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An Overwhelming Scent
So much has changed from fifteen years ago. I slowly swivel my head, staring at what has replaced the rows of books that I remember from my childhood. The cavernous library’s walls are glass and display the Society Announcements—news about municipal affairs put forth by the government officials. At the top, an announcement that the Annual Games are coming soon scrolls by, but dead in the center are three foot tall red letters declaring that citizens are limited to viewing three books a day. I quiver in anger, anger that they would dare do such a thing. Thoughts of smashing the glass walls with my bare hands run through my head. I restrain myself using anger management techniques: picturing the numbers from one through ten, one by one. Then, I notice that the citizens are not walking to find books; instead, they stand on conveyor belts, which move the people towards blue, comfortable sofas. On the sofas, people recline with their large, black glasses that display books and make motions to the right and left in the air with their hands to change the page.
When I was younger, I would stroll up and down aisles and tilt my head to read the book titles in an effort to find an interesting book, despite the ancient saying: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Now, the citizens are lazy sloths that are unwilling to locate novels on foot. I also used to love the scent of books, specifically the smell of aged paper. But with the glasses, the books have become obsolete and have been burned by the government to restrict information. However, to appease the bibliophiles, the government has installed scent stations throughout the library: the entrance, the exit, and various other points. The library that used to be my refuge on the weekends is no longer what I remember.
A few years ago, the government decided to take total control of society because of the widespread food shortages and riots. Destruction and chaos reigned. Smoke filled the air as buildings burned to the ground. Citizens lived in fear every day. Although the government resolved the food problem by rationing the food supply and taking into account the caloric requirements of each individual, the libraries of my childhood have never been restored to their former glory.
Taking a deep breath, I step onto the conveyor belt and am brought further into the library. Carefully, I put on my virtual glasses and sit down on a couch. From the menu, I point to the book I want to read: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. As I flip through the virtual book, I gasp in shock, realizing that it is not the same novel I read years ago. Page by page, my anger steadily rises like a corked volcano building pressure. The audacity of the government! The vignettes have been undeniably altered by the government through the removal of incidents of disobedience or other offending material. It is widely known that the government removed and burned all offending books, like Shakespeare’s works. However, I didn’t realize that they had also censored the written works still offered at the library.
Pulling off my opaque glasses and throwing them to the floor, I feel as though I’m stripping away the veil the government has so insidiously placed over the populace’s eyes. Unable to contain my rage, I cry, “To hell with the government!”
Shastas --the library guards-- start walking towards me, the disturbance. Immediately, I walk towards the entrance quickly and dodge their grasping fingers. Once I get outside, I start running quickly and cover several miles until I come to a halt, sure that the Shastas are far behind me and that I am safe. Although I am quite spry for a thirty-five year old woman, I bend over and gasp for air, unused to such physical activity. Footsteps land softly onto the pavement behind me. Getting ready to run, I feel a strong grip on my bicep, restraining me.
I think to myself, “Great, I got caught.”
Sighing, I turn around and see not a Shasta as I expected, but a man about twenty years old, with the beginnings of a beard- only slight stubble, hair the color of our ebony virtual glasses, and eyes as blue as the sky used to be. He looks at me curiously with a smile beginning to form, the corners of his mouth going up slowly, and releases me from his hold. I glare at him because a slight bruise is forming on my arm. I ask him, “What do you want from me?”
He tells me, “I’ve been observing you for a while around the city and have read your profile. I saw what you did in the library. My friend Tim and I want to help you take down the government who censors our books. We have a plan…”
Intrigued, I reply, “My name is Victoria, but my friends call me Lib because of my obsession with libraries. I’m in.”
He smiles and shakes my hand and says, “Meet me in the library tomorrow at 8 AM on the couch closest to the entrance.” Then, he saunters away.
I call out to him, “What’s your name?”
He turns back, pauses, and says, “Jon.” He then resumes walking.
The next morning, I arrive at the library via the city tram and sit on the sofa. After waiting for a few minutes, Jon shows up with his friend Tim, who resembles Jon due to the government’s decision to homogenize the gene pool in an effort to avoid dissension about looks or other factors that make people supposedly unequal. Tim takes my hand and pulls me off the sofa and onto the conveyor belt. When we reach the back room of the library, they proceed to tell me their plan: Take out the scent devices and restore the books to the libraries.
Jon says, “In fact, the first part of our plan will happen today. We need you to distract the Shastas while we dismantle the scent devices in this wall.”
Staring at him, I ask, “What do you mean? What scent devices?”
Tim injects, “The scent devices release a faint odor which keeps the people complacent. By removing this, the people will be able to think for themselves. We think the reason that you are immune to it is because of a recessive gene within you. For us, we wear nose plugs when we enter the library.”
I nod, and we set the plan into motion. The conveyor belt takes me to the front of the library. Throwing flash grenades, I duck behind a sofa. People collapse as they are assaulted by the sound and flash. Were Tim and Jon done yet? I check my watch. Seeing that it has been ten minutes, I go outside. Moments later, Tim and Jon join me, looking quite grim.
I whisper into Jon’s ear, “What happened?”
“It didn’t go well. We were unable to dismantle the scent device because you need the index fingerprint of Komra, the head Shasta, to even open up the scent device.”
“Well, can’t you just smash it?”
“If we smash it, the alarm will be set off and they will just replace the scent devices. We need to get Komra’s fingerprint.” Jon’s face darkens. “I think we have to cut off his finger. It’s gruesome, but the sacrifice of one finger is worth it for the freedom of many.”
