“Consider it a blessing that the machines from another world came to dominate our shores. Consider the consequences. Civil wars thinned the herd, reorganized communities (some for the better, some worse), destroyed borders, and unshackled its citizens from the choking rule of law dictated by those who would keep its citizenry in the yoke of servitude.
Having settled in the Western rural lands of the Rockies, it was agreed by those of us who conquered the old rules, that we would create our own society. Unfettered by boundaries and pointless laws that keep Liberty bound, we have created and maintained a utopia. But be warned, only the strong survive here. Enter at your own risk. For there are residency requirements and not everyone qualifies.
- God Fearing
- Gun Totin’
- Morally Straight
- Bound only by Tradition
- Take what you win
That’s it. If this is you, then Welcome to Liberty.”
At least that is what I wrote. It’s hung on the Library door. I am the Librarian of Liberty; the de-facto preserver of History and Lending Officer.
Quick history; Liberty; The lawless region of The Rural West. From Spokane to South Dakota and South as far as the border of Deseret. (Nevada, Utah, Southwest, et al.) One of the fastest independent regions to form after the Union completely dissolved after the post-invasion wars. Seems that a number of folks were chomping at the bit to remove the “Government Yoke” once they could.
Now, you might think that folks in these parts might take to being outlaws or scallywags, but you would be wrong. Yes, there are bandits and whore mongers in every corner but, by in large, most folks just want to keep to themselves and tend their homesteads in peace.
There are no lawmen. There are no laws. Only ‘understandings.’ One of these ‘understandings’ is that if it ain’t yours, don’t take it. At least don’t take it without permission. If you misunderstand this rule, then be prepared for reprisal. Maybe the owner will try and reclaim it, maybe they won’t. But if they do, and it ends up causing bodily harm or even death, well, that’s just how it is here.
And you have been warned.
If you want or need something that can’t be bartered for, then you might consider borrowing it. And that is where I come in.
I’m the third Librarian since they came. The first had it rough. His house was destroyed in The Big Salt Lake City Fire. Once the dust settled, he began to salvage what he could. Eventually he got so good at salvage as an occupation, people started coming from all over to find stuff they needed. No one escaped the fires that came from the war. He brought people a little hope. A child’s doll, a dog’s ball, a mended blanket, a gas can, nuts and bolts of all sizes, things that reminded people of life.
We began again, but this time we made the rules. We simplified things.
The second librarian took over and turned the business into a swap meet or a market of sorts. Eventually stuff moved where it needed to go. Very little remained in his barn. But there were plenty of other things, like books, papers, an archive of life before the occupation, but only a handful. And sometimes a whole family would just disappear. They either walked off or. . . . That’s one of the byproducts of a land without laws. The Librarian cleared out the homes of those who left and eventually refilled his barn. But barter slowed to a crawl. So, he got an idea, why not lend certain things to those who only needed stuff temporarily? That seemed to work out well. This “Library” became a real asset to the people in Liberty. So much so that the Librarian became a sort of Employee with protected status.
One night a gang of thugs tried to carry off a working freezer from the Library and. . . .
Yes, a freezer. One of three in Liberty that actually work. Windmill power converters, if you are curious. Food preservation is a thing.
So, the thugs, five of them, have this thing hoisted onto a cart and make it half way to their hideout (that doesn’t have power converters) when word had spread quickly about the theft. A posse formed quickly and quietly. When the thugs arrived at their not-so-secret-hideout, well, let’s just say that the freezer found its way back to the library and the thugs, well, the thugs didn’t bother anyone ever again.
Now a reputation stuck to the library and the Librarian. DO NOT STEAL FROM THE LIBRARY. The fines are steep.
That was 15 years ago. I took over last year, 2004. (yes, the freezer still works)
Today began like any other day. I woke at dawn and fed my livestock, put on a pot of (very expensive) coffee, and read the Daily Liberty Mail. I am told it is one of the only remaining newspapers left in the region. A headline jumped out.
“Madame Ma Scruggs Dies. WILL to be read today.”
I nearly spit out my coffee.
Then a knock on my door. It was a man in a black suit. Never a good sign.
“You are the Librarian?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
He handed me an envelope. It said “Librarian.”
“Your attendance is requested at Ma Scruggs Entertainment Emporium at High Noon today. Thank you.”
And he walked away.
