Tag Archives: read this first



Yellow Hat is here. I didn’t hear him arrive but I just looked up and there he is, standing under the observatory dome. Smiling. He hasn’t said anything, only nodded when I asked for enough time to write this page.

I didn’t finish the filing. Sorry. And I didn’t wash up the dishes this morning. There was more I wanted to tell you, about Sanna, and the place in Koh Phangan where they still have pineapples, and how the seed catalogue works, and what to do when Rohini has toothache.

I thought I was ready. I’m not ready at all. I’m scared. I love this place. I don’t want to leave it. I don’t want to leave Rohini. You have to look after them both, Theseus. Please. Please love them both for me.

I wish I could have met you.





I’ve left the front door open so Rohini can get in and out. He hasn’t had much chance to hunt recently, what with all the running, and feeding him from bartered stuff gets expensive. That cat eats a lot, given the chance. He’s not too keen on rat, but horse or rabbit are good treats if you can get them. I think there’s quite good hunting round here so hopefully he’ll be fine until you come. The door opens into a cave, so the snow doesn’t come in, and most other animals will back off when they smell Rohini.

I wonder if he’ll be lonely without me. Maybe he’s already lonely. Sometimes I hear him roaring outside, a way off. There’s never an answer. Perhaps there’s no other tigers left in the world. Lots of things died in the Cold. There’s copies of them downstairs in the DNA bank, but what good is that? Even if the tech to bring them back still existed, and the fuel to make it work, the world is too broken for them to survive in. The war didn’t just take lives. It took the way of life.

The Collection is a memorial for everything that died. Including us.

You’d think, after the war, people would try harder to get along. But everywhere I’ve been, there’s little fights and big fights and murder for no reason than because someone’s different. Like we’re not all dying slow anyway. Like fighting will fix anything. The world’s ash and ice, and we’ve learned nothing. Worse than nothing. It’s too easy to forget, these days.

The Collection has a real physical place, by the way. It doesn’t just live in a weird pocket dimension, like some of the books on Class 8 talk about. It’s inside a mountain in the Himalayas. We built Leibowitz’s cairn on top, near the observatory window. It seemed right to bury him next to the thing he made. I go and sit there sometimes. He deserves to be remembered for what he did, even if it’s only by one person.

You’ll have to go back occasionally to wipe the snow off the dome. If you pull the handle of the antikythera so it’s pointing straight out from the wall, then turn so it’s facing down and push it flat again, the door will go there. You know what it looks like from the outside. That’s where you came in.




In case you’re wondering, there’s no way to turn the lamps off. They’re powered by thermal coils, and my best guess is they tap into the same heat source as the hot water (wherever that is). It never bothered me – there’s so much dark outside and it’s not like they’re especially bright – but Sanna used to bury her head right under the pillow to get to sleep.


They don’t break often but very occasionally the metal wire will warp or snap. There’s a coil in the workshop which should be enough for two lamps, but after that you’ll need to barter for more. There’s plenty of that kind of thing in the European settlements still. When you’ve got it, lift the lamp cover off – it comes easy, it’s not secured to anything – and use the tiny screwdriver to release the old wire from the two clamps. Change it out for the new stuff, and replace the cover. Easy. The wire will heat up pretty quick though, so you can’t hang mess around.

The left-hand lamp in the bathroom needs fixing. I couldn’t. I’m sorry.

When you go into markets to barter, you need to not be too clean. It’s an easy thing to forget. There’s enough hot water for a shower every day, more than one if you want. But being clean’s a sure way to mark you out as different. Privileged. At best, they’ll make you pay way over the odds. At worst, they’ll kill you. You know being clean’s reason enough in some places.

Also, don’t go alone if you can help it. There’s not many places are friendly to strangers. The last few times, when Sanna wouldn’t leave The Collection, I went with Rohini. He doesn’t like it, all the people and the noise, but he’ll come if you take a treat with you. Rabbit’s a favourite, and not too rare.

