Excerpt: The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion
The BiblioSanctum is pleased to be participating in the tour for The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion, a visceral and thrilling #OwnVoices dystopia based on the life of Frederick Douglass! Today we are sharing an exciting excerpt from the novel, available now from Titan Books wherever books are sold. Check it out, and be sure to also visit the other stops on the tour!
After World War III, Earth is in ruins, and the final armies have come to a reluctant truce. Everyone must obey the law–in every way–or risk shattering the fragile peace and endangering the entire human race.
Although Arika Cobane is a member of the race whose backbreaking labor provides food for the remnants of humanity, she is destined to become a member of the Kongo elite. After ten gruelling years of training, she is on the threshold of taking her place of privilege far from the fields. But everything changes when a new student arrives. Hosea Khan spews dangerous words of treason: What does peace matter if innocent lives are lost to maintain it?
As Arika is exposed to new beliefs, she realizes that the laws she has dedicated herself to uphold are the root of her people’s misery. If Arika is to liberate her people, she must unearth her fierce heart and discover the true meaning of freedom: finding the courage to live–or die–without fear.
Excerpt from The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion, published by Titan Books. Copyright © 2019 by Agnes Gomillion
In the fall before I met Hosea Khan, I accepted the Silver Medal Award in old-world history. In my winning essay, I outlined the events lading up to the Last War, the war that destroyed the old world, save a sliver of the east coast of old North America.
Every Record Keeper knows the paramount forces behind that catastrophe, as they validate our aversion to electro-technology. The conclusion I drew in my essay, however, was extraordinary. I argued that the fate of the old world could be traced to a single instant.
I had many unfortunate moments to choose from. For example, in a last-minute decision, the Director of the Omega Project, the final brainchild of the bankrupt SETI gropu, decided to cut costs by using the Allen Telescope Array in place of more sophisticated models proposed for the Project. It was an important decision since the Allen elements linked directly to the Internet and left the whole world vulnerable to attack.
If not that moment, I might have pinpointed the minute Steve Kalowitz, a manager on the Project, relinquished control of the monitor room to Henry Burns, an overworked intern. Leaving an intern unsupervised was against protocol, but that night was the last of the year, and Kalowitz was eager to celebrate with his wife and triplet toddlers—all of whom died eight days later when the first heavy bomb, dubbed “the Volcano Marker,” landed. I could have chosen the moment one of the radio telescopes transmitted a signal to the undermanned control room, a process that took less than a second. Or the moment Burns, in receipt of the signal, comprehended its significance.
The Allen telescopes were designed to scan the sky for artificial radio waves. A synthetic signal, such as the one transmitted that night, could have come from an extraterrestrial society, with superhuman transmitters. Or, more likely, the signal was a hoax—a human hacker fishing for dramatic entry into the worldwide network he intended to destroy.
Regardless, the telescopes collected the signal and fed it into imaging software. A moment later, the Project monitor displayed the software’s yield—a sheet of music! Staffs, a treble clef, time signature and waves of black notes.
In my essay, I wondered why Burns, presented with this chillingly sophisticated image, did not immediately send for Kalowitz, who would have called the Project Director, who would have alerted the American President, who might have saved the world. But I found no satisfying answer. Instead, Burns downloaded the signal and processed it into sound: a long overture of static, a series of beeps and drones, a moment of silence, a tune.
Listening, Burns sighed. By no coincidence, we think, the tune was one his grandmother Burns had sung to him in the crib. Her sweet face came to his eyes that night, and her breath to his nose. The chorus crested, and his heart melted—in an instant.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread upon me
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend, and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.
Lulled by the familiar ballad, Mr Burns relaxed his ordinarily cautious nature. He emailed the song to his mother, Patricia, who sent it to her brother, Jonah, who forwarded it to his entire address catalog.
A recipient of Jonah’s email had a premonition of danger and marked the attachment as potentially hazardous spam—too late. The virus had learned to propagate itself. It infiltrated every computer that came within range of an Internet signal, even momentarily. At 98.9 percent saturation, the virus began to feed. Confusion, blackout, global meltdown. Whoever launched the Volcano Maker, United Korea we think, triggered the Last War—the end of an age. The United States responded, along with the Pax-Putinia, violating the Upper-East Treaty. When that treaty fell, all the old allegiances and grudges resurfaced in total war.
On account of the blackout, aerial navigation was imprecise. Bombs exploded hundreds of miles off target, shattering alliances and bolstering animosity. As the lines between nations dissolved, mad men took over each of the seven continents, and bombing continued, destabilizing the crust of the Earth. The ten-year Continent Conflict ended when a parasitic organism rose up, we think, from the magma layer and killed millions before it was contained. Crashing seas of molten lava, unpredictable quaking, and boiling geysers that sprayed strange bacteria and disease left most of the world uninhabitable.
Hungry herds of refugees sought shelter, strength and new world order. Eventually they found it, on a stable island that was old North America. They organized into tribes and managed a few years of peace before fighting broke out again, a six-year race war. When the three remaining armies—the Dark Kongos, the Brown Clayskins and the Whites, called English—finally agreed to end it, they met in the north country, near Niagara, and hashed out a compromise.
AGNES GOMILLION is an #OwnVoices writer and speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives with her husband and son. Homegrown in the Sunshine State, Agnes holds a degree in English literature with a focus on African-American literature from the University of Florida and a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master degree from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. She is a voracious reader of the African-American literary canon and a dedicated advocate for marginalised people everywhere. Her debut novel, The Record
Keeper, is a literary addition to the afro-futuristic science-fiction genre.