I stepped out on my neglected porch to watch him leave, looked down and saw a spider struggling to find protective shelter. I felt the urge to help him and stooped to give it an encouraging shove. It’s a good thing too, because just as I bent down, the arrow slammed into my front door jam. It may have taken a small clipping of my hair as it arrived.
It seemed word got out about my potential “inheritance.”
And I know where that arrow came from. There was only one person who would even attempt to shoot me dead. Remember the “freezer thugs?” They were known as The Davis Group; an old Mormon family that traces their roots back to the arrival of the Latter-Day Saints in Utah. So, they took issue with anyone who challenged them and their ideals. Not one of them believed in the value of a librarian. I don’t know why they still refused to relocate to Deseret with everyone else. Perhaps it had something to do with all their land holdings? I tended to think so.
That arrow wasn’t new. And it wasn’t simply a warning this time. That one was meant to kill the Librarian.
My Colt Peacemaker was out and ready. I fired two shot wildly just to show that I had it. It was a .45 and it was loud. This provided me enough cover to retreat back into the house. I am pretty sure it was Peaches. She was The Davis Group’s best archer. They liked to keep their powder dry, so to speak, and use more stealthy modes of killing. If their dander got up enough, they would arrive armed to the teeth with traditional lead and poke a lot of holes in my residence. And, in turn, me.
I waited for the next volley.
But nothing happened. It may have been a warning after all. I saddled up Mr. Jones and cleared out for Ma Scruggs Entertainment Emporium, as noon was fast approaching, wary of flying sharp objects.
Salt Lake City still looks like it did in the 1950’s, aside from the destroyed Temple. That’s what happens when the World stops. Everything is frozen in time. The folks who remained have done a fine job of maintaining it. But, as with most places in Liberty, you must be prepared for anything.
Ma Scruggs was a tough old broad who ran the Entertainment Emporium with an Iron Fist. She could spit lead when provoked and it took very little to provoke her. If you stepped out of line in her place, either customer or employee, you could find yourself poked with lead holes and tossed into Blackie’s Hog Pen. That kind of reputation meant that Ma’s place was a safe and relatively secure establishment. Her death was going to leave a large vacuum to be filled. Why I was in her Will both frightened and excited me.
The Emporium’s main floor was busy for an early afternoon. The music was extra loud but that didn’t prevent the rowdy group at the Craps table from making their revelry heard. Ma’s Ladies hung tightly to the shoulders and necks of the more-than-generous gamblers. I made my way slowly across the room towards the very large bar. There were only a few empty seats. Since I wasn’t there to drink, I gave Chip, the barman, a knowing look. He motioned with a jerk of his head to go through the door on the left of the bar.
The old “Board Room,” a large area behind the bar, was empty except for the long table, 12 empty chairs, and 2 occupied ones, as well as some very grotesque heads of large game mounted on the walls. At the head of the table was the man in black who came to my door earlier. I assumed he was the Advocate. In the other occupied chair sat “Bigs” Scruggs. An ironic name. Well, more a nickname designed to be cruel. Bigs real name was Lester and he stood only 5 feet tall. The man hadn’t a single brave bone in his whole body. He had the singular distinction of being Ma’s only living relative. He was also a whiz with numbers and business acumen. He kept his head down. He wasn’t looking at anyone.
I broke the silence. “Do I sit anywhere?”
The Advocate motioned to the table. “Anywhere is fine. We are waiting for one more.”
Now, it was true that Liberty was a “lawless” region. So, you ask, “why are there Wills? Why are there Legal Advocates?” That is a good question. While there was no official Legal Government structure in Liberty, there were Honor Systems that must be maintained. Property, Business Agreements, Marriages, Citizen Listing, that sort of thing. All of which could be disputed and there were a few ways to handle a dispute. The main way was the direct approach. A handshake to seal a deal could be countered with a punch or a knife (or any other show of force). But most disputes were handled in person by discussion or even Arbitration using an Advocate. It was true that there were some long standing open disputes regarding Property and Business agreements (trade, barter rules, etc) and those disputes could get ugly. Clans formed and sometimes wars were fought. The Davis Group was one of those Clans, currently the most powerful too.
This was the “law” of Liberty. Either accept it and live here or move on.
On cue, Peaches Davis stomped in. She saw me and smirked. I smirked back.
“You were lucky.”
Her smirk disappeared.
As she reached for a throwing knife, Bigs made a small whimper. The Advocate cleared his throat.
“Shall we commence with the proceeding?”
