one of the greatest tragedies of human knowledge, perhaps even rivaling the burning of the fabled Library of Alexandria. The ambiguous nature of this loss has led many to believe that the archive, like many other things lost during the Terran-Rattanai War, might one day be re-discovered, just as the twin Dawnglider battleships were. Many of the ancient documents in the Archive were supposedly never committed to digital form.

This belief has in turn spawned a large number of efforts to find the lost archives, based on the belief that the Holy See spirited them away to safety as the Rattanai battle-fleet closed in on Earth. The archive is certainly valuable; even if the Church paid half the commonly-dispensed thirty-five billion credits figure for the return of its long-lost archives, its finder would be rich beyond all measure.

I personally suspect that if the archives were hidden, they were hidden on Earth; expeditions to remote areas of the former Terran Sphere to search for the lost Vatican Archives inevitably return empty-handed, for good reason.

Kieron T. does not agree with my assertion, and his belief in the correct way to find the Archives - if they still exist - resulted not in a large payment from the Church, but in a massive debt to it. While he does not provide any information about how he is paying the Holy See back for his sins (spiritually or temporally), I can only imagine that what he sent in is not the end of the story. He ensured me that when events have run their course, he will submit more of his story for this audience's enjoyment.

Kieron looked around the old monastery’s library one more time before setting the timer on his incendiary bomb. The documents he needed were already tucked under one of his arms, and while it was a shame to destroy so many priceless books – many of them antiques brought to Villar all the way from Earth – it was the only way to hide the importance of what he had taken.

As soon as the timer was ticking down, he keyed in the remote that would summon his ship. Somewhere in the handful of books he’d collected, there was a clue – a clue to the whereabouts of one of the most famous undiscovered treasure hoards. When Earth had been invaded by the Rattanai, the Holy See had moved its archives and its most priceless relics off the planet, but in the chaos of that revolutionary era, the few who knew where the treasure had been had perished without revealing their secret. Three thousand years of Vatican archives and wealth had vanished, and even the successor pontiffs of the great old church had not possessed the knowledge to recover it. 

Kieron didn’t wish any particular ill on the Villarian Monastery or its greater church, but the value of what the Church had lost was incalculable. It would be enough to pay off all Kieron’s debts and let him retire to an estate on the Frontier, and more. If he was right, notes written by hand into one of the old books would shed light on the hiding-place for the legendary treasure. He didn’t want to think about what might happen if he was wrong.

Just as Kieron was approaching the library door, footsteps outside brought him to a halt. Pressed to the wall and trying not to think about the incendiary bomb slowly ticking toward ignition, surrounded by stacks of synthetic parchment and even antique paper, he waited for the patrolling monk beyond to walk past the door before gently inching it open.

At that moment, the bomb went off. Knocked through the door and onto the floor, with ,bits and pieces of flaming books raining down on his back, Kieron scrambled back to his feet immediately, shielding his prize with his body. The courtyard wasn’t far away, and his ship could pick him up there. The burns on his back and shoulders would need medical attention, but they could wait until he was in orbit.

Shoving past two monks rushing toward the blaze, Kieron burst out into the courtyard in time to see his little ship appear over the crest of the hills, the thunderous rumble of its drive causing almost as much alarm from the monks as the explosive fire in the library. With the remote, he instructed it to fly low and let out the cable-winch he’d installed specifically for the task.

As the ship swung low to drop the cable into the courtyard, however, a mirage shimmer appeared in the air above Kieron’s head. Too late, he tried to order the ship to climb away, even as the cable fell into the chaotic spatial shear of a protective screening field. The ship’s drive reversed, but too late; its momentum carried it into the shear zone, and Kieron was forced to watch as his ship, the last thing his debtholders had not taken from him as collateral, was torn into small, glowing pieces above his head.

“This is a fine way to repay our hospitality.”

Kieron whirled to see the abbot, flanked by two monks holding antique rifles, approaching. There was no point trying to bluff his way out – he was still clutching priceless antique books.

“I’ll admit you had me fooled, Kieron Nazaretian. Is that is truly your name?” With a dismissive gesture, the abbott sent his armed subordinates forward to separate Kieron from the books which had meant everything. One of them kept a weapon trained on Kieran, while the other returned the books to the venerable priest, who patiently examined each, ignoring the chaos within the building as the other monks tried in vain to extinguish the blaze.

“I didn’t have a choice.” Kieran knew even as he said it that it was a lie. He’d had plenty of choices; all of the choices he’d made had led him to where he was. By the time it came to searching for the lost treasure of the Holy See, he’d made a lot of wrong ones.

The abbot finished examining the documents, a frown on his weathered face. “Son, you aren’t the first to come here chasing what was lost in the war.” He had evidently guessed the purpose of Kieran’s vandalism. “But I suppose you will be the last.” The reason for this was evident; the inferno that had been the library would surely dissuade the next would-be treasure-hunter.

“I am sorry.” Kieran realized that he was. It was just business, but business was no excuse to the monks whose priceless books, works of many periods of the ancient church’s history, had been destroyed.

“Perhaps you are.” The abbot clutched the books to his body, the last remnant of his once-grand library. “Take him inside. Let us see what he really knows of the See’s lost archive.”