Denver, the Capitol of the Grand Unified Empire of the People, is home to more than 12 million people just in city limits alone. It was a sensible choice to build the capital, sea levels rose almost 20 meters in the decade after the point of no return, burying virtually all coastal cities across the globe. It didn’t happen over night, mind you. It took the entirety of the 30s. The migration didn’t begin in earnest until the waters touched their feet.
The People’s Empire, they call it, but sensitive readers will understand that the people do not have the control they are purported to. In the early 2040s, after the coasts were all but destroyed and well over 100 million people lost their homes and ways of life, the shit really hit the fan. Potable water shortages had been a latent threat for decades, but in the 40s there was really no water. The poor were hit especially hard. The Nestle corporation has a stranglehold on the bottled water industry. They pumped gallon after gallon out of public aquifers, pumping many of them dry, and milking the people dry of their money at the same time. If you could not afford the $5/liter cost, you had two options: die of thirst, or work for Nestle. They paid in water, using the current market price of water. The minimum wage minus the cost of the water you consumed. After buying food at the company store, people often had nothing left.
As a result of this practice, the people of the United States staged a revolt. The world joined in support of the revolt, staging similar revolts in their respective homelands. Out of the madness rose a magnanimous figure, an orator with a silver tongue, to lead The People’s revolution. A man of modest origins, he promised to share water. He promised a sort of communism of natural resources, food and water. The People’s Army, led by Michael Jean, rose to power and unified the global revolt under a new banner, The Grand Unified Empire of The People, supposed to be a Republic Empire. An Emperor as the figurehead, with a senate composed of elected representatives. Their constitution, however, was anything but republican. The people had been swindled into yet another fascist state.
But a state that provided them with rations they so desperately needed. The propaganda machine was powerful, therefore the people were happy in their poverty and squalor. Not long after the rise of the People’s Empire, the great lakes region grew tired of sharing their wealth, tired of their lack of control of it. With no central leader or authority, they built walls. Walls, speckled across a wide swath of the northern mid-west, built by the hands of volunteers, to slow the Empire down. In the mid-50s, they codified their state with a constitution of their own, not recognized by the GUEP even to this day. They call themselves the Great Lakes, and they are, as far as I know or can tell, the only free state left.
As part of the propaganda machine, the GUEP began work on The People’s Library. The library was intended to be the replacement for the former US’s Library of Congress, a store-room of fact and a curated collection of history. Its concrete edifice stands atop the site of the former Denver Central Library, a brutalist building with imposing stature. From the street, one would think it a bulwark or military installation, it has arrowslit-style windows every meter or so across the entire perimeter. The interior is magnificent, on the walls are hung the trophies of the Empire, the greatest artworks of the 20th century and beyond.
To enter the building, one must scan his or her valid state ID card and biometrics. After admittance, massive concrete door opens, allowing one and only one to enter the Grand Foyer, a giant rectangular open room with 30 meter ceilings, curved staircases on either end. The staircases lead up to the stacks, the lower level contains offices, terminals, and several auditoriums of various capacity. The wall separating the foyer from the rest of the library is composed of giant panes of glass. The doors are glass too, sliding to the sides as one approaches.
The terminal room is always packed with people, at all times of day and all days of the year. The majority of the populace is far too poor to afford access to the internet, let alone a terminal to connect to it with. One walks through the lower level doors directly into the terminals room and witnesses a throng of unwashed masses spaced out staring deep into glowing monitors. Each ID card is allotted 2 hours of terminal time per day and there are 1,200 terminals in total. The wait time for terminal access can stretch into the tens of hours on particularly busy days, but people still stand in the line. The queue is a snaking line that closely resembles an amusement park ride queue, taking up valuable space that could be used to hold more terminals, people would say. But, in reality, it is just the way they want it. More people waiting in line jonesing for their terminal time is fewer people waiting in chow lines, fewer people questioning the state of their reality, fewer people with the motivation and time to dissent.
The upper floor of the Library is never trafficked. It contains all of the books approved by GUEP, over 400,000 tomes some of which were specially prepared to meet the propaganda requirements. I suppose it doesn’t matter, few go there to read books, few even care. The ones that do have access to the internet and, therefore, the books in their original form. Being entirely decentralized, the Empire has no control over the contents of the internet as a whole. I often find myself there in amongst the stacks just to find a piece of quiet, a respite from the chaos that is the City of Denver. There is something quaint and old-fashioned about the smell of the second floor. The dusty disused books smell of paper and adhesives, but the smell is oddly soothing. Like the smell of grandma’s house, it reminds one of simpler times. It fabricates a memory of the time where the books were the source of information, the disseminator of thought and theory.