The silence affirmed his request and he continued. He got up and walked over to a wall switch. He flicked it on and the blinds over the windows to the bar opened. The music in the main hall stopped immediately and all eyes turned to the now exposed “Board Room” and its occupants. Everyone knew what was happening and Will readings had to be public so there would be no confusion if Property or Business holdings were to change hands. The walls and windows provided protection. A small microphone in front of the Advocate fed a speaker in the main hall.
“In the matter of the death of Proprietor Margarete “Ma” Scruggs, on the date of June 14th, 2005, the Autonomous Region of Liberty recognizes that the property and holding of the deceased must be moved to new personage and become publicly known. In regard to the deceased’s Business Holdings, Scruggs Entertainment Capitol Group, the rights and privileges are now under the control of Constance Davis. AKA Peaches.”
A whoop of joy erupted from the Great Hall while Peaches just sat and smiled. She directed her gaze on me.
A pause. Bigs made no sound.
“A clause has been added to the declaration regarding the Business Group. Her only descendant, Lester Scruggs, is to remain the sole bookkeeper and financial manager.”
Another loud eruption from the Great Hall. Many members of the Davis Group had arrived for the reading and were not pleased with the last pronouncement. Peaches stood up suddenly. The Main Hall went silent.
“We all know that the coward, Bigs Scruggs, is a wizard when it comes to running this place. We also know that my limited patience for improper diversion of assets is a key aspect to my brand of intolerant justice.” She reached a hand out to a shivering Bigs. He looked at it with wide and astonished eyes. Then, with a little hesitation, he took her hand in his and the Agreement was settled. There was a rumbling of disgruntled murmuring from the Hall, but the message was clear.
The Advocate raised his hand.
“If I might be allowed to continue. . . .?”
Everyone knew I was still in the room and the question as to why I was there lingered in the air mixed with the haze of smoke and dust. No one wondered about this more then I.
“As to the Residence of the deceased, the home and its contents are to become the sole possession of the Liberty Librarian in perpetuity.” Above the renewed jeers from the Hall, the Advocate handed me an envelope, got up and returned the switch back to the “Off” position, thereby closing the proceedings.
“What? She gave me her house? Why. . .”
The Advocate just looked at me, closed his briefcase, pointed at the envelope, and walked out.
Peaches wasted no time.
“Get out of my Emporium, Librarian. NOW!”
I made haste back to the street, where Mr. Jones was impatiently waiting for me at his hitching post.
“Ok, Mr. Jones. Let’s find a quiet place to read.”
We arrived at the home of Ma Scruggs, well, now my home, pretty quickly as it was only a few blocks from the Emporium. But the raucous sounds from the now rambunctious party were greatly diminished by the distance.
I walked up to the front porch and sat on the swing, took off my hat, and opened the envelope. A key fell out. I pocketed it and unfolded the paper.
“To the Liberty Librarian. I know you have never had much use for me or my Business, but it might surprise you to learn that I have a great deal of respect for you and your position. I come from a time long forgotten by the citizens of Liberty. A time where folks found solace and wisdom in words and deeds of old. I’m talking about books.”
I used the key and opened the door.
“The freedom to dream came from books. Long and difficult journeys could be taken in books.”
I looked around the place. It was a little stuffy from recent disuse but was in decent shape. I could see a single light still on at the top of a set of stairs.
“After the invasion, war and fire, the ability to dream died. So did books. No one collected, wrote, or even read anymore. Collections either dried up, burned, or were simply neglected to dust.”
As I reached the top of the stairs, the single lamp took me into a room. A room lined with shelves.
“So, I spent the remainder of my life collecting, in secret, as much adventure, knowledge, philosophy, and fantasy that I could find.”
The shelves were lined with books. Hundreds of books. Large and small. Ancient and modern.
“While this might surprise you, and probably anyone who knew me as Ma, I find solace in the notion that I leave you, a nameless Librarian (I am sorry I never learned your name) with the full and still incomplete collection. A culmination of my efforts to bring the words trapped in time to anyone who wants them.”
My mouth was hanging open. My knees were weak. I sat in a rather comfortable chair, next to the lamp.
“I ask you to continue my quest and request one final service from you. Loan these books to anyone who asks. But above all PROTECT these works until your final day. Do not let the fear and ignorance of the lawless maim or destroy the inheritance of the words; the memories of a lost world.”
I wiped away a single tear as she closed her letter.
“Be the Librarian Liberty needs. Good luck, and fare well. Margarete.”