The Historians

The Historian writes in his book with a blood-red pen, etching events that never happened into existence, erasing his many bloody misdeeds from the memory of the world. He stretches to shake away the pain of old age, the weight of many years witnessing the worst come to pass, helpless to prevent it, his only duty to change how those who suffered remember.

"It's cleaner this way," He explains, before dreaming of horrors only he can recall. Of smoke and of blood. At night, he shivers, steeped in the terrors of lives so remote from his own, lives he controls with the deft touch of a surgeon

"There can be forgiveness without forgetting," He says, the mantra meant as much for his apprentice as for himself. The boy watches his mentor scribble a new truth. Choosing what to include, what to change and what to elide entirely. “And that’s where we come in.”

The boy wonders at his own foggy past, what he has been written to forget. He looks around the ascetic room, a mat, a desk bearing parchment, pen ink and paper, a pool of water at its feet which reflected not the ceiling, but the Historian’s world, or star, or void. He struggles to remember, fruitlessly, who he was before this burden was thrust upon him. But there is only emptiness, a hole in his heart hollowed for the pain which will become his burden.

It is the same for all the apprentices. One day they wake in a giant dormitory, sleeping beneath a high glass ceiling, illuminated by permanent starlight. They remember nothing from before, not names, not families. Nothing. They look around, looking at each other in wordless fear, dressed in the robes of the clergy of Historians.

Their stewards, imposing and inaccessible, tell them only: "This is your life now."

Each is led down a long hallway. Each is assigned a historian, an aged man or woman or other, tasked with watching a small corner of the universe. Many spend every day staring onto planets bereft of life. Either unable to bear it, or it has yet to come, or it has already effaced all trace of itself from history. Each morning they wake; they bathe; they struggle through the fog of children robbed of youth and self, and they are forced to watch the watchers. Some are lucky and see only blackness, or the leftovers of violent death; some are cursed to see civilization on its making or its unmaking.

They learn there is only one universal truth: no more violent thing than life exists. In every form it consumes itself to endure, accruing sin after sin. And that the only way life forgives itself is by forgetting. And that no memory can be unmade.

Therefore... the Historians.

"It is our job to remember," They lecture their young charges. "To witness, and to choose."

"Choose what?"

"Choose what memories we think the living can bear, what they cannot. We choose what to erase, to improve. What to take upon ourselves so only our nights are disturbed."

"How long?"

"How long what, my child?"

"How long must we do this?"

Every Historian is asked this question, has asked this question and is ready with the same response.

"Until you are ready to assume our awful responsibility. Until you are ready to keep the universe spinning."

So they watch the watchers, witness their witnessing, absorb their choices, see the universe bend its truth to their pens. And one day, after they internalize the rhythms that keep their corner of existence churning forward without collapse...

...they wake in a Historian's bed.

They look down at their hands, see their decrepitude and wonder if they aged in a night. Or if their mentor's last act was to elide the lives they lived, leaving behind only wisdom.

They look up. A child enters their empty room. Seeing the youths' confusion, they smile:

"It's cleaner this way."