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“Notes on the Earth Museum” by Krishan Coupland

“Notes on the Earth Museum” by Krishan Coupland


One: Jace Eldriss (Director, Earth Museum Trust)

I really don’t think the Firsts understood the importance of archiving. I can’t blame them. They had rather more than enough to deal with just building Colony. To them, the Museum was just another silly Earther idea that didn’t have much relevance to their lives. The original mission plan had the Earth Museum as a central cultural institution… but the Firsts were quick to put paid to that. They needed habitats. They needed ponics. What they didn’t need, in those tough early cycles of Colony, was an idealistic folly conceived of by long-dead anthropologists from a planet none of them had ever even seen. 

For cycles and cycles and cycles the collection just sat in a storage pod. It was moved around a few times, lost once or twice. It came within a hair’s breadth of being commandeered for extra ponics space. Bits and pieces were taken and recycled, and other things were thrown in there for storage. It was supposed to be climate-controlled, the pod, but that wasn’t really maintained. As Colony grew, the collection rotted.

It didn’t help that many of the exhibits were made from rather delicate materials: plant matter and textiles and animal skins and so on. By the time the Trust was finally established about half the collection had been destroyed or lost.

It seems shocking now, but you have to remember that the Firsts and the Seconds had somewhat of a curious relationship with Earth. Most of them had been born in transit, on board the colony ship. They’d spent their lives looking forward to landfall, to building Colony. Earth was ancient history to them. Indeed, in the early days of Colony, it was almost taboo to admit any kind of fondness for Earther culture. That was backward-looking. That was anti-Colony. There was a great doctrine of forward progress at the time. Those were the cycles of Growing Colony, of Every Colonist Counts. It was considered to be setting a terribly bad example to pine after a planet which, in many cases, you’d barely even known.

In that climate, it’s no wonder the Earth Museum was left to rot. If anyone did come to visit the sad little storage pod where the collection was kept, they did so in secret. When people took things, even if they intended to save them, they’d keep them hidden, out of sight. So it’s possible, at least, that we’ll be able to locate some of the lost artefacts over time in family collections and so on. It’s just a matter of perseverance, really, and careful research, and – of course – looking after the few things we do have left as carefully as we can.


Two: Spen Aisling (School Teacher, Heart of Firsts Primary)

The most recent vogue was cops and robbers. You get little crazes all the time – things which don’t really get far beyond the Archive Club kids… but then sometimes something will catch their imagination, and before you know it everyone is running around having pretend gunfights and making themselves police badges and asking questions about detectives and prison and murder and evidence.

When it’s a really big vogue it takes over the whole school. Even the kids who normally make fun of the Archive Club. And you can never tell what’s going to be big. Cops and robbers makes sense, because it’s exciting, and we don’t really have anything like that in Colony, but some of the other things are just bizarre.

Like recently there was a vogue for France. France was a country on Earth that was famous for a great many things: their cuisine, their art, their history. They had their own language – a complicated, fast, throaty kind of language. One with lots of corners.

Anyhow, when it became the in thing the kids all started learning to speak French. Just a few words here and there, most of them, although I remember some of the Archive Kids were fluent – something which briefly made them quite cool, at least while the vogue was in full force. Everyone had at least one or two words, and they would drop them in wherever they could. Mostly to each other, it has to be said; they always tend to think that their vogues are something grown-ups will never understand.

But the France thing didn’t stop there. They started acting French too. Wearing clothes they thought looked French – trying to make themselves berets. Berets! Taking on mannerisms, and learning facts about French history, and playing at smoking or drinking wine or being an aristocrat. 

Silly, of course, because their only source of information was the Archives, and even then it was mainly materials from the popular media collections. So they were copying cartoons, or little bits from literature, or Earther movies, or even just personal diaries. A real mix of things. 

And, added to that, you don’t really know how much they actually understand.

The weirder concepts can be difficult to them. Like cities. They have terrible trouble wrapping their heads around cities; how you could be in a city but still outside. To them everything that’s part of anything is inside. So how could a person be in Paris but also be outside in the rain? And how could a person do something like sit at a café and drink a coffee and be outside while doing that?

“What about rain?” they ask. “What about wind?” And I tell them that if it rained the Earthers just got wet, and if the wind blew they just got windswept. They don’t like that. “Their clothes too? How did they get dry? What if rain got on their things?”

I try to help them as much as I can, but I can’t always answer their questions. I don’t know the answers. How did humans know where a city ended? Why did they only ride horses and never zebras? If a plane flew through a cloud would it leave a hole behind it? Where did the birds go when there were storms?

