Welcome back readers! After a week of vacation and a day late, I bring you the next story in my Story a Week project. This is the second story that I'm presenting here that is not in the Frank Saga, so I hope that you like it. It's a little longer than most of the stories that I've posted, so I hope that you'll read the entire entry. I know that I've written mostly science fiction stuff, and I would like you all to know that I expect next week's post to be a little more genre neutral.
Since this is still a blog, I'll also let you all know that I have two non-story posts in the works, one of them will be about our trip to Hawaii. The other will be a surprise, of sorts, for now.
Now, I present to you, "American Archeology":
Archeologist Bensen dug through the pile of trash in the latest excavation of one of Old America's small towns. He gasped when he found a solid plastic tub. Such finds were rare almost one hundred years after the end of the United States, and when you did find one, they almost always yielded good artifacts or cultural data.
Excitedly, Bensen cleared out the garbage surrounding the tub. It was one of the clear varieties, so Bensen could see the contents. Gingerly, he turned the tub around. Inside he saw some notebooks and... what were those flat round things? Oh, yeah, compact discs. Bensen shook his head, at the time of the fall, Americans had discovered solid state storage and they were still using inefficient and fragile compact discs?
He shook his head again as he stared into the tub. His boss would want to see this. "Doctor Toben! Doctor Toben!"
Bensen heard voices outside approaching the ruined house or whatever this building was one hundred years ago. Doctor Matthias Toben and another of his archeology students entered the building. Toben immediately spotted the tub and asked, "What have you got there, Bensen?"
"It's one of those old plastic tubs commonly used for storage, Doctor. It has several notebooks and some compact discs inside. There are some other miscellaneous items as well," Bensen replied. He hesitated for a moment, and then asked, "I'd like to have permission to bring it back to the lab and examine the contents myself."
Bensen could see the debate going on inside of his mentor's head. One the one hand, Bensen was a final year graduate student. On the other hand, who knows what new discoveries Bensen might destroy if he weren't careful.
Finally, Toben said, "Okay, you can examine your find. When you get to the field lab, have some undergrads observe you working. We'll kill two jets with one missile."
Bensen quickly surveyed the rest of the room for any other tubs or other valuable artifacts, but didn't see anything. He gently carried the tub out to one of the ATVs that the excavation team was using. He was so careful that it took him twice as long as normal to get back to the field lab. Once there, he told some undergrads to spread the word around that he'd be opening up something special.
Before the undergrads arrived, Bensen spent some time prepping the lab. When six or seven undergrads came into the lab, Bensen began. He put on gloves and carefully opened the lid. The smell of musty paper wafted out of the tub and into the lab. Bensen smiled, that smell was one of the many reasons that he loved this work.
He reached for the first notebook and carefully extracted it from the tub. He gently opened to the first page and gasped for the second time that day. "The contents of this notebook appear to be a journal."
One of the undergrads asked, "Is that good?"
Bensen answered without looking up, "Oh, yes. We have many surviving government records and other semi-reliable resources, but actual eye-witness accounts are often more accurate and reliable than governmental records. Also, we've uncovered details about the end of the United States that aren't in any official records."
Bensen began reading the journal, "November 24th, 2017. It's supposed to be Thanksgiving Day. The only thing that we have to be thankful for is that no bandits have come calling in the past six months. Ever since the Army was ordered to abandon Fort Ripley, the bandits have been able to travel over a wider range of territory and haven't come to Flensburg since then."
Bensen looked up at his audience. He said, "We know from our governmental records that Fort Ripley and many other smaller garrisons around the country were ordered to be abandoned on May 15th, 2017. The Army was trying to reorganize and consolidate their forces after the nuclear attacks earlier in that year."
He glanced down at the journal and scanned through the rest of the notebook. He stopped when he saw something interesting. He read, "March 26th, 2018. The power finally went out today. We'd known that it would eventually happen, but we were hoping that it would last until the spring was in full swing at least. We've been working really hard on a wall to surround the town and we should have it finished by summer."
Bensen looked up at the undergrad students. He said, "We knew that the Monticello Nuclear Plant went down sometime during the spring of 2018, but we never had a date before today. This is very exciting! Now, I know that this evidence isn't exactly decisive, anything could have happened to make this town lose power, but the evidence is very promising anyway."
Bensen flipped a couple of pages to the end of the notebook. He scanned it and grunted. He started to close the notebook when one of the undergrads asked, "What's it say?"
Bensen looked up. "Oh, probably not much of use, but I'll read it, if you like."
He saw all of the students nod and he continued reading, "July 4th, 2018. We had an Independence Day party today. The Mayor says that we need to remember that we were once a part of something bigger. Fat lot of good it does for us now. We still get short wave transmissions from what's left of the US Government when we bother to waste generator power on it. At least the fireworks were good, even though we used the last of them. Oh, and there was plenty to drink. In other news, some bandits came by yesterday for the first time since we completed the wall. They decided not to risk attacking us, which is good."
Bensen glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that the lab would be closing for the day in a few minutes. "We have time for one more entry," he said. He closed the notebook that he had open and gently pulled out the next one from the tub. He opened the notebook and said, "Oh, my. This journal begins before the nuclear attacks."
Bensen read out loud, "March 12th, 2017. I've decided to start keeping a journal. Things around the country and around the world are getting more and more alarming and I wanted to capture the events from my perspective. Who knows? Maybe I'll be able to turn this into a bestselling novel after all of this stuff blows over.
"I better catch this journal up with current events of late. Where to begin? Well, President Jefferies was inaugurated into office two months ago which seemed to be the start of the world-wide protests against the US. Jefferies is a very conservative Christian. After he was elected, he started spouting out anti-Islamic and isolationist ideals that he had kept hidden before the election."
Bensen paused here to note, "That's not entirely true. When Jefferies was the governor of Texas, he was very much anti-immigration and used the state police to close the border with Mexico. When he started winning the primary elections for the Presidency, he quieted down about his foreign policy views and focused on improving the United States' export/import ratio and lowering taxes."
Bensen looked back down at the journal and continued reading, "At this point, no one is certain that the Minotaur virus is a biological weapon used against us, or if it's just a natural outbreak of a previously unknown virus. The government claims that the outbreak is contained, but most of the media outlets are telling us otherwise. There are unconfirmed reports of the disease having spread to each of the other continents. Russia is accusing the US government of purposely spreading the disease to other countries."
Bensen glanced at the clock again and noticed that it was a couple of minutes past closing time. Doctor Toben was standing there listening to Bensen read the journal. Bensen said, "It looks like it's time to go..." His audience collectively sighed. "I'm sure that I'll be going through these all tomorrow too."
The assembled undergrads filed out and Doctor Toben approached the table where Bensen was working. "I didn't hear much," the Doctor said, "but it all sounded very interesting."
Excitedly, Bensen nodded his head. "There's great stuff in here. Whoever the author is, they started the journal in March of 2017. I've already discovered some new information in the first one I flipped through."
Toben smiled and replied, "That's good. You can continue to work through these journals and whatever else is in that tub." Bensen smiled and was about to speak, but Toben held up his hand. "I expect detailed notes, the journals to be transcribed and indexed, and a full report when you're done."
Bensen's smile didn't run away as Toben was obviously expecting it to. "Of course, Doctor. I want to do everything by the book." Toben nodded, said goodbye and left.
As Bensen was gingerly putting the journals away he found himself looking forward to the next couple of weeks.