Sanna saw Yellow Hat at the market. It’s why she wouldn’t go out. Every market, anywhere we went, she said she saw him. Just out of the corner of her eye or disappearing round a corner. I never caught a glimpse but she swore he was always watching. I didn’t push, figured it was just a reaction to Mum going and she’d get over it eventually. But it got worse. After a couple of months she started seeing him inside The Collection. I knew that wasn’t true – Rohini would have growled – but she refused to leave the workshop, where her bed was. Is. Still is.

I came back from helping design a waste drainage system for a small settlement, and heard her screaming. I thought she’d had an accident, broken a bone or burned herself. Broken bones don’t necessarily mean death in The Collection but shock can still kill you. I dropped everything and ran to the workshop. She was curled up on her bed, pushed right up into the corner, with both hands pulling at her hair. I shouted at her, slapped her, wrapped myself around her – nothing worked. In the end I used some of the morphine from the medicine cupboard. It’s valuable but I didn’t know what else to do. Finally she went limp. I tucked her up and brought my own blankets to sleep on the floor next to her. I didn’t want her waking up alone.

It took me ages to drift off, and I felt like I’d only been out for a few hours before Rohini woke me up by headbutting my stomach. Sanna’s bed was empty. She didn’t answer when I called. Rohini was whining by the door, shifting from foot to foot. I followed him to the lift and he took me down to the basement. When he stands on his back legs he’s tall enough to punch the buttons with his nose.

She was in the bathroom. The noose had broken the lamp. The metal in it was as cold as her.

I couldn’t bear to fix it. I’m sorry.

Sanna, I’m sorry.




There’s still places where the ground is sick from the war. If you stop at one of those, Rohini will snarl at the door before it’s even opened. That’s how you know about the sickness. There’s a big yellow suit in a cupboard in the bathroom which lets you go out safely. It’s worth it because there’s usually something to save from those places. No one else scavenges there. Always make sure there’s no holes in the suit before you go out, otherwise you’ll get sick too. When you come back, shower in it really thoroughly, take it off and scrub it, and then shower again. There’s a big safe on Class 0 to put scavenged things from those places – only open it when you’re wearing the suit. They have to be kept locked up because they’ll make you sick, but Mum said that after years and years the sickness will fade. The safe number is 29139.

The briefcase was in there for a time, after Dad opened it.

We went back. Not deliberately, it just happened that one turn of the handle took us to the shepherd’s hut by the Dead Sea again. Mum said it was a sign. She told Sanna and me to stay inside, no matter what. She promised she’d be back in a couple of hours. Then she took the briefcase and left.

It got dark and she still hadn’t come back. Sanna started to cry, saying she’d abandoned us, but I knew that wasn’t true. She’d gone to barter because she loved us. We loved her, so we went after.

Yellow Hat’s settlement was half an hour’s walk, up a valley that must have had a river in it once. We came to fields first, full of crops that stood tall and weren’t covered in snow. Shapes were moving through them, slow and silent. I put my hand over Sanna’s mouth and we crouched at the edge, watching. It took me quite a long time to realise that they were people. I opened my mouth to ask who farms at night, but then I remembered Dad saying they were dead, and I shut it again. We snuck around the edge and crept to where the buildings were. One of them – the biggest – had lamps still burning and the door open. The smell of hot food came from a window. It smelled just like Mum’s Anything Curry. Sanna sniffed, then stood up and looked through the window. She gave a little cry and called out to Mum. I grabbed her by the wrist but there were already shadows moving towards the door.

Mum came out into the street. She looked at us and her face didn’t change. I knew then what Dad had meant about the people here going away into their heads. Sanna cried and tried to go to her, but I held her still. Then Yellow Hat appeared in the door. He was holding the briefcase in one hand and a steaming bowl of Anything Curry in the other. He smiled at Sanna, and his teeth were too white.

I didn’t let her stop running until we were back. I think she hated me for leaving Mum there. But there wasn’t anything to bring home.