You always get more questions during the big vogues. Sometimes, if I’m honest, it’s kind of draining. It takes over everything, and the kids don’t want to hear about anything else… and at the same time they’re doing their best to look like they know everything there is to know about whatever it is – detectives or manga or cruise ships or the Victorians – and at the same time they don’t know a single thing, not really, they’re just pretending. Quite honestly, sometimes, I see them pretending so hard, so earnestly, and it just makes me feel like crying.


Three: Annika Blaze (Student, Grade 4)

My favourite thing I ever found in the unsorted collections was a diary by a girl called Millie. She lived in London, which was a big city (about 50 times the size of Colony!) and she went to school and she was a dancer too, and went to dance competitions and sometimes she won them and she argued with her mum quite often and when the arguments were really bad she would run away from home and sleep in a shed on some “allotments” which were fields for growing food, like the ponics. She had blankets stashed there for when she needed to sleep.

I’ve thought about it, but I don’t think there’s anywhere in Colony I could go if I wanted to run away from home. There are the ponics, but there are always people there even in the middle of the night. I’ve looked for places where nobody else goes – little cubbies under staircases or behind vent stacks, but usually they’re too small or not hidden enough. I think that in the whole of Colony there isn’t a single place like the little shed where Millie used to go when she ran away from home.

Not that I want to run away from home! Not most of the time. But there are times when I think it would be nice to go somewhere, like Millie could. She talked sometimes about getting the train, when the arguments had been really bad or when she was really down – about getting the train and going somewhere else, to another city. Now that’s something which makes me feel jealous, because there’s only one Colony and Colony is everything that there is, and there just isn’t a place to go that is another place, a place away from this one.

One other thing about Millie was that, like a lot of Earthers, she was absolutely obsessed with love. She was always writing in her diary about it: when was she going to fall in love and what did falling in love feel like and would it be okay if she fell in love with her best friend from school or what if she never fell in love? She didn’t seem to know any of the answers ever, but she spent so much time writing about it you’d think there was nothing else in the world!

Earthers cared a lot about love because they didn’t have the Lottery. They could marry almost anyone they liked, and so really they just had to be looking the whole time for the person they would be with, never knowing when it was going to happen or with who or what it was going to be like or if it would work out, which is a scary thought, really, and so I also feel kind of sorry for Millie because it must be bad not knowing what’s going to happen for the rest of your life.

I mean, I do wonder who I’m going to end up with, but at least I know it will be a good match, and even if it’s not a good match we’ll get counselling to help us get along and it won’t be bad, and whatever happens we’ll be helping Colony to grow responsibly, and so we’ll be doing a good thing no matter what.

There was a vogue for falling in love a little while ago, at school. Me and Micha tried it, by spending lots of time together and holding hands and declaring our love, but I don’t know if I ever felt it really. I mean… I don’t know what it feels like so I wouldn’t know if I did feel it, and I wasn’t actually sure that I wanted to, because the way Millie put it being in love would be kind of scary and kind of difficult and kind of strange, and it might really make things difficult, actually, if we did fall in love, me and Micha. So I was glad when that vogue ended.

I still read Millie’s diary a lot though. And I’m still looking for a place like her shed. I want to have somewhere to go to – even if it’s not another place different from Colony. I want to have someplace that’s just my own, even though I know that’s a silly thing to want.


Four: Decra Chou (Celebrant, Colony Unified Spiritual Services)

Some families have jewellery. Some have swords. At school I remember a kid whose greatelder passed on a real, working radio set. And there are lots of clothes and quilts and cloaks and shirts that have been passed down from generation to generation.

But in my family we don’t have any of that stuff. Instead, we’ve got a song.

It’s not even a complete song. Half the words are gone, and the words that are left don’t make any sense. I’m not even really sure the way I remember it is right, or if I’ve changed it by accident. You’re not supposed to write it down, because of family tradition, so there’s no way of being sure. 

Sometimes I can only remember bits of it. Which isn’t how it used to be – when I was a kid I knew the whole thing off by heart, and I used to sing it all the time. When I was working, under my breath. When I was walking to school. And every time I sang it I was remembering it over again, firmer than before.

Om annayyy a shepp ooo teeeyoo, onna mayyyo paann… 

No. That’s not quite right. Give me a minute. I’ll remember.

I used to be so proud of this dumb song. Didn’t want any of that other stuff. A sword is just a sword and one day it’ll rust and fall apart. Doubly so for clothes and other Earther things. None of it would last forever, but the song would.

Well, sort of. I mean, I’ve already forgotten bits of it, I’m fairly sure. And if I ever get to have kids and pass it on, I bet they’ll forget parts of it too – and you have to reckon my elder would have forgotten some bits the same way, and their elder, and their elder too. And everyone has just been forgetting and patching over the forgotten bits with humming and made up words for cycles and cycles.

