For the RE-PUBLIC
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Kalefheit, a city of opulent splendor and obscene poverty.

Kalefheit, the place where fortunes came and went as quickly as the sunset.

Kalefheit, the beating, chaotic heart of the New World that had been born from the remnants of the old.

Kalefheit, where Meilar was currently wondering why he hadn't done something more interesting with his life than taking up his father's dilapidated antiques shop.

"Here I sit," he said aloud to nobody but the gods. "A plain store for a plain existence."

Unlike his brother, who made his fortune (and had met his untimely death) venturing into lost ceitus for Wonders, he had chosen the "honorable" profession of maintaining the family shop. Here there were no magical leftover relics of the gods. Well, maybe some had been Geyre's domain when he walked among mortals, but they were mundane in both appearance and power.

Strange, rusted devices (including one shaped like a flexed arm with some sort of horizontal holes on it that he was idly toying with now) that had no use to the people of his time co-existed with stacks of books in the old language. Even as the city's scribes had begun the slow process of re-introducing a written form to human tongue, none had deciphered the words of the ancients, least of all an old man like himself. Only the goodwill of scribes and the curiosity of children and a few adults gave him enough money to pay for both food and tax.

As he watched people pass by his small nook in the open-air market with little interest, he contemplated whether or not he would have liked to have died in a ceitu seeking adventure - or, most suicidally of all, going south. Why live if I only breathe and sleep, amidst scrolls and devices I cannot understand?

A loud thump on his stall snapped him out of his dreary contemplation. He looked up, and saw a familiar face as he adjusted his glasses.

"Ahh, Kallin." He smiled as the young man idly brushed dirt off his arm. "Even when you bring me something I would never sell in a thousand seasons, you are fine company."

"Thank you, Meilar," Kallin replied, politely returning the smile. "With York's blessing, our fortunes will rise soon. Perhaps then we may join the citizens of northern Kalefheit in wealth!"

"Bah! Even with all the riches of this city, I would not want to spend my time with those insufferable fools."

Kallin was hardly surprised at his reaction; they'd had the same conversation nearly every time he had fetched the old man a relic. This time, however, he hoped their routine talk would shift in a different direction.

"I have come across a strange tome, found while I was trading with the local tribes."

Meilar raised his eyebrow. "Trading?"

"Alright, I stole it from their relic collection."

A raspy, cackling laugh escaped his mouth. "You should know better by now than to try that on me! Continue."

"Look at the symbol on it."

He did so, and saw an ancient book with a dark cover and some sort of half-circle with a line through it, surrounded by another circle.

"It is unusual, I will concede. But what does it mean?"

"It is not the symbol itself, but rather the…effect reading it has. Take it and see for yourself."

"Very well, I-"

Wait.

"Did you say 'reading'?"

"Yes. I was able to understand the old language as I read it. But when I opened another tome, it did not have the same effect."

For the first time since he had met Kallin, he was speechless. They had finally found a Wonder. A book in the old language that could be understood

"The scribes would murder their mothers to possess this," he finally managed, "and yet you brought it to me."

Kallin smiled again, more warmly than before. "You know I am not from Kalefheit originally, but a tribe to the west of here. Among my people, there is a saying - 'He who breaks a bond will be broken by the gods.' You are my friend, Meilar, and I would not abandon you in our hour of greatest triumph."

Meilar felt not only excitement, but gratitude. In an age where most still had to hire guards to leave the trading routes, honest souls were hard to come by.

"Thank you, Kallin." His heart satisfied, he now turned to his mind. "What was the subject of this tome?"

Now Kallin's face showed utter confusion. "I…do not know. Even as I read it the words did not make sense to me. The concepts that it seems to be based on are ones I do not understand. I was hoping you might be able to make better sense of it than I."

Meilar obliged his request and began to carefully open the creaking, ancient book, its seams threatening to break even as he turned over the cover. The front page contained words that he could and could not understand:

GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR ANTI-PUBLIC DRAFTEES

REPENTANCE DIVISION - PUBLIC DOMAIN PROTECTION SERVICE

NO RIGHTS RESERVED - 428

"You are right," he said slowly. "I am able to read the language of the ancients as I see this book." He idly grabbed another relic with writing on it, and found it just as incomprehensible as always. The cognitive dissonance of the two facts gave him a mild headache. He looked around and was pleased to see his shop's poor reputation working to his advantage as their revolutionary conversation was decisively ignored by Kalefheit.

"But it does not make sense, does it?" Kallin asked.

Meilar turned the pages of the tome. Though modern vocabulary lacked the word, he would have described it as anti-climactic. Here he was, with the key to unlocking the ancient words…

"No, it doesn't at all. What on earth is a 'RETRIEVAL MISSION'?"

"The gods imparting duties upon us, perhaps?"

"I have never heard of any god's followers referencing a 'Public Domain'. All of the world is the domain of the gods…"

At a loss for words, he decided enough had been said. "Kallin, thank you for bringing me this. After sunset I will spend the evening going through this tome and attempting to make sense of it. Meet me here at the opening of the shop tomorrow."

"As you wish, Meilar. Good luck."


In another world and another time, a computer monitor stirred with sudden life.

TEMPORAL CONSULTATION REQUESTED


"It can't be."

"It is. Temporal science is infallible."

"An activation? After all this time? Centuries? Millennia, even?"

"I am as confused as you, but we must stay true to the ideals of the Service, even as our purpose is defunct."

"It may not be defunct anymore…"


Meilar blinked, and he was in his shop studying the strange tome with the half-circle on it. He blinked again, and the world was gone.

Surrounding him was…nothing. A pitch black void was given features only by a strange white table with a chair on one side of it. Not knowing what else to do, he walked towards the table and sat down in the chair.

"Meilar." A voice echoed throughout the featureless landscape, reminding him of his exploration of abandoned caves as a child.

"What is this?" He said, barely audible from sheer surprise. "Where am I? Where is my shop? And who are you?"

"Answers will only lead to more questions. We will select them carefully."

Now part of the black void was illuminated by the strange symbol he had seen on the book.

"We are the Public Domain Protection Service. In the Old World, we took those who suppressed knowledge from future generations and made them atone for their crimes, using the same method that brought you here. Now, however, we can no longer draw on either the future or the past. The world died, and knowledge of ancient culture died with it.

"We do not know how you discovered one of our handbooks, but you are here now. And we need your help."

"Help?" Now Meilar was confused. "I am a middling old merchant with one good friend in the world. What help could I possibly be?"

"We have investigated things about your life, using the old methods. You lack purpose, and desire to contribute to something greater. You preserve the past, even as you do not understand it. You are, in spirit, the perfect candidate for our RE-PUBLIC effort."

"Re what now?"

"The RE-PUBLIC of the New World. The knowledge of the past may be restored to the future."

Now he was excited. "You can teach me the language of the ancients? I can unlock their secrets?"

"We could, yes, and we shall. But your mission is more important than that. We cannot save the world, not with our methods, but we can preserve the memories of it.

Meilar, you shall become the first man since the apocalypse to undergo a RETRIEVAL MISSION. You will be sent thousands of years into the past, and must navigate the alien world to bring its items back to your time."

Time travel. Something that the old man could scarcely conceive of, just as he could scarcely conceive of vanishing and reappearing in this area. Yet if these were not servants of the gods, they clearly possessed the same powers as them.

"This will take time, of course. It has been many years since we last attempted this, and given the extreme temporal distance you must undergo a CULTURAL TRAINING session. But it can be done."

And so it was.


In a bookshop in Canberra, a dark-skinned old man walked inside and purchased a gift for the future.

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