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April 26th, 2020
When the bureaucrats finally understood what the scholars were suggesting, they began to laugh, astonished at the audacity, the enormous cost they were suggesting.
Lucilius stood along a wall with other scribes as the looked on at the great circular table where the meeting was taking place. Torches lined the walls and smoke rose from a small fire in a vast copper bowl that was affixed in the center of the great table.
The scholars had delivered their presentation in a formal language, and the first of the bureaucrats to speak after their laughter had calmed, spoke in a ghettoed tongue, one they all knew but never spoke, one spoken only by the lowest and poorest of the city. The bureaucrat looked at the head scholar and sneered with a smile as he insulted him doubly, by his words and by the deep subordination his choice of language insinuated.
“Are you crazy, old man?”
The bureaucrat switched to the language of bureaucrats, still different from the chosen language of the scholars. Everyone in attendance knew dozens of languages, spoke them, wrote them, and switched their use to further flavor their nuance of message.
“The cost alone…” the bureaucrat closed his eyes, gently shaking his head as though to indicate the enormity of the mental task he was undertaking.
The head scholar, whom Lucilius worked closely with spoke, switching languages again, this time a tongue used by the merchants where all were comfortable with numbers and calculations.
“It is only a matter of time before our great library is visited upon by some disaster, and in order to preserve our knowledge, our history and our wisdom, we must as once begin a second library and begin the long process of duplicating our treasure.”
“Not enough to do?” The bureaucrat shot back. “It seems the library must be benefitting too much from the support of the state if it’s looking to undertake such needless duplicative work, and then asking for more money for such an extraneous proposal. Can you scribbling men not be happy with what you have?”
“One leg cannot walk without the other,” The scholar retorted.
“One needs only a single copy of a scroll to read it. Come now old man, where is your cup of Hemlock, your rhetoric is as bad as your old reasoning.”
Lucilius could see the scholar was unruffled, unfazed. “And if I plucked out one of your eyes, would you be glad the Gods wasted their time giving you two?”
The bureaucrat across the wide table sighed. “The answer is ‘no’, there’s no need to entertain this matter any further, and in fact, I am going to recommend to the treasury that we decrease funding for the library, since you all clearly have enough time to come up with such ridiculous ideas.”
The scholar slammed his fist upon the table. “We must build a second library, or we risk losing everything, and then all our children, and their children and the people for a hundred generations will be as lost as our ancestors were. The only reason you can banter back at me in the diseased languages, and the merchant languages, and hear our words in the formal languages is because this library exists. And there is only one. If we lose it then all of this fades from our world as the past fades from our memories and as the flesh fades from cold bones that move no more.”
The lesser bureaucrats shifted, uneasily, looking at their leader who held the gaze of the scholar, unimpressed. Then he looked down at the scroll he’d been given at the beginning, outlining the plan, the costs and the details. He rolled it back up, stood, and then tossed the plan into the copper bowl in the center of the table where it flamed up, the dry paper quickly disintegrating into tiny bright ashes that floated up in the smoke.
Some scholars gasped at the treachery, the audacity of burning such an important commodity.
“Your precious library will be just fine, and it’s enough library for Alexandria” the bureaucrat stated before he turned and walked away, the lesser bureaucrats rising and trailing in tow.
The scholars rose and huddled into a gaggle of nervous, hushed talking, and the leader of them all emerged from the group, walking away from the table.
Lucilius joined his side, likewise nervous but noticed the calm expression on the scholar’s face.
“What are we going to do?” Lucilius asked?
The scholar smiled a bit, looking to Lucilius.
“Whatever we can.”
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