AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story about Jay Gallard (called Galahad by the Regents) precedes the action of the novel. This is also a Sunday Scribblings post.
Jay fumbled with the keys in the darkness, fighting the creeping sensation that he was being watched. There was no one up here but the shades of the pandemic dead. From the way his legs were cramping and quivering after climbing twenty stories in claustrophobic darkness, maybe even the ghosts had said to heck with it and decided not to bother coming this far.
One of Jay's stolen keys slipped into the lock and turned easily. He pushed open the door and swept the beam of his flashlight in an arc.
The suite lay in a state of hushed and dusty abandonment, but Jay had smelled enough decomposing bodies to know that no one had died here. He was the first to find this place since the pandemic had laid waste to the city below.
He took care to lock the door behind him, then began making the rounds, shining his light this way and that, illuminating oil paintings and sofas, Persian rugs and oak wainscoting. That was just the first room. He made his way into a bedroom with a four-poster bed piled high with feather pillows. He strolled in wonder through a dining room with a heavy crystal chandelier. In the kitchen he found a miracle of food - crackers, cookies, chocolate, and preserves, all untouched by vermin and his for the taking. His stomach growled, so he opened a box of ginger snaps.
He forced himself to eat slowly. He was no longer used to rich foods, and it was best to pace himself, lest it all come up again. With the box of cookies tucked under his arm, he moved on to the next room, then stopped in his tracks.
Bookshelves lined the walls, packed tight with leather-bound volumes. A leather sofa and a wing chair dominated the center of the room, and underneath a window was a desk for writing and reading. Of all the things Jay had hoped he would find in this hotel penthouse suite, he hadn't dreamed of a library. He approached the nearest bookcase in curiosity. Plato. Aristotle. Euripides. Virgil. The next bookcase held volumes by Dante, Machiavelli and Shakespeare. A classics library.
He pulled a volume at random and sat down in the dusty wing chair. Still munching cookies, he opened The Iliad, but his mind was too fevered to read more than a few lines, so he set the book aside and sat for a few minutes, lost in thought.
He had done terrible things out of anger and frustration as the pandemic raged, but he had since resolved that he would find some way to make his survival mean something. Until now, he couldn't fathom what service he could offer the other survivors, other than scavenging the wreckage of the city so that others could eat for another day.
He stood and shone his light around the room again. He had at his disposal all the wisdom of his collapsed civilization, and there was no one to fight him for it or distract him from learning everything he could. He would read these books and find out how to make things right again. There was no need to rebuild society from scratch, because here were the collected thoughts of the greatest minds in history. All Jay had to do was read them and share his knowledge with his friends.
Jay picked up The Iliad, his flashlight, and the box of cookies, and went out on the balcony where the air was fresh and the stars glittered in the night sky. Somewhere far below, someone screamed, followed by the sound of gunfire. But up here, the world was still a civilized place. Blinking back tears of gratitude, Jay sank onto a chaise lounge, opened up his book and began to read.