The Fifth World

Powerdown

By Giulianna Maria Lamanna

We all knew it would happen eventually. Whether the Tough Book or the Panel fell first, the Book itself had warned us that neither would last forever.

Our ancestors had left them to us: the Panel tilted to the sun, deep blue and speckled and shining; and the Book, bestowing vast knowledge upon those who knew which keys to press and how to read the glyphs that appeared on the screen. Most fragile of all, the cord that connected them, transferring the lightning that the Panel made from sunlight to the Book, causing it to glow. The ancestors left us replacement cords, which we kept safe and dry and cool. Those inevitably frayed and broke, but we did what we could.

It has become apparent that no one will succeed me as Keeper of the Book. The last cord has begun to fray. The Panel and the Book’s screen have both cracked and chipped and faded. Long ago the keys had glyphs which would tell you what symbols they would make on the screen, but the last of them fell off generations ago. Like my father and grandfather, I had to simply memorize the location of each one.

Our ancestors believed they needed power. Every house had a roof of panels. Every house had at least one book like this. Our ancestors did not build these things to last generations, but my own ancestor, Dave, connected a brand-new panel to a particularly sturdy book, and loaded Wikipedia on it as the old world died. To remember what happened. To avoid making the same mistakes again.

Dave made his own entries, too, and when he passed, his first-born became Keeper, and she added new entries, too. They added strategies and recipes and stories that we have now memorized without remembering where they came from. I read their words again now, their story of how the world they knew ended and how they clumsily, painfully created a new one. They died long ago but, because of the words they left, they feel like my beloved friends: Dave, Sofi, Will, Ash, Dakota, Log, Rabbit. Their blood runs through my veins, but soon the lightning will fade and their words will disappear at last forever.

I asked for volunteers to memorize entries so we could preserve as much as we could before that happened, but the more we talked, the more we realized we had already memorized the important things. Today we turn off the Tough Book and unplug it from the Panel, and thank it for all it’s given us. Parents teach their children how to survive, but children grow up. We have learned all we can from it. We pay our respects to the ones who left them to us, we thank them, and we move on.