Dad’s boots are under the coat rack. You can have them, if you like. There’s a good few years of wear left in them, if you repair the inner seam on the left one. You’ll get good at repairing things here, if you aren’t already. Like I said before, books are fragile things, especially when they’re old. Spines crack, stitching comes loose, and no one else is going to fix it.

All the stuff is in the workshop on Class 0. First you’ll need to remove the damaged cover with a sharp blade. Use the piece of straight wood to make sure all the pages are lined up together, if they’re loose, then clamp them tight. You might need to sew some of them back together – there’s a sewing kit in the box. Make the holes first with the punch pliers. Don’t pull the thread too tight or you’ll tear the pages when you try to open the book. Cut the new cover out of leather, using the old one to get the size right. Put glue up the spine, wrap it round the pages and clamp it all together for a day.

Sanna was really good at fixing books. She had clever fingers. That’s what Dad used to say. “You’ve got clever fingers, baby,” and she’d light up with pride. She was Dad’s daughter – they had the same sensitivity, the same love of beauty and need for praise. Mum and me were the practical ones. Well, someone has to be. The Collection needs both kinds of people. Maybe that’s why we were chosen in the first place.

The man who was here before us was one of the founders. He was very sick, or maybe he had been sick before the war, I’m not sure. He knew there weren’t medicines any more to make it better, so he started searching for someone to take care of The Collection when he was gone. He looked for nearly a year before he found us. Mum and Dad were part of a group living in some caves in Greece. There wasn’t enough food to go around – Dad was cutting his rations so Sanna and me could eat. She was barely walking then, but I could help carry water and watch the fires.

I don’t remember the stranger arriving. First he wasn’t next to my fire, and then he was. He had a nice smile so I wasn’t afraid. He started talking to me, I don’t remember what about, and Dad came running over to pull me away. The stranger held his hands wide, but he started coughing and folded in half. There was blood on his lips when he straightened up again. I remember that very clearly. It gleamed in the firelight.

He and Dad talked for a long time. Mum came back from fishing with Sanna, and they all talked for even longer. Then Mum and Dad both cried a bit, and I helped Mum put everything we owned in a blanket. Dad was too weak to carry it, so Mum put it on her back and I took Sanna. We followed the stranger to the back of the cave, to a door I’d never seen there before. And after that we were warm, and fed, and safe.download

He died a few months later. We wrapped him in our old blanket and buried him on top of a mountain, like he wanted. Leibowitz, he was called. I don’t have many memories of him, beyond a soft voice and a kind hand. We had to be careful when we touched him. His skin was so pale and thin, and bruised so easily. Towards the end he could hardly breathe for coughing. If he hadn’t had The Collection, he would have died much earlier.

Sensitive people don’t do well in the Cold.




Now that you’ve settled in a bit, you’re probably wondering what the big flat screens in 770 are for. Dad said they were called ‘computers’, and they were how everything worked before the Cold. You can read all about them in 000, if you’re interested. They were put into The Collection to play the music library, and something called films which were stories acted out and recorded. But the fuel they used stopped working when the Cold happened, so now they’re basically useless. Mum called them ‘museum pieces’.

I guess, if you’re older than me, you already know some of this. Maybe you remember before the Cold. I was a baby when the war happened, and Sanna wasn’t quite born, so the world has always been this way to me but my parents used to reminisce about how things were. How everyone could be warm whenever they wanted, and food grew easy, and you didn’t have to test for water acidity before you drank it. Mum said there was no ash in the air, then. Sometimes she sat on the end of my bed at night and stared out of the observatory dome. When I asked her why, she said she was remembering stars. She told me stories about animals that lived in the sky – a lion, and a giant crab, and a bear. They didn’t fly, they were made of starlight. Did you ever see them, Theseus?

She stopped telling stories after Dad opened Yellow Hat’s briefcase. A lot of things stopped then. We stopped stopping. One day here, another there, never staying long enough to help people. Barely staying long enough to trade for food.

