Some swear by King James. Some will only settle for King Lear. But give me The Prince. Machiavelli all the way. His flavor. Assertive. Unrelenting. Unforgiving. Unapologetic. That’s the power we seek in this day when all is utopic and bland. A fine cut of Prince 1532 is just what the doctor, if it weren’t a medibot, would order. You had to fight the vanilla blues some way, and, in 2074, it was with fine literature. Escapism with the choicest sheaf in the land. I became a purist just a few years back when a crime—an old school crime—was reported. A theft. Which was a rarity since most folks had everything they pretty much needed after the skurnikan was invented. Back about 2025, a proselytizing power engineer named Skurnik developed a system of micro capacitors that could reliably store electricity for years. The original skurnikan was the size of a water heater, but held enough electricity to run a typical house for a year. Within a decade, the typical skurnikan was the size of a cinder block. Completely portable. Once electricity could be stored on such a large scale, fossil fuels became a thing once again of the dinosaurs. Wind, solar, tidal energy took center stage. We even exploited the triboelectric forces of our movements. We harnessed everything because it could be easily stored and used on demand. With ubiquitous clean, cheap, renewable energy the world changed. Possibility outpaced piety. Fanaticism died. The Power Age empowered everyone. Heady stuff. No more energy-resource apartheid. Water could be desalinated cheaply. Abundant clean water meant abundant food and fertility. No more scarcity. The world prospered and our collective psyche suffered. Without strife and conflict, we became soft. Crime became passé. Police activity dealt with virtual attacks that were more like major pranks, really. And that’s the context when I got the robbery call. It was just Velasquez and me in the 57th precinct. That’s all the job demanded anymore. Two phone jockeys with decent ‘puter skills. We weren’t really equipped to deal with real criminal activity. An actual theft of property. And a book at that. A very old book according to the academician who called. He was quite hysterical. “It can’t be replaced! Do you understand? A first edition of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. The flavor of the writing is indescribable. I can’t bear to live without it. You must find it!” I have to say the gent’s passion surprised me. Only webaholics these days got that obsessed with anything. We’d created a pretty even-keeled society. Of course Velasquez and I were intrigued, though we hadn’t a clue how to begin with an actual property crime. Luckily, there were archives in the precinct and a million and one cop shows from the past century. It wasn’t really that hard. Kind of fun. Until we fell upon the truth. And the truth was deeper than both of us. When we began to dig we found quicksand and it swallowed us up. Rare books were being stolen the world over, but there was an uncanny hush surrounding the racket. Seemed no one wanted to talk about it except our academician who reported Ben Franklin’s theft. He was the key that unlocked Pandora’s box and then removed the hinges. My world came unhinged. One classic read at a time. David Copperfield. War and Peace, The Tale of Genji. Old old books gone. The trail faint until Velasquez followed up on a tip from a well connected politico. Velasquez went deep under and never surfaced. I waited. But he never came up for air. Until it was rarefied. That’s the upshot. Rarefied air. Do you see? Velasquez found the source and then we were hooked. In a world where happiness was easy, ecstasy was not. That was the new extremism and it was doing the unthinkable. Huffing our heritage. Smoking our very foundation. Oh, but the flavor, the high of sinking so low.
Who would’ve believed that the crumbling pages of ancient texts could deliver such a rush? What strange science in the ink and paper, the soul of the writer. Flaubert, Tzu, Dante, Basho, Hume, Gallegos, Khayyam, Cervantes, Twain, Crane, Paine. Oh what was a first edition of Wordsworth worth? It took you to the mountaintop and split you asunder! It was the only drug left, and it corrupted all who breathed in the brittle pages of our literary past. Evermore. Nevermore. Who could resist a first edition Poe? To the core we smoked away the only evidence of our once proud form. We who had once striven with war and disease, crime and inhumanity. Our greatest thinkers borne from the madness of scarcity, the prey of want. One by one, smoked in the new hedonism.
It was to be savored. Maybe it was the only answer in an age of plenty. To turn us back to our badder selves—our more perfect form. A burnt offering to the gods we would never again imagine, if we didn’t push ourselves to every writer’s purpose: The End.