So maybe the song is more patches than it is song, by now. But… if I do have kids I’ll still teach it to them. That’s the thing. Just because it’s all going to go doesn’t mean you don’t have to try.

Omm aaa nayaaaa ashhheee ooo… 

No. That’s not quite right. That’s close. I’ll get it in a minute.


Five: Caption on Art Exhibit (50th Landfall Colony Fair)

Alma Wade III (1-105)

Earther Arrow, (1-122)

An oversized, undyed reproduction in squid resin of an artefact from the Earth Museum – a piece of flint which may have been used by ancient Earthers who existed long before the Firsts. This copy faithfully recreates the contours of the object, but deliberately leaves the colour uniform, subtly interrogating the idea of a “perfect” copy.  

The artist is known for their work in squid resin sculpting, including numerous reproductions of Earther artefacts. Their work is often deliberately imperfect, and aims to call into question the value of artifice in reproduction. Wade is most famous for their reproduction of an Earther car – a vehicle used for transport between Earther cities.


Six: Turo Marque (Officer, Colony Security)

Right. The Ex-Earther thing. There’s a lot of that going about these days. Parents, mostly, getting annoyed with some of the vogues. Seems silly, but. You get complaints. Kids playing at having guns. Kids playing at being police or fighting wars. Violent, Earther stuff mostly.

I mean, we did that kind of thing when we were little. Played war and all that. Not sure what’s so different now. The vogues are getting more serious, they say. That’s the argument. That’s always the argument. All fun and games back in the old days, but now the kids don’t know what they’re messing with.

Some people want it all banned. Parents, mostly. An age limit on Archive access. Or, really, why have Archive access at all? That’s what they say. It’s not very Every Colonist Counts, they say. It’s a distraction. 

And then there’s the Museum Trust wanting more funding all the time. Doesn’t go down well. It’s draining funds from more important things, they say – from elder care and the medical centre and on replacing air pumps in some of the vent stacks. It’s hard to justify. Especially when you’ve got kids running around pretending their Earther soldiers with Earther guns.

I can’t say much about it.


I mean… of course we should fund the Museum. No reason for it. It’s just the right thing to do. That’s how I think about it. Can’t argue for it any other way. If you don’t see that it’s the right thing to do… well… I don’t know what I can say. That’s our history, that is. That’s us. Where we came from. 

But, of course, it’s not my place to have opinions like that. Are you recording?


Seven: Marg Pilbuk (Ponics Worker, Ground Level Farms)

I do wonder what it would have been like. I know that’s selfish. I know that Earth wasn’t a happy place. There was a lot of trouble – particularly towards the end. All the fighting and the floods and the toxic air. Whenever I say this to anyone that’s all they come out with – “lucky escape” and all that. But I’ve browsed the Archives the same as everyone else. I know it wasn’t like that all the time.

And the bits that weren’t like that… well… they do seem interesting. Like being able to get in a car and drive to the ocean. Like being able to swim in the ocean. Or flying! Or going up in a skyscraper, or eating in a really fine restaurant. Or even things that do seem quite bad, if I’m honest, but which aren’t ever going to happen here.

I read a piece in the Archives once about some humans camping out in the jungle, and how they couldn’t sleep at night because they were too afraid – and they were too afraid because of all the sounds. There were a terrible number of sounds in the jungle on Earth. Creatures moving around in the trees and screaming and calling with nothing in between you and them except empty space. Dangerous creatures too. 

It’s odd because, mostly, nights are silent. Except for maybe someone coughing or wandering around in the next hab over. Nothing ever howls at the moon. Nothing ever makes mating calls or screeches in the night or flaps around through the trees. There are the squid, of course, but they’re silent and calm and just a bit eerie. They don’t make any sounds, and they don’t ever come near you.

Sometimes if I can’t sleep I just lie there for hours and hours, and will myself to hear something. There are recordings in the Archive so I know exactly what a monkey or an elephant or an owl or a fox or a car horn or a passing train or a bat or a tiger would sound like. I’ve listened so often I can play those sounds in my head. And so I lie there, playing those sounds in my head. You get to know them so well that sometimes you can convince yourself there’s actually something out there.

Krishan Coupland is a writer, artist, game designer, and publisher. He runs a small literary magazine and chapbook press – one of the longest-running independent ones in the UK. The magazine is more than 50 issues old, which is ancient in litmag terms. He also sometimes busks with a typewriter at festivals and markets. His short fiction has been selected for the Best British Short Stories 2017, and won the the Manchester Fiction Prize and the Bare Fiction Prize. He published a chapbook called When You Lived Inside the Walls, and is published by Stonewood Press as part of their Thumbprint series. It’s a collection of his three best short stories. He also writes non-fiction, and sometimes make gamesHe is on Twitter, but not very enthusiastic about it.

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