Dad stopped sleeping. I don’t mean insomnia, I mean at all. His skin went very pale and his eyes went very bloodshot. He couldn’t stay still, always tapping his foot or drumming his fingers. He muttered constantly, until Mum screamed at him to shut up, just shut up. After that, he whispered. I think the whispering was worse. Like rustling pages, turning over too fast to make out the words. At least when he was talking I could hear what he said, even if it didn’t make much sense.

He talked about the Cold, how it didn’t come from the war. Or it did but the war wasn’t really started by us. He said something from behind the stars made us turn the world into ash and ice. Kaiwan was just waiting for humans to die out, enjoyed watching it happen slowly. He told Mum the people in Yellow Hat’s settlement were already dead but they weren’t allowed to stop. That’s when she screamed at him.

A few days later the front door opened onto the deck of a metal ship, tipped crazy by pack-ice. Dad walked out into the dark, barefoot, and didn’t come back. Mum waited twenty-four hours. Then she turned the handle.





Okay, lending policy. I figure now you’ve been out and seen how much The Collection can help people, you’ll have some questions about how this works. Pretty much all of the books here are irreplaceable. A lot of stuff went up in smoke when the Cold hit, and books burn easy. For all the people who’d want The Collection for its knowledge, there’s just as many who want it for its fuel. So rule one is: don’t let other people in. Rohini will help with that.

If you want to make an exception, you have to be absolutely completely totally sure they can be trusted. It’s your life on the line, remember, not to mention all the thousands of people The Collection helps. There isn’t some kind of vetting system, that’s what human instinct is for.

Taking books outside, that’s risky too. What if it gets lost, or stolen, or damaged by ash? They’re fragile things, books. No, it’s best to work out what knowledge the locals need, write some notes, and take those outside. You can always come back and look up stuff later.

Obviously that doesn’t work for everything. Classes Seven and Eight need to be read by the person who needs them. So there’s a lending policy. They have two weeks from when The Collection arrives to finish reading, and they have to leave something with you for surety. If they don’t bring the book back, you go get it.

Mum was in charge of our late returns. When she was wielding a shotgun she could scare the crap out of me, and I was standing on the right side. It wasn’t often we had that kind of trouble, though. The people who need books from Classes Seven and Eight tend not to be overly unscrupulous. The only time it got bad was on the freight train.

There was a whole community living there. Mostly doctors and mechanics and the like, with their families. They rode the tracks, bartering skills for food as they passed people. They were scraping by, doing okay. Doing better than many. They didn’t need The Collection for agriculture, or building, or any of the normal stuff. They needed Class Eight for their kids. We stayed there the full two weeks.

The day everything was due back in, no one came knocking so we went to find out what the problem was. All the kids said this guy had taken their books off them. Tall, thin, cousin of one of the train drivers. He’d been ripping the pages out and bartering them individually as kindling, toilet paper, smokes, a fragment of story, whatever people would pay for. Of course the kids didn’t rat to us – he was one of their own, even if he was a douchebag, and we were strangers. Anyway, Mum tracked him down and gave her you-owe-us-and-I’ve-come-to-collect speech which ought to have had him pissing himself with fear.

He laughed in her face. Said he’d heard of The Collection before and he knew we had something way more valuable than books. Something that didn’t belong to us. He’d sent word to Yellow Hat the day we arrived. Which was deeply worrying, but we were on a different continent to the Dead Sea and travel isn’t exactly easy anymore, not when you don’t have an antikythera.

Then Dad freaked. He grabbed the guy by the throat and started shaking him, yelling in his face about betraying his own species, and what else did he know? Everyone around us got antsy at that stage. They weren’t inclined to stand back and watch as this crazy stranger throttled their neighbour. Mum ended up firing into the roof so they’d stay back. Sanna and me grabbed Dad by the elbows and we hustled back to The Collection. Mum had the cupboard for the emergency handle open before I’d even closed the door.

The last thing I saw of that train was the freight carriage with everyone backing up around the sides. Yellow Hat was walking slowly towards us, like he had all the time in the world. I swear he was smiling.