"Censorship and thought control can exist only in secrecy and darkness."
-'Alas, Babylon', Pat Frank
There was a corpse in his hands, but no body.
It was a charred thing, black and grey with ashy white bits, depending on how the chemicals within the metal and plastic reacted upon igniting. It was blown in two; the ragged edges, when pieced together, showed a hole rimmed with slag in the center. Whoever shot the thing did it perfectly, straight through its heart, dead center.
Perhaps an hour ago, it was a holobook. It would have hummed, very faintly, under his fingertips. If kept active long enough, it would have grown slightly warm under his palms, no matter how well insulated it was. If he picked it up, there would have been a cool blue glow that was also somehow warm. It would have lit his face, illuminated it with light and words, and his eyes would have reflected the lines on the page.
But it was dead now. They were all dead, rows and rows of them. The ceiling in this place was stories high, and he'd glimpsed it while it was still alive, but entering its death throes. The beautiful blue of the books was slashed by the harsher blue of blaster bolts, then shrouded within a veil of smoke. The great archive now seemed to be nothing more than some great creature stripped down to its' bones, revealing nothing but the blackened ribs of a primordial behemoth underneath.
Ink felt as though he had perhaps been swallowed.
There were no words in the ruined holobook now, only a mass of melted metal. It smelled like death in the archive too. Holobooks smelled too much like droids when they burned, sharp and with a metallic tang that could almost be tasted after awhile. He pressed the tip of his tongue into the back of his teeth and tried not to breathe too deeply. His bucket's filters never seemed to get rid of all the smell.
When he was a boy, Ink read manuals and texts. They were the only real writings available to him. There was no archive, no library, on Kamino. At least, not for clones to use. Deployment brought change, interaction with non-clone military officers brought change, and one day, a novel was pressed into his hands, of some ancient hero and his wild companion undertaking a quest for immortality. It was unlike anything he had read before. Even after the story ended, words kept filling his head, of other adventures, of other possibilities. He both loved it and hated it. The story made him feel both big and small at once; he could journey with the heroes, explore the universe, be whomever or whatever he desired. But at the end of the story, he was still inside his skin, in a shell of scruffy white armor.
The dead holobook cracked under his fingers. He squeezed and the piece in his right hand snapped in half and clattered to the floor. He dropped the half in his left hand and watched it shatter when it hit the ground. They were all destroyed. He couldn't turn it on, learn what words were locked within it. Even if there was still one or two of the holobooks left alive, he couldn't save them. There was no place to hide a holo under the hard plates of armor he wore.
There was an old woman among the dead. Her skin was thin as paper, her robes were yellow, and her lightsaber was blue. She was one of the last to fall, and there were tears on her lined face as she stood before the stacks of still glowing books and moved with a speed and grace unnatural for her age. Her body was piled alongside the other Jedi bodies, now. There was a small pyramid of them in one corner, arms sprawling and hands emptied of deadly weapons. They would be cremated soon enough.
Ink wasn't one of those who took the lightsabers as trophies. They looked wrong, hanging from the utility belts of clone- stormtroopers.
A whoop went up from another corner of the archive, and he turned, picking his way towards the sound. Three other troopers, including Sergeant Sieve, were standing inside a shadowed alcove. Lining the walls were flimsibooks, mostly thick ones. The smell in here was different; not the acrid smell of char, but of dust and mold. Sand was walking along one of the walls, his hand trailing along a shelf. He stuffed a gauntleted hand between two of the old tomes and pushed them off. They fell to the floor with dull thuds, flimsi pages fluttering. Hound was more precise as he pulled out books, seeming to choose volumes at random before tossing them over his shoulder onto the floor.
Ink knelt and looked down at the open pages. He'd never seen a flimsibook before, only holobooks. They looked so fragile, the pages so thin and yellowy. He pressed one of the pages flat and turned his head so he could read the words at the top of the page at an angle. They said:
"We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other…"
Ink did not know why the words unsettled him so. He was a clone, already alike and in the image of every other. He was no different from anyone else.
"Sand, Hound, don't just throw them on the ground," Sergeant Sieve was saying, slightly irritated. "Put them around the Jedi. They died defending them. Might as well burn with them, too. And they'll make good kindling."
There was a snort from Hound, but he obediently scooped up an armload and headed back out the door, Sand following a moment later with a pile of his own. Ink picked up the book and closed it. It was a slim volume, barely weighing anything. If there was ever a title on the cover, it was indistinguishable from the background, utterly faded out. It made a soft crackling sound as he bent it slightly in his hands.
"Take it out, Ink," Sieve said.
"They're just holobooks, Sarge," Ink replied absently, looking at the blank cover. He wondered what else was inside the pages. Was it a story? A history? Biography? "Why do we have to burn them, too? It's not like they're alive and can hurt us, like the Jedi. They can't turn traitor."
Sieve looked at the mess of flimsibooks on the ground and shook his head. "Just because they're not alive doesn't mean they're not dangerous." He reached down and began piling the books into a small stack, then lifted them. "They're to be destroyed, like everything else around here. Follow your orders and don't think about it, if it bothers you. Bring that one out with the rest, Ink."
He had to follow orders. The whole Temple complex was to be burned. It should be a pleasure to burn it all, an honor. He was helping to usher in a new age, a new era, by destroying the old and making way for the unity of the new Empire.
They were just stories. It didn't matter, not really. Just stories. They didn't mean anything. Not really. It wasn't as though they were friends or brothers. Not as though they were people with things to say. They weren't alive. And there were those days when he read the quests of heroes and felt so small it hurt. And histories – well, they were writing a new history, now. He was part of it, part of overcoming a great evil. They were just piles of flimsiplast, in the end, whatever words were inscribed into them.
Ink picked up another flimsibook, then another and another, until he too had a stack, and stood, and followed Sergeant Sieve out of the alcove to the pile of dead Jedi. Hound and Sand had tossed their flimsibooks onto the bodies. Sieve set his pile down near the base. Ink placed his beside the bodies as well, save for the one on the bottom, the first one that spoke of making everyone the same. He looked at the blank cover one more time, then at the pile. It was only words on flimsiplast, nothing more, and sometimes the words hurt. It was for the best.
The old woman who cried lay near the top, and had a hole in her chest, where Lord Vader ran her through. Her robes were singed, from the near misses of blaster bolts, and her pure white hair was still half in a bun at the top of her head. Her eyes were closed but her mouth was open, and her spindly arms flopped outward haphazardly, gnarled fingers curling around nothing.
Ink set the book on her chest, then picked up the hand closest to him and placed it on top of the slender volume.
When he turned away, Sieve was holding his blaster out to him, and he took it. It seemed strangely heavy.
The four men lined up at an appropriate distance away and took aim.
When Ink pulled the trigger, and his blaster emitted shot after shot of bright blue light, he could not quite help but feel that something was, somehow, really quite wrong.
And the flames consumed bodies and books, all.
The quote in the middle of the story is from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit451. I probably spent entirely too much time in middle and high school reading and rereading it. The novel referenced about a hero and his wild companion on a quest for immortality is an extremely brief description of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest pieces of written literature.
I've wanted to write something about the destruction of the Jedi archives for some time, books and libraries being issues close to my heart. I wrote this in about an hour and a half, apparently as some sort of strange catharsis after spending entirely too much time this week angry about the People's Library at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York being destroyed and the books thrown into dumpsters and carted off. It was incredibly not okay. 'Disrespectful' would be the mildest word I can think of; 'authoritarian' one of the stronger ones.
For me at least, this was the result.