Shaking my head vigorously, I push him away. “We can’t. That’s wrong…I used to be a doctor.”
“Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it. Be here tomorrow, same time and place. I’ll see you then.”
With a feeling of dread, I come again the next day. Jon pulls out his blade and runs his thumb across it, testing its sharpness. He then heads inside.
Hit with a moment of inspiration, I tell him, “Wait! We could just lift his prints off his water bottle or whatever he touches.”
Pleased with this alternative, Jon smiles at me and puts away his blade. He looks into my eyes and says, “You do it then, Lib.”
I take a deep breath, put on my white gloves, and get onto the conveyor belt. After the main lobby, the conveyor belt spits me out into the second room where Komra- with his suit, shiny shoes and his gleaming gold badge displayed proudly on his chest- is stationed. Handing him my water bottle, I ask him to hold it for me while I tie my shoe.
Displeased with having his hands compromised, he frowns at me, motioning at me to hurry up. I stand up, take the water bottle from him, and thank him. Getting back onto the conveyor belt, I am shuttled back out to the entrance where Jon and Tim are waiting.
I proclaim proudly, “I got it! Tim, with this print, you can make a fake finger gummy from this, right?”
Tim pretends to be indignant. “Of course, I can. That’s too easy.”
We part ways with plans to meet again the next day.
Tim brings the fake finger and waves at me. Laughing, I tell him to put it away. I keep a look out while they dismantle the scent devices in the back wall.
After a few minutes, Jon whispers into my ear, startling me, “The mission is a success.”
I say, “Good. So when will they start feeling the effects?”
“Within the next four days. In the meantime, we are going to find the stash of books that remain because of the book sympathizers. I’ve already talked to a couple of sources.” Jon gestures downwards. “My sources have told me that it’s actually in the library’s basement.”
I exclaim, “Wait, there’s a basement?”
Tim sports a smug expression. He explains, “Well, after bribing an official, I managed to hack into the library’s database. By analyzing the 3D model of the library, I realized that there was an unlabeled trapdoor near the main entrance behind one of the sofas. So our best bet is the trapdoor.”
Looking around furtively, we tiptoe over to the couch in question. Spotting the trapdoor, we tug on the handle upwards. However, there is a number lock! Trying the standard “0000” and other various combinations, we stop and rethink our strategy.
Massaging my forehead, I tell them, “We need a better strategy. Try the Conception Dates of the Shastas, particularly Komra, the head Shasta. Tim, can you get their dates?” These dates, signifying the day a man is engineered inside his test tube, had long replaced the hopelessly outdated ‘birthday’ in the standard lexicon.
Tim rolls his eyes. “Of course I can.”
Five minutes later, Tim is able to open the trapdoor with Komra’s Conception Date and fingerprint. Looking down into the hole, it is very dark with no visibility. I volunteer to go down first. Using my Glowball, the room is suddenly illuminated.
Gasping in shock, I stare at the giant pile of books in the middle. An unwanted tear rolls down my cheek. We all stand there, looking at it in silence. I am the first to speak. “I can’t believe it is still here… The physical books we read back in my day.”
We realize that time is limited. Grabbing the books, we stuff as many books as we can into our duffel bags until they are bulging, reaching their capacity. Climbing back up the ladder, Jon peeks out of the hole, making sure that the Shastas are not looking our way. I pass the bags to Tim, who passes them to Jon. After getting the duffel bags out, we ascend and try to look inconspicuous with our duffel bags as we ride the conveyor belt out.
A Shasta eyes me suspiciously, but suddenly a group of citizens ride by on the conveyor belt, blocking his view. Breathing a sigh of relief, I go out the front door and am torn between elation and anxiety. Elated that we got our hands on real books. Anxious that I will be caught with such contraband.
Jon touches me lightly on the arm. “Are you okay, Lib?”
I reply, “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jon looks at Tim and me. He declares, “In two days, we will reconvene at the entrance and give each citizen a novel as they walk in.”
Unable to think of anything else for the next two days, I go through my routine emotionlessly.
Finally, the day has come. Jon is already at the entrance with Tim and the duffel bags. They have already started to hand out the novels. I quicken my pace, not wanting to be seen as late. Taking up my place next to Tim, I grab books out of the duffel bags and stack them into a precarious pile. As citizens walk into the library, I press a book into their hands. Some are startled but pleased; others are infuriated and throw the books onto the ground. However, because the scent devices are dismantled, they are more aware of their rebellious feelings that are no longer suppressed by the odor. Seeing the novels triggers long forgotten memories. Sure enough, I soon hear loud noises and bangs coming from within the library.
Rushing up the steps to the entrance, I look into the library and see the citizens throwing books at the Shastas! They have realized that their beloved books had been altered by the government. The guards are clearly outnumbered by the people; some guards, upon realizing this, have surrendered. Komra, however, refuses to concede defeat, evidently too proud to capitulate. Waving his energy sword wildly, Komra scares some of the protesters into backing away. However, the citizens mob him, and he is crushed by the tangled mess of bodies on top of him.
Taking a look around the library, I realize that although we have much more work to reform our society, Jon, Tim, and I have instigated a rebellion at our city’s most vital resource, the library. The government should prepare themselves for war because for the next few months, we will fight and persevere; we will only stop when we have attained unconditional freedom. The next time I look around the library, I hope to see the familiar bookshelves filled with unaltered novels.